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POLK, James Knox

POLK, James Knox
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives,
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POLK, James Knox, (brother of William Hawkins Polk), a Representative from Tennessee and 11th President of the United States; born near Little Sugar Creek, Mecklenburg County, N.C., November 2, 1795; moved to Tennessee in 1806 with his parents, who settled in what later became Maury County; attended the common schools and was tutored privately; graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1818; studied law; admitted to the bar in 1820 and commenced practice in Columbia, Tenn.; chief clerk of the state senate 1821-1823; member of the state house of representatives 1823-1825; elected as a Jacksonian to the Nineteenth through the Twenty-fourth Congresses and reelected as a Democrat to the Twenty-fifth Congress (March 4, 1825-March 3, 1839); chairman, Committee on Ways and Means (Twenty-third Congress); Speaker of the House of Representatives (Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth Congresses); did not seek renomination in 1838 having become a candidate for governor; governor of Tennessee 1839-1841; elected as a Democrat as President of the United States in 1844; inaugurated on March 4, 1845, and served until March 3, 1849; declined to be a candidate for renomination; died in Nashville, Tenn., June 15, 1849; interment within the grounds of the state capitol.

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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External Research Collections

Library of Congress
Manuscript Division

Washington, DC
Papers: ca. 1775-1891, 39 linear feet (155 containers). The James Knox Polk Papers contain general correspondence, presidential letterbooks, diaries, account and memorandum books, drafts and copies of speeches and messages, family papers, financial and legal papers, and printed matter. Concentrated in the period 1830-1849, the papers relate particularly to Polk’s political career in Tennessee and on the national level. The struggles during the Jackson administration over the Bank of the United States, nullification, and internal improvements are documented as well as the annexation of Texas, war with Mexico, the Oregon question, and the acquisition of New Mexico and California during Polk’s term. Other topics include slavery, tariff question, patronage and office seeking, plantation matters, and family affairs. A finding aid is available online.
Papers: In the Edmund Burke Papers, 1821-1881, 400 items. Correspondents include James K. Polk.
Papers: In the Marian S. Carson Collection of Manuscripts, 1656-1995 Persons represented include James K. Polk.
Microfilm: In the Andrew Jackson Donelson, ca. 1779-1943, 14 reels. Correspondents include James K. Polk.
Papers: In the John Fairfield Papers, ca. 1828-1876, 1.8 linear feet. Correspondents include James K. Polk.
Papers: In the Andrew Jackson Papers, ca. 1775-1860, approximately 26,000 items. Correspondents include James K. Polk.
Papers: In the William L. Marcy Papers, ca. 1806-1930, 19.2 linear feet. Correspondents include James K. Polk.
Papers: In the Franklin Pierce Papers, ca. 1820-1869, 6.8 linear feet. Correspondents include James K. Polk.
Papers: In the Polk Family Papers, 1767-1859, 2 items. Persons represented include James K. Polk.
Microfilm: In the Riggs Family Papers, 1763-1945, 3 reels Correspondents include James K. Polk.
Papers: In the Stevenson Family Papers, 1756-1882, approximately 12,000 items. Correspondents include James K. Polk.
Papers: In the Zachary Taylor Papers, 1814-1931, 633 items. Correspondents include James K. Polk.
Papers: In the Nicholas Philip Trist Papers, ca. 1795-1873, 6.4 linear feet. Correspondents include James K. Polk.
Papers: In the Martin Van Buren Papers, ca. 1787-1910, 18 linear feet. Correspondents include James K. Polk.
Papers: In the Richard Wallach Family Papers, 1800-1868, 40 items. Correspondents include James K. Polk.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library

Springfield, IL
Papers: 1844, 2 pages. A letter from James K. Polk to his brother, William H. Polk, written on January 20, 1844. In the letter, James Polk discusses activities and prospects in the campaign of 1844.

Brooklyn Historical Society

Brooklyn, NY
Papers: Letter (February 23, 1843) and invitation (1848). Finding aid in repository.

Brown University
John Hay Library

Providence, RI
Papers: 1846-1847, 2 items. The first item includes a letter from James K. Polk to the Secretary of Navy written on March 20, 1846. The second letter is from Polk to Messrs. Cochran & Riggs written on June 11, 1847. In the letter, Polk requests to balance his bank book.

The Copley Press
J.S. Copley Library

La Jolla, CA
Papers: 1832, 4 pages. A letter from James K. Polk to an unidentified recipient written sometime in 1832. In the letter, Polk discusses his concern about the education of his younger brother, William.
Papers: 1844, 2 pages. A letter from James K. Polk to Colonel Samuel H. Laughlin written on August 1, 1844. In the letter, Polk urges the newspaperman to strengthen his paper with "an extraordinary portion of spirit and fire ... These are not ordinary times. We are in a storm ... The Whig press of Nashville should be promptly and most vigorously met at every point."
Papers: 1845, 1 page. A letter from James K. Polk to James Buchanan written on April 15, 1845. In the letter, President Polk authorizes Secretary of State (James Buchanan) "to affix the Seal of the United States to a power to exchange the ratification fo a treaty between" the United States and China.
Papers: 1846, 1 page. John C. Fremont's commission as Lt. Col. Issued at the start of the Mexican War, on June 26, 1846. The commission is just weeks before the outbreak of the Bear Flag Revolt & the American conquest of California. Signed by President Polk & Secretary of War, William L. Marcy.
Papers: 1847, 2 pages. A letter from Jessie Benton Frémont to President James Polk written on February 16, 1847. In the letter, Frémont asks Polk for a 2nd Lieutenancy for Charles Taplin who had served on Fremont's second expedition and now "is very anxious to go to Mexico."

Dartmouth College Library
Rauner Special Collections Library

Hanover, NH
Papers: 1848, 2 pages. A letter from James K. Polk to Abbott Lawrence written on November 22, 1848. In the letter, Polk writes that he has received Ticknor's letter who inquires on behalf of Maria Edgeworth of Ireland about Polk's Irish relatives.

Duke University
Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library

Durham, NC
Papers: 1831-1846, 4 items. The papers of James K. Polk contain a letter, 1846, from Cave Johnson about an affair involving a committee of claims, and correspondence, 1831-1832, concerning Revolutionary war claims.
Papers: 1840-1845, 3 letters. Topics in letters addressed to James K. Polk include a county's selection of electors in the Presidential campaign of 1840, and recommendations for two job posts.
Papers: In the Philip Ricard Fendall Papers, 1779-1916, 13 items. One is a letter secretly written to President James K. Polk by Mrs. P.R. Fendall on 1845, July 4, expressing her bitterness over the failure of Polk to renew the appointment of her husband as U.S. District Attorney for D.C. and her objection to the spoils system of politics.
Papers: In the Gales & Seaton Papers, 1811-1868, 297 items. Persons represented include James K. Polk.
Papers: In U.S. Presidents' papers, 1753-1935. 202 items. Card index in library.

Huntington Library

San Marino, CA
Papers: ca. 1790-1889, 43 pieces. The papers of James Knox. Polk contain political correspondence, notes, and other papers. Correspondents include Robert John Walker, Thomas Ritchie, and others. The collection also contains Polk's notes on the annexation of Texas, his comments on publications in the New York Evening Post, the Washington Union, and other editions, George Bancroft's translation of an excerpt from Journal des Debats, and Polk's last will and testament. Also included an article on the Oregon dispute with Great Britain prepared for publication in the Pennsylvanian (1846, October), Arthur Pendleton Bagby's open letter to the people of Alabama concerning the annexation of Texas (1845, Nov. 15), and a report by the Senate Committee on Title, endorsed by James Madison (1790, May 14). The collection also contains correspondence of Sarah Childress Polk, chiefly concerning biographical sketches of herself and her husband. Correspondents include George Bancroft, James Grant Wilson, and others.

James K. Polk Ancestral Home

Columbia, TN
Papers: Portraits, lawbooks, and other artifacts relating to his life.

Louisiana State University
Special Collections

Baton Rouge, LA
Papers: In the Alfred Flournoy Papers, 1824-1935, 1 volume. Letters from Congressman James K. Polk to Flournoy pertain to a pension bill related to disabilities received in the War of 1812; a request for a list of residents in his county; and support of Andrew Jackson in the U. S. Senate.

New-York Historical Society

New York, NY
Papers: 1835-1849. 27 items.

New York Public Library
Manuscripts and Archives Division

New York, NY
Papers: In the Richard John Levy and Sally Waldman Sweet Collection, 1766-1935, 1 linear foot. A letter from James K. Polk to Colonel Laughlin written on April 17, 1840.

Queens Borough Public Library

Jamaica, NY
Papers: 1 official letter (1846) in the Long Island collection. Finding aid in repository.

Rosenbach Museum and Library

Philadelphia, PA
Papers: 1845, 1 item. A letter from James K. Polk to William L. Marcy written on December 26, 1845. In the letter, Polk introduces Henry St. John, an Ohio congressman, to the secretary of war.

Tennessee State Library and Archives

Nashville, TN
Microfilm: 1775-1849, 67 reels. The original James Knox Polk Papers are in the Library of Congress.
Papers: 1797-1960, approximately 1000 items. Consists of correspondence (including two letters from James K. Polk and two letters from Cave Johnson), financial documents, legal documents, printed materials, scrapbooks, and other items centered around Bolling Gordon of Hickman County, Tennessee, member of the Tennessee Genera l Assembly, and his descendants of Maury County,
Papers: 1835-1848, 2 items. Miscellaneous papers of James K. Polk, including a 6 July 1835 letter to Samuel H. Loughlin attacking John Bell for a letter he had written about Polk, feels that pro-bank interests are involved and asks Loughlin not to connect Bell with the presidential election in any editorials.
Papers: 1839-1841, 5 boxes Gubernatorial papers of James K. Polk.
Papers: 1847-1882, 7 items. The additions to James K. Polk's papers consist of: three U.S. land grants, signed by President James K. Polk, dated 1847 and 1848; a photograph of a portrait of Marshall T. Polk of Columbia, Tennessee; two calling cards of Sarah Childress Polk, wife of James K. Polk; and a letter from Mrs. Polk to Sen. H.E. Jackson concerning a proposed pension for her. The three land grants are made out to Elizabeth Bentley of Iowa, Ferrin Baldwin of Alabama, and Evan Shelby Polk of Arkansas.
Papers: In the Robert Dyas Collection of John Coffee Papers, 1770-1917, approximately 6, 000 items. Correspondents include James K. Polk.
Papers: In the Bolling Gordon Family Papers, 1797-1960, approximately 1,000 items. Correspondents include James K. Polk.
Papers: In the John P. Heiss Family Papers, 1835-1872, approximately 500 items. Correspondents include James K. Polk.
Papers: In the David Hubbard Papers, 1807-1871, 240 items. Correspondents include James K. Polk.

University of California, Berkeley
The Bancroft Library

Berkeley, CA
Papers: 1833, 3 pages. A letter from James K. Polk to Hon. William B. Lewis written on September 26, 1833. In the letter, Polk writes concerning the speakership of the House of Representatives.
Papers: 1835-1849, 21 pages. Letters from James K. Polk to Samuel H. Laughlin and William L. Marcy concerning his presidential career, political events in New York State, and offer of the position of Secretary of War to Marcy.
Papers: In the Samuel Ryan Curtis Diaries and Papers, ca. 1846-1860, 3 volumes and 5 folders. Persons represented include James K. Polk.

University of Chicago Library
Special Collections Research Center

Chicago, IL
Papers: 1835, 1 item. A letter from James K. Polk to Samuel H. Laughlin written January 8, 1835. In the letter, Polk writes about the political scene in Washington.

University of Iowa Libraries
Special Collections Department

Iowa City, IA
Papers: 1844, 1 item. A letter from James K. Polk to General Robert Armstrong written on July 26, 1844. In the letter, Polk writes concerning a mass meeting to be held near Nashville; urges that letters be sent to distinguished men.

University of Pennsylvania
Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts

Philadelphia, PA
Papers: 1836, 1 item. A letter from James K. Polk during his tenure as Speaker of the House to James L. Edwards, Commissioner of Pensions, about the case of Samuel Hillis.
Papers: 1845, 1 item. Presidential order for safe passage for the Susquehannah of Philadelphia, dated 23 August 1845, signed by U. S. President James K. Polk and Pennsylvania Secretary of State James Buchanan, with presidential seal.

University of Virginia
Alderman Library

Charlottesville, VA
Papers: In the Randolph Family of Edgehill Papers, ca. 1822-1888, approximately 60 items. The papers include a patronage request to James K. Polk.
Papers: In the Washington Family Papers, 1770-1883, 49 items. The papers include a letter, 26 July 1845, from William Smith, Washington, D.C., to James K. Polk, soliciting a promotion in the U.S. Department of the Treasury for his brother James; and a letter, 17 November 1845, to John Randolph Tucker, Winchester, Va., regarding deeds issued to his father, Henry St. George Tucker.
Papers: In the Floyd L. Whitehead Papers, 1837-1855, 9 items. Other authors include James K. Polk.

Wellesley College
Special Collections

Wellesley, MA
Papers: n.d., 1 page. A letter from James K. Polk to William S. Morrey. In the letter, Polk asks Morrey, the Secretary of War, to come to his office.
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Bibliography / Further Reading

Appleton, John. North for Union: John Appleton's Journal of a Tour to New England Made by President Polk in June and July 1847. Edited by Wayne Cutler. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1986.

Bassett, John Spencer. The Southern Plantation Overseer As Revealed in His Letters. 1925. Reprint, New York: Negro Universities Press, 1968.

___., ed. "James K. Polk and His Constituents, 1831-1832." American Historical Review 28 (1922): 69-77.

Bergeron, Paul H. "James K. Polk and the Jacksonian Press in Tennessee." Tennessee Historical Quarterly 41 (Fall 1982): 257-77.

___. The Presidency of James K. Polk. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1987.

Borneman, Walter F. Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America. New York: Random House, 2008.

Byrnes, Mark E. James K. Polk: A Biographical Companion. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2001.

Clarkson, Joseph G., and Francis Wade Hughes. Report of the discussion at Pottsville, August 10, 1844, between J.G. Clarkson and F.W. Hughes, on the course of Henry Clay & James K. Polk, relative to the protective system, etc. Philadelphia: N.p., 1844.

Cooper, William Ross. The Ancestral Family Lineage of James Knox Polk, President of the United States of America. Hickman Mills, Mo.: N.p., 1941.

Duisberre, William. Slavemaster President: The Double Career of James Polk. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Farrell, John J., ed. James K. Polk, 1795-1849: Chronology, Documents, Bibliographical Aids. Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Ocrana Publications, 1970.

Foote, Henry Stuart. Eulogy upon the life and character of James K. Polk. Washington: T. Ritchie, printer, 1849.

Garrett, Samuel B. An oration on the life, character and public services of the late President James K. Polk. Lawrenceburg, Tenn.: Printed at the "Middle Tennessean" office, 1849.

Gerson, Noel Bertram. The Slender Need. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1965.

Grant, Clement L., ed. "The Politics behind a Presidential Nomination as Shown in Letters from Cave Johnson to James K. Polk." Tennessee Historical Quarterly 12 (June 1953): 152-81.

Greenblatt, Miriam. James K. Polk, 11th President of the United States. Ada, Okla.: Garrett Educational Corp., 1988.

Haynes, Sam W. James K. Polk and the Expansionist Impulse. Edited by Oscar Handlin. New York: Longman, 1997. Reprint, Upper Saddle, N.J.: Pearson Longman 2001.

Hickman, George H. The Life and Public Services of the Hon. James Knox Polk, with a compendium of his speeches on various public measures. Baltimore: N. Hickman, 1844.

Hoyt, Edwin Palmer. James Knox Polk. Chicago: Reilly and Lee Company, 1965.

Jenkins, John Stilwell. James Knox Polk, and a history of his administration. Auburn and Buffalo, N.Y.: J. E. Beardsley, 1850. Reprint, Auburn, N.Y.: J.M. Alden, 1851.

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

Lillegard, Dee. James K. Polk, Eleventh President of the United States. Chicago: Children's Press, 1988.

Lomask, Milton. This Slender Reed: A Life of James K. Polk. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1966.

McCormac, Eugene Irving. James K. Polk: A Political Biography. 1922. Reprint, New York: Russell and Russell, 1965.

McCoy, Charles Allan. Polk and the Presidency. 1960. Reprint, New York: Haskell House Publishers, 1973.

Merry, Robert W. A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009.

Moore, Powell. "James K. Polk and Tennessee Politics, 1839-1841." East Tennessee Historical Society's Publications 9 (1937): 31-52.

___. "James K. Polk: Tennessee Politician." Journal of Southern History 17 (November 1951): 493-516.

Morrel, Martha McBride. "Young Hickory": The Life and Times of President James K. Polk. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1949.

Nelson, Anna Kasten. Secret Agents: President Polk and the Search for Peace with Mexico. New York: Garland, 1988.

Pillow, Gideon J[ohnson]. Letters of Gideon J. Pillow to James K. Polk. [New York: N.p., 1906].

Polk, James Knox. Address of James K. Polk. Columbia, Tenn.: J. H. Thompson, pr, 1839.

___. Address of James K. Polk, to the People of Tennessee. Nashville: N.p., 1841.

___. Answers of ex-Gov. Polk. Memphis: Printed at the "Appeal" office, 1843.

___. Correspondence of James K. Polk. Edited by Herbert Weaver. 9 vols. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1969 .

___. The Diary of James K. Polk during his Presidency, 1845 to 1849. Edited by Milo Milton Quaife. Chicago: Published for the Chicago Historical Society by A. C. McClurg and Company, 1910.

___. James K. Polk and his constituents, 1831-1832. [New York: N.p., 1922].

___. Letters of James K. Polk to Cave Johnson, 1833-1848. Nashville: N.p., 1915.

___. Mensaje del Presidente de los Estados-Unidos al vigesimonono Congreso de aquella republica: leido en el Capitolio de Washington, el dia 2 de diciembre de 1845. Guatemala: Imprenta del gobierno, 1846.

___. Polk: The Diary of a President, 1845-1849, covering the Mexican war, the acquisition of Oregon, and the conquest of California and the Southwest.Edited by Allan Nevins. 1929. Reprint, London, New York: Longmans, Green, 1952.

___. Speech of Mr. Polk, of Tennessee, in the House of Representatives of the United States, on the Bill regulating the deposits of the public moneys in certain local banks. Washington: Printed by Blair and Rives, 1835.

___. Speech of Mr. Polk, on the proposition to amend the Constitution of the United States, respecting the election of president and vice president. Delivered at the House of Representatives, March 13, 1826. Washington: N.p., 1826.

___. Speech of the Hon. James K. Polk, delivered at a public dinner at Mooresville, Maury County, Tennessee, on the 22d. day of October, 1835. Nashville: N.p., 1835.

___. Speech of the Hon. James K. Polk, of Tennessee, on his motion to recommit to the Committee on Ways and Means the Report of the Secretary of the Treasury on the removal of the Deposits. Washington: Printed by W. Green, 1834.

Pukl, Joseph M. "James K. Polk's Congressional Campaigns, 1829-1833." Tennessee Historical Quarterly 40 (Winter 1981): 348-65.

___. "James K. Polk's Early Congressional Campaigns of 1825 and 1827." Tennessee Historical Quarterly 39 (Winter 1980): 440-58.

Polk, James Knox, and Wayne Cutler, Robert G. Hall, and Jayne C. Defiore, eds. Correspondence of James K. Polk: September-December 1844. Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 1993.

Reeves, Jesse Siddall, ed. Letters of Gideon J. Pillow to James K. Polk. New York: N.p., 1906.

Santovenia y Echaide, Emeterio Santiago. El presidente Polk y Cuba. Academia de la historia de Cuba, Havana. La Habana: Imprenta "El Siglo XX," A. Muniz y hno, 1935. Reprint, La Habana: Imprenta "El Siglo XX," A. Muniz y hno, 1936.

Schoenbeck, Henry F. "The Economic Views of James K. Polk As Expressed in the Course of His Political Career." Ph.D. diss., University of Nebraska, 1951.

Sellers, Charles G., Jr. James K. Polk. 2 vols. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957-1966.

___. "James K. Polk's Political Apprenticeship." East Tennessee Historical Society's Publications 25 (1953): 37-53.

Severn, William. Frontier President. New York: I. Washburn, 1965.

Stoddard, William Osborn. William Henry Harrison, John Tyler and James Knox Polk. New York: F.A. Stokes & brother, 1888.

A Tennesseean. [pseud.]. A letter on the subject of the Vice Presidency, in favor of the claims of Jas. K. Polk, of Tennessee, to the nomination of he Democratic National Convention. Washington: Printed at the Globe office, 1844.

Van der Linden, Frank. Dark Horse. San Antonio, Tex.: The Naylor Company, 1944.

Wise, Henry Alexander. Opinions of Hon. Henry A. Wise, upon the conduct and character of James K. Polk, as Speaker of the House of Representatives, with other "Democratic" illustrations. Washington: N.p., 1840.

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Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Ways and Means - Chair
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