Used with Permission
Written by Katharine Trauger
Place yourself in the shoes of a home schooling mother named Jane, from long ago. You remember the time when the Liberty Bell rang out the good news of freedom in the Americas. Mozart and Beethoven are enjoying their years of fame.
Imagine, if you can, Jane, beginning to raise ten children during this time, in a log cabin in the Carolinas, without electricity, without indoor water, without refrigeration, without a car. Nevertheless, the brave experimental society that is growing around you gives you great hope for the future. Your family grows.
Imagine how you must feel as your firstborn son begins esperiencing extreme abdominal pain most of the hours of most of his days, pain for which you can find no remedy. The pain distracts and makes learning almost impossible for your bright child. Every day, your heart breaks a little as you realize he is descended from intelligent, successful, even famous men, but can hardly read or write. Between tending babies and keeping house, you attempt every means to make your son’s life better and find friends for him who will play with a bedfast boy. Because in the U.S. you are free to do so, you try to teach him a little phonics between spasms of pain. However, it is to no avail. And the family continues growing.
Your son, though he has every reason to give up, has fighting blood in his veins and fiercely determines he will compensate for his weak body by prevailing mentally. You know his goal is to excel above the other boys, and you pray he will find a way.
When your firstborn reaches eleven years, your husband decides to move his ever-growing family to Tennessee, to his dad’s farm. How you will manage such a crossing, you can hardly think, but determination leads the way. Though the air and food are better, there, and your entire family enjoys the prosperity that comes from successful farming, your son’s pain never lets up. You continue teaching him, but alas, despite all he or you can do, by age 16 he still barely reads and writes. You dread to think it, but you realize that all your family is highly intelligent and highly educated, but this one seems to be the exception. Meanwhile, another child is on the way.
The day arrives when your husband decides to take this son to a nearby frontier surgeon, the famous Dr. Ephraim McDowell, of Danville, Kentucky. There he receives the diagnosis: gallstones, with immediate surgery recommended. In the days of no anesthesia, this is a hazardous and torturous undertaking, but for a 17-year-old boy, it is unbelievable. Your mother-heart cries out and begs to be allowed to suffer the unimaginable pain for him. He must take it himself, though.
Then, wonder of wonders, he survives the surgery and his health begins to improve. His digestion seems better, the pain subsides, and you realize he seems to have more intellectual energy than ever before.
Your son begins attending academies at age 18. His life-long determination to improve mentally causes him to master English, Greek, and Latin in one year. Your husband now is able to afford sending him to college, so in three years he enters the University of North Carolina. Your joy knows no bounds when he graduates in 1818, with honors in math and the classics. From there, he returns to Tennessee to study law, and meets Andrew Jackson, with whom he develops a life-long friendship
Before you know it, your son, whom you once pitied, has risen to become a prominent lawyer and political presence. Because his former ill health has caused him never to become tall, and because of his leadership qualities, folks begin comparing him to Napoleon, whose political career has been rising at the same time. When he is the young age of 26, you watch him with pride as he begins a four-year stint as Tennessee legislator.
He marries the Christian daughter of a prosperous neighbor and begins 14 years of service in the U.S. Congress. It is a time of bitter trial for many in leadership—your son even receives a challenge to a duel, which he disdains for the folly that it is. In fact, he is always responsible, always forward thinking, always prepared. Although he is not a collector of friends, his reputation among his peers is as a strong and loyal citizen.
Your son dearly loves serving in Congress, but soon receives the nomination for the U.S. Presidency. Winning the election, your former suffering little homeschooled first-born son becomes President of the United States of America. After making the announcement that he will serve only one term, he says he has four goals: to lower taxed while at the same time strengthening the weakened treasury, and to settle boundary disputes with Britain and Mexico. He achieves all four of these goals despite the misgivings and opposition of his contemporaries, even presiding over a small war with Mexico. Stabilizing the economy and defining the U.S. Boundaries, a staunch enemy of “spoils politics” and “pork-barrel legislation”, this true lover of our nation eventually becomes known as one of the hardest-working and most important presidents of the United States.
So, from a life that began in extreme pain, he rises to extreme honor.
Who is your famous son?
Leave a comment below if you would like to guess. Check back tomorrow for the answer!
The answer is: James Knox Polk, direct descendant of John Knox, eleventh president of the United States, and home scholar.