Review of: Polk

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His father offered to bring him into one of his businesses, but he wanted an education and enrolled at a Presbyterian academy in He then entered Bradley Academy in Murfreesboro, Tennessee , where he proved a promising student.

In January , Polk was admitted into the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a second-semester sophomore.

The Polk family had connections with the university, then a small school of about 80 students; Samuel was its land agent in Tennessee and his cousin William Polk was a trustee.

Polk joined the Dialectic Society where he took part in debates, became its president, and learned the art of oratory. After graduation, Polk returned to Nashville, Tennessee to study law under renowned trial attorney Felix Grundy , [14] who became his first mentor.

On September 20, , he was elected clerk of the Tennessee State Senate , which then sat in Murfreesboro and to which Grundy had been elected. In June , he was admitted to the Tennessee bar, and his first case was to defend his father against a public fighting charge; he secured his release for a one-dollar fine.

By the time the legislature adjourned its session in September , Polk was determined to be a candidate for the Tennessee House of Representatives.

The election was in August , almost a year away, allowing him ample time for campaigning. He was later appointed a colonel on the staff of Governor William Carroll , and was afterwards often referred to as "Colonel".

People liked Polk's oratory, which earned him the nickname "Napoleon of the Stump. Beginning in early , Polk courted Sarah Childress —they were engaged the following year [21] and married on January 1, in Murfreesboro.

Polk's first mentor was Grundy, but in the legislature, Polk came increasingly to oppose him on such matters as land reform, and came to support the policies of Andrew Jackson, by then a military hero for his victory at the Battle of New Orleans When the Tennessee Legislature deadlocked on whom to elect as U.

Polk broke from his usual allies, casting his vote as a member of the state House of Representatives for the general in Jackson's victory.

This boosted Jackson's presidential chances by giving him recent political experience [b] to match his military accomplishments.

This began an alliance [24] that would continue until Jackson's death early in Polk's presidency. Polk's political career was as dependent on Jackson as his nickname implied.

In the United States presidential election , Jackson got the most electoral votes he also led in the popular vote but as he did not receive a majority in the Electoral College , the election was thrown into the U.

House of Representatives , which chose Secretary of State John Quincy Adams , who had received the second-most of each.

Polk, like other Jackson supporters, believed that Speaker of the House Henry Clay had traded his support as fourth-place finisher the House may only choose from among the top three to Adams in a Corrupt Bargain in exchange for being the new Secretary of State.

Polk had in August declared his candidacy for the following year's election to the House of Representatives from Tennessee's 6th congressional district.

Polk campaigned so vigorously that Sarah began to worry about his health. During the campaign, Polk's opponents said that at the age of 29 Polk was too young for the responsibility of a seat in the House, but he won the election with 3, votes out of 10, and took his seat in Congress later that year.

When Polk arrived in Washington, D. Polk made his first major speech on March 13, , in which he said that the Electoral College should be abolished and that the president should be elected by popular vote.

Polk won re-election in and continued to oppose the Adams administration. Following Jackson's victory over Adams, Polk became one of the new President's most prominent and loyal supporters in the House.

Polk served as Jackson's most prominent House ally in the " Bank War " that developed over Jackson's opposition to the re-authorization of the Second Bank of the United States.

Some Westerners, including Jackson, opposed the Second Bank, deeming it a monopoly acting in the interest of Easterners. The bill passed Congress in , but Jackson vetoed it and Congress failed to override the veto.

Jackson's action was highly controversial in Washington, but had considerable public support, and he won easy re-election in Like many Southerners, Polk favored low tariffs on imported goods, and initially sympathized with John C.

Calhoun 's opposition to the Tariff of Abominations during the Nullification Crisis of —, but came over to Jackson's side as Calhoun moved towards advocating secession.

Thereafter, Polk remained loyal to Jackson as the President sought to assert federal authority. Polk condemned secession and supported the Force Bill against South Carolina, which had claimed the authority to nullify federal tariffs.

The matter was settled by Congress passing a compromise tariff. In December , after being elected to a fifth consecutive term, Polk, with Jackson's backing, became the chairman of Ways and Means, a powerful position in the House.

Polk's committee issued a report questioning the Second Bank's finances, and another supporting Jackson's actions against it.

In April , the Ways and Means Committee reported a bill to regulate state deposit banks, which, when passed, enabled Jackson to deposit funds in pet banks , and Polk got legislation passed to allow the sale of the government's stock in the Second Bank.

In June , Speaker of the House Andrew Stevenson resigned from Congress to become Minister to the United Kingdom.

After ten ballots, Bell, who had the support of many opponents of the administration, defeated Polk. They were successful; Polk defeated Bell to take the Speakership.

According to Thomas M. Leonard in his book on Polk, "by , while serving as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Polk approached the zenith of his congressional career.

He was at the center of Jacksonian Democracy on the House floor, and, with the help of his wife, he ingratiated himself into Washington's social circles.

Greater Whig strength in Tennessee helped White carry his state, though Polk's home district went for Van Buren.

As Speaker, Polk worked for the policies of Jackson and later Van Buren. Polk appointed committees with Democratic chairs and majorities, including the New York radical C.

Cambreleng as the new Ways and Means chair, although he tried to maintain the Speaker's traditional nonpartisan appearance. The two major issues during Polk's speakership were slavery and, after the Panic of , the economy.

Polk firmly enforced the " gag rule ", by which the House of Representatives would not accept or debate citizen petitions regarding slavery.

Instead of finding a way to silence Adams, Polk frequently engaged in useless shouting matches, leading Jackson to conclude that the Speaker should have shown better leadership.

Some believed this had led to the crash by causing a lack of confidence in paper currency issued by banks. Despite such arguments, with support from Polk and his cabinet, Van Buren chose to back the Specie Circular.

Polk and Van Buren attempted to establish an Independent Treasury system that would allow the government to oversee its own deposits rather than using pet banks , but the bill was defeated in the House.

Using his thorough grasp of the House's rules, [49] Polk attempted to bring greater order to its proceedings. Unlike many of his peers, he never challenged anyone to a duel no matter how much they insulted his honor.

Polk by then had presidential ambitions, but was well aware that no Speaker had ever become president Polk is still the only one to have held both offices.

In , the Democrats had lost the governorship of Tennessee for the first time in their history, and Polk decided to return home to help the party.

Polk undertook his first statewide campaign, against the Whig incumbent, Newton Cannon , who sought a third two-year term as governor.

Polk campaigned on national issues, whereas Cannon stressed matters local to Tennessee. After being bested by Polk in the early debates, the governor retreated to Nashville, by then the state capital, alleging important official business.

Polk made speeches across the state, seeking to become known more widely than in his native Middle Tennessee.

When Cannon came back on the campaign trail in the final days, Polk pursued him, hastening the length of the state to be able to debate the governor again.

On Election Day, August 1, , Polk defeated Cannon, 54, to 51,, as the Democrats recaptured the state legislature and won back three congressional seats in Tennessee.

Tennessee's governor had limited power—there was no gubernatorial veto, and the small size of the state government limited any political patronage.

But Polk saw the office as a springboard for his national ambitions, seeking to be nominated as Van Buren's vice presidential running mate at the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore in May.

Johnson was from Kentucky, so Polk's Tennessee residence would keep the New Yorker Van Buren's ticket balanced.

The convention chose to endorse no one for vice president, stating that a choice would be made once the popular vote was cast.

Three weeks after the convention, recognizing that Johnson was too popular in the party to be ousted, Polk withdrew his name. The Whig presidential candidate, General William Henry Harrison , conducted a rollicking campaign with the motto " Tippecanoe and Tyler Too ", easily winning both the national vote and that in Tennessee.

Polk campaigned in vain for Van Buren [57] and was embarrassed by the outcome; Jackson, who had returned to his home, the Hermitage , near Nashville, was horrified at the prospect of a Whig administration.

Vice President. Polk's three major programs during his governorship; regulating state banks, implementing state internal improvements, and improving education all failed to win the approval of the legislature.

Encouraged by the success of Harrison's campaign, the Whigs ran a freshman legislator from frontier Wilson County , James C. Jones against Polk in The two debated the length of Tennessee, [65] and Jones's support of distribution to the states of surplus federal revenues, and of a national bank, struck a chord with Tennessee voters.

On election day in August , Polk was defeated by 3, votes, the first time he had been beaten at the polls. Despite his loss, Polk was determined to become the next vice president of the United States , seeing it as a path to the presidency.

The biggest political issue in the United States at that time was territorial expansion. With the republic largely populated by American emigres, those on both sides of the Sabine River border between the U.

Jackson, as president, had recognized Texas independence, but the initial momentum toward annexation had stalled. Clay was nominated for president by acclamation at the April Whig National Convention , with New Jersey's Theodore Frelinghuysen his running mate.

Polk, on the other hand, had written a pro-annexation letter that had been published four days before Van Buren's.

Despite Jackson's quiet efforts on his behalf, Polk was skeptical that he could win. Polk was one of the few major Democrats to have declared for the annexation of Texas.

The convention opened on May 27, A crucial question was whether the nominee needed two-thirds of the delegate vote, as had been the case at previous Democratic conventions, or merely a majority.

A vote for two-thirds would doom Van Buren's candidacy due to the opposition to him. Delegates were ready to consider a new candidate who might break the stalemate.

When the convention adjourned after the seventh ballot, Pillow, who had been waiting for an opportunity to press Polk's name, conferred with George Bancroft of Massachusetts, a politician and historian who was a longtime Polk correspondent, and who had planned to nominate Polk for vice president.

Bancroft had supported Van Buren's candidacy, and was willing to see New York Senator Silas Wright head the ticket, but Wright would not consider taking a nomination that Van Buren wanted.

Pillow and Bancroft decided if Polk were nominated for president, Wright might accept the second spot.

Before the eighth ballot, former Attorney General Benjamin F. Butler , head of the New York delegation, read a pre-written letter from Van Buren to be used if he could not be nominated, withdrawing in Wright's favor.

But Wright who was in Washington had also entrusted a pre-written letter to a supporter, in which he refused to be considered as a presidential candidate, and stated in the letter that he agreed with Van Buren's position on Texas.

Had Wright's letter not been read he most likely would have been nominated, but without him, Butler began to rally Van Buren supporters for Polk as the best possible candidate, and Bancroft placed Polk's name before the convention.

On the eighth ballot, Polk received only 44 votes to Cass's and Van Buren's , but the deadlock showed signs of breaking.

Butler formally withdrew Van Buren's name, many delegations declared for the Tennessean, and on the ninth ballot Polk received ballots to Cass's 29, making him the Democratic nominee for president.

The nomination was then made unanimous. This left the question of the vice presidential candidate. Butler urged Wright's nomination, and the convention agreed to this, with only eight Georgia delegates dissenting.

As the convention waited, word of Wright's nomination was sent to him in Washington via telegraph. Having by proxy declined an almost certain presidential nomination, Wright would not accept the second place.

Senator Robert J. Walker of Mississippi, a close Polk ally, suggested former senator George M. Dallas of Pennsylvania.

Dallas was acceptable enough to all factions, and gained the vice presidential nomination on the second ballot. The delegates passed a platform, and adjourned on May Although many contemporary politicians, including Pillow and Bancroft, claimed credit in the years to come for getting Polk the nomination, Walter R.

Borneman felt that most credit was due to Jackson and Polk, "the two who had done the most were back in Tennessee, one an aging icon ensconced at the Hermitage and the other a shrewd lifelong politician waiting expectantly in Columbia".

Polk has been described as the first " dark horse " presidential nominee, although his nomination was less of a surprise than that of future nominees such as Franklin Pierce or Warren G.

Rumors of Polk's nomination reached Nashville on June 4, much to Jackson's delight; they were substantiated later that day.

The dispatches were sent on to Columbia, arriving the same day, and letters and newspapers describing what had happened at Baltimore were in Polk's hands by June 6.

He accepted his nomination by letter dated June 12, alleging that he had never sought the office, and stating his intent to serve only one term.

He engaged in an extensive correspondence with Democratic Party officials as he managed his campaign. Polk made his views known in his acceptance letter and through responses to questions sent by citizens that were printed in newspapers, often by arrangement.

A potential pitfall for Polk's campaign was the issue of whether the tariff should be for revenue only, or with the intent to protect American industry.

Polk finessed the tariff issue in a published letter. Recalling that he had long stated that tariffs should only be sufficient to finance government operations, he maintained that stance, but wrote that within that limitation, government could and should offer "fair and just protection" to American interests, including manufacturers.

In September, a delegation of Whigs from nearby Giles County came to Columbia, armed with specific questions on Polk's views regarding the current tariff, the Whig-passed Tariff of , and with the stated intent of remaining in Columbia until they got answers.

Polk took several days to respond, and chose to stand by his earlier statement, provoking an outcry in the Whig papers. Another concern was the third-party candidacy of President Tyler, which might split the Democratic vote.

Tyler had been nominated by a group of loyal officeholders. Under no illusions he could win, he believed he could rally states' rights supporters and populists to hold the balance of power in the election.

Only Jackson had the stature to resolve the situation, which he did with two letters to friends in the Cabinet, that he knew would be shown to Tyler, stating that the President's supporters would be welcomed back into the Democratic fold.

Jackson wrote that once Tyler withdrew, many Democrats would embrace him for his pro-annexation stance. The former president also used his influence to stop Francis Preston Blair and his Globe newspaper, the semi-official organ of the Democratic Party, from attacking Tyler.

These proved enough; Tyler withdrew from the race in August. Party troubles were a third concern. Polk and Calhoun made peace when a former South Carolina congressman, Francis Pickens visited Tennessee and came to Columbia for two days and to the Hermitage for sessions with the increasingly ill Jackson.

Calhoun wanted the Globe dissolved, and that Polk would act against the tariff and promote Texas annexation. Reassured on these points, Calhoun became a strong supporter.

Polk was aided regarding Texas when Clay, realizing his anti-annexation letter had cost him support, attempted in two subsequent letters to clarify his position.

These angered both sides, which attacked Clay as insincere. The campaign was vitriolic; both major party candidates were accused of various acts of malfeasance; Polk was accused of being both a duelist and a coward.

The most damaging smear was the Roorback forgery ; in late August an item appeared in an abolitionist newspaper, part of a book detailing fictional travels through the South of a Baron von Roorback, an imaginary German nobleman.

The Ithaca Chronicle printed it without labeling it as fiction, and inserted a sentence alleging that the traveler had seen forty slaves who had been sold by Polk after being branded with his initials.

The item was withdrawn by the Chronicle when challenged by the Democrats, but it was widely reprinted. Borneman suggested that the forgery backfired on Polk's opponents as it served to remind voters that Clay too was a slaveholder, [] John Eisenhower , in his journal article on the election, stated that the smear came too late to be effectively rebutted, and likely cost Polk Ohio.

Southern newspapers, on the other hand, went far in defending Polk, one Nashville newspaper alleging that his slaves preferred their bondage to freedom.

This was not true, though not known at the time; by then he had bought over thirty slaves, both from relatives and others, mainly for the purpose of procuring labor for his Mississippi cotton plantation.

There was no uniform election day in ; states voted between November 1 and However, he won Pennsylvania and New York, where Clay lost votes to the antislavery Liberty Party candidate James G.

Birney , who got more votes in New York than Polk's margin of victory. Had Clay won New York, he would have been elected president.

With a slender victory in the popular vote, but with a greater victory in the Electoral College — , Polk proceeded to implement his campaign promises.

He presided over a country whose population had doubled every twenty years since the American Revolution and which had reached demographic parity with Great Britain.

Polk set four clearly defined goals for his administration: []. After being informed of his victory on November 15, , Polk turned his attention to forming a geographically-balanced Cabinet.

At a time when an incoming president might retain some or all of his predecessor's department heads, Polk wanted an entirely fresh Cabinet, but this proved delicate.

Tyler's final Secretary of State was Calhoun, leader of a considerable faction of the Democratic Party, but, when approached by emissaries, he did not take offense and was willing to step down.

Polk did not want his Cabinet to contain presidential hopefuls, though he chose to nominate James Buchanan of Pennsylvania, whose ambition for the presidency was well-known, as Secretary of State.

Tyler's last Navy Secretary, John Y. Mason of Virginia, Polk's friend since college days and a longtime political ally, was not on the original list.

As Cabinet choices were affected by factional politics and President Tyler's drive to resolve the Texas issue before leaving office, Polk at the last minute chose him as Attorney General.

All gained Senate confirmation after Polk took office. The members worked well together, and few replacements were necessary.

One reshuffle was required in when Bancroft, who wanted a diplomatic posting, became U. As Polk put together his Cabinet, President Tyler sought to complete the annexation of Texas.

While the Senate had defeated an earlier treaty that would annex the republic, Tyler urged Congress to pass a joint resolution, relying on its constitutional power to admit states.

With Polk's help, the annexation resolution narrowly cleared the Senate. On his final evening in office, March 3, , Tyler offered annexation to Texas according to the terms of the resolution.

The first step in distancing their campaigns was declaring opposition to the annexation of Texas. Polk, on the other hand, took a hard stance on the issue, insisting on the annexation of Texas and, in a roundabout way, Oregon.

Enter Jackson, who knew that the American public favored westward expansion. He sought to run a candidate in the election committed to the precepts of manifest destiny, and at the Democratic Convention, Polk was nominated to run for the presidency.

Polk went on to win the popular vote by a razor-thin margin but took the electoral college handily. Polk took office on March 4, , and at 49 years of age, he became the youngest president in American history.

Before Polk took the oath of office, Congress offered annexation to Texas, and when they accepted and became a new state, Mexico severed diplomatic relations with the United States and tensions between the two countries escalated.

Regarding the Oregon territory, which was much larger than the current state of Oregon, President Polk would have to contend with England, who had jointly occupied the area for nearly 30 years.

Neither England nor the Polk administration wanted a war, and Polk knew that only war would likely allow the United States to claim the land. After back-and-forth negotiation, and some effective hardball played by Polk, the British accepted the 49th parallel as the northern border the current border between the United States and Canada , excluding the southern tip of Vancouver Island, and the deal was sealed in Things went less smoothly in the hunt for California and New Mexico, and ever-increasing tensions led to the Mexican-American War.

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