James K. Polk (Dictionary of World Biography: The 19th Century)
Article abstract: A staunch nationalist, Polk used the authority of the presidency to bring about the expansion of the nation nearly to its continental limits. He added power as well as stature to the office.
James Knox Polk was born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, on November 2, 1795. His parents, Samuel and Jane Knox Polk, were members of large Scotch-Irish families whose forebears began migrating to America late in the previous century. When James was eleven, Samuel moved the family westward to the Duck River Valley in middle Tennessee, where he became both a prosperous farmer and a prominent resident. The family was staunchly Jeffersonian in its politics, while Jane Polk was a rigid Presbyterian.
Young James was small in stature—of average height or less according to various accounts—and was never robust. At seventeen, he had a gallstone removed (without anesthesia), and thereafter his health improved somewhat. It became obvious early, however, that he would never be strong enough to farm, and contrary to his father’s wish that he become a merchant, Polk decided on a law career with politics as his goal. For this goal, some education was necessary. He had been a studious youth but until the age of eighteen had had little formal schooling. Thereafter, he applied himself totally and entered the sophomore class at the University of North Carolina at the age of twenty. Two and a half...
(The entire section is 2961 words.)
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