After securing the presidency with the closest election in US history, the 49-year-old James K. Polk set clear goals for his term including his promise to only serve one term (1845–1849). Those goals were to reestablish the independent treasury system, reduce tariffs, and significantly expand the borders of the United States. Unlike many presidents before and since, James K. Polk succeeded in his objectives.
PRESIDENT JAMES K. POLK
After gaining Congressional approval for the nomination of Robert J. Walker as the Secretary of the Treasury, James K. Polk commissioned a nationwide study of tariff levels. The results of the study were used to support the passage of the Walker Tariff of 1846, which significantly reduced the former Tariff of 1842. The most significant change was that the tariff rates were independent of the value of the imported merchandise, and some duty-free categories.
After his success in improving the Tariff status, James K. Polk moved on to the issue of establishing an independent treasury that would require government funds to be received and held by treasury deposit offices, not banks. President Martin Van Buren had signed the Independent Treasury Act into law in 1840 but it had been repealed by Congress the following year. James K. Polk enhanced the former legislation by requiring that disbursements were backed by gold or silver. In 1846, James K. Polk established the treasury system and it remained in place until 1913.
JAMES K. POLK'S PRESIDENTIAL CHINA - SOUP BOWL
THE RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX COLLECTION
Because slavery was a highly-debated issue, James K. Polk was careful to pursue acquisition of lands that both forbid and embraced the practice of slavery. Adding more than a million square miles, James K. Polk was responsible for adding Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, most of New Mexico, and parts of Colorado, Montana, Texas, and Wyoming to the United States. After threatening war with Britain, Polk secured the land that now forms Idaho, Oregon, and Washington in addition to the Columbia River.
The Mexican War began with a dispute concerning Texas’ southern border. Congress supported James K. Polk with a declaration of war. An actual fact, President Polk's Mexican War policy was a highly controversial topic in America. After sixteen months, in September 1847, US forces captured Mexico City. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo established that the Texas border would be at the Rio Grande, and the US would acquire California and New Mexico for a sum of 15 million USD. In all, more than 13,000 American soldiers died during the Mexican War. Strangely, only 2,000 were lost in battle; the remainder were lost to disease. Mexico lost nearly 50,000 soldiers.
MAJOR BORDER EXPANSION OF THE UNITED STATES
Department of the Interior
After securing numerous lands, James K. Polk signed the bill creating the Department of the Interior on March 3, 1849, his last full day in office. This cabinet position was one of the first additions. Polk himself did not fully support the idea of the federal government having so much power over the states’ lands but he had run out of time to negotiate any alternatives; thus the President did sign this legislation into law.
As promised, James K. Polk did not seek re-election and left the presidency after having accomplished the objectives he had set. Only three months after leaving office, 53-year-old James K. Polk died on June 15, 1849 at his home in Nashville, TN. Although Polk had had numerous health problems throughout his life, his death was attributed to Cholera that he likely contracted during a tour of the South after leaving the White House. Polk was survived by his wife Sarah Childress Polk, and his mother. The Polks had no children. Today, James and Sarah Polk are buried in a tomb on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville.
HISTORIAN AND COLLECTOR - RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX
Raleigh DeGeer Amyx has been an avid historian and collector for much of his life. His extensive collection has long been admired throughout the world. The knowledge he has acquired has been called upon by the highest industry and government officials. Serious collectors who would like to discuss museum quality historically significant items are invited to contact Mr. Amyx for a confidential discussion.