tv The Presidency James K. Polks Politics Times CSPAN April 13, 2021 11:22pm-1:00am EDT
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relocation center. watch wednesday night beginning at 8 pm eastern and enjoy american history tv every weekend on c-span 3. historians talk about president james k polk's times, to his role as a wartime chief executive. this panels part of the 2019 conference held at the university of tennessee hosted by the east tennessee historical society. >> i'm john. i teach at grand rapids michigan. this roundtable is known as the many sides of james k polk. we will explore cover the sides apparently of james k polk. i will start with introductions in just a moment so what we will do is speak for 50 minutes. a little more. maybe a little bit less would be allowed and we might ask questions of each other. a couple questions as a round table and then we will open to
the audience and we should have substantial time for questions and answer at the end. first up would like to introduce mark who speak on polk and democratic leadership in 1884. he is a professor of history at cumberland university and project director of the paper -- . his most recent book is the coming of democracy. presidential campaigning in the age of jackson. thank you john. thank you all for showing up. hopefully nobody maps -- naps. in the post lunch euphoria. particularly thank you michael for putting this together. i also want to thank zach. when he was a intern he did some research on the correspondents.
that was very helpful for this paper so thank you zach. i also want to lower expectations. this is my first foray into giving my thoughts on the book that i'm writing on the it's an 84 election for the press of kansas. there are a lot of holes that i found as i was writing so hopefully you can help me to for the men. in any case the 1884 presidential campaign marked the transition in the democratic party leadership. as -- seeded party control to james k polks. -- appeared poised to at least some to perhaps inhabit the ticket of the party in 1844. his unwillingness to agree to the immediate annexation of texas however signaled his demise of the presumptive candidate for the democratic party. and opened the door for polk who was considered the front runner for the vice
presidential slot to ascend to the top of the ticket in baltimore. well they -- his ability to influence the cabinet elects picks ended their relationship. they both entered congress in the 18 twenties. they seem to have had a relationship that was based largely on loyalty to jackson and that emerges will significantly during the correspondence of jackson's second term, in the 1836 campaign. during van buren's presidency, polk gave him advice on his response to the panic of 1837. and also gave van buren advice on -- . polk was in favor of. it in any case as we approach the 1840 election, van buren appeared to be the democratic
nominee heading into that campaign and polk emerged as a possible vice presidential nominee in the run up to 1840. particularly after polk won the election in tennessee in 1839. polk and his allies begin to float his name as a ally for -- . johnson if you know anything about him had some issues in his personal life which led some democrats to question his place on the ticket in 1840 during what was going to be a very contentious campaign it appeared. in any case, even though the stars seem to be aligning for polk things fell apart fairly quickly after the wigs -- he wrote which made johnson's own wartime experience and harrison in the war of 1812 much more important for the democrats, then polk's experience as speaker of the
house and congressman and governor. ultimately the democratic convention decided not to nominate a vice presidential candidate. in 36 there had been a very contentious election. he withdrew his. name he campaigned across the state. he did seemingly a very effective job but unfortunately as jackson said, the humbuggery thwarted his attempts to carry the mantle as president for a second term. as van buren looked to run again he undertook a journey in 1842 to several southern western states including tennessee. he of horse spent time with jackson. van buren made his way to columbia to visit with polk and other democratic allies in
lower tennessee. polk and his friends hope that he would discuss the -- election. and that he would ask polk to join him on the ticket. that did not happen. a solemnly assure you polk wrote that not either a word verbally or in writing has passed between us on the subject. nor have we had any conversations to that effect having heard elsewhere from the van buren leg of the trip. ultimately, van buren's visit hurt both men because it allowed wigs and democrats to -- a popular convention even though there is no evidence of that. as the calendar turned to 1843 it appeared that van buren remain the presumptive trust of most democrats. but not all was well within the democratic party. some democrats blame their problems on the administration
he could still count on tennessee support in 44, although jackson initially labored princes presidential chances after his defeat, by the next round he was back to reassuring van buren that he needed to win in tennessee. when the two assembly met in the fall, it pressure of course the implication was that van buren wanted this support he needed to make sure the polk was his running mate. the tennessee democratic committee met in 43 followed their strategy. 12 of the 13 delegates from were pro polk. as the new year donned, he was
front runner in the many other mines. two years into the new year he wrote, quote the prospects now and we will have a very harmonious convention were gone. in respect to the presidential candidate and it's quite certain that the question of the vice presidency will be discussed and decided upon the very best spirit. when this all should be and i have no doubt it will be satisfied. if van buren had looked carefully however, he would've noticed that his support remained and we're getting lighter. kate jackson who is a very close friend of polk and a close adviser in 44, told poke the cause is not very flattering. the abolition vote will injure him. van buren was not an abolition volition is in 44. johnson also noted the calhoun and tyler noted that --
noted two added to the list of reasons to oppose his nomination. polk agreed with this opinion that the abolition agitation was as if it's ever been political object in design. and he -- still, is attention early in 44 remained primarily on the vice till nomination. as spring approach, several challenges to the nomination emerged, including richard johnson, stewart, lewis casts and of course john c calhoun. he never seems to go away. more importantly, death of the secretary of state above the border u.s. princeton changed everything regarding the convention and its nominees. tyler's appointment of john c calhoun is secretary of state led to a revival of the question -- calhoun at already planned to
make texas annexation the main issue -- in 44 and now he had tremendous power to shape not only the focus of the general campaign but also the democrats nomination process. calhoun is looking to torpedo van buren's nomination as they did not like him. annexation became even more important in the public eye. van buren is to receive queries from groups of democrats across the country asking for his opinion on annexation and specifically media and extinction. he chose to respond to one particular request by mississippi representative william henry hammond. he was later the hammond that was published and written in van buren's usual meandering in ponderous manner. his handwriting was terrible and he goes on and on and on and on and on. like my students do when
they're trying to reach my word count. he was outlining his opposition to the immediate annexation of texas. taking a stance against the media annexation pleased some of his friends but it doomed his chances of receiving the democratic nomination. in april, jackson asked pope to visit him at the hermitage which he did do. during his meeting with jackson, the general announced to poke immediate annexation is not only important but his principles. van buren and jackson's estimation had committed what he said was a fatal area. -- folks surprised jackson's vehement declaration replaced with a firm determination. van parents should be supported in baltimore, and positioned as new yorkers running mate. polk said he was instead by mr.
v. and i will just as long as there is hope. but polk said f van buren's oak hopes failed, then he could become the top choice for the democrats. he was in his friends hands, and they can use my name in any way they seem proper he said in baltimore. the democratic convention did not go van buren's way. the delegates decided -- van buren did not possess two thirds of the vote couldn't win the nomination, on the eighth ballot pokes name appeared as a contender for the presidency and on the ninth ballot he became the choice of the democrats. following polk's nomination, he and van buren did not communicate during the 44 campaign, but van buren publicly did support his party's ticket. he did so primarily in new york, not just because of the democrats, he was trying to help elevate his son john in
new york politics. pokes victory over clay in november provided reconciliation between him in van buren. that did not happen. the two fell out over pokes cabinet choices. if you read the correspondence between polk and van buren from january to early march of 45, you get a really good sense of how frustrated van buren is for not being able to force polk to make the right choices and the sense of frustration to poke has as a man who lost the presidency and couldn't even get the nomination telling him what to do as he was about to come into office. so i won't give you all the details, but i want to give you one example. this comes later in the process. so, essentially what van buren wanted to have new york times the top cabinet posts the secretary of state. he wants to choose treasury for
new york, and again lots of things going on there, but eventually as polk is traveling, and we're incense more and more advice. he tells polk that you need to choose benjamin butler, he was a good friend, former law partner of endurance. you need to choose in for the state department. so on february 22nd, polk wrote van buren about the post, and he said that he had a letters in hand, but that the landscape had changed. said before arriving here and taking a survey the whole, around i found great difficulties being posed that necessitated other appointments. eventually we heard early today that the cannibal service secretary of state. but polk still wants van buren's advice but only for the war department. so we asked van buren, do want butler for the war department or william l mercy. merci was on the other side of the democratic party in new york.
so van buren doesn't want mercy. so van buren writes back until spoke that your vacillation is called me incredible pain and make some other suggestions, but not mercy. what's really interesting without waiting for van buren's reply, polk moves ahead. and he went ahead and appointed marcy marcy. -- he promises to send full information, what's interesting is that the polk editors noted and you can see in the library of congress copy, on the back of folks letter prompts a full explanation, fiber wrote, the promised -- have not be made. >> what happens after this polk offers and ambassador riyal appointment for van buren and he refuses.
the two men do not correspond except for two letters like that poke sense to van buren containing two of his messages, van buren writes back to notes saying i've received these, that's the end of their correspondence. i don't know if polk lost much sleep over, it van buren was very better over this, and eventually in 48, as many of you will know, will not only be nominated for the presidency. van buren eventually does go back to the democrats, but at that point and that's the end of their relationship. thank you. [applause] >> i would like to introduce tina, kelly houston jones, the sleeper on the speaker on slavery. doctor jones is the assistant professor of history at arkansas tech. she writes about the history of slavery, mostly in the trans
mississippi seventh. south. >> i would also like to think thank the conference organizers and thanked zachary. i am probably the least polk person here. i come to this from an interest that was begun when i was researching and the slavery of arkansas, and since we are on camera, a worry land of slavery in the land of arkansas will be published by georgia pressed, get that little plug in there. and one of the things i noticed about the patterns in that history was a prevalence of absentee vote on the
plantations on the arkansas side of the mississippi river. and when i was having one of those great conversations that you have with students, doctor can slow set that you know poke. james people was an absentee planter. when some i thought of poke as a slave holder, and that he would fit this, in this interest that i had. as i explore that, i learned a whole bunch about a lot of polk 's, who were buying plantations in arkansas in northeast louisiana, and of course mississippi. that's how i ended up in this. so this conference as given me a chance to kind of indulge in this new inside interest that i have, absentee plantations. now this talk would probably be better titled, i probably should have caught it called it
the pokes and the business of slavery, because very little of it is about james people come self, but about that entangled family tree of slave holding pokes and we learn about this morning. james people is a history of absentee planters i, call them 19th century portfolio planters. we think of agricultural developments, i'm trying to be a little provocative on purpose. this is a portfolio investment. if you never go to that plantation. sometimes the overseers begging him, please come to see, and a lot of times these guys don't really know what's going on, it's an investment, and that's what it is. so what i found and looking at these patterns, this is actually a much more extensive part of his history than i given credence to in my
research. quite a few of these absentee holdings, it is a little difficult to find out when it is an absentee held plantation. people have questions about what i define is absentee, we can pass that later. i'm my preliminary research on this, i found it antique a county, arkansas, which is southeast arkansas, there are if i use a very conservative estimate, about 12% of the enslaved people in that county were on absentee plantations. okay, that's not huge, but i am getting a sense that there is a significant part of the story that we are missing. there are places where there is no white family in the big house. there is no big house. there are overseers in the house and that's it. now this pattern has been more documented by historians when
it comes to -- slavery historians really love matches. people are living there and of course owning these plantations across the river. that's a little bit more well-documented. i found for sure that about 20 -- 24 25% of those enslaved people in those counties in louisiana, were held by absentee owners across the river. anthony kaye estimated that it was probably about half. a little bit of a different situation, because of the proximity. so i'd like to do by exploring the polk's, is positioning columbia, tennessee in. this a planter village somewhere like columbia, tennessee and owns a plantation in southeast arkansas, that really is absent. that really does change the landscape. the more i dig into it the more
pokes i find who were taking part in this kind of stuff. and it's a network coming out of columbia, tennessee of polk and friends we think of getting fellow another contacts. -- context of absentee. that's the network that james kaye polk is plugged into. so it's a sign i want to show it to him you have him today. one of the successful of the polk relatives. i was already intimidated by the polk family tree. when we heard the go-to books i've been using are wrong, so now just bear with me, if i'm not getting some of these connections exactly right. alan j. polk is one of the most
successful of these planters. he has 78 slaves in phillips county, arkansas, in 1860. hundred thousand dollars of personal estate which is huge. 50,000 dollars of real estate. his wife, anna polk is there and his family and there's an overseer there on the play. so he's one of those planters who has a home base plantation but he has other plantations in other spots. that is a fairly common part of the trend that i've seen. some of these planters will spend times a different parts of the year and different plantations in some of them never go at all. so allen jay polk is one of these really rich planters sometimes lives in columbia, sometimes lives in north carolina, kentucky, mississippi, and sometimes he's in arkansas. so that's what we're talking about here. he probably also has a plantation into difficulties
county, mississippi. there were 200 enslaved people on a place. there's another place in that same county that i think might be him but, i'm not sure, because they are doing the initial stage a. i suspect it is alan j. polk on a plantation. george w. polk polk, some of colonel poke. lived in marie county. he also had 88 slaves in arkansas. he didn't live there elise not all the time. married into the healthier family. one of the wealthy planter families in southeast arkansas. and may have also had some mississippi plantations as well. there's a hamilton polk also who's got a large operation in mississippi. there he may have as many as three that he's got. one of those seems to be a
joint venture, james d polk did this with his brother in law. purchase and slave people to put on, and use that as your investment. but these polk investments are not always absentee, and sometimes they begin absentee, i suspect, but then the move family ends up moving their. that's one of the things if you're not familiar with the history of the trans mississippi south. people thought arkansas was the end of the. people still think arkansas is the edge of the earth, so you know that in 1860 if that was the case, so for example, one of james kaye pokes cousins, and he is the very big word cousin. susan polk, she manage mary's kenneth rainier, -- she won't go past memphis supposedly.
sometimes, people refuse, but refused to actually settle there, or takes them some time to pull the trigger and move to arkansas, to the other side of the river. now when the patriarchs of a branch of the polk family did make his home in phillips county, arkansas, he was very prosperous. william wilson, stingy bill polk, i'm really excited about that. if i'm right about, that he's james kaye polk's uncle. y'all fix it for me if i'm wrong about that. the family knows in this stingy bill, but he's really not that stingy, because he loaned the president elect 9000 dollars. not 9000 dollars is created on the back of enslaved people of
phillips county, arkansas and the 18 thirties and forties. so here than in murray county, tennessee, he moved to another county in tennessee, but by 1840 he's in phillips county, arkansas. according to those notes, he lands this 9000 dollars to james kaye polk, and then he not so suddenly hints around that he would like an appointment for thomas polk at the post office. this is where i get a little hung up, because i'm not sure if his son is called thomas or there's some other polk's he's trying to favor. so that's the network to james polk is plugged into, last speculation, slaves political power. and sort of giving the epilogue about the expansion of landholdings and consolidation of power by the polk family. in earlier years.
stingy bill died in october, 48, buried in phillips county, arkansas. that plantation is inherited by his children. at least one of them sticks around and continues to do very well, okay. if you follow that particular holding through the census, looks like it got down to 50 enslaved people, that's because thomas is giving some to his siblings. the family still benefiting from this. so all this to say, that we have to understand polk as a part of this network. one of the things that i've noticed earlier, peaking here on scholarship about poll, is that we write about him as a product of his time, not so much of a creator of that system. that's one of the things i enjoyed about this congress is that this is being fixed.
poke the expansionist, poke the slavery, the expansion in the old southwest. so i heard just to keep thinking that way. james kaye polk and his family are the creators of the family safe system. is of this generation that knows how to get this the most out of the southwest. it's possible he gets it work ethic from his dad, his father 's cousin. william polk. they speculate inland, all kinds of things, they took advantage of what was available. so of course james kaye polk is watching this business very carefully. he's forging partnerships. in fact, one a man who goes down a history as chunky jack, kept running, and full of these. chunky jack kept running away from polk's mississippi plantation to arkansas, because arkansas was the edge of the
earth, and polk's plantation, chunky jack keeps running off to oregon saw. james kaye pork has to do is plug into those connections, political, family, all of the above, to help him we take chunky jack. here's something that's interesting about william december is excellent contribution to the scholarship, is that you can tell and slave master president that's slavery were not quite ready to outright call these operations what they were. investment capitalist op enterprises. not everyone is and hammered with a new histories of capitalism in slavery. i think it's really helpful for this context to understand polk in this way.
but inducing berries book, he uses the word investment in places with quotation marks. he talks about how people view the plantation as an investment. of course it's an investment. what else could be right? we understand slavery's a social system, we also have to understand that it is as an investment. james kaye polk is watching it closely. -- he doesn't live very long that's one of the ways that sarah polk is financially stable. it's very precarious to be whittled in that time, even if you are a whittled a white woman whittled to a president. that financial stability is very important. so the very interesting things about sarah polk's story. they are so interested in protecting the investment, that
sarah polk files a claim with the southern plains commission in 1874 this mississippi plantation, and she was ready, there was already a letter in her overseers hands, during the war, that said please respect my property federal forces. please don't take the stuff. then, according to this claim, when union soldiers show up in august, 1863, the overseer and then i think they're calling it a protection paper whom, and the overseer in march, 64 right out a letter detailing what was taken from this plantation, and he includes the enslaved people who left. there were ten, and names them. possibly in hopes that they might get reimbursed. they don't know what's gonna happen at that point. this is, we should understand, this is an investment as part
of this network. there's some really great new scholarship, stephanie jones rogers has some good stuff on women as flavors, and of course, amy greenberg we are going to hear all about her excellent work as well. and so, i would say let's get comfortable with the continuing the comments that i have been hearing at the symposium about polk actively part of creating this system. if the roots of american capitalism are in american slavery, growth of american slavery during this time period, then we have to look at james the polk, we have to look at columbia, tennessee. there is this assault if you will, to create these networks
in the old southwest, but just a little bit of what i've been thinking about those things. thanks. [applause] >> i'll never forget chunky jack. i'd like to introduce now doctor rachel sullivan. doctor shelburne is associate professor of history at the university of oklahoma right now, but will soon be moving to penned state, to direct the richards's civil war -- she's the author of washington brotherhoods, coming of the civil war, which received honorable mention for the wily silver prize and the american civil civil war. please welcome dr. shelton. >> >> thank you so much, thank
you for being here, thank you michael for inviting me. this is been really educational so far in a really enjoy my time, i hope all of you are too. i'm not gonna talk a long time. a promise to stay under 15 minutes, but i want to spend the time -- i do have talking about a member of polk's inner circle-y may not know much about. supreme court associate justice john catherine. i've heard a lot of papers that reference letters to john catcher and. he doesn't get the same kind of attention that some kind of contemporaries like joseph story or others do but it's a mistake to overlook this man because he was a critical behind the scenes in the mid 19th century and especially in james kaye pokes life. getting better to know catrin and how the supreme court fits