James K. Polk   (1795-1849)

By Charles Fenderich, 1838. P.S. Duval lithography company. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Eleventh President, 1845-1849

Early in his presidency, James K. Polk declared that he would not seek reelection, thus freeing himself to proceed without an eye to the reaction of the voting public. Polk succeeded in his primary goals: to reduce the tariff, create an independent treasury, settle the long-standing dispute with Britain over the northern Oregon boundary, and expand the nation. In a move towards expansion, Polk tried unsuccessfully to buy territory from Mexico. This refusal set off the Mexican War of 1846, which was won by American forces under the brilliant leadership of General Zachary Taylor. The spoils of war included California and New Mexico, and Polk could claim success in his plan to expand the western border of the United States all the way to the Pacific Ocean.