1844 Democratic National Convention

The 1844 Democratic National Convention was held in Baltimore, Maryland from May 27 through 30, to nominate the Democratic Party ticket for President of the United States and Vice President of the United States. After several rounds of balloting, the delegates selected the relatively lesser-known "dark horse" candidate James K. Polk for President. He and running-mate George M. Dallas ultimately won the general election.[1]

1844 Democratic National Convention
1844 presidential election
George Mifflin Dallas 1848 crop
Polk and Dallas
Date(s)May 27–29, 1844
CityBaltimore, Maryland
VenueOdd Fellows Hall
Presidential nomineeJames K. Polk of Tennessee
Vice Presidential nomineeGeorge M. Dallas of Pennsylvania


At the outset of the convention, the leading contender was former President Martin Van Buren of New York, who had been defeated in the 1840 election.[1] His principal opponent was Lewis Cass of Michigan, who had served as United States Secretary of War under President Andrew Jackson.[1] The annexation of Texas was a major issue. Van Buren publicly opposed immediate annexation because it might lead to a sectional crisis over the status of slavery in the West.[1] This position cost Van Buren the support of Southern and expansionist Democrats, but he believed that backing annexation would cost him the support of his fellow New Yorkers and other Northeasterners.[1]

Van Buren's supporters arrived at the convention with a majority of the delegates pledged to support him on the first ballot.[2][3] Cass, meanwhile, had support from a handful of Southern states, but far fewer delegates pledged to him.[1] At the previous convention, in 1840, a majority of votes had been sufficient to secure the nomination, but this had been a departure from the traditional practice of requiring a two-thirds vote to win the nomination.[4]

Early in the proceedings, Senator Robert J. Walker of Mississippi, in cooperation with Senator James Buchanan of Pennsylvania (who would later become President himself), called for the reinstatement of the traditional 1832 and 1834 convention rule requiring the nominee to win two-thirds of the votes. Following a historical pattern in which a minority faction of Northern Democrats delivered votes to produce southern wing victories for pro-slavery legislation, the Van Burenite delegates split over the pivotal vote. Fully one-third of the pro-Van Buren delegates (52 of 154) voted to reinstate the two-thirds rule, along with 90 of 104 anti-Van Buren delegates, producing a final vote of 148 to 116.[5] (This rule, once reinstated, would remain in place until it was revoked by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936.)[4]

Presidential nomination

Presidential candidates

President James K. Polk, circa 1840s. Copy of engraving by H. W. Smith., 1943 - 1945 - NARA - 535919
James K. Polk, Democratic Party "dark horse" presidential nominee

Van Buren supporters persisted in spite of the two-thirds rule setback, garnering 146 votes for their candidate on the first ballot, a 55% simple majority, but short of the now required 177 votes. Middle and Deep South pro-annexationists opposed Van Buren 75 to 3, depriving northern anti-annexationists the 31 votes needed for victory.

Support for Van Buren dwindled in subsequent ballots from 146 to 99, at which point Van Burenites were reduced to blocking nominations of numerous candidates, among them James Buchanan, Lewis Cass of Michigan, John C. Calhoun, and Levi Woodbury of New Hampshire.[6][7] Incumbent President John Tyler, a former Democrat who was elected to the Vice Presidency on the 1840 Whig Party ticket, also hoped to win the support of delegates, but he was unable to find any backers.[8] Southern intransigence had succeeded in eliminating Van Buren and his stand on Texas annexation.[9] If the Democratic Party was to avoid dissolution at a national level, an acceptable nominee, fully committed to immediate annexation would be required, yet capable of unifying the party in the general election.[10][11] Van Buren was open to deferring to Senator Silas Wright of New York, but Wright was uninterested in the position.[8]

On the eighth ballot, the historian George Bancroft, a delegate from Massachusetts, proposed former Speaker of the House of Representatives James K. Polk as a compromise candidate. Polk, who had also served as Governor of Tennessee, had entered the convention in hopes of becoming the vice presidential nominee.[8] However, former President Andrew Jackson, who remained popular in the party, believed Polk was just the man to head the Democratic ticket.[8] Although a slaveholder himself, Polk never enunciated a slavery expansionist position with respect to Texas annexation, as had John C. Calhoun and the southern extremists.[12] Despite Polk's fervent advocacy for annexation, he had remained loyal to Van Buren throughout the Texas controversy, and anti-annexationist Van Burenites were willing to accept Polk, with reservations, having already recognized him as a suitable vice-presidential choice to have complimented a Van Buren ticket.[13][14] Southern Democrats benefited from the Tyler-Calhoun machinations in eliminating Martin Van Buren as a presidential candidate, and clearing the way for the pro-annexation nationalist Polk.[15] On the ninth ballot, Van Buren instructed his delegates to support Polk, beginning a stampede to Polk that ended with him winning the nomination unanimously.[8] Consequently, Polk became the first dark horse, or little-known, presidential nominee. Van Buren complied with his party's decision to unite under a pro-annexation candidate, and worked to win New York state for Polk.[16][17][18]

Despite Whig efforts to cast Polk as an unknown – "Who is James K. Polk?" they asked rhetorically – he was respected as an effective political operator.[19] His sobriquet "The Young Hickory" contained a dual reference, one to his mentor Andrew "Old Hickory" Jackson, and one to the term Young America, a reference to an international movements struggling to establish republican forms of government and the overthrow of monarchies and ascribed to Manifest Destiny Democrats.[20] As a national imperialist, he exhibited an unwavering support for Manifest Destiny, perceived as a non-sectional devotion to expansionism, whether slave-soil Texas or free-soil Oregon Territory.[21] Polk argued that Texas and Oregon had always belonged to the United States by right. He called for "the immediate reannexation of Texas" and for the "reoccupation" of the disputed Oregon territory. Polk's political reputation was expected to diffuse northern Democratic resentment towards the Slavepower, while delivering Texas to the Deep South.

Convention Presidential vote
Ballots 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Before shifts
After shifts
Martin Van Buren 146 127 121 111 103 101 99 104 2 0
Lewis Cass 83 94 92 105 107 116 123 114 29 0
Richard M. Johnson 24 33 38 32 29 23 21 0 0 0
James Buchanan 4 9 11 17 26 25 22 2 0 0
John C. Calhoun 6 1 2 1 1 1 1 2 2 0
Levi Woodbury 2 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Charles Stewart 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Marcus Morton 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
James K. Polk 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 44 231 266
Blank 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
1st Presidential Ballot
2nd Presidential Ballot
3rd Presidential Ballot
4th Presidential Ballot
5th Presidential Ballot
6th Presidential Ballot
7th Presidential Ballot
8th Presidential Ballot
9th Presidential Ballot Before Shifts
9th Presidential Ballot After Shifts

Vice Presidential nomination

Vice Presidential candidates


Polk and Richard Mentor Johnson had both campaigned for the vice presidency prior to the convention, but with Polk's nomination for president, the party looked to the northern states for a running mate.[8] The anti-annexationist Silas Wright, US Senator from New York, was nominated but declined, partly out of a refusal to support a ticket backing the annexation of Texas, and partly because he didn't want to be accused of intriguing against Van Buren to benefit himself. John Fairfield attracted significant support on the second ballot, but on the third ballot the convention settled on George M. Dallas, a conservative from Pennsylvania.[22]

Convention Vice Presidential vote
Ballots 1 2 3
Silas Wright 258 0 0
George M. Dallas 0 13 219
John Fairfield 0 93 30
Levi Woodbury 8 56 6
Lewis Cass 0 39 0
Richard M. Johnson 0 26 0
Charles Stewart 0 23 0
William L. Marcy 0 5 0
Blank 0 11 11
1st Vice Presidential Ballot
2nd Vice Presidential Ballot
3rd Vice Presidential Ballot

In popular culture

The basic events of the convention are outlined in the song "James K. Polk" by the rock band They Might Be Giants.[23]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f "James K. Polk: Campaigns and Elections". Miller Center. 2016-10-04. Retrieved 2019-03-26.
  2. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 429: "Van Burenites would possess a simple majority for their man on the first presidential ballot" and demanded a 50% plus one vote system. And "The Democratic Convention of 1840 had been run on that principle"
  3. ^ Widmer, 2005, p. 150: "Although they knew they were wounded [by the Hammett Letter] Van Buren's supporters still expected to prevail over a field of weaker candidates."
  4. ^ a b Widmer, 2005, p. 151
  5. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 429
  6. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 429: "...Van Buren's original 146 delegates had dropped to 99, sufficient to prevent any other candidates' two-third majority."
  7. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 569-570: "The Hunker-backed presidential hopefuls had stayed the course – Lewis Cass, James Buchanan, and Levi Woodbury..." as part of the efforts to enforce the two-thirds rule.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Witcover, Jules (2003). Party of the People. Random House. pp. 169–170.
  9. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 568: The Hammet Letter "was the most courageous act of his political career."
  10. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 429-430: "The party, in peril of dissolution...needed a new candidate acceptable to all factions."
  11. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 569: When the 2/3 rule was adopted "Van Buren's chances sharply dwindled."
  12. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 430: Polk "never linked bondage and slavery" and "was the first Southerner important in the Texas story to fit the Manifest Destiny label...He would propel democracy and enterprise forward by annexing both Texas and Oregon." and p. 437: Polk's "mentality"...enabled Democrats to claim, rightly, that their candidate was no Slavepower expansionist."
  13. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 430: "Young Hickory, as Polk was called...stood positioned as the southern annexationist best suited to heal party wounds by becoming Van Buren's vice-presidential nominee." "Van Burenites grumpily agreed that so acceptable" a running mate "could move up the ticket"and "Polk's...version of annexation was less obnoxious to the North."
  14. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 570: "On the eighth ballot...announced for a candidate new to field who had personal endorsement of Andrew Jackson."
  15. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 571-572: [Democrats] seem to have succumbed to Calhoun's plotting and, by rejecting Van Buren, capitulated to the pro-slavery South...the outcome was actually more complicated...To Democrats it was an effort to surmount sectionalism with democratic nationalist expansionism and to achieve equilibrium after what looked like the Calhounites' coup."
  16. ^ Freehling, 1991, p.431: "...Van Buren had promised to follow public orders on annexation." p. 439: "Martin Van Buren had promised to follow the election returns in formulating annexation policy."
  17. ^ Widmer, 2005, p. 157: Van Buren "worked hard to swing New York for Polk..."
  18. ^ Holt, 2005, p. 11: "Van Buren's disappointed followers loyally supported Polk's candidacy..."
  19. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 571: "Less well known to the electorate that either Van Buren or Clay - prompting Whigs to chant derisively,'Who is James K. Polk?' - he was well known in Washington as one of the most capable of the younger border-state Jacksonians..."
  20. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 563: "The name ascribed to and embraced" by advocates of Manifest Destiny "had been borrowed from the insurgent liberals...of Italy" and "there were, in time, many others in the international movement..."
  21. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 430: Polk promised he "would propel democracy and enterprise forward by annexing both Texas and Oregon."
  22. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 570: Wright declined: "To do otherwise...would have been a renumciation of both his personal loyalties and his highest principles (The convention settled on the conservative...George M. Dallas)."
  23. ^ Flansburgh, J. and J. Linnell, 1996, "James K. Polk" Factory Showroom

External links

Preceded by
Baltimore, Maryland
Democratic National Conventions Succeeded by
Baltimore, Maryland
1844 United States presidential election

The 1844 United States presidential election was the 15th presidential election, held from November 1 to December 4, 1844. Democrat James K. Polk defeated Whig Henry Clay in a close contest turning on the controversial issues of slavery and the annexation of the Republic of Texas.

President John Tyler's pursuit of Texas annexation threatened the unity of both major parties. Annexation would geographically expand American slavery. It also risked war with Mexico while the United States engaged in sensitive possession and boundary negotiations with the United Kingdom, which controlled Canada, over Oregon. Texas annexation thus posed both domestic and foreign policy risks. Both major parties had wings in the North and the South, but the possibility of the expansion of slavery threatened a sectional split in each party. Expelled by the Whig Party after vetoing key Whig legislation and lacking a firm political base, Tyler hoped to use the annexation of Texas to win re-election as an independent or at least to have decisive, pro-Texas influence over the election.

The early leader for the Democratic nomination was former President Martin Van Buren, but his rejection of Texas annexation damaged his candidacy. Opposition from former President Andrew Jackson and most Southern delegations, plus a nomination rule change likely specifically aimed to block him, prevented Van Buren from winning the necessary two-thirds vote of delegates to the 1844 Democratic National Convention. The convention instead chose James K. Polk, former Governor of Tennessee and U. S. House Speaker, who emerged as the first dark horse nominee. Polk ran on a platform embracing popular commitment to expansion, often referred to as Manifest Destiny. Tyler dropped out of the race and endorsed Polk. The Whigs nominated Henry Clay, a famous, long-time party leader who was the early favorite but who conspicuously waffled on Texas annexation. Though a Southerner from Kentucky and a slave owner, Clay chose to focus on the risks of annexation while claiming not to oppose it personally. His awkward, repeated attempts to adjust and finesse his position on Texas confused and alienated voters, contrasting negatively with Polk's consistent clarity.

Polk successfully linked the dispute with the United Kingdom over Oregon with the Texas issue. The Democratic nominee thus united anti-slavery Northern expansionists, who demanded Oregon, with pro-slavery Southern expansionists who demanded Texas. In the national popular vote, Polk beat Clay by fewer than 40,000 votes, a margin of 1.4%. James G. Birney of the anti-slavery Liberty Party won 2.3% of the vote. Polk won the electoral vote, but the flip of several thousand votes in closely contested New York would have delivered the election to Clay. As President, Polk completed American annexation of Texas, which was the proximate cause of the Mexican–American War.

1844 Whig National Convention

The 1844 Whig National Convention was held in Baltimore, Maryland to nominate the Whig Party's candidates for President and Vice President. Ambrose Spencer was Chairman.

President John Tyler had been expelled from the party and the delegates searched for a new nominee. They did not have to look far; the delegates nominated party elder Henry Clay of Kentucky for President, by acclamation. Theodore Frelinghuysen of New Jersey was nominated for Vice President. The pair would lose to Democrats James Polk and George M. Dallas.Former Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky, effectively the leader of the Whig Party since its inception in 1834 was selected as the Whig presidential nominee at the party's convention in Baltimore, Maryland on May 1, 1844. Clay, a slaveholder, presided over a party in which its Southern wing was sufficiently committed to the national platform to put partisan loyalties above slavery expansionist proposals that might undermine its North-South alliance. Whigs felt confident that Clay could duplicate Harrison's landslide victory of 1840 against any opposition candidate.Southern Whigs feared that the acquisition of Texas's fertile lands would produce a huge market for slave labor, inflating the price of slaves and deflating land values in their home states.

Northern Whigs feared that Texas statehood would initiate the opening of a vast "Empire for Slavery".Two weeks before the Whig convention in Baltimore, in reaction to Calhoun's Packenham Letter, Clay issued a document known as the Raleigh Letter (issued April 17, 1844) presenting his views on Texas to his fellow southern Whigs. In it, he flatly denounced the Tyler annexation bill and predicted that its passage would provoke a war with Mexico, whose government had never recognized Texas independence. Clay underlined his position, warning that even with Mexico's consent, he would block annexation in the event that substantial sectional opposition existed anywhere in the United States.The Whig party leadership was acutely aware that any proslavery legislation advanced by its southern wing would alienate its anti-slavery northern wing and cripple the party in the general election. In order to preserve their party, Whigs would need to stand squarely against acquiring a new slave state. As such, Whigs were content to restrict their 1844 campaign platform to less divisive issues such as internal improvements and national finance.Whigs picked Theodore Frelinghuysen of New Jersey – "the Christian Statesman" – as Clay's running mate. An advocate of colonization of emancipated slaves, he was acceptable to southern Whigs as an opponent of the abolitionists. His pious reputation balanced Clay's image as a slave-holding, hard-drinking duelist.

Their party slogan was the bland "Hurray, Hurray, the Country's Risin' – Vote for Clay and Frelinghuysen!"

Andrew Jackson Donelson

Andrew Jackson Donelson (August 25, 1799 – June 26, 1871) was an American diplomat. He served in various positions as a Democrat and was the Know Nothing nominee for Vice President of the United States in 1856.

After the death of his father, Donelson was adopted by his aunt, Rachel Jackson, and her husband, Andrew Jackson. Donelson attended the United States Military Academy and served under his uncle in Florida. He resigned his commission and studied law, beginning his own practice in Nashville. He assisted Jackson's presidential campaigns and served as his private secretary after Jackson won the 1828 presidential election. He returned to Tennessee after the end of Jackson's presidency in 1837 and remained active in local politics.

After helping James K. Polk triumph at the 1844 Democratic National Convention, Donelson was appointed by President John Tyler to represent the United States in the Republic of Texas, where Donelson played an important role in the annexation of Texas. In 1846, President Polk appointed Donelson appointed as Minister to Prussia. He left that position in 1849 and became the editor of a Democratic newspaper, but alienated various factions in the party. In 1856, the Know Nothings chose him as their vice presidential nominee, and he campaigned on a ticket with former Whig President Millard Fillmore. The ticket finished in third place in both the electoral and popular vote behind the Democratic and Republican tickets. Donelson also participated in the 1860 Constitutional Union Convention.

George M. Dallas

George Mifflin Dallas (July 10, 1792 – December 31, 1864) was an American politician and diplomat who served as mayor of Philadelphia from 1828 to 1829 and as the 11th vice president of the United States from 1845 to 1849.

The son of Secretary of the Treasury Alexander J. Dallas, George Dallas attended elite preparatory schools before embarking on a legal career. He served as the private secretary to Albert Gallatin and worked for the Treasury Department and the Second Bank of the United States. He emerged as a leader of the "Family party" faction of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, and Dallas developed a rivalry with James Buchanan, the leader of the "Amalgamator" faction. Between 1828 and 1835, he served as the mayor of Philadelphia, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Attorney General. He also represented Pennsylvania in the United States Senate from 1831 to 1833 but declined to seek re-election. President Martin Van Buren appointed Dallas to the post of Minister to Russia, and Dallas held that position from 1837 to 1839.

Dallas supported Van Buren's bid for another term in the 1844 presidential election, but James K. Polk won the party's presidential nomination. The 1844 Democratic National Convention nominated Dallas as Polk's running mate, and Polk and Dallas defeated the Whig ticket in the general election. A supporter of expansion and popular sovereignty, Dallas called for the annexation of all of Mexico during the Mexican–American War. He sought to position himself for contention in the 1848 presidential election, but his vote to lower the tariff destroyed his base of support in his home state. Dallas served as the ambassador to Britain from 1856 to 1861 before retiring from public office.

Gideon Johnson Pillow

Gideon Johnson Pillow (June 8, 1806 – October 8, 1878) was an American lawyer, politician, speculator, slaveowner, United States Army major general of volunteers during the Mexican–American War and Confederate brigadier general in the American Civil War.

Before his military career, Pillow practiced law and was active in Democratic Party politics. He was a floor leader in support of the nomination of fellow-Tennessean James K. Polk at the 1844 Democratic National Convention. In 1847, Pillow was commissioned a brigadier general of volunteers to serve in the Mexican–American War, and was later promoted to major general. He performed reasonably well, and was wounded that year at Cerro Gordo and Chapultepec. However, controversy arose when, in a series of letters, Pillow tried to take what was perceived by some as undue credit for American victories at the expense of his commander, Major General Winfield Scott. Pillow was court-martialed for insubordination, but with President Polk's assistance, the court-martial was reduced to a court of inquiry, which in 1848 exonerated Pillow.

After the war, Pillow served as a delegate to the Nashville Convention of 1850, where he supported compromise. He remained active in supporting the Democratic Party. At the start of the Civil War in 1861, Pillow supported secession, and was commissioned a brigadier general in the Confederate Army in July. Pillow received the thanks of the Confederate Congress for driving off the Union force at the Battle of Belmont, Missouri.

Pillow controversially failed to exploit a temporary break through of Union lines by his troops which might have allowed the Confederate garrison of Fort Donelson to escape at the Battle of Fort Donelson on February 15, 1862. The next night, before the surrender of the fort, Brigadier General John B. Floyd passed overall command of the fort to Pillow, who in turn passed it to Brigadier General Simon Buckner. Floyd and Pillow managed to personally escape with a few aides before Buckner surrendered the remaining garrison to the Union Army of Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant. These actions sent his military career and reputation into decline.

Pillow commanded a brigade at the Battle of Stones River in 1863, where he performed poorly, and was among the few generals in the army to praise the leadership of commanding General Braxton Bragg. Removed from combat duty, he worked mainly in recruiting assignments through the remainder of the war. Bankrupt after the war, Pillow recovered financially and resumed a successful legal career. He died near Helena, Arkansas in 1878; initially buried in Helena, Pillow was later reinterred at Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis.

Henry Dodge

Henry Dodge (October 12, 1782 – June 19, 1867) was a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, Territorial Governor of Wisconsin and a veteran of the Black Hawk War. His son was Augustus C. Dodge with whom he served in the U.S. Senate, the first, and so far only, father-son pair to serve concurrently. Henry Dodge was the half brother of Lewis F. Linn. James Clarke, the Governor of Iowa Territory was his son-in-law.

James Buchanan

James Buchanan Jr. (; April 23, 1791 – June 1, 1868) was the 15th president of the United States from 1857 to 1861, serving immediately prior to the American Civil War. He was a member of the Democratic Party and the 17th Secretary of State, and he had served in the Senate and House of Representatives before becoming president.

Buchanan was born in Cove Gap, Pennsylvania of Ulster Scots descent. He became a prominent lawyer in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and won election to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives as a Federalist. In 1820, he won election to the United States House of Representatives, eventually becoming aligned with Andrew Jackson's Democratic Party. He served as Jackson's Minister to Russia, then won election as a senator from Pennsylvania. In 1845, he accepted appointment as President James K. Polk's Secretary of State. He was a major contender for his party's presidential nomination throughout the 1840s and 1850s and was finally nominated in 1856, defeating incumbent President Franklin Pierce and Senator Stephen A. Douglas at the 1856 Democratic National Convention. Buchanan and running mate John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky defeated Republican John C. Frémont and Know-Nothing Millard Fillmore to win the 1856 election.

Shortly after his election, Buchanan lobbied the Supreme Court to issue a broad ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford, which he fully endorsed. He allied with the South in attempting to admit Kansas to the Union as a slave state under the Lecompton Constitution. In the process, he alienated both Republican abolitionists and Northern Democrats, most of whom supported the principle of popular sovereignty in determining a new state's slave-holding status. He was often called a "doughface", a Northerner with Southern sympathies, and he fought with Douglas, the leader of the popular sovereignty faction, for control of the Democratic Party. The Panic of 1857 struck the nation in the midst of the growing sectional crisis. Buchanan indicated in his 1857 inaugural address that he would not seek a second term, and he kept his word and did not run for re-election in the 1860 presidential election. He supported the North during the Civil War and publicly defended himself against charges that he was responsible for the war. He died in 1868 at age 77, and is the only president to remain a lifelong bachelor.

Buchanan aspired to be a president who would rank in history with George Washington by using his tendencies toward neutrality and impartiality. Historians fault him, however, for his failure to address the issue of slavery and the secession of the southern states, bringing the nation to the brink of civil war. His inability to bring together the sharply divided pro-slavery and anti-slavery partisans with a unifying principle on the brink of the Civil War has led to his consistent ranking by historians as one of the worst presidents in American history. Historians who participated in a 2006 survey voted his failure to deal with secession as the worst presidential mistake ever made.

James K. Polk (song)

"James K. Polk" is a song by alternative rock band They Might Be Giants, about the United States president of the same name. Originally released in 1990 as a B-side to the single "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)", its first appearance on a studio album was 1996's Factory Showroom. It also appeared on their compilation albums Dial-A-Song: 20 Years of They Might Be Giants and A User's Guide to They Might Be Giants. The song is about James K. Polk, 11th President of the United States, beginning with a description of the 1844 Democratic National Convention and going on to cover some of the highlights of Polk's presidency. Although the band set out to write a song consisting entirely of historical facts, it includes a few errors or misstatements.

The Factory Showroom re-recording of "James K. Polk" includes an interlude featuring Julian Koster playing a musical saw. The song has become a fan favorite and is frequently played live, although the band has expressed antipathy towards Polk himself; John Flansburgh has described Polk as "evil".

James Polk 1844 presidential campaign

The 1844 presidential campaign of James K. Polk, then both the former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and Governor of Tennessee, was announced on May 27, 1844 in Baltimore, Maryland, however Polk had originally sought the vice-presidential nomination. At the 1844 Democratic National Convention on May 27, seven ballots were held before Polk was proposed as a compromise candidate and won on the ninth ballot.

On December 4, 1844, Polk defeated the Whig nominee, Henry Clay of Kentucky another former Speaker of the House, making him the President-elect. James K. Polk was elected President of the United States and George M. Dallas Vice President of the United States, with 170 of 275 electors.

John Fairfield

John Fairfield (January 30, 1797 – December 24, 1847) was an attorney and politician from Maine. He served as a U.S. Congressman, governor and U.S. Senator.

Fairfield was born in Saco, Maine and attended the schools of York County. After serving in the War of 1812, he pursued a business career before deciding to become an attorney, and after studying in the office of an established lawyer and judge, Fairfield attained admission to the bar in 1826. He practiced in Saco and Biddeford, and became active in politics as a Democrat.

He was elected to the US House in 1834, reelected in 1836, and served from 1835 until 1838, when he resigned to become governor. Elected in 1838, he served from 1839 to 1841. He returned to the governorship in 1842, and served until resigning in 1843 to accept election to the U.S. Senate. He was elected to the final four years of the term in 1844, and served until his death.

Fairfield died in Washington, D.C. and was buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Saco.

John W. Stevenson

John White Stevenson (May 4, 1812 – August 10, 1886) was the 25th governor of Kentucky and represented the state in both houses of the U.S. Congress. The son of future Speaker of the House and U.S. diplomat Andrew Stevenson, John Stevenson graduated from the University of Virginia in 1832 and studied law under his cousin, future Congressman Willoughby Newton. After briefly practicing law in Mississippi, he relocated to Covington, Kentucky, and was elected county attorney. After serving in the Kentucky legislature, he was chosen as a delegate to the state's third constitutional convention in 1849 and was one of three commissioners charged with revising its code of laws, a task finished in 1854. A Democrat, he was elected to two consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives where he supported several proposed compromises to avert the Civil War and blamed the Radical Republicans for their failure.

After losing his reelection bid in 1861, Stevenson, a known Confederate sympathizer, stayed out of public life during the war and was consequently able to avoid being imprisoned, as many other Confederate sympathizers were. In 1867, just five days after John L. Helm and Stevenson were elected governor and lieutenant governor, respectively, Helm died and Stevenson became acting governor. Stevenson subsequently won a special election in 1868 to finish Helm's term. As governor, he opposed federal intervention in what he considered state matters but insisted that blacks' newly granted rights be observed and used the state militia to quell post-war violence in the state. Although a fiscal conservative, he advocated a new tax to benefit education and created the state bureau of education.

In 1871, Stevenson defeated incumbent Thomas C. McCreery for his seat in the U.S. Senate after criticizing McCreery for allegedly supporting the appointment of Stephen G. Burbridge, who was hated by most Kentuckians, to a federal position. In the Senate, he opposed internal improvements and defended a constructionist view of the constitution, resisting efforts to expand the powers expressly granted in that document. Beginning in late 1873, Stephenson functioned as the first chairman (later called floor leader) of the Senate Democratic caucus. He did not seek reelection in 1877, returning to his law practice and accepting future Kentucky Governor William Goebel as a law partner. He chaired the 1880 Democratic National Convention and was elected president of the American Bar Association in 1884. He died in Covington on August 10, 1886, and was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery at Cincinnati, Ohio.

Lewis Cass

Lewis Cass (October 9, 1782 – June 17, 1866) was an American military officer, politician, and statesman. He represented Michigan in the United States Senate and served in the Cabinets of two U.S. Presidents, Andrew Jackson and James Buchanan. He was also the 1848 Democratic presidential nominee and a leading spokesman for the Doctrine of Popular Sovereignty, which held that the people in each territory should decide whether to permit slavery.

Born in Exeter, New Hampshire, he attended Phillips Exeter Academy before establishing a legal practice in Zanesville, Ohio. After serving in the Ohio House of Representatives, he was appointed as a U.S. Marshal. Cass also joined the Freemasons and would eventually co-found the Grand Lodge of Michigan. He fought at the Battle of the Thames in the War of 1812 and was appointed to govern Michigan Territory in 1813. He negotiated treaties with Native Americans to open land for American settlement and led a survey expedition into the northwest part of the territory.

Cass resigned as governor in 1831 to accept appointment as Secretary of War under Andrew Jackson. As Secretary of War, he helped implement Jackson's policy of Indian removal. After serving as ambassador to France from 1836 to 1842, he unsuccessfully sought the presidential nomination at the 1844 Democratic National Convention; a deadlock between supporters of Cass and former President Martin Van Buren ended with the nomination of James K. Polk. In 1845, the Michigan Legislature elected Cass to the Senate, where he served until 1848. Cass's nomination at the 1848 Democratic National Convention precipitated a split in the party, as Cass's advocacy for popular sovereignty alienated the anti-slavery wing of the party. Van Buren led the Free Soil Party's presidential ticket and appealed to many anti-slavery Democrats, possibly contributing to the victory of Whig nominee Zachary Taylor.

Cass returned to the Senate in 1849 and continued to serve until 1857, when he accepted appointment as the Secretary of State. He unsuccessfully sought to buy land from Mexico and sympathized with American filibusters in Latin America. Cass resigned from the Cabinet in December 1860 in protest of Buchanan's handling of the threatened secession of several Southern states. Since his death in 1866, he has been commemorated in various ways, including with a statue in the National Statuary Hall.

List of Presidents of the United States by other offices held

This is a list of Presidents of the United States by other offices (either elected or appointive) held. Every President of the United States except Donald Trump has served as at least one of the following:

Vice President of the United States

a Member of Congress (either U.S. Senator or Representative)

a Governor of a state

a Cabinet Secretary

a General of the United States Army

Martin Van Buren

Martin Van Buren (; born Maarten Van Buren ([ˈmaːrtə ʋɑŋˈbyːrə], December 5, 1782 – July 24, 1862) was an American statesman who served as the eighth president of the United States from 1837 to 1841. He was the first president born after the independence of the United States from the British Empire. A founder of the Democratic Party, he previously served as the ninth governor of New York, the tenth United States secretary of state, and the eighth vice president of the United States. He won the 1836 presidential election with the endorsement of popular outgoing President Andrew Jackson and the organizational strength of the Democratic Party. He lost his 1840 reelection bid to Whig Party nominee William Henry Harrison, due in part to the poor economic conditions of the Panic of 1837. Later in his life, Van Buren emerged as an elder statesman and important anti-slavery leader, who led the Free Soil Party ticket in the 1848 presidential election.

Van Buren was born in Kinderhook, New York to a family of Dutch Americans; his father was a Patriot during the American Revolution. He was raised speaking Dutch and learned English at school, making him the only U.S. president who spoke English as a second language. He trained as a lawyer and quickly became involved in politics as a member of the Democratic-Republican Party. He won election to the New York State Senate and became the leader of the Bucktails, the faction of Democratic-Republicans opposed to Governor DeWitt Clinton. Van Buren established a political machine known as the Albany Regency and in the 1820s emerged as the most influential politician in his home state. He was elected to the United States Senate in 1821 and supported William H. Crawford in the 1824 presidential election. John Quincy Adams won the 1824 election and Van Buren opposed his proposals for federally funded internal improvements and other measures. Van Buren's major political goal was to re-establish a two-party system with partisan differences based on ideology rather than personalities or sectional differences, and he supported Jackson's candidacy against Adams in the 1828 presidential election with this goal in mind. To support Jackson's candidacy, Van Buren ran for Governor of New York and resigned a few months after assuming the position to accept appointment as U.S. Secretary of State after Jackson took office in 1829.

Van Buren was a key advisor during Jackson's eight years as President of the United States and he built the organizational structure for the coalescing Democratic Party, particularly in New York. He resigned from his position to help resolve the Petticoat affair, then briefly served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom. At Jackson's behest, the 1832 Democratic National Convention nominated Van Buren for Vice President of the United States, and he took office after the Democratic ticket won the 1832 presidential election. With Jackson's strong support, Van Buren faced little opposition for the presidential nomination at the 1835 Democratic National Convention, and he defeated several Whig opponents in the 1836 presidential election. Van Buren's response to the Panic of 1837 centered on his Independent Treasury system, a plan under which the Federal government of the United States would store its funds in vaults rather than in banks. He also continued Jackson's policy of Indian removal; he maintained peaceful relations with Britain but denied the application to admit Texas to the Union, seeking to avoid heightened sectional tensions. In the 1840 election, the Whigs rallied around Harrison's military record and ridiculed Van Buren as "Martin Van Ruin", and a surge of new voters helped turn him out of office.

At the opening of the Democratic convention in 1844, Van Buren was the leading candidate for the party's nomination for the presidency. Southern Democrats, however, were angered by his continued opposition to the annexation of Texas, and the party nominated James K. Polk. Van Buren grew increasingly opposed to slavery after he left office, and he agreed to lead a third party ticket in the 1848 presidential election, motivated additionally by intra-party differences at the state and national level. He finished in a distant third nationally, but his presence in the race most likely helped Whig nominee Zachary Taylor defeat Democrat Lewis Cass. Van Buren returned to the Democratic fold after the 1848 election, but he supported Abraham Lincoln's policies during the American Civil War. His health began to fail in 1861 and he died in July 1862 at age 79. He has been generally ranked as an average or below-average U.S. president by historians and political scientists.

Romulus Mitchell Saunders

Romulus Mitchell Saunders (March 3, 1791 – April 21, 1867) was an American politician from North Carolina.

Sam Houston

Sam Houston (March 2, 1793 – July 26, 1863) was an American soldier and politician. An important leader of the Texas Revolution, Houston served as the 1st and 3rd president of the Republic of Texas, and was one of the first two individuals to represent Texas in the United States Senate. He also served as the 6th Governor of Tennessee and the seventh governor of Texas, the only American to be elected governor of two different states in the United States.

Born in Rockbridge County, Virginia, Houston and his family migrated to Maryville, Tennessee when Houston was a teenager. Houston later ran away from home and spent time with the Cherokee, becoming known as "Raven." He served under General Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812, and after the war he presided over the removal of many Cherokee from Tennessee. With the support of Jackson and others, Houston won election to the United States House of Representatives in 1823. He strongly supported Jackson's presidential candidacies, and in 1827 Houston won election as the governor of Tennessee. In 1829, after divorce his first wife, Houston resigned from office, and joined his Cherokee friends in Arkansas Territory.

Houston settled in Texas in 1832. After the Battle of Gonzales, Houston helped organize Texas's provisional government and was selected as the top-ranking official in the Texian Army. He led the Texian Army to victory at the Battle of San Jacinto, the decisive battle in Texas's war for independence against Mexico. After the war, Houston won election in the 1836 Texas presidential election. He left office due to term limits in 1838, but won election to another term in the 1841 Texas presidential election. Houston played a key role in the annexation of Texas by the United States in 1845, and in 1846 he was elected to represent Texas in the United States Senate. He joined the Democratic Party and supported President James K. Polk's prosecution of the Mexican–American War.

Houston's Senate record was marked by his unionism and opposition to extremists from both the North and South. He voted for the Compromise of 1850, which settled many of the territorial issues left over from the Mexican–American War and the annexation of Texas. He later voted against the Kansas–Nebraska Act because he believed it would lead to increased sectional tensions over slavery, and his opposition to that act led him to leave the Democratic Party. He was an unsuccessful candidate for the presidential nomination of the American Party in the 1856 presidential election and the Constitutional Union Party in the 1860 presidential election. In 1859, Houston won election as the governor of Texas. In that role, he opposed secession and unsuccessfully sought to keep Texas out of the Confederate States of America. He was forced out of office in 1861 and died in 1863. Houston's name has been honored in numerous ways, and he is the namesake of the city of Houston, the fourth most populous city in the United States.

Samuel J. Tilden

Samuel Jones Tilden (February 9, 1814 – August 4, 1886) was the 25th Governor of New York and the Democratic candidate for president in the disputed election of 1876. He was the only individual to win an outright majority of the popular vote in a United States presidential election but lose the election itself, though four other candidates have lost a presidential election despite garnering a plurality of the popular vote.

Tilden was born into a wealthy family in New Lebanon, New York. Attracted to politics at a young age, he became a protégé of Martin Van Buren, the eighth President of the United States. After studying at Yale University and New York University School of Law, Tilden began a legal career in New York City, becoming a noted corporate lawyer. He served in the New York State Assembly and helped launch Van Buren's third party, anti-slavery candidacy in the 1848 presidential election. Though he opposed the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, Tilden supported the Union during the American Civil War. After the Civil War, Tilden was selected as the chairman of the New York State Democratic Committee, and he managed Democratic nominee Horatio Seymour's campaign in the 1868 presidential election.

Tilden initially cooperated with the state party's Tammany Hall faction, but he broke with them in 1871 due to boss William M. Tweed's rampant corruption. Tilden won election as Governor of New York in 1874, and in that office he helped break up the "Canal Ring." Tilden's battle against public corruption, along with his personal fortune and electoral success in the country's most populous state, made him a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in 1876. Tilden was selected as the Democratic Party's nominee on the second ballot of the 1876 Democratic National Convention. In the general election, Tilden faced Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes, another governor with reform credentials. Tilden focused his campaign on civil service reform, support for the gold standard, and opposition to high taxes, but many of his supporters were more concerned with ending Reconstruction in the South.

Most observers initially believed that Tilden had won the election, but disputes in four states left both Tilden and Hayes without a majority of the electoral vote. As Tilden had won 184 electoral votes, one vote shy of a majority, a Hayes victory required that he sweep all of the disputed electoral votes. Against Tilden's wishes, Congress appointed the bipartisan Electoral Commission to settle the controversy. Republicans had a one-seat advantage on the Electoral Commission, and in a series of party-line rulings, ruled that Hayes had won all of the disputed electoral votes. In the Compromise of 1877, Democratic leaders agreed to accept Hayes as the victor in return for the end of Reconstruction. Tilden was a major contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 1880 and 1884 presidential elections, but declined to run.

Thomas B. Mitchell

Thomas B. Mitchell (died 1876) was an American lawyer and politician from New York.

United States presidential nominating convention

A United States presidential nominating convention is a political convention held every four years in the United States by most of the political parties who will be fielding nominees in the upcoming U.S. presidential election. The formal purpose of such a convention is to select the party's nominee for President, as well as to adopt a statement of party principles and goals known as the platform and adopt the rules for the party's activities, including the presidential nominating process for the next election cycle.

In the modern U.S. presidential election process, voters participating in the presidential primaries are actually helping to select many of the delegates to these conventions, who then in turn are pledged to help a specific presidential candidate get nominated. Other delegates to these conventions include political party members who are seated automatically, and are called "unpledged delegates" because they can choose for themselves for which candidate they vote.

Generally, usage of "presidential campaign nominating convention" refers to the two major parties' quadrennial events: the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention. Some minor parties also select their nominees by convention, including the Green Party, the Socialist Party USA, the Libertarian Party, the Constitution Party, and the Reform Party USA.

Democratic Party
Whig Party
of the DNC
State and

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