Top 10 Things to Know About U.S. President James K. Polk

James K. Polk (1795-1849) served as America's eleventh president. considered by many to be the best one-term president in American History. He was a strong leader during the Mexican War. He added a huge area to the United States from the Oregon Territory through Nevada and California. In addition, he kept all of his campaign promises. The following key facts will help you gain a greater understanding of the eleventh president of the United States.

of 10

Started Formal Education at Eighteen

President James K. Polk
President James K. Polk. MPI / Stringer / Getty Images

James K. Polk was a sickly child who suffered from gallstones until he was seventeen. At that point, he had them surgically removed without anesthesia or sterilization. At the age of ten, he moved with his family to Tennessee. He only began his formal education once he turned eighteen in 1813. By 1816, he was accepted at the University of North Carolina. He graduated from there two years later with honors.

of 10

Well-Educated First Lady

Sarah Childress Polk, Wife of President James K. Polk
Sarah Childress Polk, Wife of President James K. Polk. MPI / Stringer / Getty Images

Polk married Sarah Childress who was extremely well educated for the time. She attended the Salem Female Academy in North Carolina. Polk relied on her throughout his political life to help him write speeches and letters. She was an effective, respected, and influential first lady.

of 10

'Young Hickory'

Andrew Jackson, Seventh President of the United States
Andrew Jackson, Seventh President of the United States. Hulton Archive / Stringer / Getty Images

In 1825, Polk won a seat in the US House of Representatives where he would serve for fourteen years. He earned the nickname 'Young Hickory' because of his support of Andrew Jackson, 'Old Hickory'. When Jackson won the presidency in 1828, Polk's star was on the rise, and he became quite powerful in Congress. He was elected as Speaker of the House from 1835-1839, only leaving Congress to become the governor of Tennessee.

of 10

Dark Horse Candidate

President Van Buren. Getty Images

Polk was not expected to run for president in 1844. Martin Van Buren wanted to be nominated for a second term as president, but his stance against the annexation of Texas was unpopular with the Democratic Party. The delegates went through nine ballots before compromising on Polk as their pick for president.

In the general election, Polk ran against Whig candidate Henry Clay who opposed the annexation of Texas. Both Clay and Polk ended up receiving 50% of popular vote. However, Polk was able to get 170 out of 275 electoral votes.

of 10

Annexation of Texas

President John Tyler
President John Tyler. Getty Images

The election of 1844 centered around the issue of the annexation of Texas. President John Tyler was a strong supporter of annexation. His support combined with Polk's popularity meant that the annexation measure passed three days before Tyler's term of office ended.

of 10

54°40' or Fight

One of Polk's campaign pledges was to put an end to the boundary disputes in the Oregon territory between the US and Great Britain. His supporters took up the rallying cry "fifty-four forty or fight" which would have granted the US all of the Oregon Territory. However, once Polk became president he negotiated with the British to set the boundary at the 49th parallel which gave America the areas that would become Oregon, Idaho, and Washington.

of 10

Manifest Destiny

The term manifest destiny was coined by John O'Sullivan in 1845. In his argument for the annexation of Texas he called it, "[T]he fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence...." In other words, he was saying that America had a God-given right to extend from 'sea to shining sea'. Polk was president at this height of this furor and helped extend America with both his negotiations for the Oregon Territory boundary and the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo.

of 10

Mr. Polk's War

In April 1846 when Mexican troops crossed the Rio Grande and killed eleven US soldiers. This came as part of a revolt against the Mexican president who was considering America's bid to buy California. The soldiers were angered about the lands that they felt were taken through the annexation of Texas, and the Rio Grande was an area of border dispute. By May 13th, the US had officially declared war on Mexico. Critics of the war called it 'Mr. Polk's War'. The war was over by the end of 1847 with Mexico suing for peace.

of 10

Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican War formally fixed the boundary between Texas and Mexico at the Rio Grande. In addition, the US was able to acquire both California and Nevada. This was the greatest increase in US land since Thomas Jefferson negotiated the Louisiana Purchase. America agreed to pay Mexico $15 million for the territories it acquired.

of 10

Untimely Death

Polk died at the age of 53, only three months after his retirement from office. He had no desire to run for reelection and had decided to retire. His death was probably due to cholera.