James Knox Polk
President from 1844-1848
By Richard E. Noble
"Who is James Knox Polk," you ask. Well, that is exactly the question that they all asked when he was suddenly nominated for president in 1844 by the Democratic Republicans. He was the America's first "dark horse" candidate and one of Andrew Jackson's good old boys. He ran against Whig candidate Henry Clay and Clay lost once again. Polk kind of looks like Charlie Rich to me.
Polk was all business and he had an agenda. The U.S. had its Manifest Destiny to achieve - fifty-four forty or fight. He started the war with Mexico. This war had more detractors than even the war of 1812. But like every war it seemed to have twice as many advocates. God must love the poor, they say, or He wouldn't have made so many of them. Well people must love wars or history would not be so full of them.
Santa Anna is the Mexican bad guy and Gen. Winfield Scott and Old Rough and Ready, General Zackery Taylor were the U.S. good guys. Sam Houston, a very colorful guy himself, was President, Senator for thirteen years and then Governor of the new State of Texas. Sam eventually resigned his post, refusing to be a traitor to his country when Texas decided to secede from the Union in 1861 and join the Confederacy.
This war with Mexico was so lopsided that even Polk felt guilty about it. Though we stole it fair and square, Polk still paid Mexico fifteen million dollars for what we took. We got Texas, California and New Mexico, more than a million square miles at the treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo on Feb. 2, 1848. Actually, from what I can see of the situation, Mexico, itself, should have surrendered and became a State. Santa Anna could have been the Governor, and everybody would have been a lot better off. Santa Anna was actually flown in from Cuba for the occasion in the first place. But instead of doing the deal that he had been bought and paid for, like so many of our other U.S. operatives in South America and elsewhere, he turned and bit the hand that was feeding him. I guess you just can't trust anybody, can you? Oh well, guess he got what he deserved.
Polk's wife Sarah Childress was a pious Calvinist. D.C. would no longer be fun city U.S.A. Mama says there will be no dancing, no card playing, no wine, no snuff around here. But Octogenarian, Dolly Madison, said “snuff is snuff”, and since she liked doing all of the above, including snuff, the party was at Dolly's house from then on.
Where did little Jimmy ever find Dolly I wonder? She seems to be something else.
Before Mr. Polk was done he signed a bill establishing a territorial government for Oregon. Our man James K. Polk was a busy, busy man. Polk, like his idle Andrew Jackson, considered himself, a man of the people. He did what he thought was best for the people or what he thought the people wanted. He lowered the tariffs so that goods would be cheaper, he pushed for Manifest Destiny, and he re-established the Independent Treasury figuring that the people would be better off with the government controlling the money supply rather than private businessmen.
Polk it seems worked himself to death in the White House. Shortly after his term in office was completed, he died. He died of chronic diarrhea; a disease one might think would be peculiarly common to politicians.