James K. Polk


Why was Polk called the “dark horse” candidate?

In 1844, James K. Polk did not appear on the radar screen as the next president of the United States. He had just lost two consecutive bids for the governorship of Tennessee. No one thought a candidate who could not win his own state could win the presidency. Additionally, the front-runner for the Democratic Party at the 1844 convention was former President Martin Van Buren.

However, Van Buren made a serious blunder by publicly coming out against the annexation of Texas—adding the state to the Union—as did Whig candidate Henry Clay. Perhaps Van Buren and Clay wanted to avoid the thorny slavery question that was so divisive in the country. President Andrew Jackson saw an opportunity for his protégé, and with the help of other key politicians, managed to move Polk onto a later ballot at the Democratic convention.

As Van Buren could not obtain the necessary majority votes, it became clear that someone else would have to emerge. It turned out to be James K. Polk who became the Democratic Party nominee.


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