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James K. Polk

Presidency

Whom did Polk defeat in the general election to win the presidency?

Polk defeated the legendary U.S. senator from Kentucky, Henry Clay—John Quincy Adams’s former secretary of state and also a former speaker of the House of Representatives. Clay had also run for the presidency in 1832, losing to incumbent President Andrew Jackson and in 1840 when he lost the Whig nomination to William Henry Harrison, who would later become president. The Whigs thought that Clay could defeat the lesser known Polk. One of their campaign slogans was “Who is James K. Polk?”

Polk defeated Clay by an electoral vote margin of 170 to 105. However, he carried the popular vote by a mere 1.4 percent margin. Ironically, Polk won the presidency even though he did not carry his home state of Tennessee. He remains the only president to win the White House race while losing his own state.



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