The New International Encyclopædia/Polk, James Knox

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POLK, pōk, James Knox (1795-1849). The eleventh President of the United States, born in Mecklenburg County, N. C., November 2, 1795. His ancestors, who bore the name of Pollock, emigrated from the north of Ireland early in the eighteenth century. Polk graduated at the University of North Carolina in 1818; then studied law with Felix Grundy (q.v.) of Tennessee, and was admitted to the bar in 1820. Three years later he was elected a member of the Legislature of Tennessee, and soon afterwards (1825) was sent to Congress by the Democratic Party, serving as Speaker in the Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth Congresses. In Congress he won distinction by his industrious habits and readiness in debate. During the administration of President Jackson he was one of his chief supporters, and gave the same loyal support to Jackson's successor, Martin Van Buren. As Speaker it devolved upon him to preside over the deliberations of the Representatives at a time when party feelings were bitter, and his rulings were frequently appealed from, although usually sustained by the House. After fourteen years in Congress he was, in 1839, elected Governor of Tennessee, and was nominated for the office again in 1841 and 1843, but was each time defeated by the Whig candidate. Nevertheless, his standing among his party associates was not impaired, and when the vigorous opposition to Van Buren made impossible the latter's nomination for the Presidency in 1844, especially under the rule which required a majority of two-thirds of all the delegates to the national convention to nominate, Polk was introduced as a compromise candidate and was unanimously nominated on the ninth ballot. The Whig candidate, Henry Clay, had compromised himself in some sections by his attitude in regard to the annexation of Texas, while the Democratic platform was moderately acceptable to both North and South through its advocacy of the reoccupation of Oregon and the reannexation of Texas. Polk received 170 electoral votes, as against 105 for Clay. George M. Dallas was elected Vice-President. During his term the Oregon boundary dispute was settled with England, the United States accepting the parallel of 49° as the northern limit, though the party cry which helped to elect Polk was a claim for the entire territory to latitude 54° 40' N. A dispute regarding the boundary of Texas caused, in 1846, a war with Mexico, which resulted in the acquisition, through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (q.v.), of California and New Mexico. The chief event of President Polk's internal administration was the enactment of the tariff law of 1846, which was based on the principles of tariff for revenue only, and the establishment of the independent treasury system. The President set himself against the internal improvement mania by vetoing a river and harbor bill, which appropriated a large sum for improvement purposes. As regards the slavery question, the debate over the Wilmot Proviso (q.v.) and over the bill to organize the Territory of Oregon were the most notable events. In private life President Polk was unostentatious, frank, and courteous. His habits were extremely simple, and his character was blameless. He died at Nashville, Tenn., June 15, 1849. His biography, including especially a review of his administration, was written by J. S. Jenkins (Auburn, 1850). A number of his manuscripts and other papers have recently been acquired by the Chicago Historical Society, and his MS. diary may be found in the Lenox Library, New York City. See United States.