Before he was President: James Polk

James 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. Source

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. Source

Millard Fillmore, 1850-1853 cloth-maker
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. Source

More stories: Duncan Hines   George Washington   Thomas Jefferson   Benjamin Franklin   Dolly Madison   James Garfield   Harry Truman   Henry Ford

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