As a child, James was home schooled due to gallstones which made him very frail. Then, at the age of seventeen, he was taken to a specialist to have them removed. With brandy as the only available anesthetic during that time, the surgery proved to be successful for managing his pain even though it left him sterile. The following year, feeling much better, the illiterate eighteen year old Polk turned down his father’s offer to work with him to enroll and study at the Zion Church nearby. His decision to peruse his education proved to be wise when just three years later; he transferred from an academy in Murfreesboro and was accepted into the University of North Carolina in the second semester of the sophomore year. Polk later graduated with honors in May 1818.
After graduation, Polk returned to Tennessee to practice law in Nashville. However, his excitement for politics only grew with each encounter as leading public figures flooded through his office. By this time, James began to court Sara Childress and they married on January 1, 1824. With Sara by his side, he was unstoppable. Polk went on to serve the United States House of Representatives from 1825 to 1839. Next, James served as Tennessee's Governor and during his term, he became Speaker of the House. By 1844, Polk was the frontrunner for the Democratic nominee and on March 4, 1845 he took office. At that time, Polk was the youngest President to take office at the age of 49. In fact, he was the only President who at that point had served as Speaker of the House. Aside from being Andrew Jackson’s protégé, he was known for the political support he demonstrated toward Andrew Jackson's policies while in office. President Polk believed it was the nation's responsibility to "manifest destiny" and therefore to expand across North America. It was during Polk’s presidency that the nation's greatest territorial growth in history occurred. Furthermore, James Polk was one of the few Presidents who carried out every item of his political program. James Polk passed away on June 15, 1849 only three months after his return home from the White House when he contracted cholera. He was laid to rest on the grounds of Tennessee State Capitol Building in Nashville, Tennessee shortly after.