James K Polk

11th president - 1845-1849


The original "dark horse" candidate, Polk was initially considered only a vice-presidential contender but won the Democratic nomination for the 1844 election at the ninth ballot, on the basis of his expansionist policies. Like his mentor, Andrew Jackson, he endorsed the idea that his nation had a "manifest destiny" to rule from sea to sea. He supported the "re-occupation" of Oregon, the "re-annexation" of Texas, and the acquisition of California. These goals were largely achieved. The Oregon issue, and with it the question of the north-western border of the US, was peacefully settled with Great Britain. The Texas issue provoked war with Mexico, but American forces led by General Zachary Taylor won a series of resounding victories, even occupying Mexico City. By the end of Polk's presidency, the southern borders of Texas had been more or less settled in their present form, while Mexico had also ceded New Mexico and California in return for $15m.

These ostensible successes had their drawbacks. Polk's enemies denounced the Mexican war as an immoral war of aggression, and the vast expansion of US territory left a legacy of bitterness between North and South over the question of slavery in the new territories.

Polk, originally a North Carolina lawyer, retired at the end of his first term and died three months later, possibly from cholera, at his home in Nashville, Tennessee. A notorious workaholic, he was widely felt to have undermined his health by his obsessive labours in the White House.

In his own words

"No president who performs his duties faithfully and conscientiously can have any leisure."

"I am sure I shall be a happier man in retirement than I have been during the four years I have filled the highest office in the gift of my countrymen."

In others' words

"Politics had become his whole life, aside from which he had no aspirations, intellectual interests, recreation, or even friendships." Charles G Sellers

"I more than suspect that he is deeply conscious of being in the wrong – that he feels the blood of this [the Mexican] war, like the blood of Abel, is crying to heaven against him... He is a bewildered, confounded and miserably perplexed man." Abraham Lincoln

"James K Polk, a great president. Said what he intended to do, and did it." Harry S Truman


Polk was plagued with diarrhoea for much of his presidency.

When he was 17 he underwent an operation to remove his gallstones, without anaesthetic. (He drank alcohol to dull the pain.)

Aged 49 when he took office, Polk was the youngest president to date.

The Whig press denounced Polk as a coward for having once refused to take part in a duel.

The California gold rush began in his presidency.

His hairstyle – short at the top but long at the back – has been described as the first "mullet".

His wife, Sarah Childress, banned dancing in the White House.

people And here is why...
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
voicesBy the man who has
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in The Twilight Saga but will not be starring in the new Facebook mini-movies
tvKristen Stewart and Stephenie Meyer will choose female directrs
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
William Hague
people... when he called Hague the county's greatest
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Arts and Entertainment
Twerking girls: Miley Cyrus's video for 'Wrecking Ball'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

General Cover Teacher

£120 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Are you looking for part time/ ...

SEN (SLD/PMLD) Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a quailed Teacher ...

General Cover Teacher

£120 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Currently looking for teachers ...

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?