James Knox Polk ( November 2 , 1795 - June 15 , 1849 ) was the 11th ( 1845 - 1849 ) President of the United States .
Polk was a member of the United States House of Representatives ( 1825 - 1839 ), also serving as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives ( 1835 - 1839 ), and Governor of Tennessee ( 1839 - 1841 ).
Told of his nomination in a letter, Polk penned the reply: "It has been well observed that the office of President of the United States should neither be sought nor declined. I have never sought it, nor should I feel at liberty to decline it, if conferred upon me by the voluntary suffrages of my fellow citizens."
Though a veteran politician, Polk entered the 1844 presidential campaign with little name recognition. Playing on his relative obscurity, the Whig opposition sniped "Who is James K. Polk?" An experienced and eloquent orator dubbed the " Napoleon of the Stump," Polk campaigned vigorously, surprising many with his stalwart support of westward expansion—a hotly-debated issue dodged by other candidates. Polk wanted the entire Oregon Territory, vowing, " Fifty-Four Forty or Fight ."
In the end, Polk's campaign policies paid off. On November 5 , 1844 , Polk defeated Whig party candidate Henry Clay to become the eleventh President of the United States. He won the election with 170 electoral votes versus Clay's 105. The popular vote count was much closer with Polk receiving just 38,000 more popular votes than Clay.
Polk's considerable political accomplishments took their toll on his health. Full of enthusiasm and vigor when he entered office, Polk left the White House at the age of 53 exhausted by his years of public service. He died less than four months later at his new home,"Polk Place," in Nashville, Tennessee.
Polk's wife, Sarah Childress Polk , lived at the residence another 42 years, often receiving visitors. During the American Civil War ( April 12 , 1861 - May 13 , 1865 ), Mrs. Polk welcomed both Confederate and Union leaders to her home. Polk Place became a pilgrimage destination and was respected as neutral ground. When Mrs. Polk passed away on August 14 , 1891, she was mourned by a nation that regarded her as a precious link to the past.
Source: Library of Congress