James K Polk Timeline
Timeline Description: James Knox Polk is often considered the least known consequential President. Serving just one term as President, Democrat Polk achieved the four major goals he outlined at the start of his office, achieving expansionist foreign policy successes, securing the Walker tariff of 1846 and re-establishing an independent government treasury.

Date Event
November 2, 1795 James Knox Polk is born.

James Knox Polk is born on November 2, 1795, the first of ten children to Samuel and Jane Polk. His families are Presbyterian Scots-Irish settlers living in a farmhouse in Pineville, North Carolina.
1806 Polk moves to Maury County.

Polk's parents follow the rest of the family and move to Maury County where Polk is home-schooled. The family becomes prosperous, through land speculation, and respected as Polk's father is a county judge.
1818 Polk graduates.

In 1814 Polk attends an academy in Murfreesboro, where he is a promising student and learns the art of oratory and debate at the Dialectic Society. Two years later Polk transfers to University of North Carolina, where he graduates with honors in May 1818.
1819 Polk studies law.

Polk travels to Nashville to be mentored by renowned attorney, Felix Grundy. In 1819 Polk is elected clerk for the Tennessee State Senate and is admitted to the bar in June 1820. Polk sets up his own practice, which is notably successful due to bad debt cases after the 1819 Panic.
1823 Polk enters politics.

Polk joins a local militia in 1822, quickly rising through the ranks to colonel. His oratory earns him the nickname "Napoleon of the Stump". He runs a successful campaign to become the new Democratic representative of Maury County in 1823.
January 1, 1824 Polk marries Sarah Childress.

Polk marries Sarah Childress on January 1, 1824. Sarah fully supports her husband's political career, helping with speeches, advising on policy matters and actively campaigning with him. The couples do not have any children.
1825 Polk wins a seat in the House of Representatives.

Aged just 29, Polk successfully campaigns for a seat in the United States House of Representatives. Polk's first major speech on March 13, 1826 suggests that the Electoral College should be abolished so that the President is elected by popular vote.
1835 Polk becomes Speaker of the House.

In 1834 he is narrowly defeated as Speaker of the House, but wins the prestigious position the following year. Polk tries to run an orderly House and the big topics in his tenure are slavery and the economy. Polk continues to support Andrew Jackson, who he advises on policies.
1839 Governor of Tennessee.

Polk is shocked when the Democrats lose the governorship for the first time in Tennessee in 1835, and he returns home to support the party. He defeats the Whig incumbent, but his three key initiatives do not receive legislative approval. Polk loses his re-election in 1841.
1844 Polk is nominated for President.

Polk hopes to be nominated for vice president at the Democratic convention in 1844. The leading contender, former President Martin Van Buren, loses significant support over the Republic of Texas. Polk emerges as a surprise Presidential candidate and is decisively nominated.
1844 Presidential election.

The campaign centers on the annexation of Texas and westwards expansion into Oregon Country. Polk is vocal in favor of both topics and this undoubtedly helps him narrowly win the popular vote, and whole-heartedly win the Electoral College.
March 4, 1845 Polk takes Presidential office.

Polk sets four clearly defined goals for his one term administration=to re-establish the Independent Treasury System, reduce tariffs, expand westwards into Oregon Country and acquire California and New Mexico from Mexico.
1845 Walker Tariff.

Polk's Secretary of the Treasury, Robert J. Walker, substantially reduces the Whigs' previous tariff rates from 32% to 25%. Coinciding with Britain's repeal of the Corn Laws, the new tariff boosts trade.
1845 California acquisition.

Texas was annexed to the United States shortly after Polk's election. In 1845 Polk started negotiations with Mexico to acquire California, in particular the trading port of San Francisco. Mexico refuses to negotiate and Polk claims a Mexican invasion and declares war. Three years later Mexico agrees to Polk's peace terms.
1846 Independent Treasury.

Within his first year in office, Polk restores the Independent Treasury System which means that government funds are held by the Treasury, rather than banks or other financial institutions.
1846 Westward expansion into Oregon Country.

Polk's expansionist beliefs are reflected in his foreign policies. He pressures Great Britain to resolve the long-outstanding Oregon boundary dispute and eventually agrees a division along the 49th parallel. United States acquires modern-day Washington, Oregon, Idaho and parts Montana and Wyoming.
1850 Extension of the Missouri Compromise Line.

Without committing to either side of the slavery debate Polk, a slaveholder himself, says he believes the territories won from Mexico could exist without slavery, but refuses to abolish it altogether. Instead he extends the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific Ocean.
June 15, 1849 Polk dies.

Polk's health suffered tremendously through his presidency, not least during the Mexico war which he managed closely. He leaves office on March 4, 1849 pale, thin and exhausted. He dies in Nashville, Tennessee, on June 15, 1849, just three months later.