James Knox Polk was born November 2, 1795, in Mecklenberg County, North Carolina, on his family’s farm.
As a boy, Polk dreamed of becoming President and worked hard to achieve his goal. After four years of Whig Party Presidents Harrison and Tyler, Polk ran under the Democratic Party banner in 1844 with George M. Dallas as his Vice President. After his election, he was known for his long and hard hours and for his strict religious beliefs. He and his wife, Sarah Childress, had no children. They did not allow drinking or dancing at the White House, not even in celebration of his inauguration.
Polk’s campaign slogan was “Fifty-Four Forty or Fight,” demanding that Britain cede to the U.S. all territory of the Oregon Country south of latitude 54°40’N, as far north as Queen Charlotte Island and the Dixon Entrance, just south of what is now the southern end of Alaska. Once he became President, however, Polk compromised with Britain, settling the U.S. border with Canada at latitude 49°N and avoiding a war.
Polk could not avoid a war with Mexico 1846-1848, however, after Mexican troops captured Alamo and the Republic of Texas pleaded for American intervention.
Once the dispute with Britain and the Mexican War ended, American dreams of expansion to the Pacific Ocean (“manifest destiny”) became a reality. When gold was discovered in California, news traveled fast by telegraph, invented in l840, and many Easterners moved west. Polk’s era was marked by international disputes, diplomacy, war, victory, and then rapid expansion of America’s influence.
Polk died June 15, 1849.