Lesson Plans

The Dark Horse


James Polk is known as the first dark horse candidate for the US presidency. Though it is a stretch to call a former seven term US congressman, Speaker of the House, and governor unknown, many people were surprised by his nomination.

Political campaigns were a lot different when Polk was alive. As a dark horse candidate, James Polk and the Democrats had to come up with a way to beat Henry Clay and the Whigs. In this lesson plan, your students will explore what the presidential campaign of 1844 looked and sounded like through the analysis of primary and secondary sources then plan, develop, and execute their own campaign.


A. Research and analyze primary and secondary sources to explore how political conventions worked in 1844.

B. Examine primary source excerpts from newspapers, personal accounts, and political documents to identify differences between the two major political parties during James Polk’s candidacy.

C. Analyze political cartoons, ribbons, and songs to understand how political messages were spread during the 1844 campaign.

D. Demonstrate understanding of the complex issues facing the United States during the 1844 campaign through the creation of political cartoons, songs, and speeches.

The Great Nation of Futurity


President James K. Polk (1845-1849) added more territory to the United States than any other president. Through negotiations with the British he was able to gain the southern portion of the Oregon Country establishing the U.S. border at the 49 th parallel. Polk also oversaw the invasion of Mexico that forced the Mexican government to sell California and large portions of the American southwest.

When Polk became president in 1845 much of the nation was looking westward in the spirit of manifest destiny, the belief that the United States territory was divinely ordained to become a continental power. Polk campaigned on the “re-annexation of Texas and the reoccupation of Oregon.” This use of the prefix “re” was dubious at best. Texas was its own republic that had split from Mexico and the Oregon Country was a territory shared primarily between citizens of the United States and Great Britain as well as Indian tribes native to the region. In this lesson students will explore the major impacts of President Polk’s single term through primary and secondary source analysis and apply their research to create a character map of President James K. Polk.


A. Analyze primary source documents to define “manifest destiny” and identify positive and negative consequences of Western Expansion.

B. Examine primary and secondary sources to determine the attitudes of James Polk and other Americans about both the Oregon and Texas territories.

C. Use primary and secondary sources to examine the causes of the US-Mexican War and determine the key points in arguments both for and against the war.

Polk Pop: Teaching with Music


Polk Pop is original, educational music created by the President James K. Polk Home & Museum.

Find the songs and resources for using them at home, in the classroom or beyond! 

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