James K. Polk, the 11th president of the United States, was honored on a single commemorative stamp on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of his birth. Born in Pineville, NC, Polk moved with his family to the middle of Tennessee at an early age. After graduation from the University of North Carolina in 1818, Polk returned to Tennessee to study law and served as a clerk for the state senate in Murfreesboro, then the state capital.
Polk served seven terms in Congress as a supporter of his friend Andrew Jackson, and served as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives between 1835 and 1839, leaving to become governor of Tennessee. Polk remains the only Speaker of the House to become President. In 1844, he was a leading contender for the Democratic nomination for vice president, with a strong list of presidential contenders, including Martin Van Buren of New York, John Calhoun of South Carolina, Lewis Cass of Michigan, and James Buchanan of Pennsylvania.
After the presidential nomination remained deadlocked following the eighth ballot, the Democrats agreed on a compromise candidate, Silas Wright of New York, with Polk as his running mate. Wright, however, refused the nomination and Polk, whose name was not even on the first seven ballots, was nominated unanimously on the ninth. In the presidential election that followed, Polk garnered 107 electoral votes, with 105 going to Whig candidate Henry Clay of Kentucky, giving Polk the slimmest margin of victory up to that time.
Committed to the nation's "Manifest Destiny," Polk won a war with Mexico and annexed more then five hundred thousand square miles, now known as Texas, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. At the same time, Polk risked war with Great Britain, claiming the territory from the California border northward to the southern boundary of Russian Alaska, located at latitude fifty-four degrees forty minutes north. Although extremists demanded "fifty-four forty or fight," Polk worked out a treaty with Great Britain, establishing the northern boundary of the Pacific northwest at the 49th parallel, with the exception of the southern end of Vancouver Island.