Polk, James Knox (1795–1849)

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Polk, James Knox (1795–1849)

James Knox Polk (b. 2 November 1795; d. 15 June 1849), president of the United States during the Mexican War. Born in North Carolina and raised in Tennessee, Polk distinguished himself as a lawyer, state legislator, and congressman. He was a Democrat and an ardent supporter of President Andrew Jackson's policies, including western expansion and the acquisition of Mexican territories. When he was elected president in 1844, Polk vowed to acquire Mexican California. The following year he sent John Slidell to Mexico with an offer to pay fifteen to twenty million dollars for the territory, but this proposal was rejected. Simultaneously Polk had sent Captain John C. Frémont to California, where he assisted in the Bear Flag Revolt and the conquest of that territory.

For this and the dispatch of Zachary Taylor to the Rio Grande in 1846, Polk was criticized by his political opponents for manipulating events to justify a war against Mexico in order to acquire territory. New England Whigs opposed him because of his proslavery stance. He opposed the Wilmont Proviso, which would have excluded slavery from the newly acquired Mexican territories. Due to controversies thus engendered, his party lost the 1848 election.

See alsoUnited States-Latin American Relations .


Eugene I. Mc Cormac, James K. Polk: A Political Biography (1922).

Allan Nevins, ed., The Diary of a President, 1845–1849, 2 vols. (1929; repr. 1952).

Charles A. Mc Coy, Polk and the Presidency (1960).

Additional Bibliography

Haynes, Sam W., and Oscar Handlin. James K. Polk and the Expansionist Impulse. New York: Longman, 1997.

Leonard, Thomas M. James K. Polk: A Clear and Unquestionable Destiny. Wilmington, DE: S.R. Books, 2001.

Seigenthaler, John. James K. Polk. New York: Times Books, 2004.

                         Richard Griswold del Castillo