Nothing in Polk's early life predicted his rise to prominence in a movement of angry farmers. The son of a planter, a moderately successful politician within the bounds of traditional southern politics, and a failed businessman, Polk nevertheless possessed remarkable organizational skills, and he had a knack for getting people to accept his leadership. He did not enrich himself at the expense of the movement he led; in fact, he died in debt, unable even to collect the salary owed him as president of the alliance. Polk was not the most advanced ideologue of the Populist movement, but he saw clearly the necessity of subjugating issues of section and race in order to give the new political movement of farmers and workers a chance to succeed.
Robert McMath, "Polk, Leonidas LaFayette," American National Biography Online, February 2000, http://www.anb.org/articles/05/05-00624.html.