James K.

Polk
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James Knox Polk November 2, 1795 – June 15, 1849) was the 11th President of the United States (1845–1849). Polk was born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina He later lived in and represented the state of Tennessee. A Democrat, Polk served as Speaker of the House (1835–1839) and Governor of Tennessee (1839–1841) before becoming president. A firm supporter of Andrew Jackson, Polk was the last strong pre-Civil War president. Polk is noted for his foreign policy successes. He threatened war with Britain then backed away and split the ownership of the Northwest with Britain. He is more famous for leading the nation into the Mexican–American War, in which the US was victorious. He lowered the tariff and established a treasury system that lasted until 1913. As president, Polk "expanded the Union by settling claims to Texas and the Oregon Territory and by acquiring California and the Southwest". The expansion reopened a furious national debate over allowing slavery in the new territories. The controversy was inadequately arbitrated by the Compromise of 1850, and finally found its ultimate resolution on the battlefields of the U.S. Civil War. Polk signed the Walker Tariff that brought an era of nearly free trade to the country until 1861. He oversaw the opening of the U.S. Naval Academy and the Smithsonian Institution, the groundbreaking for the Washington Monument, and the issuance of the first postage stamps in the United States, introduced by his Postmaster General Cave Johnson. Being satisfied with the accomplishments of his term, he did not seek re-election, and retired as promised. He died of cholera three months after his term ended. Scholars have ranked him favorably on the list of greatest presidents for his ability to set an agenda and achieve all of it. Polk has been called the "least known consequential president" of the United States. In June 1834, Speaker of the House Andrew Stevenson resigned, leaving the spot for speaker open.

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Polk ran against fellow Tennessean John Bell for Speaker, and, after ten ballots, Bell won. However, in 1835, Polk ran again against Bell for Speaker again and won. Polk worked for Jackson's policies as speaker, and Van Buren's when he succeeded Jackson in 1837; he appointed committees with Democratic chairs and majorities, including the New York radical C. C. Cambreleng as Chair of the Ways and Means Committee, although he maintained the facade of traditional bipartisanship. The two major issues during Polk's speakership were slavery and the economy, following the Panic of 1837. Van Buren and Polk faced pressure to rescind the Specie Circular, an act that had been passed by Jackson, in an attempt to help the economy. The act required that payment for government lands be in gold and silver. However, with support from Polk and his cabinet, Van Buren chose to stick with the Specie Circular. Polk attempted to make a more orderly house. He never challenged anyone to a duel no matter how much they insulted his honor as was customary at the time. Polk also issued the gag rule on petitions from abolitionists.


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