November 2: James Knox Polk

A Presbyterian in Name Only
by Rev. David T. Myers

James Knox Polk had all the influences one could wish, first from his mother, and later from his wife to be, that might have led him to become a devoted Presbyterian. But somehow he was a Methodist in heart. This is not necessarily bad, of course, because what was of first importance, more than any denomination, was his faith in Christ. And President James K. Polk had made a profession of faith as a result of a tent meeting experience.  So, he was a Christian, though not a Presbyterian Christian.

[Alfred Nevin, in his Presbyterian Encyclopedia(1884, p. 624), notes that “President Polk was a warm friend of the Presbyterian Church, of which his now aged and venerable widow long has been and still is an exemplary and useful member.”]

Born on November 2, 1795 to Scot-Irish parents in Mecklenburg, North Carolina, James had a mother who was a devout Presbyterian. One of her ancestors was a brother to the Scottish Protestant Reformer, John Knox. James Polk’s middle name was Knox.  She sought to instill within him the faith of her ancestors.  What made this difficult was the fact that her husband, and James’ father, was a deist.  When the parents brought the infant James before the Presbyterian minister to be baptized, his father refused to profess the principles of biblical Christianity.  As a result, the clergyman refused to baptize James.  He would not be baptized until about a week before his death when a Methodist pastor baptized him.

Moving from the 150 acre farm in North Carolina to Tennessee, James attended Presbyterian schools in his younger days and eventually enrolled in the University of North Carolina, which was Presbyterian in its earliest years.  Later on, he would meet Sarah, whom he married. This union would continue the emphasis of his mother, in that Sarah was also a devout Presbyterian. They remained childless in their marriage, but Sarah helped him in greatly in his political career, at both the state and national levels. Out of respect to his mother and wife, President Polk attended Presbyterian churches in Washington, D.C. all during his presidency.

James K. Polk was the eleventh president of the United States. A one term president, Polk set out a number of goals, and succeeded in all of them. The United States became a nation from the Atlantic to the Pacific under his presidency.  California, Oregon, and Texas were annexed to the United States. The War with Mexico was won during his presidency.  It should also be noted that he was the last pre-Civil War president.

Words to live by:  The Christian influence of a pious mother, or that of a devout wife, in the things of the Lord, even when their spouse is not particularly supportive, can be powerful beyond words.  If you, reader, find yourself in such a house and home, keep on praying for the salvation of your mate, keep on setting a Christian testimony, above all by your actions, if not also in loving words in your house and home. Then claim the promises of God’s Word with respect to those words and actions. By God’s blessing, you may find a future leader in church or nation rising from your home. Your example then can bring lasting results in the life of that future leader.


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