Who Is James K. Polk?
The Presidential Election of 1844
Sales Date: October 30, 2023
368 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- Published: October 2023
- Published: December 2023
The question Americans asked in 1844 was, “Who the hell is James K. Polk?”
Polk, of course, was not unknown, but was a highly unlikely presidential candidate given the availability of better-known options. Among the Democrats, this included Martin Van Buren, John C. Calhoun, and James Buchanan. Among the Whigs, Henry Clay was the clear frontrunner. Complicating the election were three other candidates: President John Tyler, a man without a party; Joseph Smith, the self-described prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the first presidential candidate to be assassinated; and James G. Birney, head of the antislavery Liberty ticket. On top of this remarkable cast of characters, the stakes of the election were high as the United States was undergoing a tumultuous political transition.
James K. Polk’s ascension to the White House over more notable politicians was a pivotal moment in propelling the United States towards civil war, and the 1844 election expanded the vigorous campaigning that had been growing since 1824. In Who Is James K. Polk?, Mark Cheathem examines the transition from traditional political issues, such as banking and tariffs, to newer ones, like immigration and slavery. The book also captures the Whig and Democratic parties at a mature stage of competition and provides detailed descriptions of campaign tactics used by the candidates, including rallies, music, and political cartoons.
Cheathem has written the definitive account of this important election in this volume for the esteemed American Presidential Elections series.
"Who Is James K. Polk? is essential reading for every political junkie, for anyone interested in presidential campaigns, and for all who seek to understand antebellum America and the road to civil war."—Real Clear Books
“Elections matter. And few have mattered more in US history than the 1844 election, which elevated to the White House a leader whose aggressive policies inadvertently helped set the nation on a path to civil war. In Who Is James Polk?, historian Mark Cheathem harnesses his unrivalled command of the politics of the 1830s and 1840s to give us the definitive account of this pivotal, if too often neglected, election. A must-read addition to this justly acclaimed series on America’s presidential elections.”—Richard J. Ellis, author of Old Tip vs. the Sly Fox: The 1840 Election and the Making of a Partisan Nation
“This will be the standard work on the election of 1844. It is also the model for how presidential elections should be studied and discussed. Cheathem gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of all the campaigns during the 1844 election. Any reader will feel like a political insider after reading this excellent work.”—William K. Bolt, professor of history, Francis Marion University, and former assistant editor of the James K. Polk Project
“Mark Cheathem’s account of the election of 1844 tells us who James K. Polk was, how he earned the Democratic nomination for president, how he won the White House, and why it matters. Deeply researched and engagingly written, the book places this often-overlooked election into the wide sweep of antebellum politics and explains that Polk’s election represented a ‘tipping point’ for the United States. Indeed, Cheathem makes clear that the sectional conflict over slavery that put the nation on the path to civil war cannot be fully analyzed without an understanding of this election. Historiographically significant, this book is a worthy contribution to the American Presidential Elections series.”—Christopher J. Leahy, professor of history, Keuka College, and author of President without a Party: The Life of John Tyler
1. “A Political Saturnalia”: Jacksonian Party Politics, 1824–1840
2. “Oll for Klay”: The Whig National Convention
3. “An Entirely New Man”: The Democratic Convention
4. “In the Hands of the Slave Power”: The Campaigns of Joseph Smith, John Tyler, and James G. Birney
5. “A National Festival”: The 1844 Campaign
6. “The Republic Is Safe”: Understanding Polk’s Victory
Appendix: James K. Polk’s Inaugural Address, March 4, 1845