Read JAMES KNOX POLK of Lives of the Presidents Told in Words of One Syllable , free online book, by Jean S. Remy, on

As a boy James Knox Polk led a life that would please a good many of the boys of today. He was born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, on November 2d, 1705; but in 1806 his father went to Duck Farm, Tennessee, and little James, eleven years old, was of much help in the new home. Where the day’s work took the big, strong father, there went the small son; if there was a long ride to get food or clothes from some big town, little James could help care for the horses and when his father and other men, for weeks at a time, were in the great, wild woods, hunting, making new roads, or helping each other build the log cabins, which were the homes of these early settlers, James would be there too, cooking meals and keeping the camp neat and bright for the men who came back tired and hungry at night.

So years passed by with much work in the open air and little of study or books; but when James was fourteen years old it was time that he should earn money.

He was not a big, strong boy; he could not stand rough, hard work on a farm; he did not love to hunt; he had no taste for war; so he was put in a small store, that he might learn to manage a big store when he grew old.

Here he first saw some books, and his love for them awoke; for weeks and months he worked alone with any book or paper he could find.

At last his father took him from the store and sent him to school; he was now eighteen, but he was so quick to learn, so bright and smart, that five years from this time he left the University of North Carolina at the head of his class.

When he came back to Duck River, not only was his father proud of his boy, but all Tennessee knew that he was one of the brightest young men in the state.

Now, just at this time, General Jackson was fighting so bravely against the Indians and all the boys of Tennessee were as proud of this great hero as the boys of Virginia had been of Washington. In 1819, when young James Polk went to Nashville, Tennessee, to take up law, he was near Jackson’s home; and he and the great General became fast friends. It was owing to Jackson’s help that, in 1824, Polk, then a bright young lawyer, took his first public step and was sent to the state legislature.

He arose so fast in the love and trust of his state that he was sent to Congress when only thirty years old; and here he stayed for thirteen years.

In 1840 he went back to his home at Grundy’s Hill in Nashville, having made a great name in Washington; not once did he lose his hold on the great questions of the day, even while here at home; and in 1845 he was chosen prèsident of the United States.

While he was in office, once more the United States was at war, and this war is known as the Mexican War. Its cause was this:

Our people in Mexico said that a big tract of land down there was theirs; the Mexicans laid claim to it too; so General Taylor went down to see that our rights were looked after.

In the first fight he won, and lost but nine men; then he laid siege to their great city of Monterey, and after a hard fight took the town.

That same year General Scott took the city of Vera Cruz; on September 14th, 1847, the American troops took the city of Mexico, and the long war was at an end.

In 1848 came the news of great gold mines in California; and men went in such numbers to this state that the Gold Fever of 1849” is a well known term today.

While Polk was in the chair, three new states came in; and two of them were free states; that is, no slaves could be kept there; just at this time some men formed a band, and said that no slaves should be kept in any new state which the United States should gain.

In 1849 Polk went home to Nashville, Tennessee; he was only fiftyeight years old; but was so worn out with years of work that he lived but a few months after he got home; he died on the 15th of June, in the same year.