The History Book Club discussion

PRESIDENTIAL SERIES > 3. POLK ~ CHAPTERS 5 & 6 (67 - 93) (02/21/11 - 02/27/11) ~ No spoilers, please

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message 1: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig This begins the third 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


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


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

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 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

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 third 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.



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

message 2: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig These next chapters sketch out Polk's advancement to the 1844 presidential nomination.

Chapter 5 covers the importance of Texas. Once Mexico became independent from Spain in 1821, the U.S. set the Texas border as the Sabine River. American settlers flooded in and by 1836, the Americans wanted to break away from Mexico. Santa Anna moved in and attacked the Alamo and Goliad. However, Sam Houston captured Anna and the Republic of Texas was formed. The Texans' plan was to be annexed and later be a state. However, Jackson dragged his feet, although he wanted Texas to be part of the U.S. But, he wanted to keep the treaty with Mexico and the slavery issue became too intense to act on it right away. The next president, Martin Van Buren, did not do much with the issue, as the Texas Republic courted Britain. The issue did not come to the forefront in Tyler's administration until his new Secretary of State, John C. Calhoun, finalized the annexation treaty and sent it and a controversial letter between him and the British ambassador to the Senate. The letter was a strong defense of slavery and Texas, which upset northern abolitionists. For the presidential race, Clay and Van Buren came out against annexation. Jackson was upset by Van Buren's stand on this issue and called Polk to his home in May 1844.

In Chapter 6, Polk talked with Jackson about Van Buren. Polk had been sending letters out that he would accept the Vice-Presidency under Van Buren. Polk had also come out for annexation. Armed with Jackson's support for the presidency, Polk and his friend, Clay Johnson, began to work on the Van Buren supporters. It was crucial not to be seen as overly ambitious, but be a compromise candidate among Southern and Northern Democrats.

message 3: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44200 comments Mod
Thank you Bryan for opening this up; trying to open things up on a hotel wireless is not terribly fast.

message 4: by Bryan (last edited Feb 21, 2011 06:49AM) (new)

Bryan Craig Some information on Calhoun as Secretary of State:

John Caldwell Calhoun was appointed Secretary of State by President John Tyler on March 6, 1844. Calhoun entered duty on April 1, 1844 and left the position on March 10, 1845. A former U.S. Representative, U.S. Senator, Secretary of War, and Vice President, Calhoun served as Secretary of State for less than one year before returning to his position in the U.S. Senate where he served until his death in 1850.

Rise to Prominence

Calhoun was born in Abbeville County, South Carolina to a prosperous farming family. He entered Yale College in 1802 and graduated two years later. He continued his education at Litchfield Law School in Connecticut. He gained admission to the South Carolina bar in 1807 and practiced law in his native Abbeville. The following year, he was elected to the state legislature of South Carolina, where he served for two years preceding his election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1810.

President Monroe appointed Calhoun as Secretary of War in 1817, and during his tenure he made substantial changes to the War Department. He served two terms as Vice President; in 1825 under John Quincy Adams, and again in 1829 under Andrew Jackson. He resigned the position of Vice President in 1832 and returned to South Carolina as a Senator, a position he held for the following 11 years. In 1844, following the accidental death of Secretary Abel P. Upshur, President Tyler appointed Calhoun as Secretary of State.

Influence on American Diplomacy

Calhoun entered office as Secretary of State, not at the behest of President Tyler, but of Henry Wise, a mutual associate who had all but promised him the position. Tyler accepted the proposition and named Calhoun to his Cabinet with the assurance that its newest member would carry out the directives of his predecessor, namely the Annexation of Texas.

One of Calhoun’s first acts as Secretary of State was to submit a treaty of annexation to the Senate. The 1844 treaty had been largely crafted by President Tyler and the former Secretary Upshur, but it was Calhoun’s vociferous and controversial support of slavery in Texas that was blamed for its defeat in Congress. He continued to press for annexation of a pro-slavery Texas, which deeply troubled President Tyler, the incumbent in that year’s election who hoped to downplay sectional differences and unite, rather than divide, the nation over the issue of annexation.

When President Polk was elected on a pro-expansionist platform, sitting President Tyler recommended annexation by a joint resolution of Congress that passed days before he left office in 1845.

Calhoun also worked to resolve territorial disputes to the north, opening negotiations on a settlement with the British over the Oregon Territory. The U.S. also signed the Treaty of Wangxia, its first commercial treaty with China, during Calhoun’s tenure. President Polk chose not to retain Calhoun as Secretary of State, and the South Carolinian returned to the Senate, where he served until his death five years later.

message 5: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig USS Princeton Disaster:

The USS Princeton Disaster of 1844 (February 28, 1844) occurred on the newly built USS Princeton when one of the ship's long guns, the "Peacemaker", then the worlds longest naval gun, exploded during a display of the ship. Among the dead were Secretary of State, Abel Upshur, Secretary of the Navy, Thomas Gilmer and seven other people including David Gardiner father of Julia Gardiner fiancée of President John Tyler. 20 people were injured as well. President Tyler survived the disaster because he was below decks.


The USS Princeton was launched on September 5, 1843 and was considered a state of the art ship. It included the very first screw propellers, as well as 42-pound carronades. The ship was also home to two long guns called the "Oregon" and the "Peacemaker". The latter was the largest naval gun in the world. She was brought to Alexandria, Virginia for a display. Dignitaries included President John Tyler and his cabinet, former First-Lady Dolley Madison, Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, as well as 400 other dignitaries. Refreshments were served in salon below deck.
[edit] Explosion

The disaster occurred after Thomas Gilmer urged everyone to go upstairs for another demonstration of the guns. President Tyler was luckily stopped by another dignitary for drinks. As the Peacemaker fired one last time it exploded instantly sending hot metal around the deck, killing 6, and injuring 20. The dead included Secretary of State Abel Upshur, Secretary of the Navy Thomas Gilmer, David Gardiner, Captain Beverly Kennon, the Chief of the Bureau of Construction, Virgil Maxcy of Maryland, and a slave named Armistead.


Secretary of State Abel P. Upshur was succeeded by John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, while Secretary of the Navy Gilmer was succeeded by John Y. Mason of Virginia. Upon hearing of the death of her father, Julia Gardiner is supposed to have fainted into President Tyler's arms. They were married 4 months later on June 26, 1844.

message 6: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig Bentley wrote: "Thank you Bryan for opening this up; trying to open things up on a hotel wireless is not terribly fast."

No problem, Bentley, glad to help you out.

message 7: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig I added a few more entries in the glossary:

message 8: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig Because of slavery, Texas becomes a volatile issue. I didn't fully appreciate that Jackson really hesitated on this, which says something, because when he wants something, he jumps on it.

Then we have Calhoun who wrote this letter tying the future of slavery to Texas. I wonder why he included it. Do you think Calhoun was more of a sectional leader than a national one?

message 9: by Bryan (last edited Feb 22, 2011 08:22AM) (new)

Bryan Craig As all political junkies know, timing plays a part in a politician's fortune or fall. For Polk, we have Van Buren, the front runner, saying he'd only support annexation if the majority of people support it, and that annexation is an aggressive act against Mexico. Oops. First Calhoun and then Van Buren. We see an opportunity...

message 10: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig You begin to appreciate Polk as a politician in his own right. Jackson still yields considerable influence as Polk is summoned to the Hermitage and gets Jackson's full support to run for the White House.

But Polk has to deal with the Van Buren supporters. You cannot alienate a front-runner's support. Pretty effective strategy to be a compromise candidate and not too easy to pull off.

message 11: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey Taylor (jatta97) | 100 comments Yes, it's interesting to see how Polk maneuvered. He does not seem to be simply a man of the main chance. Before he had seen the immanent possibility of the selection, he staked out his position in favor of annexation. He didn't wait for the movers and shakers to scout the ground, he didn't put his head on the rails to listen for the approach of public opinion. The man was showing leadership potential before he was chosen.

message 12: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig I agree, Jeffrey, he seems to do his own thinking. I would say Jackson was the same.

message 13: by Katy (new)

Katy (kathy_h) I had the opportunity to go to San Antonio this past week to speak at a conference. Got to visit the Alamo and listen to the docent there. Great tie in to the time period for this book!

message 14: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig You bet Kathy and the Alamo is great. They redid their exhibits and they are good.

message 15: by Vincent (new)

Vincent (vpbrancato) | 1245 comments The similar national goals of Jackson and Polk and Jackson's devotion to them coupled with his knowledge of Polk (and proximity) made for a good - smooth - opportunity for Polk to pursue the nomination and offer the party an alternate to abandoning annexing Texas.

Polk's political skill, as so far illustrated, shows he manouvered to let the support flow to him - very clever

message 16: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig Vince wrote: "The similar national goals of Jackson and Polk and Jackson's devotion to them coupled with his knowledge of Polk (and proximity) made for a good - smooth - opportunity for Polk to pursue the nomina..."

Absolutely, Vince. It is more impressive when you compare his skills with Jackson. Jackson had the fame to allow things to come to him; it was easy. However, Polk was not a national hero, and to acquire a skill like that is impressive. He also seemed to be a very personable person-driven, but approachable.

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