Easton Press, Norwalk CT. 1987 Charles Grier Sellers "James K. Polk: Jacksonian" Limited Edition
As a youth, listless Jimmy Polk was scrawny, weak, pallid, and often in pain. In 1812, he rode horseback 230 miles from Tennessee up to Danville, Kentucky, and the plain white house of Ephraim McDowell. There, without benefit of anesthesia or antisepsis, the teenager from the Duck River country underwent a gallstone operation at the hands of a surgical pioneer. The stone was removed, and it is conceivable that roughly one-fifth of the continental United States would not be American today if the good doctor's knife had slipped or if his skill had forsaken him.
Although Polk never became robust, the operation was a pivot on which his life turned. The following summer at seventeen he entered an "academy," studying with new-found energy and compensating for time lost to illness. He later moved on to a better school; to the University of North Carolina; to Felix Grundy's law office in Nashville, and then to politics and Congress itself. Serving fourteen years in the federal House of Representatives, McDowell's erstwhile patient was Speaker for two terms and then Governor of Tennessee. If deficient in the personal magnetism of a Daniel Webster or a Henry Clay, Polk had other qualities which commended him to voters. In 1844, as the Democratic nominee, he defeated the redoubtable "Harry of the West" for the Presidency of the United States.
James K. Polk, Jacksonian ends in the autumn of 1843, shortly after his second defeat for re-election as Tennessee's governor. On the surface, it might seem that setbacks in his own bailiwick would have made Polk unavailable for the presidential palm. But so deftly has Professor Sellers recreated the political scene that the reader is prepared for what will doubtless develop in a second volume. Although the author keeps his eye on his man and never strays far from his side, Martin Van Buren and John C. Calhoun enter the account much as they actually entered Folk's life—proof, indeed, of Sellers' skill. Doughty "Old Hickory" Jackson, too, tubercular and toothless but forceful as ever, lingers on at the Hermitage. And from all that has been revealed about Polk in this first part of the story—his tenacity, self-discipline, courage, and adroitness—it will scarcely be a surprise when triumph follows on the heels of failure.
About the author
Charles Grier Sellers (born Charlotte, North Carolina) is an American historian.
He taught at the University of California, Berkeley, and Princeton University. He was a member of the Southern Historical Association.
He was arrested in the Jackson, Mississippi airport on 21 July 1961, as a part of the Freedom Rides (profiled in Breach of Peace: Portraits of the 1961 Mississippi Freedom Riders).