Skip to main content

tv   Washington Journal  CSPAN  May 31, 2015 7:58pm-9:31pm EDT

7:58 pm
plus biography and contact information and twitter handles. also, district maps, a full out map of capitol hill, and a look at congressional committees, the president's cabinet, federal agencies, and state governments. order your copy today. it is $13.95 plus shipping and handling through the c-span online store at c-span.org. >> american history tv is featuring c-span's original series "first ladies: influence and image" at 8:00 p.m. eastern time on sunday nights. c-span produced the series in cooperation with the white house historical association. through conversations with experts, video tours of historic sites, and questions from c-span's audience, we tell the stories of america's 45 first ladies. now sera pope, margaret taylor, and abigail fillmore on "first ladies: influence and image." this is about 90 minutes.
7:59 pm
♪ >> sarah polk was very up on diplomacy, and her strong suit happened to be intelligent political discussion. >> she made no bones about the fact that she took an interest in politics. and that she wants her husband's partner. >> she grew up in a political household in tennessee. she grew up loving politics. she married him after he won a seat in the legislature. >> unfortunately for james polk, he died three months after leaving the white house. a sarah began a 42-year widowhood. polk made a shrine to her husband. >> she lived there for many years on her own and during the
8:00 pm
civil war, generals on both sides would calm and visit her to pay their respects to her. some very interesting commentary on what a beloved status she still held. >> she was earnest about her husband's work. >> she went through an arduous journey. >> she was very well-liked in the diplomatic community, and they had met all caps people. they were very experienced people. >> she very much felt that women should develop their minds and cultivate scholarships as much as men. >> first ladies have causes. literacy and reading what have been abigail fillmore's cause.
8:01 pm
>> she much preferred to retire to her room with a good book been standing in a receiving line. >> we know that abigail was a very wonderful seamstress. this is her quilts here. . she -- >> she was one of the true intellectuals. she was very caught up on politics. >> welcome to c-span's series on first ladies. one is a steadfast general's wife, and one was a teacher. they served during the 1840's and early 50's as the country continued to grow and tensions
8:02 pm
continue to mount over the issue of slavery. we have two historians at the table. meet connor hunt. paul finkelman is a historian and legal scholar based at albany law school. professor finkelman: when polk was nominated for office, he had been a member of congress. he was a lawyer practicing law in tennessee. he was known as a dark horse candidate. he hope to get the vice presidential nomination. suddenly polk is the
8:03 pm
presidential nominee. most people don't know who he is. he becomes president and almost immediately, puts us in a position to have a war with mexico. he pushes for the war. he is per compared -- he is prepared to declare war on mexico. he sends zachary taylor to the mexican border in an area that is completely disputed that all international losses belong to mexico but polk says is american land. while taylor's troops are there he goes to his cabinet and they vote to ask for a declaration of war against mexico. that night, he gets a message that taylor's troops have been in combat. he rewrites his message to congress to say that american troops have been killed on american soil. abraham lincoln would later give
8:04 pm
a speech asking to show the spots where they were killed because it wasn't american soil. it also means the complete blowup of all of factual compromises and pushes the country into a war. we don't know anything about him though. mr. hunt: -- ms. swain: his wife is always in the top tier of historical investigations. ms. hunt: they did not have children. she was truly a political partner with her husband. she was his political equal. she never went too far within the boundaries of what a proper victorian lady should be in the
8:05 pm
19th century. but everyone knew that they shared an office. she was active in discussions at the many state dinners they had and he would ask her to mark newspapers and articles for him to read. she was a sounding board. she was told that men would rather talk politics with her than her husband. she was very religious. a very strict presbyterian. she did not allow dancing in the white house. she got rid of hard liquor. they had wines and brandies with the frequent dinners they had. she was not a prude, but she was very much a woman who knew what she wanted and set her rolls out
8:06 pm
and everyone had to play according to them. -- rules. she was very popular. ms. swain: we are going to take you to the polk ancestral home. it is the house they lived in together -- the house they lived in together no longer exists. but this house contains much of their history. >> this is the inaugural fan. it is an incredible piece of history. it was a gift from president-elect polk to his wife. it is guilt paper -- gilt paper and is ornately carved. it features lithographic engrave men's of the first 11 -- engravings of the first 11
8:07 pm
presidents. the back features a lithographic image of the signing of the declaration of independence. the pope came into the white house a young vibrant couple -- the polk's the parties were split. sarah used the white house to enhance her husband's political prestige. dining in the polk white house was a serious affair. on tuesdays and fridays, mrs. polk would enter for -- entertain 50 to 75 people. the china features the presidential seal. they had a tea set that was blue and they had a desert set in green. you will often read that mrs. polk did not allow alcohol and the white house. that's not exactly the case. she stopped the serving at whiskey punches at public
8:08 pm
levees but wine was widely served. one of the interesting objects in the collection speaks to sarah and her ability with music. we have a music book that has handwritten notations. one of the songs inside is the song "hail to the chief" which create -- which she is credited with starting to become the song for the president. ms. swain: there is a controversy that the taylor's made this song -- the tyler's made this the presidential song. is there a definitive answer?
8:09 pm
ms. hunt: i won't touch it. professor finkelman: there are more important things to discuss. ms. swain: was there a polk -- was sterile polk more in touch with the time's? -- saraghh polk ms. hunt: the couple thought the office of the presidency and the white house needed to be highly respected. there was more formal protocol. it was a very liberal approach. you could come with an introduction to any of their
8:10 pm
parties. they were well-dressed. there were multiple courses. it was considered an honor to be at the white house. there were polk said -- sarah polk said dancing at the white house is unacceptable. ms. swain: how was her frugality seen by washington and the public? ms. hunt: she reorganized the staffing at the white house. she hired a steward. they brought in their own servants and got rid of some of the paid staff at the white house. hearst do cut deals with various vendors -- her steward cut deals with various vendors.
8:11 pm
if they gave them significant discounts, they would give them the "royal feel." ms. swain: the first -- the servants were slaves? ms. hunt: yes. professor finkelman: the polk's come from very wealthy circumstances and they are slaveowners and they bring a lot of assets. they could afford to be president just like the tyler's could. ms. swain: she writes, "if i could be so fortunate to reach
8:12 pm
the white house, i expect to live on $25,000 a year, and i will neither keep house nor make butter." echoes of modern first ladies. ms. hunt: the context of it -- they say people would vote for mr. clay because his wife makes her own better. that was sarah's retort. she ran the house, she did not keep the house. she made sure that butter was made efficiency -- efficiently. professor finkelman: slave mistresses don't make butter unless they choose to. it's important to see this for sarah polk and margaret taylor.
8:13 pm
professor finkelman: i want -- ms. swain: i want to tell folks that this is an interactive program. we will put the phone numbers on the screen. we will begin taking your questions throughout our program. dolly madison has been an element of our series from the very beginning. this is dolly's last her raw. what was her role with the polk white house? ms. hunt: sarah polk and dolly became very close. dolly men towards sarah. -- dolly mentored sarah. sarah treated her as the grande dame.
8:14 pm
they were the two war first ladies. there were many similarities between them. the sense of self, fashion, the understanding of the role of the first lady in conveying the indirect's that would support her husband's presidency. it is not easy to be a first lady during war. there were many detractors as the war went on. paul went in and said i'm going to do the following things in four years, and by god, he did. ms. swain: this is also the first time we have photography. we have a fabulous photograph to show you right now. it brings together a number of these characters. here are the polk's and dolly
8:15 pm
madison. we can also see harriet lane. photography as a political tool. how do politicians absorb this new technology and begin to use it for their benefits? professor finkelman: they are just beginning to figure this out. you don't really get it until the 1850's and 60's when photography is everywhere. now, it is almost a novelty in the 1840's and it's not all that terrific. you have to sit for a long time. it's not a single shot, click. you have to sit there rigidly and not move. i think they are moving towards photography.
8:16 pm
what is much more important i think is the very sophisticated linotype and art in newspapers. you could get wonderful campaign posters. when polk runs for example career -- currier does a campaign poster for henry clay. they are using that kind of technology. photography you probably want to save for the fillmore's and beyond. ms. swain: we also have the first known photograph of the white house. we are working with the white house historical association throughout this series here it as we look at this white house of 19th -- 1846, sarah polk brought some innovations.
8:17 pm
central heating and gas lighting. ms. hunt: she didn't actually bring them. let's say a arrived. central heating and gas lighting, she did hold out when they put in the gas lights. she insisted that the old room be last with canned -- she insisted that the old -- she insisted that the oval room be left with candlelight. there were experiments, but it ultimately saved the presidential family a lot of money because they had to heat the white house out of that $25,000 salary. these efficiencies did come in starting with the pokes. well earlier, mainly the gas. central heating in the white house must have been a joke. i don't think you would have been very warm. ms. swain: probably better than
8:18 pm
the alternative, though. professor finkelman: you wonder because a nice warm fireplace in the right room keeps that rim nice and warm. what you are getting at which was always true for the white house is that technology is going to change the way presidents campaign, the way they portray themselves, the way they live. notice, you just had a picture of polk. he is sitting very stiffly. that is what you had to do when you were getting a photograph taken. i just saw a picture of john kennedy giving a speech with his fist in the air. you can almost see the fist shaking in the photograph. you couldn't do that then. ms. swain: we have no sense of personality then. professor finkelman: we get a bad sense of personality because what we get is that these people are absolutely stiff and frozen. ms. hunt: they used a brace. professor finkelman: you don't
8:19 pm
smile and these pictures because it would be too hard. ms. swain: what was sarah's educational background that allowed her to be so politically savvy and an equal to her famous husband? ms. hunt: one of the most advanced educations for the women of her day. her father believed in educating women. she was educated in nashville and her father center to the salem academy. 500 miles away, it took them a month to get there and they were there for two years. she was unusually well educated for her time. i think that atmosphere encouraged her to speak her mind and participate in discussions. she grew up in a political household. ms. swain: this next question we will answer by video. did sarah's frugal ways prevent
8:20 pm
her from lavish fashion? let's watch this video. then we will talk with you about this. >> house there looked was in -- how sarah looked was important to her. i think she saw it as a reflection on the presidency. she was known for having beautiful dresses and looking incredible in a white house that was equally beautiful. the blue dress is called a robe duchambre. it is basically a robe. it would be the undressed the rest costume -- undressed dressed costume. this is also a ball gown.
8:21 pm
it was a style that mrs. polk used again and again. it's a beautiful gown in silk and satin. it has a great deal of lace. mrs. polk was always a frugal woman and often purchased dresses and would buy a great deal of material to go along with them so she could enhance and change them. instead of having to buy five or six gallons, she would buy one and extra material. mrs. polk was a master at accessorizing. she had a wonderful collection of handbags and ridicules. -- reticules. her jewelry was thought to be typical of the time. she wore gold and silver and enamel. her headdresses are unusual. they are incredibly rare.
8:22 pm
they are made out of silks and satins. we have a wonderful collection of headdresses. one unusual piece is a turban. dolley madison was still alive during the polk administration and a regular visitor. we wonder if mrs. polk didn't adopt to that style after mrs. madison. ms. swain: connor hunt is the author of this cover story showing that you have done a lot of work on her approach to fashion. can you tell us about it? ms. hunt: she had a well-established sense of child from her childhood. during the white house years she dressed elegantly for evenings and receptions. in the summer of 1847, they sent an order to paris or some gallons for the first lady.
8:23 pm
-- gowns. that was not the usual style. the top designers in paris were asked to make some gowns for the first lady. this was usually done by a commercial agent that they had. jacob l martin got the order and immediately found his good friend who went around the paris shops and they found a shop which made three gowns. one is at the smithsonian. the other is pink and the other is the robe. it was very unusual for her. this order for clothes and lots
8:24 pm
of accessories cost about $450. dolley madison's order in 1811 cost $2000. the pink gown you saw had more lace on it which is now taken off. that cost $100. the green gown was about $25 made by seamstresses in washington. ms. swain: she was trying to find that sweet spot between frugality and image. ms. hunt: she did it so well. everyone said she was beautiful to -- everyone said she was beautifully dressed and had a wonderful deportment. ms. swain: paul, at the same time we are learning about this, what is happening to women at large in the united dates? -- united states?
8:25 pm
are they beginning to ask for more power? professor finkelman: the people in seneca falls are. for most american women, not much has changed. not much is being asked. the most important changes for women, the cutting edge of women in politics, is coming out of the antislavery movement. in the north you have thousands and thousands of women who are politically active, really for the first time in american history. in the 1830's, there is the great petition campaign. hundreds of thousands of petitions show up in washington asking congress to do things like not annexed texas because it was seen as a great slave conspiracy, which it was. to end slavery in the district of columbia, and many of these petitions were gathered by women, and many women signed them. what you get is women actively
8:26 pm
dissipating in politics to change america for the better. the other great movement was the temperance movement. women were very active in that. they are active in movements to prevent prostitution. these are things that are close to what would be considered domesticity for women, but it is outside the house. what is fascinating is that sarah polk probably would have been appalled about most of these activists with the exception of temperance. some of the abolitionist women are asking for the right to vote by 1848. that of course is a long time in coming. it is beginning at this time. ms. swain: ted is on the phone. >> i would like to know, who ran
8:27 pm
against james polk when he was running for president? professor finkelman: polk runs against henry clay of kentucky. they has run for president twice before this. clay believes it is his turn. he expected it would be a cakewalk because no one had heard of polk. clay makes a number of mistakes during the campaign. in the end, in a very close vote, clay loses to polk. oddly enough, clay carries polk's home state of tennessee. polk carries new york which puts them into the white house. ms. hunt: the issue of a presidential campaign at that time is very different from what we see today.
8:28 pm
it was considered proper for the candidate to be called to office. the campaigning went for state offices like governor. the candidates did not show up at the nominating conventions and afterwards, when they were drafted and accepted the nomination, there were letters sent to the editor. professor finkelman: no stump speeches at all. ms. hunt: sarah was her husband's campaign manager. during the presidential campaign, it was very much basically, a lot of them said whatever you do, don't say anything. professor finkelman: when polk ran for congress, he would canvass the district. when he ran for governor, he ran all over the state of tennessee.
8:29 pm
one wonders what was going on in polk's mind when nominated for the president, he had to sit home and essentially do nothing except write letters. ms. swain: next is a question for mary. >> i heard somewhere that barbara bush is related to the pokes and she is there -- polk's and she used their dinner service in the white house. ms. hunt: i don't know. that's a good question. ms. swain: we are going to go back in time now and learn about how that political partnership came together. you told us that sarah was from a wealthy family. how did she and james meet? ms. hunt: they ran in the same circles. either through andrew jackson or through her own father's family. polk graduated from the university of north carolina and then went into law and studied
8:30 pm
in nashville and became part of the legislature. they met there or they met at andrew jackson's because the polk girls were often at the jackson's home. certainly, jackson is known to advise pokes to marry her. -- polk to marry her. it is commonly told she told polk she wouldn't marry him unless he ran for office. they were married in 1824. jackson and his wife rachel did not have any children of their own. they had many different people that they took in. jackson would write to sarah and call her his daughter. ms. swain: is it true that a nickname for sarah was the spanish madonna? ms. hunt: that was because she had extremely dark hair and all
8:31 pm
of skin and they thought she looked european. exotic. ms. swain: the jackson's had no children, but sarah and james also had no children. what is the impact of being freed up from housework and not having to do that and her ability to become a political partner? ms. hunt: i think they breezed into that through the years when they realized they weren't going to have children. by the same token, they spent a lot of time with nieces and nephews. sarah brought her nieces into the white house to help her with entertaining and returning calls because she did not return calls. the first lady did not do it. it was a change in tradition. when she was a widow, she had a nice and a great niece who lived with her. professor finkelman: had they had children, she would have had
8:32 pm
slaves who raised them. she might have had slaves who would have been wet nurses when the children were very young. the notion of the burden of families for someone like sarah polk would be very different than say, when we talk about abigail fillmore, who was a woman a very modest means and has to raise her own children without the help of a house full of slaves. ms. swain: sarah and james come to congress. what is washington like at that time and how involved was she in listing two congressional debate? ms. hunt: she was very actively involved. he went for the first term in the congress without her and never tried that again. she didn't like being left at home. it was often, at that time, that congressman lived in a boarding house and established a mess.
8:33 pm
several different elected officials living together. they did that for years until he became speaker. then they had to have a larger apartment. she attended the sessions of congress. she was very attentive to the issues of the day. the elected members of congress who were in the mess with her new she was very tuned in. ms. swain: polk makes it to speaker of the house. how does that happen? professor finkelman: he's a very good politician. the first time he runs for speaker, he loses. he loses to a man who will later run for president in 1860. the next time around, he manages to win. part of it has to do with jacksonian politics. polk is jackson's man. when jackson has a strong majority in the house, polk gets to be speaker.
8:34 pm
ms. swain: we have seen the ascendancy of the presidency congress. at this point in our history which branch of government has more power? professor finkelman: i would say congress. being the speaker is not as powerful as being president. we should understand that. in terms of the politics of america, more i think is happening in congress then in the presidency. i should add, however, that andrew jackson is extraordinarily strong who pushes the envelope of the presidency and alters the dynamics of the presidency. it reverts back, when john tyler becomes president, he is very weak. being speaker of the house was important. just as it is important today. ms. swain: it sounds like from
8:35 pm
this quote that sarah knew this. she wrote that the speaker is the proper person, and with the correct idea of his position, has even more influence over legislation and in directing the policy of the parties, then the president. ms. hunt: when polk became president was a powerful president in terms of waging war. he pulled a lot of power into the executive branch. but, henry clay is the one we all think of as building the job of the speaker of the house. through the years, the speaker's job grows, the presidency grows in power, it adds and flows. -- ebbs and flows. nobody ever just completely runs away with power. ms. swain: our next video demonstrates the role of sarah
8:36 pm
polk as the political wife. >> the traveling desk is really indicative of sarah's life with james polk, mainly as his helpmate. he had no staff. sarah took a hands-on attitude towards being his wife. the traveling desk she took with her on those long trips to washington dc, which could take 30 days. she is communicating with her family and friends back home. she wrote tens of thousands of letters during her lifetime. the traveling desk is indicative of communication during the timeframe. sarah was very much a helpmate to him throughout his political career and he was writing speeches. he would get her opinion.
8:37 pm
daily, she would read the newspaper and underline passages she thought important for him to read. she was a regular fixture in the gallery. this was a great time to hear speeches. she was right in the middle of all of it, very much a part of his political career. to this day, he is the only speaker of the house to become president. that brings a whole new level of social status in washington dc. sarah played the part of one of the official hostesses in washington. typically, congress would enact a memorial to the outgoing speaker of the house. when pulled left congress to run for governor of tennessee, the congress was so wildly divided they refused to do that. a number of politicians wrote poems in honor of sarah at the time she left. one of them was joseph stored.
8:38 pm
ms. swain: today, we would be amazed at polk stepping down to be governor. why would he do that? professor finkelman: i think because being speaker of the house wasn't something you did for a long time in those days. three or four terms in washington is probably enough. think of the arduous task of just getting to washington from tennessee once or twice a year. it is a lot of work. being the governor is somewhat easier. it is less expensive. you are home. being the governor is a good way to build a political career for the vice presidency or the presidency. he doesn't think he will ever be president. but he thinks he could be vice president.
8:39 pm
the vice presidency is not a very good halfway to the white house. since thomas jefferson, only martin van buren made it as vice president. tyler did only because of the death of the president. ms. swain: high sandy. >> my question is, i know they are from tennessee. what did sarah actually think of slavery and was she a kind slave master? ms. hunt: james polk in his will made an expression that he hoped , when she died, she would name him -- she would name the slaves.
8:40 pm
the issue of slavery was not brought to the forefront in their marriage or during his administration. it became much more critical with the administrations that followed. professor finkelman: i think in some ways that's not true. the politics of america from the 1830's to the 1860's is swirling around slavery all the time. the opposition to the mexican war, which we did not have to have in part, comes from northerners who see it as a vast conspiracy to steal mexico so that slave owners could have someplace to go. southern's say as much. they say we want mexico because we want up place for slavery to spread too. the reality is that the pokes are slave owners. -- polk's they are not opposed. i suspect that she treated her
8:41 pm
slaves as kindly or as unkindly as was necessary to get the labor and support from the slaves that she wanted. ms. swain: your question. >> a hero of mine is a nephew of sarah polk named general lucius polk. he served with general patrick labor and. he tried that -- he petitioned the confederate government to end slaveryounded several times during the war. at some point, he was sent behind lines and allowed to stay in columbia, tennessee. he would, eventually, run the ku klux klan out of the county. sarah polk, i have heard
8:42 pm
somehow kept him from going to the union prison camps when any other confederate prisoner would have been sent to union prison camps. i heard that she was afforded power because the union's people respected her so much. ms. swain: thank you. i am going to jump in. our time is short. we will get to your question. this civil does, and sarah polk is a widow. what happens to sarah polk especially during the civil war? ms. hunt: she becomes a widow. she war widows weeds for the next 42 years. the house they purchased for their retirement became a shrine to her husband. she became very reclusive.
8:43 pm
she received people. it during the war, she did not take sides. the mayor came to her and said, the union is coming into the city, what should i tell the general? she said you may tell him that i am at home. he came to call. the confederates and the union troops respected her. she did not take sides. she was completely neutral and she isolated herself in that. period prior to the civil war. people put their artifacts in storage they are to preserve them. she went right on through. she earned a great deal of respect for that. ms. swain: from both sides? ms. hunt: yes. professor finkelman: the contrast would be with president
8:44 pm
tyler, who becomes a member of the confederate government. in that sense, the contrast with sarah polk is revealing. ms. swain: mrs. polk lived more than 40 years as a widow. did she continued to be involved in politics? ms. hunt: no she did not. she would speak about her husband's time. any honors that were sent to her, she accepted on behalf of his memory. she was not an active political player. ms. swain: we have one more video from the polk era. >> james polk was it promised one term president. after four years james and sarah were going to retire. while they were in washington's dill, as they were outfitting
8:45 pm
the white house as part of the restoration, they took the opportunity to purchase things for polk place, their retirement home. they picked some of the finest american furniture being made at the time. they are all rosewood-framed with a velvet. we have these little side chairs. they had 33 of them. we have 18 remaining. they would ring the rooms with these little chairs. we have some interiors of what it looked like, probably taken around the time of her death in 1891. the house is still filled with the objects they collected throughout their political lives together. james polk died just three months after leaving the white house. every new year's day, sarah opened polk place and held a levy.
8:46 pm
she would invite anyone who wanted to visit and see the items they had acquired. ms. swain: when i visited national -- and i visited nashville, i was shocked at all the plaques. use later, i visited again. why would they allow those buildings to be torn down? ms. hunt: progress. i have worked in a preservation for fortysomething years. if we didn't have a need to preserve buildings i wouldn't be in the field. the polk home was torn down in nashville. the great-niece kept the artifacts together until they could find a home. that is what the museum of columbia is. montpelier, the madison's home in private hands for years.
8:47 pm
these things go on and on all the time. the homes of the presidents are deemed to be among the most important, but in some cases you have multiple homes that one president lived in. ms. swain: as we say goodbye to dolley madison sheldon cooper asks, as influential as dolley was on future first lady's, did sarah polk provide guidance to future first lady's? ms. hunt: yes. she was alive until the early 90's. dolley died and 49. sarah was the embodiment of the elegant first lady after dolley died. the respect passed down with her. ms. swain: what was sarah polk's legacy? professor finkelman: she has
8:48 pm
written a great deal. ms. hunt: i think that james polk might not have been able to achieve his ambitious one term agenda without her help. she kept the white house running because he literally worked himself to death. she handled his legacy well after his unfortunate early death. we have most of the legacy is his. the first postage stamp. the permanent treasury department. almost doubling the size of the united states. many things to be thankful for. the first ladies themselves are not so much innovators as they are, sometimes they embrace those aspects of the american character that the public needs. i think that she did it very well. ms. swain: the election of 1848
8:49 pm
brought the tailors into the white house. as we continue our program, we are going to learn more about zachary taylor and, more importantly, his wife margaret peggy taylor. it is a brief stay in the white house. tell us -- set the stage for the 1848 election. professor finkelman: polk is leaving office. he probably would not have gotten another nomination or been defeated. he was not very well-liked when he left. it is true that he started a war which was successfully one. when it was over, he did not want peace. he fired his envoy to mexico which negotiated a peace treaty after he had been fired and then send it back to washington. polk was forced to bring a treaty to congress that he did not actually want to sign or have congress ratified. he was forced.
8:50 pm
during the war, he became very jealous of the successful gender -- general zachary taylor so he demoted him and put general winfield scott over him. then he got jealous of scott because scott was getting all of the headlines. when the war ended, polk is leaving, and taylor is the great hero of the war. taylor had never voted in an election. he had never done anything political. he had been a career military officer for his entire life. his wife margaret peggy taylor had traveled with her husband to some of the most remote military bases in the country. she had been a military wife the wife of a man who started as lieutenant and ended up as a major general.
8:51 pm
taylor's politics were almost unknown, other than that he said over and over that he supported henry clay. clay had lost to polk. clay believed that it was his time to win. 1848 was going to be a whig year. clay thinks he will win. then out of nowhere taylor gets the nomination and clay is absolutely devastated. in addition to taylor getting the nomination, it completely asked viewers -- a almost completely obscure person, fillmore gets the vice presidential nomination. you had this strange axis of taylor, who was a louisiana sugar planter, running with fillmore, who is the controller of the state of new york. for me, it is a personal thing.
8:52 pm
i'd -- i teach at albany law school where fillmore was living. next year, i will be visiting lsu. i am the embodiment of the access. ms. hunt: let's don't discount that the mexican war brought us all of the western southwest. california, new mexico, etc.. he was the commander in chief and he acted like it. winfield scott had quite a temper. if he upset scott and taylor, so be it. that is what history has recorded. we got those properties for very little. in terms of the history of real estate polk raised high. professor finkelman: only if you
8:53 pm
think that going to war with a country to steal half their country is an appropriate and legitimate thing to do. significant numbers of americans believed that the mexican war was purely a land-grab. many americans, including john c calhoun, the lead to that the mexican war was a huge mistake. tell who predicted correctly that once you had the war, it would open up again the question of slavery in the territories. that would cause a catastrophe which it does. ms. swain: taylor was the last southerner elected for 64 years. he was the last president to hold slaves while in office. his partner in all of this was margaret peggy taylor. what do we know about her? ms. hunt: she was not particularly keen on being first lady. she had gone around on all of
8:54 pm
his postings with him. they had innumerable children. their daughter married the young jefferson davis. he fought with taylor in mexico. unfortunately, their daughter died after only three months of marriage. later, in the white house, the taylor's became quite close with jefferson davis and his second wife. she was very close to the first lady. the first lady let her daughter do a lot of the entertaining. it was such a brief amount of time, really. that they were in office. professor finkelman: he was inaugurated in march and elected in november of 1848. taylor dies in july of 1850.
8:55 pm
there is essentially a 15 month. when they were -- there is essentially a 15 month period when they were in office. she didn't want to be there. she retreated to the upstairs. she came from a political family. one of her aunts was married to the future governor of maryland. one of her cousins was married to says in her -- to a senator in maryland. she came from a very wealthy family of maryland planters. she grew up in the washington dc and northern virginia areas. one of her playmates was nelly custis, the granddaughter of martha washington. this is somebody who has been around politics as well. but, the opposite of syrup. she does not want to be involved
8:56 pm
in politics. she didn't want her husband to run. -- but, the opposite of sarah polk. ms. swain: the population by that point was 23 million and there were now 30 state. that is a 35 .9% growth. slaves in the united states were 3 million. washington dc, we have learned throughout this series, traded on gossip. it seems that the gossip about peggy taylor was much like rachel jackson. she didn't bring any style. what is the truth about her? professor finkelman: professor finkelman: she didn't smoke a pipe. it is utter nonsense. people who were close to her say
8:57 pm
she was allergic to smoke and nobody smoked around her. the problem is that she is a military wife who has traveled from place to place. she lived in some style on these bases because the taylors were very wealthy. they had lots of slaves. they had a plantation in louisiana. some of the slaves would travel with them when they went to bases. she was not a high society woman. she was not a woman who wanted to be around a crowd. this was not a world that she felt at all comfortable with. i am sure when she got to washington and dealt with the gossip and the parties, she simply felt that this is not where she was comfortable and she didn't know how to compete or operate. she retreated to the second story of the white house and let her daughter do most of the entertaining. ms. swain: and the gossip continued because she was an enigma. ms. hunt: -- professor
8:58 pm
finkelman: and she wasn't there to defend herself. ms. swain: how did zachary taylor die? professor finkelman: thackeray taylor went to a july 4 parade -- zachary taylor went to a july 4 parade. he either spent the day eating cherries and milk or cucumbers and milk, and if you can imagine what milk would look like after a hot july day in washington dc, he got some kind of intestinal disease. he was a very tough man. he had survived winters in michigan and minnesota. he had survived the deserts of mexico. he was rough and ready. the one thing he could not survive was mid-19th century medicine. when he got sick, he was bled
8:59 pm
and they did also its of other things including giving him mercury which would have killed him if they gave him enough. he may have died from an intestinal virus, he may have died from a bacterial infection you may have died because the doctors killed him. what we do know is that he died very suddenly to the great shock of the nation. perhaps, taylor was the last president who could have managed to somehow change the conflict because he was a southern slaveholder who did not believe in spreading slavery to the west. he thought that all the territories taken from mexico ought to be free. he was a man who was willing to stare down and if necessary meet an army to suppress southern anti-nationals and southern suggestions of secession.
9:00 pm
the texans are planning to march into santa fe and sees -- seize everything. one could imagine that, if taylor had lived, he would have said that he would be happy to personally lead the army into texas and personally hang the governor of texas. i have read that is well in several different publications. i do not inc. she realized when
9:01 pm
her husband came back from the war she would end up eating first lady. did margaret play any instruments and how old was she when she died? she died it a few years after. she was born in 1788, said that makes her about 65 when she died . >> many say she died of a broken heart because she was so shocked. she was convinced that sack retail or was poisoned. and, that was a story that stayed with zachary taylor for many years. in our lifetime, his body was exhumed. so, they brought him up and did testing and, no poisoned. >> by the way when fillmore becomes president, he gets letter saying taylor was
9:02 pm
poisoned. americans love conspiracy varies and is was a conspiracy theory. let's listen to sean. i was wondering if it is true that margaret taylor rate for her husband's defeat, he was that much against it. was she and invalid at all because of her difficulties with children? >> i don't know if she actually prayed for his defeat. she was the first to admit he was -- she was not very happy with his victory. >> many of these stories are written well after the fact. as an historian, we have to ask where these were heard. it might be the same story told over and over again and we do not know if it is true.
9:03 pm
there is a story that taylor was on a steamboat when the movement was to make tailored the nominee into somebody asked him who he was going to vote for and he said i am not sure, in the man said i am voting for taylor why won't you? ent does not know he is talking to taylor. in t said, i would not vote for him because i know his wife would not want him to win. taylor often did not appear to be who he was. when he was in mexico, he was sitting in front of his tent not with his general stars on and some young officer came up and asked them to shine his boots. thinking he was an enlisted man. so taylor shined his boots, and the next day the officer met his general.
9:04 pm
>> vice presidential succession, did we do a better job of it the second time around? it was a constitutional crisis the first time. >> they never fixed it until after the kennedy assassination with the 27th amendment. >> no, we fixed it this way. when harrison dies, the question is does he remain vice president and acting president. that is something the constitution does not address. john quincy adams, who hated james taylor who referred to him as his accident rather than his excellency, by the time fillmore becomes president, he will be inaugurated, he will be sworn in, he is now the president of the united states. fillmore, very graciously asks
9:05 pm
margaret taylor to stay on in the white house as long as she wishes. she moves out two days later. she has had enough. >> we have to learn more about new york we will do that by video. here is the millard fillmore home that you are going to see now on videotape. >> we are in this most charming little home. small as it is, it belonged to millard and abigail fillmore. they were both teachers. they both had this desire and love of reading. abigail was brought up in a family with many books. her father was a baptist preacher and he loved to read. she was surrounded by books her whole lifetime. when she moved into this house with millard fillmore, she continued that. they had their own personal library.
9:06 pm
she wanted to let young people learn extensively about the world as it is. this room is the focus of the entire house. history is made right here. she independently employed herself as a teacher. mainly in history. this room would have been the living room, and also served as the kitchen. millard and abigail would spend hours by the light of the fire. they would do their reading and writing. abigail cooked in this room this was her kitchen. the original staircase has quite in angle. we believe it was a wooden ladder when abigail and millard lived here. as a young wife and mother dressed in a long skirt and with
9:07 pm
a toddler on her hip, she ascended that latter into the edge room. in this room, we have the fillmore bed and dresser. we know abigail was a wonderful seamstress. we have her quilt here. a colorful quilt of a tumbling black pattern. the house was a very busy place. it was front year, but it was developing. abigail would've had many visitors she would've had people move in. possibly they would have had tea. we see her as a hospitable, young woman. younger woman. young wife. teacher. >> that house is still available to visit. the 13th president of the united
9:08 pm
states was the last whig president. they came from modest means. they came from a series of presidents who were more or less middle-class. what is the implication of that on the presidency? >> long-term, what we see with the fillmore's is something of a change that 12 follow through in the 20th century looking forward. but, the economy the civil war is a giant hiatus in terms of business. and, who are the others who are not wealthy? >> there are four presidents before this, counting fillmore who are not wealthy, the adams
9:09 pm
is -- -- martin van buren comes from a middle-class family. andrew jackson grew up in poverty. millard fillmore's family does not own land in an aero one most families owned their land. abigail's father died when she was two years old. they did not have much money. she is the first first lady to have worked outside of the home. not only before she is married, but after she is married when millard was starting his lot career. these are people who have experienced poverty and have not achieved at all anything other than middle-class status. after her death, millard mary's
9:10 pm
very well. >> here is a biography on millard fillmore if you are interested in reading more. it is available where you shop for books. we have about 20 minutes to learn more about abigail. abigail brings this sensibility to the role of first lady. how does she approach the job? her legacy is that she created the first white house library. her legacy from her father was books. those books he came the core of her education and instilled in her a love of educating others. congress appropriated $2000 for the president to establish the white house library, but it was understood that she would be the
9:11 pm
one to select it. she preferred to read and engage in intellectual pursuits. but, she did her duty. she helped her husband. she had a bad ankle, as i recall. >> she has an injury shortly before he runs for vice-president and she cannot stand. she cannot go to receptions and stands. she lets her daughter who by this time as a young woman in her 20's, do much of the role of the white house hostess. >> the introduction of the white house library became a controversy in congress. abigail successfully lobbied key committee members. >> it was the standing that she
9:12 pm
could not do, but she obviously convinced them. and, here comes $2000 to set up a white house library, which was a lot of money in those days. it had to be to the president to buy the books. at the president was being president. apparently, she did a very good job of selecting volumes for the library. she was interested in music. >> also geography. they love map. they buy books of maps. they are very interested in the world in that respect. she is a schoolmarm. the little film about the fillmore house there is a slight error. they were not both schoolteachers. millard fillmore was her student. she was 21 years old, teaching at a factory and millard was
9:13 pm
learning how to -- this was after the panic of the 1830's. the factory had closed down for a little while, millard used this time to go back to school and he fell in love with his teacher and she fell in love with him. both of them are described as being very, very emphatic people. queen victoria said later he was the most handsome man she ever met. that must be an exaggeration. you have these two young handsome people. fillmore was over six feet tall at a time when people did not usually grow that tall. they have a long courtship because her family does not want her to marry and they ultimately do not marry until five or six
9:14 pm
years later. for two years, their courtship is only by letters. he goes to buffalo where he becomes a lawyer. >> ron from north dakota, you are on. >> i was wondering did mrs. fillmore what did she do after the deaths and she got out of the white house? >> we will come back to your question in a little bit. >> darrell issa in tuscaloosa alabama. darrell? >> of the house did not have plumbing, when did they get plumbing. and he dishes, are they still in use today? >> thank you very much. we learned about heating, what about bombing?
9:15 pm
>> fillmore is credited with having the first bathtub in the white house. >> what about plumbing? >> fillmore is credited with having the first bathtub in the white house. >> religion -- didn't play a big part in the fillmore's life and presidency? >> abigail is the daughter of a baptist minister and she is raised in a baptist community in world, upstate new york. in the middle of nowhere in a very poor part of new york. she is a baptist. millard has various religious training growing up. but when they get married, they are married by an episcopal priest because the town abigail
9:16 pm
lives in the most prestigious church was an episcopal church. then they moved to buffalo and become unitarians because all of the smart, successful people are becoming unitarians. their religion reflects their journey from poverty to middle-class status to ultimately a secure position in society. they change churches as they go up the social ladder. >> we will learn more about her books and the establishment of the library in this next video. >> when abigail came to the white house, she was appalled that to there were no books. so, this bookshelf started the first white house library that they were able to get congress to give her money to start the
9:17 pm
first white house library which still exists today. we know that first ladies have causes and literacy and reading would have been her first cause. she carried that love and passion for books into the white house. she suffered from illness throughout her time as first lady. and, mary abigail was the hostess for many of the events. this punch bowl was used for entertaining at the white house. mary abigail followed in her mother's footsteps and was very educated herself. she spoke five languages. she played piano and harp for congressmen who came to the white house. we have her piano and music looks that she would have played from and we also have her harp that was in the white house. when we say that she entertained
9:18 pm
in the white house, she literally entertained. >> and the room, the house the fillmore's -- the room the fillmore's established as their library is called the yellow room. it is from our documentary when we visited there. that room, filled with bookcases and musical instruments, became something of a salon. how did they use it? was it useful in their legislative goals? >> sheep participated -- she participated in the dinners downstairs. they were receiving all the time. the white house had very little i've is he. she was known for her interest in the white house. >> she had charles dickens come to the white house. >> she was way ahead of jackie kennedy in bringing some of the
9:19 pm
leading lights to the white house. washington irving was there. she was interested in literary pursuits. with her bad ankle, i don't think anyone understands what those receptions were like when they threw open the white house for 5000 people. our and hours and hours of standing on your feet. >> but this salon she created it seems very intimate. key members of congress. was it a way to be in the inner sanctum of the president and advances goals? >> i don't think so. few congressmen in those days were interested in talking to a novelist or a cultural gear like that. she brought the woman known as the swedish nightingale, jenny lind, to sing. that would've been a celebrity so perhaps some members of congress would've wanted to come see a celebrity.
9:20 pm
i think, in a sense there is a bifurcation here between abigail fillmore creating a cultural setting that the former schoolteacher really wanted to do -- by the way, as a mother she is always a schoolteacher. she writes letters to her children, because they are separated at various times of their lives correcting their spelling in previous letters and giving them lists of spelling words to learn. she is always educating her husband. he is not as educated as her in the early parts of the marriage. >> what kinds of authors were in the first white house? >> a mixture of the classics. a lot of shakespeare. probably lots of history. we know a lot of geography books. they were very interested in foreign countries.
9:21 pm
as president, president fillmore sense, don't. to japan to open japan. in part, because fillmore has a personal interest in things foreign and things exotic. >> we have to talk about the major legislative peace. zachary taylor dies just as this was being debated and millard the more picks up the debate over the legislation. in the briefest way as possible, the compromise of 1850. >> the compromise of 1850 is presented by the man who did not get to be president. it is a separate bill, not the same bill. among things, it will organize the new mexico territory of which they include arizona.
9:22 pm
the utah territory which includes nevada and parts of colorado. it would admit california into the union as a free state. it also would prevent the sale, the open auction of slaves in washington, d c and it would also give millions of dollars to texas, it would subdivide a portion of new mexico and give part of west texas, which no one previously believed belonged to texas, to texas. most notably, it it created the first federal law and your accuracy in the united states. it is an outrageously -- law, so if a free black is seized in new york and someone says it is their fugitive slave, and no one can say they were wrong.
9:23 pm
it created draconian punishments for anyone who disagreed. fillmore pushed it into law signed and immediately after congress and very, very aggressively enforced it wherever he could. >> so amy asks, do we know about abigail fillmore's position on slavery and how it may have complemented or different from her husband? >> no, and what is on is they come from a part that is known as the burned-over district. the fires of revival have been burned-over so often that it was the center of the anti-slavery movement. just south of where fillmore was growing up, william seward, one of the most anti-slavery
9:24 pm
movement, said, in starting his career, just down the road frederick douglass will live in rochester, new york. with all of this anti-slavery movement going on, neither of the fillmore's ever lift a finger to eight slavery. i never show and he to slavery at all. they show no sympathy to blacks. when fillmore is running for vice president, someone accuses them of helping slaves escape, and in a letter that is so shocking i would not say it in the year, he simply says incredibly horrible things about black people. why would i ever lift my finger to help them? >> did abigail's love of books cause any trends in education or library expansion? >> to my knowledge, no.
9:25 pm
but you would have to look for the long-term. they did not have the instantaneous communications. her books were not going to set off a trend in the way modern communications do. i think what we are beginning to see as we go into the second half of the 19th century, is more and more work for middle-class women in teaching and so forth. obviously, they would be aware that a had a first lady who was a teacher. having that library certainly was known. >> hello. i was just wondering how many children did the fillmore's have? >> two. them served as the official hostess in the white house. >> lets hear from been no. ben is watching us in los angeles.
9:26 pm
>> i would like to know, what was the foreign convention policy like? >> fillmore's foreign relations were in part to enhance trade with europe. and hands trade with other countries. he sends naval vessels to japan. he says, we are here and you are going to trade with us whether you like it or not. the japanese refer to these as the dark ships. i have seen these in japan cartoons wherepwerry -- where perry is portrayed as a monster. there is a treaty, the treaty has a clause that says this can
9:27 pm
only happen if the people of america will be eligible to only an or have businesses. when fillmore was told about this, he said, well this should not really be a problem. so, he does not seem to be interested in issues that would involve minorities. he soon becomes a no-nothing at this. >> last question. >> some comments. thank you for this series on the first ladies. one correction. the fillmore's met charles dickens in washington in 1842 they did not host a monthly white house. also, they did entertain washington irving and william taylor zachary. also, abigail reportedly advised her husband not to sign the
9:28 pm
slave law. >> only 30 seconds left. let's use this as a way to ask both of you abigail fillmore's legacy. >> literacy. >> and the fact she may have interest -- influence people by being a working first lady. >> sadly, she dies very soon after they leave washington and her daughter dies two years later. there is no documentary evidence whatsoever that she advised fillmore not tuesday sign the -- advise fillmore not to sign the slave law. >> she died in the famous willard hotel which lays a role in presidential history. shortly after the inauguration
9:29 pm
of their successor, franklin pierce. a number of people were tweeting about that earlier. the barbara bush connection. barbara pierce bush. we will try to answer that question three: we deal with the pierce administration. thanks to the white house historical association for their continuing help throughout the series. ♪ [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2015] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org]
9:30 pm
announcer: history tv is featuring c-span's original series on first ladies on sundays at 8:00 p.m. this is american history tv. all weekend, every weekend, on c-span3. each week, american history tv's real america brings you archival films that help to tell the story of the 20th century. up next from 40 years ago, a may 26, 1975 nbc news special report on the fall of saigon. it documents the capture of the capital of south vietnam by north vietnamese communist forces a month earlier and details events in the months

20 Views

info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on