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PRESIDENTIAL SERIES > 2. POLK ~ CHAPTERS 3 & 4 (37 - 66) (02/14/11 - 02/20/11) ~ No spoilers, please

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message 1: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig Hello Everyone,

This begins the second week's reading in our new Presidential Series group discussion.

The complete table of contents is as follows:

Table of Contents

List of Maps p. xi
Introduction: Dark Horse, Bright Land p. xiii
A Prologue in Two Parts p. xv
Key Dates in the Life of James K. Polk p. xxi

PART ONE-The Man

ONE: Old Hickory's Boy p. 3
TWO: Carrying the Water p. 19
THREE: Tennessee and Old Tippecanoe p. 37
FOUR: The Last Defeat p. 52
FIVE: Hands of Texas p. 67
SIX: A Summons from Old Hickory p. 84
SEVEN: Baltimore, 1844 p. 94
EIGHT: "Who is James K. Polk?" p. 111

PART TWO-The Conquest

NINE: Making Good On Texas p. 133
TEN: Standing Firm on Oregon p. 150
ELEVEN: Eyeing California p. 170
TWELVE: Mission to Mexico p. 190
THIRTEEN: "American Blood upon American Soil" p. 202
FOURTEEN: 54 40' or Compromise! p. 216
FIFTEEN: Too Santa Fe and Beyond p. 233
SIXTEEN: Mr. Polk's War p. 253
SEVENTEEN: Old Bullion's Son-in-Law p. 269
EIGHTEEN: A President on the Spot p. 286
NINETEEN: Securing the Spoils p. 300
TWENTY: The Whigs Find Another General p. 316
TWENTY ONE: Homeward Bound p. 331
TWENTY TWO: A Presidential Assessment p. 345

EPILOGUE: Sarah p. 358
Acknowledgments p. 361
Notes p. 363
Bibliography p. 396
Index p. 405

Syllabus

Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America by Walter R. Borneman

Week One - February 7th - February 13th -> Introduction, Prologue, Key Dates, Chapter ONE, and TWO p. xi - 36
INTRODUCTION: DARK HORSE, BRIGHT LAND, PROLOGUE IN TWO PARTS, KEY DATES, ONE - Old Hickory's Boy and TWO - Carrying the Water

Week Two - February 14th - February 20th -> Chapters THREE and FOUR p. 37 - 66
THREE - Tennessee and Old Tippecanoe and FOUR - The Last Defeat

Week Three - February 21st - February 27th -> Chapters FIVE and SIX p. 67 - 93
FIVE - Hands Off Texas and SIX - A Summons from Old Hickory Old Hickory

Week Four - February 28th - March 6th -> Chapters SEVEN and EIGHT p. 94 - 132
SEVEN - Baltimore, 1844 and EIGHT - "Who is James K. Polk?"

Week Five - March 7th - March 13th -> Chapters NINE and TEN p. 133 - 169
NINE - Making Good on Texas and TEN - Standing Firm on Oregon

Week Six - March 14th - March 20th -> Chapters ELEVEN and TWELVE p. 170 - 201
ELEVEN - Eying California and TWELVE - Mission to Mexico

Week Seven - March 21st - March 27th -> Chapters THIRTEEN and FOURTEEN p. 202 - 232
THIRTEEN - "American Blood upon American Soil" and FOURTEEN - 54 40' or Compromise!

Week Eight - March 28th - April 3rd -> Chapters FIFTEEN and SIXTEEN p. 233 - 268
FIFTEEN - To Santa Fe and Beyond and SIXTEEN - Mr. Polk's War

Week Nine - April 4th - April 10th -> Chapter SEVENTEEN p. 269 - 285
SEVENTEEN - Old Bullion's Son-in-Law

Week Ten - April 11th - April 17th -> Chapter EIGHTEEN p. 286 - 299
EIGHTEEN - A President on the Spot

Week Eleven - April 18th - April 24th -> Chapter NINETEEN and TWENTY p. 300 - 330
NINETEEN - Securing the Spoils and TWENTY - The Whigs Find Another General

Week Twelve - April 25th - April 30th -> Chapters TWENTY, TWENTY TWO, EPILOGUE, and ACKNOWLEDGMENTS p. 331 - 362
TWENTY ONE - Homeward Bound, TWENTY TWO - A Presidential Assessment, EPILOGUE: Sarah, and ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The assignment for this week includes the following segments/pages:

Week Two - February 14th - February 20th -> Chapter THREE, and FOUR p. 37 - 66
THREE - Tennessee and Old Tippecanoe and FOUR - The Last Defeat

We look forward to your participation; but remember this is a non spoiler thread.

We will open up threads for each week's reading. Please make sure to post in the particular thread dedicated to those specific chapters and page numbers to avoid spoilers.

This book kicked off on February 7, 2011. This will be the second week's assignment for this book.

We look forward to your participation. Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other noted on line booksellers do have copies of the book and shipment can be expedited. The book can also be obtained easily at your local library, or on your Kindle.

A special welcome to those who will be newcomers to this discussion and thank you to those who have actively contributed on the previous Presidential Series selection. We are glad to have you all.

~Bryan

TO ALWAYS SEE ALL WEEKS' THREADS SELECT VIEW ALL

Polk The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America by Walter R. Borneman by Walter R. Borneman


message 2: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig Things are getting more interesting folks.

In chapter 3, Polk runs for governor in 1839 in a time the Whigs are gaining votes. It is a gamble as Polk is really known in the middle of the state, but he crosses the state to win in a close election. As governor, it gives him national exposure as he eyes a vice president slot on the Democratic ticket for 1840. It is a good thing he didn't get it, because the Whig candidates, William Henry Harrison and John Tyler, win in Tennessee and the presidency.

However, Polk has a challenge to keep the Whigs at bay in Tennessee. He decides to run again in 1841. The Whigs nominate a charismatic fellow named James Chamberlain Jones. Jones plays the crowds, uses the "common man" theme like Harrison did in 1840, and Polk loses by 3243 votes!

In Chapter 4, we see Polk's next political step. Governor again? U.S. Senator? He needs to stay in the national limelight and being a Senator might be the way to do it. However, he feels it is not the right time and backs off. He still eyes the 1844 election as a vice president candidate. Martin Van Buren is the front runner. He meets Polk during his national tour in 1842, however, Van Buren does not commit to anyone.

Polk decides to run again for governor in 1843. It is another gamble, because if he loses the race, so does his chances to become vice president, possibly the presidency if Van Buren and Calhoun forces cannot agree on one candidate. It is a rematch with Jones. It is a tough schedule with over 2300 miles, and more than 5 hours of speeches a day. His wife, Sarah, is concerned with his health, but supports his career. Since they do not have children, Sarah pours a lot of effort into her husband's career. In the end, Polk loses the race as Whigs get votes in Democratic strongholds. With this loss, Van Buren is skeptical about Polk's chances for being on the ticket.


message 3: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig We Polk's ambition come out in these chapters. He wants to be president.

He needed a national stage to do it. Do you think he made the right choice by running for governor? He could have stayed in the House or be a U.S. Senator.


message 4: by Katy (new)

Katy (kathy_h) I am disappointed that I have not been involved in the previous Presidential Series. Thank you, this is a great discussion.

So interesting to note: that politics is still politics, then and now. I can't imagine trying to get all across a state by horseback to speak!


message 5: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig You're welcome Kathy, glad you can join us.

I totally agree. I liked the fact the author refers to modern politics from time to time to compare. In this section, he compared Polk's attempt for the VP slot to JFK's shot in 1956. In both cases, it was better than they did not end up on the losing ticket but got national exposure.


message 6: by Bryan (last edited Feb 15, 2011 06:20AM) (new)

Bryan Craig Here is a biography on Polk's political rival: James Jones:

One of the most popular Whig politicians in antebellum Tennessee, James C. Jones was born in Wilson County. Reared by an uncle after his father's death, Jones learned farming by working for his guardian. He occasionally attended common schools and briefly studied law, though he never practiced. Following his marriage in 1829, he established himself on his own farm near Lebanon. Jones's first recorded political activity occurred in 1836, when he attended several public meetings in support of Hugh Lawson White's presidential candidacy. In 1839 Jones was elected to the state House of Representatives, where he quickly gained a reputation as a devoted Whig and effective speaker. As a candidate for presidential elector for William Henry Harrison in 1840, Jones became highly regarded as a master of popular campaigning. In the next year, at age thirty-two, Whigs nominated him to challenge incumbent James K. Polk for the governorship. Dubbed "Lean Jimmy" because of his six-foot, two-inch, 125-pound frame, Jones bested Polk in a series of debates across the state in which he used his popular campaigning style in defense of the national Whig policies of a national bank and government sponsorship of economic development. He upset Polk by a three-point margin. Two years later Jones again defeated Polk by championing the presidential candidacy of Henry Clay--whom, ironically, Polk would defeat a year later in his own triumphant presidential race.

Jones's two terms as governor occurred during a period of rabid partisan politics and economic depression. The "Immortal Thirteen" controversy preoccupied most of his first term, though in an 1842 special session the general assembly passed several relief measures including the abolition of imprisonment for debt. In his second term, the legislature's major accomplishments included establishing Nashville as the state's permanent capital and creating state schools for the blind and for the deaf. Declining to run for a third term, Jones remained politically active after his governorship by promoting the construction of railroads and serving as a presidential elector for Zachary Taylor in 1848. In 1850 he moved to Memphis and became president of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad Company. The next year, a Whig majority in the assembly elected him to the U.S. Senate. As a senator, Jones spoke frequently but otherwise achieved no significant distinction, although he did play an influential role in winning sufficient southern support at the 1852 Whig convention to secure Winfield Scott's presidential nomination. With the demise of the national Whig Party, Jones refused to follow other southern Whigs into the nativist American Party. Instead, he maintained his independence as an "Old Line Whig," and in 1856 he supported Democrat James Buchanan for the presidency. After the expiration of his term, he spoke in Illinois in 1858 in favor of Senator Stephen Douglas's reelection campaign against Abraham Lincoln. Shortly before his death, Jones publicly endorsed Douglas as his candidate for the presidency in 1860.

Jones was the first Tennessee governor to have been born in the state. His ambition often put him at odds with other state party leaders, but Jones's rapid rise to prominence, his effective campaign style, and his victories over Polk made him an important figure in helping to establish Tennessee's party as one of the strongest Whig organizations in the South.
(Source: http://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/entr...)

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I find the last sentence interesting. The author tries to develop a silver lining in Polk's losses by his small successes in keeping the Whigs at bay. However, it looks like Polk ultimately failed at this even during our two chapters.

There are some forces that one person (and the help of Jackson) cannot stop, eh?


message 7: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig Two things I noticed when Polk was campaigning against the Whigs. First, he seems to focus on the issues. (It is a little unusual today.) Jones was an image man-using the Jackson/Harrison "common man" theme-playing to the crowds, etc. It worked for Jones.

Second, how far Jacksonian democracy has become in active campaigns and using images, speech rallies, posters, pamphlets, never at this level before.


message 8: by Jim (new)

Jim Reid (jreid) | 115 comments Does anyone have a firm idea of the content of their political rhetoric? Today a politician's sound bite is usually about the failings of the other side. Was it like that in the 1840s? I can't imagine Polk et al stumping from here to there gaining headway with a vitriol for his opponent.... Surely it was a campaign of what I can do for you.


message 9: by Bryan (last edited Feb 16, 2011 11:27AM) (new)

Bryan Craig Jim wrote: "Does anyone have a firm idea of the content of their political rhetoric? Today a politician's sound bite is usually about the failings of the other side. Was it like that in the 1840s? I can't im..."

Good question, Jim. Off the top of my head, if a candidate wanted to talk about the issues, the speech would be more substantial than it is today, because the culture is so different. Audiences were willing to listen to speeches, because it was like TV of their time. There were no sound bites back then. These events could last hours and people would be hanging on every word.

I think the rhetoric could be pretty nasty, though: jokes at the others expense, what have you.

I think the only way to be sure to examine newspapers of the time period where they printed some of the debates or speeches. If Polk wrote any prepared speeches, it might be included in his papers, most of which are at the Library of Congress:
http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mss/eadmss.ms0...

There are book forms by Vanderbilt Press, too. Here is one:
(no image available) Correspondence of James K. Polk James K. Polk James K. Polk

Anyone else have some thoughts on Jim's questions?


message 10: by Jeffrey (last edited Feb 16, 2011 04:33PM) (new)

Jeffrey Taylor (jatta97) | 100 comments Jim asked:
Anyone else have some thoughts on Jim's questions?


The Lincoln Douglas debates give us a good example. There was plenty of invective, substance and a good deal of brag and bluster.

The Lincoln-Douglas Debates The Lincoln Studies Center Edition (The Knox College Lincoln Studies Center) by Douglas L. Wilson Rodney O. Davis
The Lincoln-Douglas Debates: The Lincoln Studies Center Edition


message 11: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig Good example Jeffrey, thanks!


message 12: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig On the personal side, we read that Polk's marriage to Sarah did not produce children. The author speculates that it was due to the surgery he had to remove urinary stones. So, Sarah focused on Polk's career. She seems to be a good campaign manager. He used her more than once.


message 13: by Jim (new)

Jim Reid (jreid) | 115 comments Jeffrey wrote: "Jim asked:
Anyone else have some thoughts on Jim's questions?


The Lincoln Douglas debates give us a good example. There was plenty of invective, substance and a good deal of brag and bluste..."


Very Good! Thanks - Jim


message 14: by Vincent (new)

Vincent (vpbrancato) | 1245 comments Bryan wrote: "Here is a biography on Polk's political rival: James Jones:

One of the most popular Whig politicians in antebellum Tennessee, James C. Jones was born in Wilson County. Reared by an uncle after his..."


Thanks for the biographical note on Jones.

So he was like Polk ambitious and industrious but less in need of reaching the highest heights it seems.

This info however makes Polk's doulbe loss to him more understandable.


message 15: by Vincent (new)

Vincent (vpbrancato) | 1245 comments Bryan wrote: "Two things I noticed when Polk was campaigning against the Whigs. First, he seems to focus on the issues. (It is a little unusual today.) Jones was an image man-using the Jackson/Harrison "common..."


Good point - Polk was campaigning against the Whigs and for national Democratic support as well as the governorship - maybe Jones just running for governor gave him an edge?


message 16: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig Good thought Vince. I think Jones gave him a jump start to run a more effective campaign and give him great experience for the future.


message 17: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Sometimes when reading we are struck by how our times are so cyclical: (do we continue to not learn from history?)

"The bubble burst when banks in New York refused to redeem paper money for gold or silver. This tightening of credit permeated all aspects of the American economy and before the country recovered, one in ten American workers was unemployed and rioters had stormed a New York City warehouse in search of food."


message 18: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
We learn a bit more about John Catron. His wife Matilda and Sarah Polk were first cousins. Catron had been chief justice of Tennessee and with Polk's support - Jackson appointed Catron to the US Supreme Court on Jackson's last day in office.

And here he is:



Biography:
John Catron was a self-educated man who served under Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812. Catron was a successful businessman and lawyer in the Nashville area. He was elected to the position of chief justice of Tennessee's highest court but later resigned when the court was abolished by judicial reorganization.

Catron was active in politics and directed the presidential campaign of Martin Van Buren in Tennessee. President Andrew Jackson picked Catron to fill one of two newly created seats on the nation's highest court. Jackson nominated his fellow Tennessean Catron on his final day in office as president.

Catron stood on the states' rights side but opposed secession. He was forced to leave Tennessee when he refused to support the Confederacy. Catron died in harness on May 30, 1865. Congress then abolished his seat, reducing the number of justices from ten to nine.


message 19: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig Thanks Bentley; he does sound like a Jackson man through and through. Good person to have in your corner.


message 20: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Yes, and he was forced to leave his state and home.


message 21: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 84 comments I'm from Kentucky and Henry Clay is a big deal around here. I've been meaning to read more about him for sometime. The image of Clay in the last few chapters is not very flattering. Does anyone know if at this point in his political career his best days are behind him?


message 22: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig Theresa wrote: "I'm from Kentucky and Henry Clay is a big deal around here. I've been meaning to read more about him for sometime. The image of Clay in the last few chapters is not very flattering. Does anyone kno..."

His presidential ambitions took a very hard hit in 1844, he ran 3 times and this was the last time.

However, he played a major role in the Compromise of 1850.

Here are a couple of good books:

Henry Clay Statesman for the Union by Robert V. Remini Robert V. Remini

The Great Triumvirate Webster, Clay, and Calhoun by Merrill D. Peterson Merrill D. Peterson


message 23: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
In March 12, 1959, he was identified as one of the FAMOUS FIVE.

http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/h...


message 24: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig Bentley wrote: "In March 12, 1959, he was identified as one of the FAMOUS FIVE.

http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/h..."


Good link, Bentley, thanks! Clay has a large shadow even near the end of his career.


message 25: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
I also did not want Theresa to feel bad about the portrayal in the book about a native son.


message 26: by Bryan (last edited Apr 13, 2011 09:06AM) (new)

Bryan Craig Bentley wrote: "I also did not want Theresa to feel bad about the portrayal in the book about a native son."

No doubt the author attacks Clay, but you have to admire the fact that he stuck to his principles. It must be very tough to lose 3 elections. Dewey and Stevenson lost two. You want something so bad, I wonder if your judgments become a little less sound as you keep trying.


message 27: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
I think what Gore went through during that one election must have felt even worse but similar to Clay. But three elections are a lot.


message 28: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 84 comments Bentley wrote: "I also did not want Theresa to feel bad about the portrayal in the book about a native son."

well, despite what he was portrayed like during this time period, he was still a great statesman. We are only really taught in school about the Great Compromise. I am glad to have learned more about Clay from this book. I'll have to look into the books Bryan suggested as well. :)


message 29: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Apr 14, 2011 11:15AM) (new)

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Theresa, nobody is saying that he was not. In fact, the link showed otherwise. However, the book does not present him in a favorable light but it is good that you are able to see another perspective.

Good luck with your reading.


message 30: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig I have no doubt he was one of our greats. We have a small window with this book, and Clay was the opposition, so it is hard sometimes to make a good judgment.


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