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Polk, James

Two states shared the youth and education of James Knox Polk, 11th president of the United States of America. He was born in North Carolina in 1795 in the afterglow of the American Revolution and as a lad moved with his family to larger lands in Tennessee. He was weak and sickly in his early years but gained strength in his teens. Following undergraduate study at the University of North Carolina, he read law under Tennessee’s most prestigious attorney, Judge Felix Grundy of Nashville. It was in Nashville that Polk met Andrew Jackson and began a lasting and rewarding friendship. They came to be called “Old Hickory and Young Hickory.” In 1821 Polk was chosen a captain (and later a major) in t he Maury County militia. But Polk’s service to his state and country was to be more political than military. He rose rapidly to Congress, becoming speaker of the House during the difficult years of 1835-39. In 1840 he became governor of Tennessee, but failed to win reelection. Hoewever, as the first “dark horse” in American presidential history, he won the Democratic nomination in 1844 and defeated Henry Clay in the November election. During the single term of the presidency of James Knox Polk, the United States acquired the territorries which now comprise Texas, New Mexico, California and Oregon.