Before he was President: James Polk
Knox Polk, 1845-1849 clerk of the state senate
James Polk entered the University of North Carolina as a sophomore
in 1816, graduating with honors in 1818. He then studied law under
Felix Grundy, a prominent lawyer in Nashville who later became a
U.S. senator and attorney general in the Martin Van Buren
administration. Polk passed the state bar exam in 1820. While
working on his legal studies, he secured a job as clerk of the state
senate—the bureaucratic post responsible for directing the flow of
legislative paperwork. It was a wise move for the young man, who by
then had decided to use the law and his statehouse connections as
stepping stones to a political career.
Zachary Taylor, 1849-1850 solider
Although educated, Zachary was a poor student. His handwriting,
spelling, and grammar were crude and unrefined throughout his life.
Even as a boy, he wanted a career in the military; for a planter's
son, it was a respectable alternative to law and the ministry.
Taylor received his first commission as an officer in 1808 and was
immediately assigned to command the garrison at Fort Pickering,
located in modern-day Memphis. From that moment until his election
as President, Taylor was in the military, stationed at a succession
of frontier outposts.
Millard Fillmore, 1850-1853
At the age of 14, Fillmore’s dad “apprenticed” him (it was
indentured servitude) to a cloth maker in New Hope, NY, more than
100 miles away from his hometown and his eight siblings. Fillmore
hated it so much it’s said that he walked the entire way home after
four months. He found a similar position much closer and worked
there for a few years until deciding to pursue a career in law.