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James Knox Polk

Gov. James Knox Polk

  • October 14, 1839 - October 15, 1841
  • Democratic
  • November 2, 1795
  • June 15, 1849
  • North Carolina
  • University of North Carolina; Murfreesboro College
  • Married Sarah Childress
  • Representative, President


JAMES KNOX POLK was born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. After graduating from the University of North Carolina, he studied law under Felix Grundy, a famous Nashville lawyer, and began practicing law in Columbia, Tennessee. He became Chief Clerk of the Tennessee Senate in 1821 and served in the state House of Representatives from 1823 to 1825. He went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1825 to 1839-as Speaker for two terms. A strong supporter of Andrew Jackson, he ran for governor of Tennessee at the urging of Jackson and other Democratic leaders and was elected over the Whig incumbent, Newton Cannon. His administration focused on internal improvements and economic problems resulting from the Panic of 1837. Defeated for reelection, he returned to his law practice in Columbia. Although he sought unsuccessfully to take back the state house in 1843, he was nominated for President of the United States at the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore in 1844 and went on as a dark horse candidate to defeat Henry Clay in the general election. During his single term as President, Polk accomplished his objectives of revising tariff law, establishing an independent treasury, settling the Oregon question, re-annexing Texas, and opening up public lands for settlement. He did not seek reelection, retiring to his home in Nashville, where he died three months later. He was interred at his home for many years but was removed with his wife to the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol in 1893.


Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 6. New York: James T. White & Company.

Past Governors of Tennessee

Philips, Margaret I. The Governors of Tennessee. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company, 2001.

Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 4. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.

The White House

White, Robert H. Messages of the Governors of Tennessee, 1835-1845. Nashville: The Tennessee Historical Commission, Vol. 3, 1952.

Recent Tennessee Governors