Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division's First 100 Years

Retained copy of letter, James K. Polk to the Committee of the Democratic National Convention accepting the Democratic presidential nomination, [12 June 1844].
(James K. Polk Papers)


James K. Polk (1795-1849), the first "dark horse" candidate for the presidency, became the nominee of the Democratic Party at its national convention in Baltimore, Maryland, on 29 May 1844. It had been anticipated that former president Martin Van Buren (1782-1862) would be selected, but his opposition to the annexation of Texas made him unacceptable to the South and to former president Andrew Jackson (1767-1845). Polk was not widely known throughout the country, even though he had served in the House of Representatives for fourteen years and as speaker during his last two terms. As recently as 1843, he had been defeated in a canvass for the governorship of Tennessee. His nomination in Baltimore came on the ninth ballot after his name was brought forward on the eighth.

A committee appointed by the convention wrote to Polk on 29 May 1844, requesting his acceptance of the nomination that had been unanimously tendered to him. In its letter, the committee announced that it confidently entertained the hope that Polk would not "turn a deaf ear" to the call of his country. Polk's response of 12 June 1844, written from his home in Columbia, Tennessee, noted that "the office of President of the United States should neither be sought nor declined," and never having sought it, he did not "feel at liberty to decline it" if conferred upon him. He did, however, use the occasion to declare that, if elected, he would not seek reelection. During the campaign that followed, the Whigs who had the famous Henry Clay (1777-1852) as their candidate, asked derisively, "Who is James K. Polk?" Elected on 5 November 1844, Polk in four years oversaw the admittance of Texas as a state, the declaration of war against Mexico, the settlement by treaty with Great Britain of the Oregon boundary dispute, and the acquisition by treaty with Mexico of territory that eventually became California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming. After completing his single term, which was one of the most productive presidencies in American history, Polk returned to Tennessee where he died less than four months later.

John J. McDonough, Manuscript Division

For Additional Information
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Reproduction Number:
A72 (color slide; page 1); A73 (color slide; page 2)

Related Terms:
Baltimore (Md.) | Clay, Henry (1777-1852) | Democratic Party (U.S.) | Elections | Jackson, Andrew (1767-1845) | Mexico | Oregon | Political conventions | Polk, James K. (James Knox) (1795-1849) | Presidential nominations | Presidents | Tennessee | Texas | Van Buren, Martin (1782-1862) | Whig Party (U.S.)

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