POTUS Fact 11: The President with the Shortest Retirement

The eleventh President of America, James Knox Polk (November 2, 1795 – June 15, 1849), had the shortest retirement of any U.S President when he died in 1849, 103 days after leaving office.

James K. Polk (1795-1849), 11th President of the United States (1845-1849).

Sedated by brandy, Polk survived gall bladder surgery at the age of 17. He had to be strapped to a table and held by his father, as there were no anaesthetics at that time, while the operation was performed by Dr. Ephraim McDowell. Surgery was then a hazardous undertaking.

The surgery might have left him sterile as he did not sire any child with his wife, Sarah Childress Polk (1803 – 1891).

Polk graduated with honours from the University of North Carolina in 1818. He then went on to study law and became a lawyer in 1820. From there he started his own successful law practice.

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He is regarded by historians as one of the most successful American Presidents as he served only one term and achieved all his objectives within four years.

Polk’s political career began when he was elected to the Tennessee state legislature and later, he became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and later Speaker of the house.

Polk was protégé of President Andrew Jackson. Jackson’s nickname was “Old Hickory” and Polk ended up with the nickname “Young Hickory” because he supported Jackson and was also from Tennessee.

He became President at 49, younger than any American President until Franklin Pierce broke the record in 1853 by when he became President at 47.

James K. Polk, first photograph taken in the White House
President James K. Polk (2nd from right) with other members of his cabinet in the White House dining room, 1846. This was the first photograph taken in the White House,and the first of a presidential Cabinet/Wikipedia.

He was the first “dark horse“, or little-known candidate, to win a presidential nomination in 1844.

Polk was a slaveholder. He even bought them while he was President.

Polk’s Presidency expanded America as a coast-coast nation.

The announcement of Polk’s nomination for president via telegraph was the first use of this technology in politics. His inauguration was also the first to be illustrated in a newspaper – The Illustrated London News, April 19, 1845.

The tradition of the playing the song “Hail to the Chief” started while Polk was president.

Image of Sarah Childress Polk
Sarah Childress Polk (1803-1795), First Lady of the United States (1845-1849)/The White House.

Polk remains the only U.S President who had been Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Polk was the first elected President to have lost his home state (Tennessee) and his birth state (North Carolina) in the November 1844 election.

Polk was a hardworking President who spent 10 to 12 hours at his desk and hardly left the capital, Washington D.C.

“With me it is exceptionally true that the Presidency is no bed of roses.” – James K. Polk (1795-1849), 11th President of the United States (1845-1849).

He was descended from John Knox (1513-1572), that Scottish religious reformer and the founder of Presbyterianism in Scotland, through his mother, Jane.

Polk was a slaveholder. He even bought them while he was President.

He was baptised as a Methodist, three days before his death.

James K. Polk had the shortest post-presidency of any U.S President who did not die in office- 103 days. He died of cholera.

His wife, Sarah, lived for 42 years after his death and always wore black. The longest retirement of any First Lady and widowhood.

His last words were, “I love you, Sarah. For all eternity, I love you.”




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Ayomide Akinbode

Ayomide Akinbode holds a degree in Chemistry but has a passion for History and Classics. When he is not writing, he’s either sleeping or playing Scrabble.

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