Did James Polk Work Himself to Death?

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It’s amazing that Polk remains one of the lesser known US presidents. The circumstances of his election and accomplishments as a president are fascinating.

Elected in 1844, the eleventh and youngest president of the USA to that time, Polk was enthusiastic and full of vigour. Many scholars argue that he achieved more then any other president during a single term, managing to to promote and execute almost every item on his agenda.

Polk had a reputation for being a tireless worker, working up to eighteen hours a day and spending ten to twelve hours at his desk. He rarely left Washington, and it’s been estimated that took less than thirty days off during his administration. He had this to say on the matter:

“No President who performs his duty faithfully and conscientiously can have any leisure. I prefer to supervise the whole operations of the government myself rather than intrust the public business to subordinates, and this makes my duties very great.”

Polk did not run for reelection 1848. He left office frail and exhausted in March, 1849 to undertake a triumphant tour of the south. While on a Mississippi paddle steamer, he took ill and was hospitalised. It was feared he had contracted cholera. When a doctor assured Polk he did not have cholera, he left hospital to continue his tour. He finally arrived in Nashville where he was greeted enthusiastically on 2nd April.

Polk passed away in June, barely three months after leaving office. It’s now widely accepted that cholera was the cause of death.

Polk Place, Nashville Tennessee | James Polk’s Home and Place of Death (Demolished 1901)

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