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James K. Polk signed Appointment - 1848 dated Presidential Autograph

Inv# AU1704   Autograph
Years: 1848

Signed by James Knox Polk as president and William Learned Marcy as Secretary of War.

James Knox Polk (November 2, 1795 – June 15, 1849) was the 11th president of the United States, serving from 1845 to 1849. He previously was the 13th speaker of the House of Representatives (1835–1839) and ninth governor of Tennessee (1839–1841). A protégé of Andrew Jackson, he was a member of the Democratic Party and an advocate of Jacksonian democracy. Polk is chiefly known for extending the territory of the United States through the Mexican–American War; during his presidency, the United States expanded significantly with the annexation of the Republic of Texas, the Oregon Territory, and the Mexican Cession following American victory in the Mexican–American War.

After building a successful law practice in Tennessee, Polk was elected to its state legislature in 1823 and then to the United States House of Representatives in 1825, becoming a strong supporter of Andrew Jackson. After serving as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, he became Speaker of the House in 1835, the only person to have served both as Speaker and U.S. president. Polk left Congress to run for governor of Tennessee, winning in 1839 but losing in 1841 and 1843. He was a dark horse candidate in the 1844 presidential election as the Democratic Party nominee; he entered his party's convention as a potential nominee for vice president but emerged as a compromise to head the ticket when no presidential candidate could secure the necessary two-thirds majority. In the general election, Polk defeated Henry Clay of the rival Whig Party.

Historians have praised Polk for meeting every major domestic and foreign policy goal he had set during his single term. After a negotiation fraught with the risk of war, he reached a settlement with Great Britain over the disputed Oregon Country, the territory, for the most part, being divided along the 49th parallel. He provoked a war with Mexico in an attempt to expand the United States and succeeded in doing so, as it resulted in Mexico's cession of nearly all the American Southwest. He secured a substantial reduction of tariff rates with the Walker tariff of 1846. The same year, he achieved his other major goal, re-establishment of the Independent Treasury system. True to his campaign pledge to serve only one term, Polk left office in 1849 and returned to Tennessee, where he died three months after leaving the White House.

Though he is relatively obscure today, scholars have ranked Polk favorably for his ability to promote and achieve the major items on his presidential agenda, despite limiting himself to a single term. He has also been criticized for leading the country into an aggressive war against Mexico and thus exacerbating divides between free and slave states. A property owner who used slave labor for most of his adult life, he kept a plantation in Mississippi and increased his slave ownership during his presidency. The legacy of Polk's policy of territorial expansion – with the United States reaching the Pacific coast and, roughly, its present contiguous borders – made the United States a nation poised to become a world power, but with sectional divisions gravely exacerbated, setting the stage for the Civil War.

James Knox Polk was born on November 2, 1795, in a log cabin in Pineville, North Carolina. He was the first of 10 children born into a family of farmers. His mother Jane named him after her father, James Knox. His father Samuel Polk was a farmer, slaveholder, and surveyor of Scots-Irish descent. The Polks had immigrated to America in the late 1600s, settling initially on the Eastern Shore of Maryland but later moving to south-central Pennsylvania and then to the Carolina hill country.

The Knox and Polk families were Presbyterian. While Polk's mother remained a devout Presbyterian, his father, whose own father Ezekiel Polk was a deist, rejected dogmatic Presbyterianism. He refused to declare his belief in Christianity at his son's baptism, and the minister refused to baptize young James. Nevertheless, James' mother "stamped her rigid orthodoxy on James, instilling lifelong Calvinistic traits of self-discipline, hard work, piety, individualism, and a belief in the imperfection of human nature", according to James A. Rawley's American National Biography article.

In 1803, Ezekiel Polk led four of his adult children and their families to the Duck River area in what is now Maury County, Tennessee; Samuel Polk and his family followed in 1806. The Polk clan dominated politics in Maury County and in the new town of Columbia. Samuel became a county judge, and the guests at his home included Andrew Jackson, who had already served as a judge and in Congress. James learned from the political talk around the dinner table; both Samuel and Ezekiel were strong supporters of President Thomas Jefferson and opponents of the Federalist Party.

Polk suffered from frail health as a child, a particular disadvantage in a frontier society. His father took him to see prominent Philadelphia physician Dr. Philip Syng Physick for urinary stones. The journey was broken off by James's severe pain, and Dr. Ephraim McDowell of Danville, Kentucky, operated to remove them. No anesthetic was available except brandy. The operation was successful, but it might have left James impotent or sterile, as he had no children. He recovered quickly and became more robust. His father offered to bring him into one of his businesses, but he wanted an education and enrolled at a Presbyterian academy in 1813. He became a member of the Zion Church near his home in 1813 and enrolled in the Zion Church Academy. He then entered Bradley Academy in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where he proved a promising student.

In January 1816, Polk was admitted into the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a second-semester sophomore. The Polk family had connections with the university, then a small school of about 80 students; Samuel was its land agent in Tennessee and his cousin William Polk was a trustee. Polk's roommate was William Dunn Moseley, who became the first Governor of Florida. Polk joined the Dialectic Society where he took part in debates, became its president, and learned the art of oratory. In one address, he warned that some American leaders were flirting with monarchical ideals, singling out Alexander Hamilton, a foe of Jefferson. Polk graduated with honors in May 1818.

After graduation, Polk returned to Nashville, Tennessee to study law under renowned trial attorney Felix Grundy, who became his first mentor. On September 20, 1819, he was elected clerk of the Tennessee State Senate, which then sat in Murfreesboro and to which Grundy had been elected. He was re-elected clerk in 1821 without opposition, and continued to serve until 1822. In June 1820, he was admitted to the Tennessee bar, and his first case was to defend his father against a public fighting charge; he secured his release for a one-dollar fine. He opened an office in Maury County and was successful as a lawyer, due largely to the many cases arising from the Panic of 1819, a severe depression. His law practice subsidized his political career.

William Learned Marcy (December 12, 1786 – July 4, 1857) was an American lawyer, politician, and judge who served as U.S. Senator, Governor of New York, U.S. Secretary of War and U.S. Secretary of State. In the latter office, he negotiated the Gadsden Purchase, the last major acquisition of land in the contiguous United States.

Born in Southbridge Massachusetts, Marcy established a legal practice in Troy, New York after graduating from Brown University. He fought in the War of 1812, as an ensign, first lieutenant and captain in the 155th New York Infantry Regiment. Politically, he aligned with the Bucktail faction of the Democratic-Republican Party and became a leading member of the Albany Regency. As the Democratic-Republicans fractured in the 1820s, he became a member of the Democratic Party. Between 1821 and 1831, he successively served as Adjutant General of New York, New York State Comptroller, and as an associate justice of the New York Supreme Court. In 1831, the New York legislature elected Marcy to the U.S. Senate, and he held that position until 1833, when he became the Governor of New York. He served three terms as governor until his defeat in 1838 by the Whig nominee, William Seward.

He served as Secretary of War under James K. Polk from 1845 to 1849, overseeing the Mexican–American War. After leaving the Polk administration, he resumed the practice of law and became a leader of the "Soft" Hunker faction of the New York Democratic Party. He returned to the Cabinet in 1853, serving as Secretary of State under Franklin Pierce. In this role, he resolved a dispute about the status of U.S. immigrants abroad and directed U.S. diplomats to dress in the plain style of an ordinary American rather than the court-dress many had adopted from Europe. He also negotiated a reciprocity treaty with British North America and the Gadsden purchase with Mexico, acquiring territory in present-day Arizona and New Mexico. He left office in 1857 and died shortly thereafter.

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Condition: AU
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Price: $3,950.00