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JAMES KNOX POLK,
THE ELEVENTH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.
HE family of the present incumbent of the presidential chair came from Ireland in the early part of the last century. Ezekiel Polk, the grandfather of the president, was the son of the emigrant, whose name was Robert, who, just previous to his removal to America,
married a Miss Gullet, the heiress of an estate called Morning Hill. Sometime previous to the commencement of the revolutionary war, the ancestors of James K. Polk settled near the western frontier of North Carolina, and they were among the most ardent patriots when that period of trouble arrived.* James K. POLK was born in Mecklenberg county, North Carolina, on the 2d of November, 1795. In the autumn of 1806, his father, with a wife and ten children, removed to Tennessee, upon the Duck river, which region was then a wilderness. By application and perseverance, James acquired a good English education, and at the age of seventeen he was placed in a mercantile house. The pursuit did not accord with his taste, and after much solicitation he prevailed upon his father to allow him to prepare for a collegiate course, with a view to the acquirement of the profession of the law. At the
At the age of twenty," he entered the university of North Carolina. There he was a distinguished pupil. At each semi-annual examination he took the first honors, and he graduated with the reputation of being the best scholar in mathematics and the classics in the institution.
• Colonel Thomas Polk, the great-uncle of the president, was the prime mover in the con. vention of the committee of safety in the county of Mecklenberg, North Carolina, who, on the 20th of May, 1775, nearly fourteen months before the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the continental Congress, passed resolutions declaring themselves free and independent of the British crown. He was chairman of the convention, and he was related to John M'Nitt Alexander, the secretary, and also to Dr. Brevard, the author of the resolutions.
Elected a member of the Tennessee legislature. – Elected to Congress. — Elected president He returned to Tennessee on leaving the university, with greatlyimpaired health (the result of too close application to study), and commenced the study of law in the office of the late Felix Grundy. At the close of 1820 he was admitted to the bar, and commenced his professional career in the county of Maury. He soon took the lead in his profession, and his plain common sense and amenity of manners endeared him to a large circle of warm friends.
In 1823, he was elected a member of the Tennessee legislature, and this was almost his initial step in politics. He was a member of that body for two years, and his ability, eloquence, and industry, gave him a solid reputation and a wide influence.* He was chosen in August, 1825, to represent his district in Congress, where, through all the mutations of party, he preserved inviolate
preserved inviolate the democratic principles which he had regarded with veneration from his earliest youth. With one or two exceptions, he was the youngest member of the house: yet it was not long before he was one of the leading men there, and for nearly fourteen years his public life and the history of the house of representatives are identical. He early took ground against a United States bank, and during the warfare of President Jackson against that institution, he was one of the firmest supporters of the administration. He was also an opponent of a high-protective tariff, and made a powerful speech against the collection of a surplus revenue from the people.
In December, 1835, Mr. Polk was elected speaker of the house of representatives ; and he was again elected at the extra session in 1837. During five sessions he so performed the duties of speaker, that he obtained the cordial friendship and respect of both parties.
Having served as a representative for fourteen years, he declined a re-election in 1839. He was nominated for the office of governor, and in August, 1839, he was elected by a majority of more than twentyfive hundred over Governor Cannon. He was a candidate for re-election in 1841, but was defeated by a larger majority than he was previously elected by. He was again a candidate for governor in 1843, and was again defeated. On the 29th of May, 1844, the democratic tion at Baltimore nominated him for president of the United States, and in December following, the electoral college declared him chosen to fill that high trust, by a majority over Mr. Clay of sixty-five. George M. Dallas, of Pennsylvania, was elected vice-president,
Mr. Polk was inaugurated on the 4th of March, 1845; and the next
• He was one of those who, in 1823-'4, called General Jackson from his retirement and elected him, a member of the United States senate. Every branch of the Polk family have always been attached to the democratic party. Some of them in Maryland, who were the only democrats of note in Somerset county, were distinguished as "the democratic family."
+ With the exception of one occasion, he was never absent from his place in the house a day during his whole term of service there.
Events connected with the Mexican war,
day, the senate being in session, he made the nominations for his cabinet, which were confirmed.* А year
and a half of Mr. Polk's administration is unexpired. Thus far, the chief event thereof is the commencement and continu
a Sept., ance of a war with Mexico. Of the various causes which led to hostilities, we have not room to speak in detail ; we must therefore be content with a brief notice of the leading facts connected with our present difficulties with that republic.
Texas, having maintained her independence of Mexico for nine years, and obtained a recognition of its independence from the United States and the principal powers of Europe, applied for and obtained admission into the American Union by an act, approved by President Tyler on the 2d of March, 1845. Mexico had never acknowledged the independence of Texas (although that government had offered to do so, conditionally), and therefore the annexation to our territory of a province which she claimed as her own, was deemed by her a sufficient reason for terminating diplomatic intercourse with our government.
On the 6th of March, 1845, the Mexican minister at Washington demanded his passports, declared his mission ended, and protested against the act of Congress, which, as he averred, had severed from Mexico an integral part of her dominions. Herrara, the president of Mexico, issued a proclamation, denouncing the act as a breach of faith, and calling upon the people to rally in support of their rights. Small detachments of Mexican troops were already on the frontier of Texas, and larger bodies were ordered to the Rio Grande with the avowed object of enforcing the jurisdiction of Mexico over Texas.
By the terms of the treaty of annexation, the United States government was bound to protect the new state ; and in view of the belligerent movements of Mexico, it was deemed advisable to send a military force to the Texan frontier, to act as circumstances might require. Accordingly, in the latter part of July, 1845, the United States government sent thither several military companies under the command of General Taylor, which took position upon an island near Corpus Christi bay, and north of the river Neuces. General Paredes, having been invested by the Mexican people with dictatorial powers, prepared to invade Texas with an army of six or seven thousand men. To guard against the evils of this threatened invasion, General Taylor broke up his encainpment at
• See appendix, article “Successive Administrations,” &c., page 128.
+ From the earliest period of their independence, the Texan people desired a reannexation to the American Union, and overtures for an acknowledgment of their independence, and with it annexation implied, were twice made to our government, and refused, on account of exist. ing treaties with Mexico. But these treaties were afterward so grossly violated by the successive executives of the Mexican government, that delicacy on that point was no longer demanded, and Texas was acknowledged a free and i jependent state.
The Mexican war. – The administration, person, and character, of the president. Corpus Christi and took position upon the Rio Grande opposite Matamoras. It was while marching toward this point with a portion of his little army, that he was attacked by a large body of Mexicans who had
crossed the Rio Grande, and the battles of Palo Altoa and a May 8.
Resaca de la Palmal ensued, which proved victorious to the 6 May 9.
Americans. On the 24th of May Matamoras surrendered, and the Americans took position on Mexican soil.
When the news of actual hostilities reached our government, Congress was in session, and an act was immediately passed, authorizing the president to raise by voluntary enlistment fifty thousand men, and also appropriated ten millions of dollars for the prosecution of the war in Mexico. The war still continues, and in every engagement of much consequence our army has been successful. On the 21st September, 1846, the Americans under Taylor attacked Monterey. It surrendered on the 24th. About the same time, divisions under Wool, Kearney, Fremont, and others, penetrated New Mexico and California, and took possession of some of the principal towns, among them Monterey on the Pacific.
Toward the close of 1846, General Scott was ordered to take the chief command in Mexico. He reached the Rio Grande in January, 1847, and soon began preparations to attack Vera Cruz, the nearest seaport to the city of Mexico. On the 22d of February, Taylor achieved a decisive victory at Buena Vista, and the Mexican army under Santa Anna was entirely routed. Taylor has since remained in that vicinity. On
the 13th of March,' the United States military and naval forces
invested Vera Cruz, and on the 29th the city and castle surrendered. Nearly every town on the gulf was taken possession of by our navy, and General Scott at once proceeded toward the capital. At Cerro Gordo he was met by Santa Anna with about twelve thousand troops, and a desperate battle ensued. Santa Anna was defeated, and the Americans pushed forward toward the city of Mexico. Scott fought two victorious battles near the city; the Mexican authorities proposed an armistice, for the purpose of negotiating peace. Hostilities, however, soon recommenced, and, on the 16th of September, Scott entered the capital in triumph.
Thus far, the administration of the government under Mr. Polk has been conducted with energy and ability, and fully realizing the expectations of his friends.
In person, Mr. Polk is of middle stature. His quick, penetrating eye, expansive forehead, and grave expression, are prominent features. In private life his amiability of character and purity of morals have secured the profound respect and esteem of all that know him; and his public career has been marked by amenity of manners, which commands the universal respect of his opponents. He is now fifty-two years of age.
DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
ADOPTED JULY 4, 1776.
WHEN, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident—that all men are created equal ; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed ; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes ; and, accordingly, all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies ; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present