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tv   Booknotes John Seigenthaler James K. Polk  CSPAN  April 13, 2021 8:01pm-9:00pm EDT

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up next to look back at the presidency of james k polk who conducted the 1846 to 1848 war against mexico during his presidency in 2003. we spoke with author john seigenthaler as part of c-span's booknotes series, mr. siegenthaler who wrote a book about president polk died in 2014. john seigenthaler author of james k polk, how'd they talk into doing biography on this president arthur schlessinger called me on the phone and said you're a tennessean james k polk was a tennessean. why don't you write? a biography for the series that times books is doing on the presidents and i said arthur i don't have time. i'm retired. he said i want you to do one thing. he said alan evans has done a paperback.
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that excerpts his diary his presidential diary. just take the weekend and read it and tell me no and i read the i read the excerpts from the diary and i couldn't say no. i was fascinating by the man. did you know much about him before you started in this? you know, he was a tennessee and i knew that his his grave is behind the capitol. there is no marker in nashville except plaque on the side of a dirty motel wall his old home place in columbia is preserved and i had been there many times and have been there since but i knew virtually nothing about him and and almost nothing that was good. i mean his reputation is result result of what was done. to him during his presidency over the mexican-american war left him a bad reputation reputation as warmonger and and
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and the attacks on him in congress in the latter latter days of his administration. reminded me a great deal of the attacks on lyndon johnson. at the end of his administration over the vietnam war similarities there. james k. polk was president when and tell us the four things that he promised to do. we'll go back and go all the details before the four things. he promised to do well it was president from 1844 one year president by his choice. he said i will not run for election and he would not accept. any suggestion and many democrats pushed him to run again. on the on about the week of his inaugural. he told his friend george bancroft who was to be a sector in navy greatest historian, by the way. he said bancroft, there are four things i want to do. there will be my great measures.
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one we will lower the tariff. controversial issue two we will create an independent treasury. we'll take all the government's money out of these corrupt private banks, which pay us no interest and we put those those funds in private vaults to pay the bill to meet the payroll. 3 we will take california and we'll take oregon that will make us from sea to shining sea. he said he would do it and he did it. what right did we have to take either, texas or california or oregon? well the organ territory which was washington and oregon belonged. to us jointly with great britain and he considered it part of the natural. right of the american nation to
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take that contiguous territory. only threatened to go to war with the british over it he bluffed them and it and said he was prepared to go to war over it. and at the last moment the british capitulated um, california, he had hoped that would be able. to purchase both henry clay when he was secretary of state under john quincy adams and john tyler who was president immediately before polk was president both had tried to buy. california the mexicans were insulted by both offers and rejected blandishments by pope to to give them the territory for money. and so we went to war with them and took it. one of the things i noticed is there's some similarities to today very very sharp similarity
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the house of representatives 108 to 107 with 24 independents. when was that was that when he was speaker when he was president? that was when he was speaker. he presided over the closest. house that time until history and he had a terrible time as speaker. he's the only speaker who became president united states. nobody else has been able to make that springboard as we speak richard gemheart is trying but to be another leader of the house who went all the way but but pope did it he was he presented a hostile house members of that house constantly were trying to bait him into duels. oh man, i'm wise from virginia. called a dead shot and a man named bailey, payton from tennessee. both despised him and both constantly harassed him from the floor and insulted him from the floor. at one point they met him at the
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door and wise said you were very insulting to me today on the floor and and i mean it and put and pocketed he said. he was he was he was against dueling. we're not accept the duels that it would not challenge and return for an insult. and jackson the great dueler who wouldn't take any insult. he was jackson's protege and everyone said that jackson would be critical of him because he took those insults but on the contrary jackson said he admired his pacific attitude and his courage in accepting leadership and and not responding as many did in that day if he were here today. we're already fit. well, he was when we would call him today yellow dog democrat. he was i think perhaps the most
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partisan president in history harry truman. another very partisan president once listed his eighth grade presidents. and polk was one of those he lists them. in alphabetical order jackson jefferson lincoln polk but he he does not list them as he writes them but clearly pokes. one of the top eight. i think that truman admired him truman said he knew exactly what he wanted to do. he said what he was going to do and he did it and that made. that made great. hay with with truman he also was very critical of his generals as truman was of douglas macarthur. and so there's that. that's similarity too, but part of pope would have what pope would have been right at home in
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today's acidic? washington environment political environment, i think that he would have been up. to the needles and the digs and the knives that are wielded and i i think he would have waited right into that environment and been and been right at home. he was a man for his time. there's very little. you can say that he that he left. his administration was sandwiched between the only two wig administrations in our history. and both of those administrations the harrison association and the tailor administration were of course interrupted by the deaths of those two presidents and and so those two week administrations did very little and his administration is sandwiched between those and he did a great deal. so it's surprising to me. that only historians recognize
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him they they every 10 years as a poll and he always up somewhere between seventh or 8th or 12th. he's never finished in those lower than the 12th of the presidency near great presidents. i kept writing down words. you used to describe him and i'll read a of them here perfectionist. micromanager workaholic a brooder humorless angry arrogant unforgiving called himself the hardest working man in the country straight laced a little prigged from tennessee a little break from tennessee all of those. i you know, the truth about is brian. when i got through with this i was not in love with him. i admired him for what he did. he was a tough-minded president and you know he gave us a continental nation and a dozen states exist. because he took us western but but he's not the sort of fellow. i think you and i would have
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enjoyed having lunch with. and certainly not done with he wouldn't want to go around the world on a tandem bike with him or even around the block probably but but nonetheless i did come away with great respect for him. and and while not affection admiration because because he did great things he his his effort to finish the bank wall that jackson had started. jackson has role model his hero his mentor the man who really made him president. he he really? trying to model himself after jackson and yet there were attributes to jackson character that turned him off and so so i didn't come away really in love with him. i i would i would have to say that i don't like him very much.
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i don't think it was a very likable man and among other reasons. he just was duplicitous he was he two or three times a week, they'd up the white house. and to everybody his worst enemies would come down from the hill. he and sarah this lovely congenial woman. would welcome them. his worst enemies he'd make them. feel like the king for a day and that night he'd go upstairs. and geneality and collegiality went out the window. and he would sit down with his diary and just rip him to shreds. he used that diary almost as a purgative. and and obviously it took me it was the bait that that led me to do this. this biography it's fascinating
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reading. how much of it did you read? i read all of it. i there it's four volumes. i read after i read nevin's. brief paperback. i then got the full volumes and poured over them and i read them all and how much copy i mean, how big were the four vines well each ones about 400 pages, but but there is, you know, there's some indexes and in there and but but each one's between 3 and 400 pages. it's it's long read but but it's conversational. and he was a good writer. he knew how to write a simple declarative sentence. and that's what the diary is and and and his that line you quoted. i think i'm the hardest man. i know i'm the hardest working man in america. i mean that sort of reflects the ego monaco instinct that occasionally emerged.
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he said in another case in the diary, you know, i haven't had the cabinet here for six weeks. i've learned i can run every department of the government without their help. and then he says i'm the hardest working man america truth is he probably was he was a workaholic around the clock. early morning late at night and very very sickly during much of his administration. you graphically describe this when he was 17 years old the operation. oh my god. now, where did you get that? the the story of that operation has been somehow in question some of the earlier historians said that it was for gallstones. um, i ran across an important. peace in 1980s, tennessee historical quarterly by medical
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doctor named robert. eichardt bob. eichard wrote this piece. and he points out that we didn't have a gallstone operation for 54 years. in this country after polk had his and he concluded it was for urinary stones. and there were documents that were left by ephraim mcdowell the danville, kentucky specialist. one of the great surgeons in the history of this country. he left papers and those papers icard relied on. to demonstrate that this was really a urinary stone operation and it was it was a brutal operation his a 17 year old young man constantly almost chronically ill with with lower abdomen pains finally his father
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who's wealthy decides the best man the country is dr. philip singh physic in philadelphia, and they put him. in a in a covered wagon with a bed. and this ambulance horse drawn heads north to pennsylvania gets up around the green river in kentucky, and he has violent attacks and they rush him to danville where this other surgeon ephraim mcdowell operates now the operation i said was brutal no antiseptic. and and they had they only could give him brandy. they didn't have any app antisepsis to stop the poison. the helen down his uncle was with him. they put him up on his shoulders. they used what was called a gorget. and if you look at the gorget, i mean it looks like it sound vicious knife.
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and they went between the scrotum and the --. right through the prostate how he ever survived is remarkable, but he did how much of that went on back then. did you check? well, yeah there there. the historical records in the medical records somewhat sketchy, but with regard to james k polk, they're there and and i think that after he became speaker of the house he corresponded with the doctor and there were just a couple of physicians who were capable of doing this. i mean sam poke his father really made a search before he decided he wanted physic to do this. and mcdowell had had been on his his agenda. it was just fortunate. i think that mcdowell was as close to him as he was when they when got him there.
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the there's no doubt in my mind. and this is why i think the operation was important. no doubt in my mind that he was gene sarah with chalice. as a result of this operation, i take it i take my conclusions on that one step beyond where bob icard left it, although. i know he agrees with that and i created a panel of about nine doctors. his name sir are in the book. um some specialists some general practitioners all thought it was very risky, but all concluded after they looked at it. that not much down that he was either left sterile. are impotent or both and so it was a childish marriage. you tell me being sick and then you of course point out that he was how long out of office after only one term that he died. he died 90 days after he left
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the presidency. he went home to die. he left the presidency warn and sickly. probably contracted cholera either on the way home or after he arrived was a long trip. he went all the way south to new orleans and came up. the river up the mississippi and and then down the cumberland cross the ohio down the cumberland river arrived home. and was welcomed by tennesseeans his old friend from congress. aaron brown was now governor. and they welcomed him home and he had 90 days of bad health and and died 53 years old 53 years old he at the time was the youngest president in history. and died younger than any president history this series. you mentioned arthur sleazinger. you mentioned times books.
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are they doing all 42? and as of now if you find it 22, i think listed i hope they do them all. i know that i had some conversations with my editor robin dennis who's terrific editor and and during the course of the of the writing and the research i got into the issues involving his secretary of state james buchanan. who became president of course and i in discussing it with. the editor she said well, i probably let had better let the author of the cannon book. know where you're going with this because we'll see where he comes down and i'd never felt followed up on that so i just don't. i just don't know. where that's going to go or how that's going to come out. when did you start it two years it took two years to do and what?
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to what links did you go to make sure you had the right stuff? where'd you go? i went everywhere. i could possibly find. sources the best stuff is in the diary and in his papers at the university of tennessee. there is there is a historian dr. wayne cutler. who is the cure of the pope papers? and he has by the time he's through it'll be 14 15 volumes, but he spent decades just developing these really huge volumes of pokes correspondence and between the diary and the correspondence you get a real sense. of who the man is. there were three excellent biographies one by john jenkins,
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which was done maybe 40 50 years after his death another by eugene mccormick, which came in the 30s and then charles sellers had a volume biography, but but stop before he got to the presidency. i'm so sorry. he didn't do the third volume because sellers sellers because i relied on it very heavily. at times came to different conclusions than all three but but i i found i found that in the research. it was a chance to know a thought about people i never. had looked at very closely people who made our country of what it what it is. and it was necessary to read biography of tyler. and van buren and buchanan and others in order to fill in the
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the foundation on which the biography i had to stand i mean you couldn't very well. write a biography about pope who had almost routine conflicts with the secretary of state. without finding out something about that secretary of state of the same was true james buchanan james buchanan. will you well, what was your reaction when you saw how much they fought? could you do that today? i cannot i cannot for the life of me. imagine why pope? put up with it except that as he said to his friend cave johnson. shortly after he won the election i intend myself to be president. you know, i talked to wayne cutler about about this conflict. cutler who's been? looking at james gate polk for all these years now, and i said i cannot for the life of me.
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figure out why? pope kept buchananas secretary of state they were constantly at war. and cutler said, you know. he was the secretary of state himself. and he could control buchanan. well, he could control them. but you couldn't him from popping off. or telling him he was wrong or even lecturing him would they fight about? they fought about foreign policy. they thought about i mean a good example. he's getting ready to. he's getting the british and the french are constantly meddling in us affairs. they've got interest and the in the middle of this country. and and then there is mexico.
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let's having this. this ongoing conflict. with texas with the republic of texas and and so there was a good deal there to formulate policy on. and when it comes time for war with mexico. buchanan says in a cabinet meeting. you know, i really need to let the french and british know that in this war with mexico. we don't have aims. on, california well, of course. poker names on california it was contrary to everything his administration was was going to be about and he says do not do that. i don't want to i do not want you to tell him that he said well if you don't do that. you may have war with both of them. you said i'll go to war with them and fight to the last man.
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before i'll say that. we have no designs on california and so he was silent be kind of with silent on the subject. but buchanan was was the canon was not very consistent as a secretary of state for example when it came time to take oregon territory away from from the british um buchanan the issue was where the at what parallel would we get? would we get the territory if we got it and if we went to war? we would get the 54th parallel, which is a 54 40 a fight. was the crying congress. the tire administration left him with a proposal to the british. to draw the line at the 49th parallel and the british turned that flatly down and it infuriated him. and he told buchanan you go back and tell him we want it all.
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paraphrasing here, but that's just what he said with the all be all the way up to all the way in border all the way up in other words, washington and or beyond washington up to the 54. so so so buchanan says you know, this will mean war. and he said i don't care. you tell them. the office off the table we want the 54th parallel. we want as much as we can get. and he says mr. as always we had a fallback position. kind of says mr. president, you know. we're about have trouble with mexico. why don't we put this off? no, tell them now. and and and he says but we you know. we've got we're very close to war. with two countries here, you say we'll do our duty by mexico and great britain. we must look john bull in the
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eye. he says and reluctantly you cannon goes over and delivers the message and then comes back. next meeting said i did it. it was the wrong thing, but i did it. let me just write in the presentation. you know, you did the wrong thing making me go go over there and say that. and believe it or not folk comes right back and said we did the right thing. it was right and leaves it at that, but it was a constant fight. it was a constant war and then i questioned why in my own mind. even after talking to cutler even after knowing that he was controlling him. why he didn't dump him and then you run across this. effort by buchanan to confront the president and say do you really want me? is a vacancy on the united states supreme court and be counting goes over and says, you know, i'd like that. polk has a chance to get rid of him then. and he doesn't take it. i mean he he almost he almost
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controlled him back in to the office and then and then began and says, you know, there's one floor up there john m. reed he was for you for me. he'd be a wonderful justice of the supreme court. and he leaves there thinking that he's made the case for his friend reed. and polk without saying anything to him. i'm sure i'm sure mccannon went out and told all his friends in congress told reed probably. you know, he's going to be the next supreme court justice. paul gives it to a state judge named george wood and and buchanan comes on there almost weeping said you cut me to the heart. why didn't you tell me you're gonna do that? it's none of your business. i don't have to ask my cabinet. for permission and then he says, you know. i found out that this man was a federalist. for 12 years, and i have never found this is how partisan he was. i have never found a federalist.
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older than 30 whoever changed his mind on his politics. that's that's pretty partisan, you know, and he used federalist. and wig interchangeably, i mean if you were a whig you were a federalist and and and buchanan went away licking his wounds and and weeping but was there at the very end at the very end? there's another terrible dispute right at the end. i mean, there's a new president electorate zachary taylor and kind of comes to catch me said shouldn't this cabinet go over and say hello the new president. welcome him and pope says i would consider it a betrayal. if you did that. he needs to come call on me. then you may do what you seek to do you point out in your book that there were two and a half million votes in the 1844 election all white men all white men. no women. no women no black no blacks and
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you point out that they the difference in the vote was between henry clay and and james buchanan 1.4% 1.4 percent 38,000 votes and now the electoral college 36 votes in new york really gave it to poke. i had new york gone for clay would have been the president interestingly and you say there are are echoes from this time. to our time james k. polk failed to carry his home state of tennessee. which reminds us? that in if al gore had carried his home state of tennessee. he would have been the president everything that goes around comes around. i guess brian quick question on the diaries. where do they keep them now the actual diaries the the actual diaries are in the library of congress the the copies that
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cutler has and all of those documents at the at in cutlers domain are copies both the correspondence and and the diaries, can you read the diaries online? you can you can read the diaries online and that made my work much much easier. you can read the diaries and you can i say you can read them online. you can you can you can get a cd and and that's what i did and and got it from the university of tennessee and to be able to do that to sit home and just certain from the computer and make notes split the screen and make notes beside it as you go through. excerpt what you want makes writing maid writing for me a new experience. how much of a tennessean are you?
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born bread where my life has been born in nashville, tennessee, and my whole life has been spent there, but you know, it says something about our education that i have not found a tennessee and who knows i've written this book who knows very much about james cape polk. i mean if you ask what president nobody knows he's 11th president? nobody knows he served one term. nobody knows he expanded the country from just west of mississippi river to the pacific ocean. we know each other war and and that's about and that's pretty much it. i was really i was i was really excited as i went through it because i learned so much about my own state. about the leaders in the early days who established that state? and i had read all of robert remini's books on jackson and before that part and on jackson,
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which is the early classic work. but putting putting jackson in context while writing about poke really gave me new insights tanner jackson about whom i knew a great deal. and and just for example jackson's greatest problem during his presidency i think had to do with his inability. to get along with the vice president john c calhoun and the calhounites who were part of this cabinet and the marriage of john eaton remember the cabinet? he's good friend to margaret o'neill. was a major scandal and ultimately jackson wipes out the whole cabinet. and poke is over there in congress looking at that over this marriage over this over this over this marriage. i mean fluoride calhoun will
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not. i have anything to do with margaret o'neill the wife of the vice president and other cabinet officers follow her along van buren. not married it's very nice to him and and what was he then? he was vice president. oh, no, he was secretary of state and and jackson wraps his arm around van buren and names him vice president. really ordains him for the vice presidency in the second term because he was nice. to eaton and mrs. eaton well, so the whole cabinet is wiped out eaton resigns and and others are forced to resign. pope comes into office and i think one of the reasons he didn't dump buchanan. was because he didn't want that same sort of image that it haunted jackson. he didn't want anybody to leave the cabinet over a controversy. he let george bancroft his secretary of the navy
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incidentally the greatest historian become minister the great britain. but he kept that cabinet as much intact as he could even though he was constantly at war with buckhannon in the cabinet meetings. you have all these names in your book back in those years martin van buren goes on later after he's president to run again. he runs what well, you know his you the pokes election. was more than remarkable. it's astounding it's richard nixon. james k. polk serves speak of the house and while he's in speak of the house jackson's supported home, tennessee begins to wayne. okay the years he was speaker. i mean we talked he would he became speaker in in 1833 and served three terms he ran 1833 and lost his fellow tennessee
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and john bell. he beat bell the following year. and then was reelected as speaker. so he's reluctant for two terms now. now he's watching from the hill. while he's in congress and this debacle occurs over this scandal in the jackson cabinet? and i think he looks at that and country was almost paralyzed. the government was not functional during that period and and president jackson was old and and couldn't function. um, really loved andrew jackson. admired andrew jackson but he didn't make the same mistakes that jackson made for example, there were. when he becomes president jackson has two requests of keep francis blair as the editor. of our party newspaper and called who's it called? the paper the paper was the
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union. keep francis blair in and he fires him. jackson says keep my old friend who was actually? a resident at the white house while a jackson there keep him. in the treasury department, he was almost a cynicure. that jackson had had given to his old friend from the white house whose name at this moment. has fled but i will be back, but he but he but he but he says to to pope keep him the man had never been kind to poke. he'd been rude to poke. and poke dumped him. i mean jackson had kept him there during the van buren administration even in the whig
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administration of tyler. and but you let me just highlight a point you made about the union. right you what business was it of the president of either andrew jackson or of james polkton name the editor of a union well in those days a newspaper was an arm of the party an arm of the wing of the party. i mean the the madison was a newspaper that was created not for a party, but for a cause really designed to to promote an economic policy and and francis blair headed the party paper and when and when and when pope dumped him. he brought in thomas ritchie from richmond another editor. and and put richie in and in charge of the party newspaper
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when i was reading again i was thinking about today where the democrats are trying to start this network this you know the right to get the somebody to challenge rush limb to have somebody challenge the conservative talk show. how do you think you were at it? how long were you with the national tennis in? well, i was there off and on for 43 years. i joined the kennedy administration for a couple of years, but i was there for 43 years and i was editor and publisher for 30. um, and you're you were editorial director of the year how long directive usa today for 10 years? yeah. but what you how long do you work for bobby kennedy two years? but this this whole i mean reading back in those days and just thinking about today the number of people that have been in politics and now are in the media. is there any real change after all these years? yeah. what's the change? i mean that that ability the party to control the news media media simply doesn't exist and and i you know, i think that there are some people watch television today and and see
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echoes of one party or another and and some of the formats and and there is some niche marketing and television news. i think particularly in the cable area. i think most people identify fox. in that in that way a southern echo of the presidency. but but i look at it and and the independence is there in the independence and i mean the idea that the administration could control fox or cnbc or are cnn i think is out of the question you you've got your own television star in your family. i do have what's your relationship to john seigenthaler of nbc? i am the father of john of the john seigenthaler. i i say i used to be john cena. and i'm very proud of him. who's the jack siegenthology actually gonzalo is his is his son six year old jackson dollar is a john seigenthaler you
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dedicate your book. i dedicate my book to jack c and tall in the midst of the writing one day. i was right on deadline. and he comes in and says grant can i use the computer? and i said jack. i'm really working for the next half hour. on the poke book and i turned back to the computer and on my desk. behind me now. or the 12 volumes of pokes correspondents and the four volumes of his diary. and the full biography i've mentioned the full volumes of the biography by jenkins mccormick and sellers. and i hear him say he reads polk. this is pope. that's pope grant that we really need another book on folks. what'd you say? i said, i hope so jack will find out does he know the books to dedicate time? he doesn't know the books dedication. tell me very proud of it and took it took a copy of it to school with them. and so it's it's interesting to
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me that six year old children. one are interested in removing their grandparents from the computer so they can get at it and beyond that are able to read and comprehend. the last time i was there i read a little pope to him before he went to bed and he asked an awful lot of questions because there are words there that are beyond obviously a six year old go back to the war the mexican war started when? um the mexican war star in 1846 he sends zachary taylor down to that the conflict was started over the mexican border eight years eight years earlier we had
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the alamo and goliad and then sam houston tennessee friend of pope then sam houston. defeats santa ana and they get santa ana to agree. that the line between the two countries between the independent republic of texas. and mexico we agrees that that will be the line the rio will be the line. the mexican parliament doesn't accept that but of course. texans do um, and so that land between the new eighties river and and the rio about 150 miles. represents what texas considers the new border and what pope considers the new border? and there comes a time?
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when mexico declares war on the united states um because it going to annex, texas. and and and poke is coming into office and poke really wants congress. to get annexation of texas started before he takes over and he works with congress to get that done. then the mexicans react angrily and that comes to time when the cabinet suggests that he sends zachary taylor general zachary taylor soon to be removing president the next week president. he sends zachary taylor down and he says if they come across. if they come across an attack. considered an attack on the country and go in to mexico and take as much as you can. and so that is what happened to the small party of mexicans and bush a small party of us
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soldiers and taylor goes in takes palo alto takes for soccer to palma captures them and the war is on and stop just a second because just in context of today you got winfield scott who's down there as general working for? james poked the president right zachary taylor's down there. they zachary taylor goes on to be president what 48 yeah, taylor becomes president in 1848 and scott. a two terms later is the republican nominee. okay. what year then is it that abraham lincoln stands up in the floor of the house and says, i'm against this abraham lincoln stood up on the floor of the house in 1848 as pokes. about to go is about to go out. i had a great conversation with doris currents goodwin who's doing i think a similar book on lincoln. about this and the question is whether lincoln lost as he was a freshman congressman. and he stood up on the floor and virtually called james k polk a liar.
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and he said and he considers and the whigs considered that land between the nueces. and the rio as disputed land and lincoln wants to be sure where the first drop of blood was spilled and demands. literally issues an interrogative or an iraqatory for the president to respond to which he doesn't. he makes the case that that l'oreal was our line, and we were attacked on this side on the american side of the us side of the rio. and and that it's really a sort of i mean it echoes a little bit of today president bush's concept of preemptive defense. i mean they're there at war with us. and if they if they if they attack us. we're going in now.
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so taylor is down there and goes at the same time poke is having a terrible time with winfield scott. scott doesn't want to go to mexico. zachary taylor's on his way scott said i'll go down september which was three four months off and pope calls in the secretary of war secretary, marcy and says get him out of here and get him on the way. and scott writes a letter in which he says i don't want to be shot at at the front by the mexicans and in the rear in washington. and poke at that point grounding. takes his command away from him. finally scott gets it back. by proposing a plan in which in which we attack? mexico across the gulf and and scott's attack comes across the gulf and he goes through to mexico city while while while
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zachary taylor is is going north and at the same time general kearney is going to california. to take california and so it was really a three-pronged attack. pope despised zachary taylor and winfield scott they did nothing but wind battles and against great odds. and every night in the diary, he'd get news of another great victory and say they're both incompetent. they're unqualified for command and it was purely partisan. you mentioned william marcy. he was secretary war. he was secretary war and you say his famous saying that still lives today. that's the the victors go the spoils, but it seems like in this little book all this stuff. you've got james polka the center and you got abraham lincoln on the floor. he becomes president winfield scott's the candidate for the wigs and 52 zachary. taylor's a candidate for the wigs and wins in 48 john c. fremont goes the pathfinder. goes out to california and gets
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involved in a big dispute between commodore stockton the navy and general kearney. he chooses the wrong way. his father-in-law is thomas hart benton back in washington the powerful friend of pope the senator the son of the artist and and and and and and fremont thinks, you know, i'm gonna get into into this thing on stockton side. oh bullion will take care of me back home my father in law, but doesn't happen. i mean fremont is court-martialed. and and poke he's charged with mutiny and and disobedience pope dismisses the mutiny charge but upholds the second by the way on and the the story about the thomas hart benton and the the shooting of abraham andrew jackson. how did that happen? jack it was that goes way back to the time jackson was in in tennessee and thomas harden benton and his brother. jesse were in tennessee at that time before the the went to,
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missouri. and jesse benton there was a duel and jesse benton. really offended jackson by sort of serving as as a second duel. and they and they attack jackson. one day in a building on the street in nashville, and they run him through. and hitting and almost kill him shoot him and and runs an almost kill him and the benton's shortly thereafter left for missouri where benton where thomas hart benton was? became a senator goes to washington and then befriends. and rejection they become close friends jesse benton. never never made it up with jackson, but but benton was a friend of jackson in washington and became a friend of pope you
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have another story in there about sam houston in the congressman and when there was a caning outside of the house, that's right at that time houston was living with the indians. and houston was accused by this member of congress. of using it for financial gain and houston tries to attack him on the floor. he's a former member congress. but then waits for him. with a what else a hickory cane and keynes him almost killed him and his tried before the house. james k. polk defends, sam houston, and they give him a tap on the wrist. i'll tell you everybody everybody who's anybody in history. intersects the life of james k polk. let me do this quickly because we are running out of time go back to north carolina. did you go to mecklenburg county? i did not you did not i did not but just go quickly through
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james k. polk's life up to the time they became president so we can get it on the record. um, he was one mecklenburg county near charlotte a little. a little sugar creek. he had a very agrarian upbringing he went to he went to sort of seasonal schools when he's eight, his grandfather has moved to middle, tennessee and has found it really paradise. and so sam his father and sarah's mother. go over the mountains and and settle in middle, tennessee. and there he grows up again very sickly child. so sickly that he's not able to do all the work in the fields that other children are expected to do one point is father wants to make him a merchant young boy puts him in a story doesn't
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work. what do you really wants as an education and after the operation? father finally sends him to a formal education first a little seminary school near where they lived in columbia, tennessee then to murfreesboro where there was an academy and finally university of north carolina where he ended as a sophomore and finished graduated first in his class. spoke at the graduation and spoke at the at the graduation and he was political. he was political from the outside. he was fortunate in that he fell into. into the arms of the great, tennessee lawyer felix grundy later attorney general united states united states, senator and grundy mentored him at loi, you know in those days lawyers trained in the chambers of a distinguished lawyer are a lawyer. how many times was he elected
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office? danny office. well, he was all he was elected once to the tennessee legislature seven times to congress. once as governor and once is president. before we run out of time you did the show like this for how many years? thirty two years now, and he's still doing it and i've had you on that show and it's been great to have you there and it's been great to be here, but you still doing the show. i am still doing that show and what do you do it? i it appears in nashville on sunday morning, and i do an interview with authors. how many shows a year? during the annual southern book festival. i do 15, which is a week-long show and i do about 40 shows a year. what do you do it? i do it because i love books and i love to read and i love people who write how many books have you written? well, i've i've i've had
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published a couple of books of columns or articles that i wrote. and i've had chapters in books, but i'd have to say this is my first real experience as an author. what'd you think of it now that you're on the other side? i'm now i'm now in the process of riding another book. i'm gonna write a book on a woman named alice paul who is an unknown heroin of the suffragist movement. uh everything did for the suffragists. civil rights demonstrators went through of 1915 to 1950s. so 35 years later on that little note before we just really run out of time. he was a slaveholder james k polk. how many slaves did he own? and what happened at the end? well, he owned he owned more than 40 and he owned them on his
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mississippi plantation and his property in tennessee. he his will in his will he left all his slaves to his wife for her lifetime then they would be freed. she lived until she was 80 years old and so lincoln had freed the slaves long before. sarah died, but but polk he said it was a common evil. you would think as a one-term president was not for planning to run for election. he might have taken some. step late in life to provide some leadership. you understand why you didn't during a political campaign because you couldn't take that position be alone. we're at a time. do you you still go to the office every day? i go the office every day first amendment center and available university. it's great to be with you brian. our author has been john seigenthaler and the title of the book is james k polk the
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times books. series on presidents. thank you very much. not least forgot one name. what? every author that comes on the show next. american history tv on c-span 3 every weekend documenting america's story funding for american history tv comes from these companies who support c-span 3 as a public service. listen to c-span's podcast the weekly this week the workplace after the pandemic with axios technology. correspondent. kim hart. she'll talk about a newly released poll from prudential morning consult which indicates most employees prefer working remotely 87% of the people surveyed said that they want to work remotely at least one day a
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week and a lot of people want to work even more than that only 13% said that they want to work full-time on site the way they used to so that's a huge sea change for employers who are used to having everyone in the office every day people were commuting people wanted to live close into their jobs. that's no longer quite as important find c-span's the weekly where you get your podcasts. the us declared war on mexico on may 13 1846 what became known as mr. poult's war resulted in more than 500,000 square miles of new us territory. up next on american history tv author joseph wieland talks about his book invading mexico. america's continental dream and the mexican war 1846 to 1848 in which he chronicles president james k polk's goal to acquire, california through war. good evening on behalf of the staff and the owners of quail ri


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