American Presidents

James Polk American Presidents Teacher Guide

Pathway to the Presidency: James K. Polk
May 28, 1999 on C-SPAN
Recommended Use:
Secondary level

Before Viewing American Presidents
Using the American Presidents web site and other sources, have students list some of the jobs presidents have had before and after they were president. What is the most typical path presidents take into office? What is typical path for presidents to follow after their term(s) in office? Which presidents have only served one term? Which of those served one term by choice? What are some possible reasons someone would leave a job, or retire? What are some reasons a president may leave office after only one term?

Tell students they are to watch and learn about James K. Polk and look for evidence in his life that may explain why he left office after one term. Some possible answers include: he was sick; he didnít like the job; he had personal reasons; he wanted another job; he was unpopular in his party; he was unpopular with the voters. Tell students they will watch C-SPANís programming featuring James K. Polk to search for the reason why he retired after one term.

While Viewing American Presidents
Directions: Note any evidence that supports the following possible reasons for James K. Polkís retirement.

1. Ill health

2. Dissatisfaction with job

3. Personal reasons

4. Desires another job

5. Unpopular in his political party

6. Unpopular with the people

7. Other

After Viewing American Presidents
Review studentsí information and draw some conclusions as a class. Which three are the most likely reasons James K. Polk may have retired? What evidence is the most conclusive?

Assign groups of students to complete additional research for evidence explaining Polkís decision. Have students identify at least one other political leader who retired for the same reason. Look for parallels between James K.Polkís life and that politicianís life. Have student groups present findings.

Conduct a discussion about the reasons a politician may decide to retire. Should a politician ever be "forced" to retire? Should a politician ever be "forced" to run for re-election? What about retiring in the middle of a term? Draw some general conclusions.

Additional Activity
1. E-mail one of the guests from C-SPANís American Presidents program featuring James K. Polk to comment on your findings.

2. Contact your local congressional offices to determine whether or not your representatives and senators are running for re-election this year. Contact any retired members of congress in your community and find out why they retired.

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