Chapter One Old Hickory's Boy JAMES K. POLK always had what any politician craves--the unqualified support of his era's greatest hero. To be sure, some folks vilified the very name of Andrew Jackson. But they were usually in the minority, and from his fabled victory at New Orleans in 1815 until his death in 1845, Jackson cast a huge shadow across the American political landscape. Throughout most of that time, there was never much doubt that James K. Polk was Old Hickory's boy. It was no small coincidence that the men were born within twenty miles of each other in the frontier hills of the Carolinas. Jackson was the elder by twenty-eight years. Because Jackson's recently widowed mother was traveling to join family, there is some doubt which sister's home, and hence which side of the North Carolina--South Carolina border, Elizabeth Jackson was at when her third son was born on March 15, 1767. But young Andrew grew up at his aunt Jane's on the South Carolina side and stayed there until he rode north to Salisbury, North Carolina, to study law seventeen years later. The law and a lust for adventure soon led Jackson west across the Great Smoky Mountains to Tennessee. In Jonesborough at the age of twenty-one, he fought his first duel, after taking the sarcasm of opposing counsel during a trial a little too personally. Both parties fired into the air, and Jackson left the field satisfied that his reputation was secure. Later in that same year of 1788, he arrived in Nashville. On the great Cumberland River, Nashville was still very much a fledgling frontier settlement, a town of a few hundred people that nonetheless had already managed to erect both a courthouse and a distillery. Jackson's boisterous personality attracted plenty of attention. In 1796, after helping to draft a state constitution, Andrew Jackson was elected Tennessee's first delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. He was all of twenty-nine years old.1 By then, back in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, Samuel and Jane Polk had welcomed their firstborn. Jackson's Scots-Irish ancestors had barely reached America when Jackson was born, but the Polks were old-timers, Scots-Irish themselves. Sam's greatgreat- grandfather had arrived along the eastern shores of Chesapeake Bay in the late 1600s. The Polk clan soon migrated to south-central Pennsylvania and then to the Carolina hill country. Jane was a Knox, descended from a brother of Scottish Reformation leader John Knox. She was a no-nonsense Presbyterian, and she named the baby she delivered about noon on November 2, 1795, James Knox Polk after her father. Just about everyone else in Mecklenburg County was also Presbyterian, but there were various shades to their zeal. Sam Polk's father, Ezekiel, was a case in point. After the children he fathered with his second wife all died in infancy, Ezekiel became disillusioned with Presbyterian orthodoxy and began to espouse deism. When Sam and Jane presented Ezekiel's grandson to be baptized, a young "fire and brimstone" minister named James Wallis chose to interrogate Sam at length about the depths of his own commitment to Presbyterian doctrine. A heated argument ensued and the result was that little James Knox Polk was taken home without receiving the sacrament of baptism. Jane was mortified. Quite an uproar ensued throughout Mecklenburg County as Ezekiel voiced his views louder and louder and the Reverend Wallis preached back with equal passion. As if mortification weren't enough, Jane Polk was soon caught Excerpted from Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America by Walter R. Borneman All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.