James K. Polk: Birthplace, Early Life & Education

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

James K. Polk endured a pretty unfortunate childhood but that didn't stop him from becoming the 11th President of the United States. In this lesson, you will learn more about his early life and education.

James K. Polk

People love to label presidents as one thing or another. In the case of James K. Polk, the 11th president of the United States, it is impossible to ignore his tireless work ethic. Of course, there's much more to the man but you will find out why he was a workaholic right from an early age on this lesson about his early life and education.

James K. Polk

Birthplace & Family

Polk was born on November 2, 1795 in Pineville, a town in rural Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. James was the eldest of ten children born to Samuel and Jane Knox Polk. His family had Scots-Irish roots as they first settled in the U.S. in the 1720s in Pennsylvania. Like many Scots-Irish who settled in rural areas, the Polk family were practicing Presbyterians.

Early Life & Education

Polk was not a healthy child. It's hard to say exactly why but some suspect that it was a combination of two factors that contributed to his ill-health. First, his family moved to Tennessee when he was 11 in order to tame the wilderness into farms and plantations. This was a wise move financially, as the family prospered. However, this was also a really difficult and long journey that apparently took a heavy toll on Polk.

Secondly, his strict upbringing instilled an overly-hard work ethic that some believe even contributed to his death. In addition, Polk seemed to work and study excessively hard in order to compensate for the physical and health deficits that he endured.

Polk had little formal schooling during his childhood partly as a result of his poor health. However, his mother didn't skip a beat. She got several tutors to teach him reading, writing, and arithmetic at home. Once his family moved to Tennessee he eventually enrolled in a Presbyterian school near Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Polk later attended the University of North Carolina, at the time a small school with approximately eighty students, and graduated with honors in 1818. He then went to Nashville to study law under Felix Grundy, a well-known lawyer at the time. Grundy is considered to be Polk's first legal mentor, under whom he learned enough to pass the state bar exam in 1820.

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