James K. Polk, at 49, was the youngest man elected to the presidency and only speaker of the house to move into the executive mansion.
As a boy in west-central Tennessee, he devoted himself to his studies, going on to graduate from the University of North Carolina in 1818 and then to study law. He was elected to the state legislature in 1823.
By endorsing the annexation of Texas and the acquisition of the Oregon territory, Polk attracted the attention of Andrew Jackson, who became a key backer in his 1824 campaign for the House of Representatives. Polk won and went on to serve for 14 years, the last four as speaker.
In 1839, Polk was elected governor of Tennessee, only to be defeated twice thereafter. In 1844, he emerged as his party's first "dark horse" candidate for the presidency. News of his election over the Whig candidate, Henry Clay, reached him at home in Columbia at dawn, by means of a secret messenger dispatched on a galloping horse.
"There are four great measures," the new president announced. "One, reduction of the tariff; another, an independent treasury; third, settlement of the Oregon boundary question; and lastly, the acquisition of California." He also pledged early on not to run for re-election.