Late in James K. Polk’s presidency, his wife Sarah Childress Polk received an unusual gift that implicitly equated…
The Early Years
James Knox Polk was born in a log cabin in Mecklenburg, North Carolina in 1795. His father Samuel was a wealthy farmer and land surveyor who decided to move the family west across the Appalachian Mountains to try their fortunes in the frontier state of Tennessee. The Polk family thrived in their new western home, eventually settling in the small town of Columbia. It was in this setting that James Polk began to shape his political beliefs and worldview.
Young James struggled with chronic illness which culminated in a harrowing surgery performed by noted Kentucky surgeon Ephraim McDowell. Once recovered, James Polk dedicated himself to academic pursuits and attended the University of North Carolina, where he joined the debate society and graduated at the top of his class. The studious Polk even delivered the commencement speech—in Latin.