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James Polk was the 11th and youngest at the time president of the United States — The northern border of the United States was also established under Polk, as were the Naval Academy and the Smithsonian.
He died on June 15, , in Nashville, Tennessee. James Knox Polk was born in Pineville, a small town in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, on November 2, , and graduated with honors in from the University of North Carolina.
Leaving his law practice behind, he served in the Tennessee legislature, where he became friends with Andrew Jackson. Polk moved from the Tennessee legislature to the United States House of Representatives, serving from to and serving as speaker of the House from to He left his congressional post to become governor of Tennessee.
Leading into the presidential election of , Polk was the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for the vice presidency. Both would-be presidential candidates, Martin Van Buren for the Democrats and Henry Clay for the Whigs, sought to skirt the expansionist "manifest destiny" issue during the campaign, seeing it as potentially controversial.
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Polk regarded the treatment of his diplomat as an insult and an "ample cause of war", and he prepared to ask Congress to declare it.
In April, after Mexican general Pedro de Ampudia demanded that Taylor return to the Nueces River, Taylor began a blockade of Matamoros.
A skirmish on the northern side of the Rio Grande on April 25 ended in the death or capture of dozens of American soldiers, and became known as the Thornton Affair.
Word did not reach Washington until May 9, and Polk immediately convened the Cabinet and obtained their approval of his plan to send a war message to Congress on the ground that Mexico had, as Polk put it in his message, "shed American blood on the American soil".
The House overwhelmingly approved a resolution declaring war and authorizing the president to accept 50, volunteers into the military.
After the initial skirmishes, Taylor and much of his army marched away from the river to secure the supply line, leaving a makeshift base, Fort Texas.
On the way back to the Rio Grande, Mexican forces under General Mariano Arista attempted to block Taylor's way as other troops laid siege to Fort Texas , forcing the U.
Army general to the attack if he hoped to relieve the fort. In the Battle of Palo Alto , the first major engagement of the war, Taylor's troops forced Arista's from the field, suffering only four dead to hundreds for the Mexicans.
The next day, Taylor led the army to victory in the Battle of Resaca de la Palma , putting the Mexican Army to rout. Polk distrusted the two senior officers, Major General Winfield Scott and Taylor, as both were Whigs, and would have replaced them with Democrats, but felt Congress would not approve it.
He offered Scott the position of top commander in the war, which the general accepted. Polk and Scott already knew and disliked each other: the President made the appointment despite the fact that Scott had sought his party's presidential nomination for the election.
Polk sent representatives to Cuba for talks with Santa Anna. Polk sent an army expedition led by Stephen W. Kearny towards Santa Fe, to territory beyond the original claims in Texas.
Gillespie to California with orders to foment a pro-American rebellion that could be used to justify annexation of the territory. Stockton landed in Los Angeles and proclaimed the capture of California.
The initial public euphoria over the victories at the start of the war slowly dissipated. Polk's request ignited opposition, as he had never before made public his desire to annex parts of Mexico aside from lands claimed by Texas.
It was unclear whether such newly acquired lands would be slave or free, and there was fierce and acrimonious sectional debate. A freshman Democratic Congressman, David Wilmot of Pennsylvania, previously a firm supporter of Polk's administration, offered an amendment to the bill, the Wilmot Proviso , that would ban slavery in any land acquired using the money.
The appropriation bill, with the Wilmot Proviso attached, passed the House, but died in the Senate. In early , though, Polk was successful in passing a bill raising further regiments, and he also finally won approval for the appropriation.
Polk sent an envoy to have secret talks with Santa Anna. The U. Consul in Havana, R. Campbell, began seeking a way to engage with Santa Anna.
Polk noted his contacts with Atocha in his diary, who said that Santa Anna was interested in concluding a treaty with the U.
Polk decided that Atocha was untrustworthy and sent his own representative, Alexander Slidell Mackenzie , a relative of John Slidell to meet with Santa Anna.
Mackenzie told Santa Anna that Polk wished to see him in power and that if they came to an agreement that the U. The blockade was indeed briefly lifted and Santa Anna returned to Mexico, not to head a government that would negotiate a treaty with the U.
This caused Polk to harden his position on Mexico,  and he ordered an American landing at Veracruz , the most important Mexican port on the Gulf of Mexico.
From there, troops were to march through Mexico's heartland to Mexico City, which it was hoped would end the war. The lack of trust Polk had in Taylor was returned by the Whig general, who feared the partisan president was trying to destroy him.
Accordingly, Taylor disobeyed orders to remain near Monterrey. Initial reports gave the victory to Mexico, with great rejoicing, but Santa Anna retreated.
Mexican casualties were five times that of the Americans, and the victory made Taylor even more of a military hero in the American public's eyes, though Polk preferred to credit the bravery of the soldiers rather than the Whig general.
In March , Scott landed in Veracruz, and quickly won control of the city. With the capture of Veracruz, Polk dispatched Nicholas Trist , Buchanan's chief clerk, to accompany Scott's army and negotiate a peace treaty with Mexican leaders.
In August , as he advanced towards Mexico City, Scott defeated Santa Anna at the Battle of Contreras and the Battle of Churubusco.
Frustrated by a lack of progress in negotiations, Polk ordered Trist to return to Washington, but the diplomat, when the notice of recall arrived in mid-November , ignored the order, deciding to remain and writing a lengthy letter to Polk the following month to justify his decision.
Polk considered having Butler, designated as Scott's replacement, forcibly remove him from Mexico City.
Throughout January , Trist regularly met with officials in Mexico City, though at the request of the Mexicans, the treaty signing took place in Guadalupe Hidalgo, a small town near Mexico City.
Trist was willing to allow Mexico to keep Baja California, as his instructions allowed, but successfully haggled for the inclusion of the important harbor of San Diego in a cession of Alta California.
On February 2, , Trist and the Mexican delegation signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Polk received the document on February 19,   and, after the Cabinet met on the 20th, decided he had no choice but to accept it.
If he turned it down, with the House by then controlled by the Whigs, there was no assurance Congress would vote funding to continue the war.
Both Buchanan and Walker dissented, wanting more land from Mexico, a position with which the President was sympathetic, though he considered Buchanan's view motivated by his ambition.
Some senators opposed the treaty because they wanted to take no Mexican territory; others hesitated because of the irregular nature of Trist's negotiations.
Polk waited in suspense for two weeks as the Senate considered it, sometimes hearing that it would likely be defeated, and that Buchanan and Walker were working against it.
He was relieved when the two Cabinet officers lobbied on behalf of the treaty. On March 10, the Senate ratified the treaty in a 38—14 vote, on a vote that cut across partisan and geographic lines.
On June 7, Polk learned that Mexico had ratified the treaty. Polk had been anxious to establish a territorial government for Oregon once the treaty was effective in , but the matter became embroiled in the arguments over slavery, though few thought Oregon suitable for that institution.
A bill to establish an Oregon territorial government passed the House after being amended to bar slavery; the bill died in the Senate when opponents ran out the clock on the congressional session.
A resurrected bill, still barring slavery, again passed the House in January but it was not considered by the Senate before Congress adjourned in March.
By the time Congress met again in December, California and New Mexico were in U. When Congress reconvened in December , Polk asked it in his annual message to establish territorial governments in California and New Mexico, a task made especially urgent by the onset of the California Gold Rush.
When the bill was amended to have the laws of Mexico apply to the southwest territories until Congress changed them thus effectively banning slavery , Polk made it clear that he would veto it, considering it the Wilmot Proviso in another guise.
It was not until the Compromise of that the matter of the territories was resolved. Polk's ambassador to the Republic of New Granada , Benjamin Alden Bidlack , negotiated the Mallarino—Bidlack Treaty.
However, Spain was still making profits in Cuba notably in sugar, molasses, rum and tobacco , and thus the Spanish government rejected Saunders's overtures.
In his inaugural address, Polk called upon Congress to re-establish the Independent Treasury System under which government funds were held in the Treasury and not in banks or other financial institutions.
Congress was slow to act; the House passed a bill in April and the Senate in August, both without a single Whig vote. Polk's other major domestic initiative was the lowering of the tariff.
Polk believed that the bill was unconstitutional because it unfairly favored particular areas, including ports that had no foreign trade. Polk considered internal improvements to be matters for the states, and feared that passing the bill would encourage legislators to compete for favors for their home district—a type of corruption that he felt would spell doom to the virtue of the republic.
Opposed by conviction to Federal funding for internal improvements, Polk stood strongly against all such bills.
Similar bills continued to advance in Congress in , though none reached his desk. The bill did not pass, so it was not needed, but feeling the draft had been ably written, he had it preserved among his papers.
Authoritative word of the discovery of gold in California did not arrive in Washington until after the election, by which time Polk was a lame duck.
Polk's political adversaries had claimed California was too far away to be useful, and was not worth the price paid to Mexico.
The President was delighted by the news, seeing it as validation of his stance on expansion, and referred to the discovery several times in his final annual message to Congress that December.
Shortly thereafter, actual samples of the California gold arrived, and Polk sent a special message to Congress on the subject.
The message, confirming less authoritative reports, caused large numbers of people to move to California, both from the U.
One of Polk's last acts as President was to sign the bill creating the Department of the Interior March 3, This was the first new cabinet position created since the early days of the Republic.
Polk had misgivings about the federal government usurping power over public lands from the states. Nevertheless, the delivery of the legislation on his last full day in office gave him no time to find constitutional grounds for a veto, or to draft a sufficient veto message, so he signed the bill.
Polk appointed the following justices to the U. Supreme Court :. The death of Justice Henry Baldwin left a vacant place on the Supreme Court, but Tyler had been unable to get the Senate to confirm a nominee.
At the time, it was the custom to have geographic balance on the Supreme Court, and Baldwin had been from Pennsylvania. Polk's efforts to fill Baldwin's seat became embroiled in Pennsylvania politics and the efforts of factional leaders to secure the lucrative post of Collector of Customs for the Port of Philadelphia.
As Polk attempted to find his way through the minefield of Pennsylvania politics, a second position on the high court became vacant with the death, in September , of Justice Joseph Story ; his replacement was expected to come from his native New England.
Because Story's death had occurred while the Senate was not in session, Polk was able to make a recess appointment , choosing Senator Levi Woodbury of New Hampshire, and when the Senate reconvened in December , Woodbury was confirmed.
Polk's initial nominee for Baldwin's seat, George W. Woodward , was rejected by the Senate in January , in large part due to the opposition of Buchanan and Pennsylvania Senator Simon Cameron.
Despite Polk's anger at Buchanan, he eventually offered the Secretary of State the seat, but Buchanan, after some indecision, turned it down.
Polk subsequently nominated Robert Cooper Grier of Pittsburgh, who won confirmation. Sandford wrote an opinion stating that slaves were property and could not sue.
Polk appointed eight other federal judges, one to the United States Circuit Court of the District of Columbia , and seven to various United States district courts.
Honoring his pledge to serve only one term, Polk declined to seek re-election. At the Democratic National Convention , Lewis Cass led on every ballot, though it was not until the fourth that he attained a two-thirds vote.
New York Democrats remained bitter because of what they deemed shabby treatment of Van Buren in , and the former president had drifted from the party in the years since.
Polk was surprised and disappointed by his former ally's political conversion, and worried about the divisiveness of a sectional party devoted to abolition.
He did remove some Van Buren supporters from federal office during the campaign. In the election, Taylor won Cass won Polk departed the White House on March 3, leaving behind him a clean desk, though he worked from his hotel or the Capitol on last-minute appointments and bill signings.
He attended Taylor's inauguration on March 5 March 4, the presidential inauguration day until , fell on a Sunday, and thus the ceremony was postponed a day , and though he was unimpressed with the new President, wished him the best.
Polk's time in the White House took its toll on his health. Full of enthusiasm and vigor when he entered office, Polk left the presidency exhausted by his years of public service.
James and Sarah Polk progressed down the Atlantic coast, and then westward through the Deep South.
He was enthusiastically received and banqueted. By the time the Polks reached Alabama, he was suffering from a bad cold, and soon became concerned by reports of cholera —a passenger on Polk's riverboat died of it, and it was rumored to be common in New Orleans, but it was too late to change plans.
Worried about his health, he would have departed the city quickly, but was overwhelmed by Louisiana hospitality.
Several passengers on the riverboat up the Mississippi died of the disease, and Polk felt so ill that he went ashore for four days, staying in a hotel.
A doctor assured him he did not have cholera, and Polk made the final leg, arriving in Nashville on April 2 to a huge reception.
After a visit to James's mother in Columbia, the Polks settled into Polk Place. Attended by several doctors, he lingered for several days, and chose to be baptized into the Methodist Church, which he had long admired, though his mother arrived from Columbia with her Presbyterian clergyman, and his wife was also a devout Presbyterian.
On the afternoon of Friday, June 15, Polk died at his Polk Place home in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of Borneman noted that whether or not they were spoken, there was nothing in Polk's life which would make the sentiment false.
Polk's funeral was held at the McKendree Methodist Church in Nashville. Polk's rest has been twice interrupted. Polk was then moved to a tomb on the grounds of Polk Place as specified in his will in Then, in , the bodies of James and Sarah Polk were relocated to their current resting place on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville.
In March , the Tennessee Senate approved a resolution considered a "first step" toward relocating the Polks' remains to the family home in Columbia.
Such a move would require approval by state lawmakers, the courts, and the Tennessee Historical Commission. Polk was a slaveholder for most of his adult life.
James inherited twenty of his father's slaves, either directly or from deceased brothers. In , he became an absentee cotton planter, sending slaves to clear plantation land that his father had left him near Somerville, Tennessee.
Four years later Polk sold his Somerville plantation and, together with his brother-in-law, bought acres 3. The land in Mississippi was richer than that in Somerville, and Polk transferred his Tennessee slaves there, taking care to conceal from them that they were to be sent south.
From the start of , Polk, having bought out his brother-in-law, owned all of the Mississippi plantation, and ran it on a mostly absentee basis for the rest of his life.
He occasionally visited  —for example, he spent much of April on his Mississippi plantation, right before the Democratic convention.
As older children sold for a higher price, slave sellers routinely lied about age. Between and , he bought five more, aged from 2 to 37, the youngest a granddaughter of the oldest.
This represented three young adults and most of a family, though not including the father, whom James Polk had previously owned, and who had been sold to a slave trader as a chronic runaway.
The expenses of four campaigns three for governor, one for the presidency in six years kept Polk from making more slave purchases until after he was living in the White House.
Instead, he reinvested earnings from his plantation in the purchase of slaves, enjoining secrecy on his agent: "that as my private business does not concern the public, you will keep it to yourself".
Polk saw the plantation as his route to a comfortable existence after his presidency for himself and his wife; he did not intend to return to the practice of law.
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