James Knox Polk began his life on November 2nd, 1795in Pineville, North Carolina. He grew up in a big family with nine brothers and sisters. His father, James Knox, and his mother, Jane, were not poor, but they weren’t particularly well-off either.
James Knox Polk served as the 11th President of the United States from 1845 to 1849. His tenure is best-remembered for expanding the country’s territory following the Mexican war of 1846-1848. His political views were shaped by his mentor Andrew Jackson, whose Democratic party supported his Presidential run in 1844.
James Knox Polk Facts
1. He achieved a sweeping victory in the war against Mexico
Polk foresaw a potential war with Mexico over Texas and sent an army to the region, led by Brigadier General Zachary Taylor and Commodore David Conner. Despite frequent clashes and disagreements between Polk and his commanders, the U. S. troops managed to take control of California, the American Southwest, as well as parts of Colorado and Wyoming, an interesting fact about James Polk. The death toll amounted to just 13,000 American soldiers against hundreds of thousands on the Mexican side. The total cost of the war did not exceed $100 million.
2. Polk’s dream was to see America stretching from coast to coast
During his term in office, James Knox Polk had the ambition to see the United States stretching all the way from the Pacific to the Atlantic coast. Polk and his aides worked tirelessly to secure a territorial expansion by over 1.2 million miles.
First, he reached an agreement with the British under which the territory of Oregon passed in American hands. Then, the mountainous territory of Montana was annexed, followed by the desert territories of Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and Colorado. The campaign was completed with the annexation of Washington and Idaho.
3. James K. Polk was a workaholic
An interesting fact about James Knox Polk is that he was one of the most hardworking presidents America had ever had. He used to spend more than twelve hours a day in his office, writing proposals for laws, issuing decrees, or reading mail. This self-negating routine eventually took a heavy toll on his health in his final years.
4. He introduced the postage stamp in the United States
When James Polk became President of the United States, the country’s postal service was barely functioning and its budget was constantly in the red. At that time, the established practice was that all postage expenses should be paid by the recipient upon delivery of their parcel or letter.
However, many recipients could not be located at their residential addresses, or they refused to receive their mail and foot the delivery bill. This conundrum was fixed by James K. Polk’s decision to introduce a unified, prepaid postage stamp for all domestic and international shipments. The State’s Mail deficit was reduced from over a million dollars at the beginning of Polk’s Presidency, to just under $30,000 at the end of his tenure, an interesting fact about James Polk.
5. As a child, Polk underwent extremely painful bladder surgery
Just before his 17th birthday, James was diagnosed with urinary bladder stones and was scheduled to have them surgically removed. Unfortunately for him, local anesthesia wasn’t very efficient at that time, so the patient was given strong liquor to numb his sensations. Still, he later recollected that the ordeal was extremely painful.
Fortunately, the surgery was successful and had a hugely beneficial effect on his life thereafter. Once freed from the stones in his bladder, he could finish his secondary education and go to university to study law.
6. James K. Polk was America’s most boring President
Polk’s biographers seem to agree that the man was extremely boring, probably because he did not drink any alcohol. Reportedly, his wife Sarah Polk banned alcoholic beverages from the White House during Polk’s tenure. This must have been a tough experience for all of the auxiliary personnel as well.
7. Polk’s remarkable reforms
Few presidents before James K. Polk had achieved so much on the political stage within the span of a single term in office. He, however, carried out a number of important reforms in the state of Washington, as well as in the capital, Washington D. C.
An interesting fact about James Polk is that he supported the construction of the Washington Monument and established the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Most importantly, he achieved the independence of the U.S. Treasury, which significantly reduced the influence of profiteers and speculators in the country.
8. James K. Polk had several burials
The phrase “May he rest in peace” apparently did not apply to James K. Polk. His life ended tragically just a few months after the end of his term in office. He most probably fell victim to a cholera outbreak in his area. So, he was hastily interred in a public cemetery in Nashville by an order of the local town council.
Then, after the outbreak had passed, his mortal remains were moved to a tomb in his Polk Place, as he had specified in his will. Finally, in 1893, the remains of James Polk and his wife Sarah were relocated to the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville, where they currently rest. In 2017, there was a motion to move the couple’s bones for a fourth time to their family home in Columbia. Thankfully, the initiative did not meet enough legal support and was subsequently dropped.
9. Polk’s wife supported him throughout his political career
James K. Polk wouldn’t have climbed all the way to the Presidential Chair, had it not been for the consistent and unconditional support he received from his wife, Sarah. She was a charming and energetic woman, endowed with a nimble mind and impeccable social skills, a James Polk fact. Her greatest concern was the feeble health of her husband, which was not helped by his habit to constantly work long hours.
For all of his unquestionable achievements while at the helm of the American nation, James K. Polk was not popular among abolitionists. Most notably, he owned no less than twenty slaves and brought them all to serve him and his wife in the White House.
I hope that this article on James Polk facts was helpful. If you are interested, visit the Historical People Facts Page!