tv The Presidency James K. Polk Ancestry Politics Policies CSPAN August 13, 2019 5:43pm-7:09pm EDT
discussing his ancestry, politics and policies. this was part of a conference at the university of tennessee that marked the completion of a 60-year project to assemble president polk's papers. the event is hosted by the east tennessee historical society. it's an hour, 20 minutes. okay. i think we're ready to begin. my name is connie lester, associate professor at the university of central florida. and i have moved forward from polk. i worked on the polk papers as a graduate student but i have moved forward from polk. so my area of expertise is the -- from the end of reconstruction to world war ii. and i do agricultural history and economic history. but i'm very happy to be here today. and i want to begin the introductions to our panel. we have a very tight time line so i'm going to -- i'm going to try to control our panelists in
a good way. but to make sure that we have adequate time for everyone. so when you get to five minutes left, i have a five-minute card and i will lay it up so you can see it and then three minutes and one minute so you can see where you are. so we have time for everyone. i'm going to introduce each panelist as they come forward, because i found if you introduce them all at once people forget who they are. so i will begin with our first panelist who is john f. polk. he received his ph.d. in mathematics from the the university of delaware in 1979. he served three years in the army, including a tour in vietnam. he is retired from a 45-year career as a scientist and senior adviser of international research collaboration at the u.s. army research laboratory, aberdeen proving ground,
maryland. he is currently the clan historian for clan pollock international and publishes short articles on family history in the clan news letter. he has published two backs on historical topics, beyond damned quarter, the polk pluck family of chesapeake eastern shore in the colonial era. published in 2015. which received the sumner a. parker prize from the maryland genealogile society and his second book somerset records, 1692 to 1696, abstracts with transcriptions for the archives of maryland, volume 535. and that was published in 2002. he also published an article in the journal of scotch irish history titled from lifford to the chesapeake, the advent of the scotch irish in america. and that was published in 2008.
dr. polk initiated the polk pollock poeg dna project with the ftd and a and serves as volunteer administer. the title of his presentation is reexamining the ancestry of president james knox polk. >> thank you. thank you. i appreciate that introduction. do i need to be near the microphone? i'm back here it's not good. i'll try to stay up nearby. thank you very much for that introduction. and as you see the title of my talk is reexamining the ancestry of president james k. polk. right up front i will make -- i will say the main point i want to make in my talk is that the ancestry of the polk family that arrived from north carolina in the 1750s is not what- as it is
stated in the popular polk family history books. i'm referring specifically to polk family and kinsman pukd in 19129 by william harrison polk and polk family -- polks of north carolina, tennessee by mrs. frank c. angel on thety. the two most popular on the polk family. with respect to the early ancestry i of the polk family they are incorrect. and i will -- i tra i to show you where they went astray. how i know they're incorrect. and i will offer an alternative explanation of where they actually did come from. so if i can figure this out. the first thing i show here is the immediate line of the president. you see at the bottom james k. his father is samuel polk married jane knox. his greater was ezekiel polk colorful and well-known fog, lots written about him and then his grandfather, william polk, a
much more elusive figure, not a lot known about him. and he is will be the main focus of what i have to say right now where he came from. we don't know -- we --way we know about him is that he married a lady by the name of margaret taylor. they lived initially in maryland. then he moved to pennsylvania for a while and then down to north carolina in the early 1750s. they had five sons. and three daughters. and nobody knows where they actually lived in north carolina. he died and nobody knows where he is buried. like i say he is not a well-known figure. so what the -- and of course the president was the fourth generation of polks in north carolina. and by the time -- by his time the family had lost track i think of their early history, and exactly where they had come
from. and what they knew about it is expressed, i think, in the words of a colonel william polk of raleigh. late in his life when he is in his 70s about 1830 he wrote a short auto biefrpgle sketch where he talked about himself. and he has this short statement in there about the origin of the family which you see up here on the view chart. and he says that william polk -- he is talking about himself -- a third person autobiography -- he says is a descendant of a family who emigrated from ireland about the year of 1722. and settled on the eastern shore of maryland where they zrid resided until about the year 1740 when they removed into the state of pennsylvania and into the neighborhood of carlisle. so this is probably what president polk would have known about his family as far as the early roots. that's as far back as he would have known. he probably didn't have a particular interest in in early roots or his ancestry.
he was far too busy running for office and pursuing his legal career. so -- but when he got to be elected president, and went on towashing 10 after being elected president, he didn't pay a lot of attention to these but the people that are important in this, i will mention specifically, there was a kernel william wendell winder both of whom lived on the eastern shore of maryland who got in touch with the president and set my friend families from eastern
maryland. you think we are related? and our family goes back to a fellow named robert paul who arrived in 1697. they had seven sons and the oldest son had a son named william. in 1708 they lived there for 15 more years and then they left. william polk son of john-- to parts unknown. they said this looks like it should be the right guy. and president paul polk says it makes sense to me. it must be the connection with maryland polks. he get together with with his family and they put together a family tree. maybe some of you have seen this family tree.
there's a picture of it. this is my personal copy. it shows in the main part of the tree of course north carolina and tennessee polks in the lower part is the maryland polks. that's looking at it a little more closely. you can see here at the bottom robert the immigrant from ireland-- robert polk, and the next up is his son john. and then john going up to the middle of the tree, that's william polk, the connection between the tennessee and north carolina polks. the great-grandson of the president. his son ezequiel and samuel's son up at the top left, up on
the right is bishop polk, his second cousin and the two of them are the ones who put this tree together. and it was, by the way, it's that an act of congress. if you look at the small print at the bottom of the tree says act of congress 1849 so you know it's completely accurate. [ laughter ] this was widely except for everybody and became the why the accepted history from north carolina all the way back to maryland. robert polk actually came from-- so this was fine. in 1908 something happen. william harrison pulled-- polk
was in the final throes of finishing his monumental work and got a letter from earl polk saying there's a problem. william polk left here in 1723. he only made it up into dorchester county maryland, the next county north of somerset and that he died five years later. this is not william polk the great-grandfather of the president clearly. so this caused a problem for william harrison polk because he wanted to get the book out before he died even though he had been working on it for 45 years. going back to the sons of robert tran two, there were son of them-- of rubber polk and
they went back and said which one would be the right one. they didn't really have any new information so all they could do was speculate. in the end for whatever reason, william harrison polk decided it must have been william ii son. he must have been the guy. that's the way that he wrote the book. that's a fact. doesn't make any qualifications or caveats, just says that's the way it was and the way that family history has come down the last couple of hundred years. his book and mrs.-- book because she did not use what he put in his, and that's what comes down to the present day. the problem is it was just speculation with no fact behind it and worse, it was actually wrong. that's what i want to mention now.
i do want to mention we find places in the book where he makes these statements and even relates to another fellow called charles polk the indian trader and claimed he was another son of the same william of somerset and both turned out to be incorrect. how do we know that? one is the traditional way of paper trail, genealogical research and traditional colonial records. i spent many days in maryland state archives digging through every record they have to offer on the polk family. somerset county was rich in their colonial records and you find lots of met references mentioning the family and specifically robert polk the immigrant and his sons.
nowhere in this record will you find anything to back up in that there was someone who may have ended up going to carolina or tennessee. particularly i will mention the tax list. that was probably the best piece of evidence because every year they went around collecting the names of the taxable's and those were people , and email over 16 years old so they have the names of people and everyone's house including his. he had two sons by the names of james and david but none of williams or charles. that's pretty conclusive i think based on pure colonial records. but since no one wants to accept something that has been believed for 100 years specifically connecting someone to a president of the united states you usually have to have more complete evidence.
it's hard to prove a negative as we know. myself and a long-term colleague of mine, bill polk of kansas city, he's an excellent genealogy research. we began a dna project about 10 years ago that i will go past the records. >> the dna of courses definitive. we've had a successful project, 250 members who have contributed dna. and out of those 100 are surname males who contributed y chromosome dna. of course that is what gets passed on from father to son without change so whatever he had would have been passed on to his descendents. what has come out of the results of the testing is that there are two different groups that emerged-- group im 223 and
the great-grandfather william belonged to a different group known as r r2 69. so they are genetically different and there's no possibility that william polk the great-grandfather of the president could have been the sun or a defendant descendent of william polk. his great grandfather could not have been a descendent of robert polk of the eastern shore. that is shut down. so now the question is where did they actually come from? that's the last part of this. i will finish in the questions period but anyway, it wasn't somerset but what we didn't know was that he came from the
eastern shore of maryland so we had to look elsewhere. i found that if you go up a ways into cecil county maryland, they are at the very top part of the chesapeake bay, barely part of the eastern shore on the chesapeake bay. cecil county, you see the new monster plantation patented in 1683 and then lived there for 25 years. about 1708 a group of scotch-- moved into the area. last year in particular you see the whole cluster, a whole contingent of the alexander family who settled in 1708 and purchased the land in 1714. you can see the various parcels where they settled. any of you who have spent time
in carolina history know how prominent the alexander family was. while all those people in north carolina were the sons and grandsons of these alexander's in cecil county maryland. col. william polk described how they moved to the carlisle area, pennsylvania, and into north carolina. that's the way he described his family and that's exactly what the alexander family did in the next generations. if you see that little yellow piece it's a piece of land purchased by a man known as william in 1727. col. william polk said his family arrived in 1722 so that fits pretty well. of course is the original scottish form of the name polk.
they are used rather interchangeably in colonial documents. everyone spelled names very distantly so how long did he live there? one minute remaining? 1736 and he left. probably be followed the same path as the alexander's. and who was his wife? the wife's name when the deed was signed as margaret. we know his wife's name was margaret taylor. you will find taylor's living right here, one of them in a petition in 72. all the pieces come together to point to the fact that miss william is william polk who became the great grandfather of pres. polk. i can tell you all the possible counties in maryland there's nothing else out there, no other possible candidate other than this one.
as far as i'm concerned, it's 100%. if you decide to agree with that, there is no, by the way, smoking gun documents of the polks in carolina saying we came from-- county. or at least, i've never found one. to me until someone comes from a better theory, i'm sticking with this one so thank you for that. i've written everything up in a lengthier paper which i think will end up in the proceedings of this conference. if they are not, i will certainly publish it in an appropriate journal. in the meantime, at the bottom you see my email address if you have questions. you can just get in contact with me at email@example.com.
i guess that's it. do we have questions? >> we will take questions from everybody at the end. >> my book, i have several copies of it here and i can copies of it here and i can part with my cost which is considerably better. it's called-- published four years ago and i'm happy to say it did get a prize with book of the year. it has all the answers of polks on the eastern shore and nothing was north carolina and in tennessee. these are all people i'm not related to but i have so much information i decided it was worth putting together in the book so thank you.
our second presenter is lucas kelley, a phd candidate at the university of north carolina chapel hill. he completed his undergraduate degree in history at central college and his ma in history at virginia tech. he is the maynard adams fellow for carolina public humanity university of north carolina. he has made numerous presentations at conferences in virginia louisiana north carolina and the united kingdom. he currently has papers accepted for conferences at carter university and for the annual meeting of the seven historical association. he has published two articles in the east journal of tennessee history, a divided state in a divided nation, east that's support of the union and
the recession crisis in 1861 and the noblest enterprise of modern times, robert y hands 1936 address to the knoxville convention which was published in 2016. he also published an article called ardent nola fire and a gradual emancipator, the paradox of virginia gov. john floyd published in 2016. if this seems familiar you may remember that he was a student assistant in the fall of 2014. thank you so much for the
introduction. i'm really happy to be here. on a rainy march 4, inauguration day, james k polk stood on the capital and addressed the nation. pres. john tyler signed a congressional resolution three days before to annex texas in an enormous victory for democrats who have been casting their eyes on texas since before the presidency. he not only cheered it annexation but used it to articulate his expansionist vision for the nation. as the population has expanded the union has been strengthened. as boundaries have been enlarged and agricultural population has been spread over a large surface, our system has acquired additional strength and security. as it shall be extended, the bonds of our union so far from being weekend session from being weekend will become stronger. the connection between polk and
american expansion has not gone unnoticed by scholars of american history. an ardent expansionist and a fervent annexationist, only a few ways that historians have described him coming he's the president most often associated by manifest destiny, that the united states possessed a divine right to the north american-- historians frequently cite the election and administrative policies as a the three for advocates of manifest destiny while recognizing disastrous consequences in the 1840s, and how the expansion contributed to the growing sectional crisis of the 1850s. this perspective often overlooks the familiarity with and benefit from prior american expansion. born in north carolina in 1795 he moved with his family in the final month to his
grandfather's land of williamson county soon to be reorganized. over the course of the next two decades they would become one of the most politically influential and wealthiest slaveholding families. yet, as much as social prominence depended on this, it was only possible through the tennessee indigenous people. family members speculated heavily in what would become middle and west tennessee. several relatives acted as agents after the territory had been opened. they collected rent, surveyed land and sold tracks to prospective buyers. a complete understanding of the legacy not only requires a focus on executive office but also recognition of how the family acquired land and wealth through the dispossession along the tennessee frontier.
>> it began in the 1780s during what one historian called the great speculation. with that mounting from expenses through the revolutionary war, they believed lands could generate much-needed revenue and legislature passed a number of laws to facilitate land sales including a 1783 opening what would become almost all of tennessee. designed to eliminate the states debt it was actually the brainchild of north carolina speculators. speculators quickly identified most valuable tracks of western land and within seven months entered over 3 million acres in north carolina land offices taking little notice of sovereignty claims over most of the region. they achieve great rewards because of political connections. as soon as it passed thomas
polk led a party of men across the mountain . before the land office closed they entered over 50,000 acres of land with much in the deaf river valley. it would serve as a foundation to family wealth and locations for permanent plantations in rent that could be rented out for revenue. it could be two decades before taking advantage of massive speculation. the duck river, you can see columbia right there and the duck river is the line that separates the pink looking one. prior to settlement, leaders of early united states work to prevent americans from immigrating to the continental interior. conflict with indian nations and willingness to shed
american saws and ship for european empires. they used the centralized power in 1780s and 1790s. recognition of sovereignty through treaty negotiations proved the most effective check on access to native american territory. the polk family would have been particularly distressed located in the duck river valley. they enforce the boundary line by both prohibiting for the speculation and forcibly relocating white families down over the international border on chickasaw or cherokee land despite the fact that many settlers possessed legitimate land claims, legitimate land claims. family members recognized the damaging consequences that the recognition of native sovereignty could have on the
speculation scheme. five years after his trip across the mountains, william polk, lamented what will become of our western--? is there any probability of coming to maturity or being any use to us? the fortune was on the verge of collapse yet they eventually did benefit from investment in indigenous territory. throughout the early 1800s investors in native land petitioned congress to open territory for a wide settlement to at least repay them for the cost of resettling and reclaiming the land. the new state congressional delegates allied with the house and senate to advocate for cherokee and chickasaw sessions. the us federal system provides a vehicle through which tennesseans could pressure
leaders. much of the duck river valley held important economical significance and they resisted pressure for a number of years. it was home to rich supplies of wild game. they sold else and skins in east tennessee and near present day memphis. hunting was also a deeply embedded gender product this within both nations. without the opportunity to supply game, indian men would be forced to labor completely and agricultural pursuits, work considered only fit for women. leaders were aware of how they coveted their land and dashed to treaty unless offering a higher price. americans were official to have three sessions between 1805 and 1806 but only after offering
relatively large sums to both nations and distributing valuable tracks of land and payments to native elites as inducements for operations. >> he even attended treaty negotiations with cherokee nation in person. so interested was he in the outcome. again, the yellow portion above the duck river was in 1805 treaties and the land below was an 1806 treaty. >> the investment had finally paid off as a family benefited directly from these. immigrating to tennessee over the final treaty he settled his wife and children including young games, on the north side of the duck river. much of the income during early years came to an agent to his first cousin to manage tenants and sell his land.
in the words of one speculator claims had become active property. in the economic and social benefits, if facilitated his rise to political prominence. he had personal experience with the economic benefit and ideological underpinnings and may have-- for further expansion on that rainy day. >> the discovery of america, a troubling celebration of christopher columbus's conquest over native peoples, he shared that the title of native indian tribes has been extinguished allowing the formation of new states. the president undoubtedly remembered economic gains and hoped his administrative policies would make land similarly accessible for white immigrants to the american west. he represented the commitment
to manifest destiny in the future expansion of the 1840s but just as powerfully embodied past embodiment of-- mississippi river. >> thomas received his phd from harvard university and wrote his dissertation on the formation of the jackson party 18 formation of the jackson party 1822-1845. he received a harvard graduate merit fellowship and a fellowship at the american antiquarian society to support the completion of his graduate work. while an undergraduate, he was in duck did into phi alpha kappa i'm sorry, phi beta kappa, and
is currently the associate editor of the papers of andrew jackson. he was the author of a manuscript entitled the forked tongue, the 1830 indian removal act and the betrayal of native america. the timing of his presentation is young hickories apprenticeship, james k polk and the bank war. >> when he was elected speaker of the house in 1835 it was seen as a reward for services rendered as congressional floor leader in the war against the bank of the united states.
in march, he offered an explosive minority report detailing deeds and as chairman of the same committee he skillfully outmaneuvered and secured passage of a revolution including the controversial removal of government deposits. much later, he famously gushed quote deserves a medal from the american people. as far as we know he didn't actually receive a metal but the rewards he did reap more services far more substantial. the house speakership, lifelong devotion of jackson and the democratic-- and 10 years later, the presidency. >> it was something that would have been hard to predict before hand other than exchanging the occasional letter
. their interactions before 18 1834, 1832 rather was surprisingly limited. with the exception of a draft, he contributed nothing to the development of a ministration policy or the passage of legislation. nor was he particularly interested in the subject of banking, something i was able to confirm by searching volume 1. it would be a mistake to see services as either opportunistic or passive or as a result of unthinking devotion to jackson. he no doubt true inspiration and direction but there is something misleading about eugene mccormick's description as quote his-- which implies he was merely taking orders. in fact after submitting the
title i immediately began to regret my wording, specifically the young hickories sober care in regards to the apprenticeship which began to minimize his real contribution to the struggle and add to the impression that he was nothing more than a face full-- faithful lapdog granted obeying policies set by others. i would like to highlight two assets that help make the point, namely that during the bank war he was much more than an obedient party functionary. i would like to talk about his ways and means committee report. he had vetoed the recharter which had 4 years left to run. as he explained, as far as hickory was concerned the hydro of corruption is only scotched, not dead.
before and after his veto he had been on the hunt for hard evidence that could bring the bank down once and for all, that could confirm what he knew to be true, that the bank was corrupt, that it lined pockets with taxpayer funds, it interfered in elections and arrived congressman and in short that it replaced moneymaking service. excessive conduction investigation was conducted but other than evidence that it made suspicious loans, little was proven. in november 1832, he wrote a memorandum about the desirability of a renewed inquiry quote whether the bank has not violated its charter and whether the present situation does not require for the safety of the government that united states deposits be withdrawn from it". >> in his annual message he
expressed concerns about the solvency of the bank and asked congress, or told congress-- worthy of serious investigation. when it fell to ways and means, jackson wrote polk with tips and possible sources and stress the importance of producing a report that could kill the bank and its supporters dead. >> over the next few months he pursued unrelenting and unsparing examination. bank directors under oath, reviewing reams of bank documents and correspondence with governments . unfortunately friends of the bank had the majority who insisted on the report vouching for the safety of the government deposit. rather than going along with such a whitewash he issued his own findings that despite
having only three signatories was to profound to be found to have a profound effect. the center of his indict and was a scandal relating to 3% debt in his retirement. so complicated, so recondite, so utterly boring that it's guaranteed to put you right to sleep. unfortunately it's a scandal that we were up to our eyeballs in in the production of the last volume. the gist is that in 1832 the government told the bank they paid off about $8.5 million of revolutionary stock. this was low yield and terms were such that the government could pay it off or not whenever it wanted so long as it made interest payments. the jackson administration on the verge of distinguishing the last of the national debt wanted it off the books but the bank had other ideas. claiming it did not want to--
borrowers by calling them loans, it balked at making the payment and made arrangements with holders of the stock to delay redemption with the bank agreeing to make payments in the meantime. there's plenty questionable about this decision. from one they were prohibited from buying government stop stock and to make matters worse, the bank's president tried to keep the subterfuge hidden from directors and the government and only stepped up when it was caught. why did the bank do this? for those of you remember economics 101, interest is essentially the price of money and makes no sense to voluntarily redeem it when you can run that money at five or 6%. it's the equivalent of burning money. you are better off continuing to pay holders while continuing
to make the money elsewhere. >> opponents tried to put a negative spin on this and make it look as if they tried to redeem the-- which was frankly nonsense but the whole transaction was shady even if you concede the bank was solvent. the bank was told to do something, he refused to do it in rather than own up engaged in assimilation and division. checks and could not have been more pleased with his minority report issued march 1, 1833 near the end of the session. the washington globe, the thing that praises the powerful document exposes self contradicted testimony under which the corrupting institution has sheltered itself in a manner so clear and convincing that it must satisfy every honest man who reads it. >> by the time the remover was
ordered there is additional evidence including reports revealing extravagant paint expenditures on the provocation of probing propaganda. i don't think it's an exaggeration to say charges and documentation so devastatingly compiled really for the first time made deposit removal a politically viable move. he had long been pining for charges against the bank that could stick and i would say with his minority port in hand he long last had them. >> the timing and specific arguments they would make barite contentions. two weeks after the cabinet was queried in by may if not earlier they were trying to sketch out rationales for doing so. in a number of early drafts
from march april may and june, the influence of the report is impossible to miss. they do fax figures and arguments drawn directly from the investigation. in the final paper ordering the removal, we found the paraphrase, the effort to thwart the government and payment of public debt that it may retain public money to be used for private interest calling it a missed deed and notoriously unfounded and. >> i said that i had two points to make. my final is that when you look at his decisions within the context of politics, when you look at the behavior of many of his colleagues many of whom--
the jackson party over deposit removal, when you look at his decisions within that con text, you see there was nothing inevitable against his embrace of the war on the bank. in mid april while the vote was pending, a meeting attended by 100 people was held in columbia tennessee that led to resolutions that encouraged him to vote for recharter. in national bank as of the utmost utility both to the government and the people of these united states. >> friends tried to reassure him that it emanated from political opponents and dependent bettors of the bank but surely these were troubling signs. he was at the same time receiving instructions telling him to vote against the bank. these were troubling signs that may have given him pause if not
second thoughts before floating again in july. even more controversial than the vote against recharter was his ways and means report indicting the bank which i talked about earlier. among the charges that they leveled against the bank was that it had overextended liabilities in the west where it was lending to debtors of questionable solvency. not surprisingly many citizens were thrilled to hear the region so described, worried that it would further worse than western credit. on march 28, and indignation meeting was held at the national courthouse by merchants convinced that tennessee as well as other parts of the rest west have been -- by the committee of ways and means. two weeks later he had no choice but to address constituents at columbia personally to rebuff what he called the unparalleled efforts of the friends of the
bank to produce excitement to my prejudice not only with immediate constituents but those who stayed in the public generally". in the end, his intuition, his gamble that these resolutions and meetings were somewhat found in theory and that the good sense of the district and state would support him. that gamble paid off. whatever was noted, what's most like a combination, his decision of the crusade measured the right one in long-term political gains. he won reelection to his congressional seat and they literally demolished his opponents. 4200 votes to 2200. the following year he was elected speaker and as they say, the rest is history.
[ applause ] >> our last speaker is zacharie kinslow. he received his ma degree in history from austin-- state. he is a lecturer, fabricator and museum educator at the james k polk museum. he also served as a summer intern with the martin van buren project. he has published two articles enslaved and entrenched, the complex life of elias polk and the white house historical
association. and 811 and 61, martin van buren james k polk and the dissolution of the second party system. in the third, delta collegiate journal of history and 2019. he has an essay forthcoming titled slavery and freedom and the complexity of southern race relations. >> finally he contributed to research to the world of first lady sarah polk . the title of the presentation today is enslaved and entrenched, the complex life of elias polk . >> okay. this 1952 novel and visible in the man opens with an unnamed narrator proclaiming i am an
invisible man. i am a man of substance, flesh and bone, fibers and liquids and made be said to possess a mine. sadly because people refuse to see me when they approach me they see only my surroundings. themselves, a figment of their imagination. indeed anything and everything except me. for all intents and purposes elias polk is an invisible man which struck me as kind of odd. he was a man and slaved by james polk. it's not as if elias polk is a hidden figure no one has ever talk about, almost every single biography features him at some point whether it's a paragraph or sentence or passing information. to truly understand who he was and what he did and his impact not just in the state but
nationally, we have to understand two facets of history. we have to understand the impact of the-- of the loss caused and the-- school on reconstruction. >> prior to emancipation elias polk, there's not much known . what is actually written in primary sources regarding him only comes in passing from friends of his, from james polk himself. there is nothing about elias polk in his diary and he does show up in several points in correspondence. the reason i say we have to understand the lost causes because what people have written about him prior to emancipation is for the most part a fabrication be getting around 1949 with the book young hickory. she is very upfront.
she says it is fiction and not to be taken literally, based on the life of james polk but unfortunately a popular his stores-- a story historian have not really seen that and presented fiction as fact. 88 years with sarah polk who also uses -- the source. we see it being repeated quite often. one of the most bullet stories of him prior to the civil war comes right after he was elected president in 1845. it says james and elias were out in the wyoming valley and while they were alone and touring the area, they stopped for the night at a local hotel. by the next morning elias polk is readying horses and a group
of men walk up to him and say don't you know you are in a free state? you can leave if you want. they can't do anything to you here. >> and he's witnessing, no way i'm not going to go back like that. according to the smith, he hears it, offers him his freedom, and elias still turns it down. sorry, that never happened. when we look at james polk and what he's doing as president, we understand he's not in this part of pennsylvania at this time and when he does go to pennsylvania later elias polk is not there. elias polk was a slave that he would rent out from time to time, economic benefit himself. what we do see is that he's in columbia while james polk is in the white house. there's no possible way this story could have happened but it's one of the most repeated stories when we deal with the figure of elias polk. during
the pre-emancipation years, what we knew he was doing is basically working as a valet. he was born to his father samuel around 1806. they moved to what is now minneapolis between springhill and columbia in the same year. he was raised on that farm and there he begins to understand the power of difference. they were not the wealthiest people by really any means but very quickly he rises through the social hierarchy, becomes a wealthy individual, one of the first to own a cotton gin so if you need that done you go to samuel polk and next thing you know you are deferring to him. so he's watching this and starting to pick things up. it becomes more clear what he's doing after emancipation than anything else.
the civil war ends in 1865 and elias polk is living in polk place in nashville with sarah. james polk died almost 11 years earlier in 1849 and he is living with sarah in nashville. well, he quickly begins a political career. he becomes a very prominent southern black conservative who aligns himself with the democratic party in the post emancipation period and reconstruction. but he's going to do is promote the re-enfranchisement of ex- confederates. he's going to basically come well he's going to tell them what they want to hear so they will give him something. he's going to use that idea of deference that he learned. he's 60 years old at this
point. when it 1806, this is 1865. what option does he really have? he is 60 years old, he's african-american, and he's illiterate. what is he going to do? the republican party could argue all day that he could argue for a labor contract and get paid but if he cannot do the labor what are his options? he decides to take on a political route. in one he says my heartbeats with-- to contemplate the dangers of the country. what are these? enslaving white people and driving them from the ballot box. so elias is going to push a very strong narrative forward that ex-confederates really love to hear and they give him things for it. in the 1870s he's appointed as a porter to the state senate, basically a janitor there.
they are paying him well and in 1872 the governor of tennessee specifically asked. what had happened was there are extra funds left over and they are trying to decide what to do with the money. they decide they're going to give everyone a raise in the government, and specifically, the governor asked polk to be given $40 which is quite a bit in 1872. you have to understand he's not a likable guy in our history. he was one of the six original founding members of the ku klux klan. in doing this research i realized everyone in the south is related. [ laughter ] somehow, everyone is related. john calvin brown is married to elizabeth childers brown who was the niece of sarah pulled. so they knew each other going into this. elias left the state senate
working for them in the 1880s, early 1880s when he was appointed to the same position in congress, doing the exact same job gets to go to congress and say i was appointed to congress as a janitor but appointed to congress nonetheless and all of these democrats get to pull him out and say we are not so bad. we've got a black guy here. in reality he's going to be brought out by the democrats in order to push a narrative that they want to hear and elias polk is going to give it to them because they are the ones who is paying. he would lose his position in 1881 when the republican party retook the house of representatives. he returned home to tennessee, moved into polk place and by the time he comes back in 1880
is going to visit the conventions of the democratic hardy. there's a split over what to do about the mounting state tax. some say we needed higher in some say they needed lower but there's an overarching thing of what we do with sarah polk? they think she owns-- but it is still significant. it is a sickly date-- segregated condition and he's not allowed in the room but someone notices him, they let him speak and he kind of chastises the group telling them look what you are doing. if you split the party the republicans are definitely going to win. you've got to come together and pay mrs. polk the money that you were her. >> he said right after the he delivered the address the party came together, two candidates drop out, they nominated a guy and ultimately what happened to the convention is not always what happened. the party still split over the issue and republicans take the
state of tennessee. while he cannot find work if there's a republican government. there was a push and pull between republicans and democrats. who gets the folks who get here? they are the party offering him all of these rights. the democrats feel we've always gotten them. so there is this push and pull. he's criticized quite a lot for that and when people asked what the dead president polk would think of an african-american stumping for democracy. some are much more violent. in fact i will read you one which is lengthy but i will only read part of it it was delivered by t morris chester who was a prominent african- american not just nationally but globally. he was the first african- american to receive a law
degree in the united kingdom. he delivers an address and says i have's understood in this state of kentucky which has not recognized the manhood of the negro and who is now canvassing the state for the party. may he receive the ineffable brand of a traitor so that all good men and women scored him wherever he appears. may the church which he is a member of expel him in disgrace and unworthy to associate with christian people. he goes on to compare him to a to a hissing viper so not generally liked by the majority of the african-american community or the republican party because of how he's going to try to manipulate the system to his own benefit. in the 1870s he served as vice president of the tennessee
colored agricultural and mechanical association which promoted vocational training and built schools throughout the state of tennessee. in 1873 he was on the illustrious-- committee and what he's going to do there is help plan that years exposition. it was so big that two years later frederick douglass was the keynote speaker at these events. it is a bipartisan issue at times but always seems to come back to this idea of deference. in 1886, elias polk is going to make one final trip. by the way he's married at this point, his wife is 41 years younger than he is. he has in his late 70s and early 80s but we do know that his wife is 41 years younger than he is. they make a trip to washington dc. they visit the local sites, the
white house where they met pres. grover cleveland, he shook hands with every president and would meet everyone as long as he was alive. he ends up dying before any other president but he hears that he's going to be reappointed to the position that he held at the united its capital. that very night, polk died. most likely tuberculosis was the cause. he's broke at this point. he had so much debt that when he died his wife wife had to mortgage the house and carriage to refinance it and there was not enough money to ship his body back. so she's going to take on advertisements and said you're going to pay up. same thing he was preaching. slavery ruined my body and i worked for you so you are going to help pay me. his body was eventually brought back to nashville and the funeral held for him he-- his--
was two years old so i imagine it did not smell great. he really stayed there unnoticed until 2017 when i participated in a project with city cemeteries to give he and his wife and another person, matilda, all headstones, at that little event dr. herbert lester who is a minister the same place he had his funeral said something that stuck with me. the reason we are here today is because these people, mary elias matilda, their lives mattered. they were more than property. more than property stuck with me above everything else. frederick douglass said in his address in 1873 to the organization we are no longer property but persons just as
dr. lester had said, 144 years later. he understood deference and how it was to evolve in an america that advocated white supremacy and still wanted african- americans to remain objects and not people. this whole thing i'm doing is to try to reclaim his humanity. his life was a life of deference. he referred to james and sarah and i assume he referred to associates to gain property and a means to survive in the new south. freedom came with a new type of servitude that was all his choice to make. thank you. [ applause ] i want to start by thinking presenters to keep them to this time allotted for each of them.
it leaves us time to be able to ask questions as we go on. i'm going to offer some comments and they are these comments, this is just the way that i saw the papers as i read them and the kind of things that pulls them together and maybe questions that you might want to ask as well. the session title one polk and another polk is not an accurate, it does not suggest the deep research and the potential for discussion that these papers have provided. the first and the last papers raise interesting questions about what it means to be polk and who qualifies. >> the use of names is limited and expansive. as our first demonstrator
presenter demonstrated uncovering the family tree of the 11th president of the united states proved a haunting task with records or no neck or, conflicting memory even the names and origins of the most closely connected of the presidents relatives. the dna project was developed for the purpose of bringing clarity to the search and to the historical record. >>as i read this paper, i wondered about james k polk and his search for his family's past. what with his motivation in undertaking a lengthy correspondence to thrill in the blanks of what was arguably his most productive period? political opponents raised questions that he wanted to answer friends and kinship to secure economic power, did he hope to expand the polk network or limit access to the polk
kinship claim? was he curious or at the elimination of kinship hold a special meaning? i know at this period of time i came across several diaries where people are suddenly interested in understanding their family origins. i am wondering if this was a national kind of interest at the moment and what that says about other things as people began to try to find their lineage. many of them i would add are looking for ancestors from the american revolution. throughout this symposium, we have had illusions to the networks of political and social power. it is an old trope but it works and lots of things. this is what we are seeing.
in what way was the polk family tree a symbol of power in what ways did it satisfy curiosity? the research raises new questions about the name. elias amanas late to the polk family as soon as he was born he took the name following a lifelong pattern of acquiescence to the men and women in power and securing patronage for his own desires. he seemingly understood that presenting himself as elias pope would open doors that would otherwise be close to him as a free man. he was able to leverage modest provisions for himself in a period of uncertainty. others also saw an advantage to recognize him as elias polk.
proponents of the lost cause of theology and white supremacy used his can continued association with the polk and his conservatism as living evidence that slavery was not the system that abolitionist claimed it to be. were there other advantages for men and women in power to provide him with patroness position. we generally consider patronage in terms of high- level offices and lofty positions. elias obtained a rather low position that others seemed interested in offering to him. we need to ask questions about what that patronage meant. what attention has been given to low level positions in the patronage system. lucas kelly's paper reminds us that manifest destiny infused american actions if not
american thought long before the mid-19th century and provides us with a family history of colonization and power. as the first presentation shows it allowed the family to acquire wealth and consolidate power. the acquisition of slaves in north carolina facilitated the expansion of wealth in ways that land did not. this meant mississippi highlighted the economic reach of the family and enable the lives of the political power of james k polk. i would encourage mr. kelly, if he has not done so, to look backwards to the various migration of the family to understand the role moving to the various frontiers in both the colonial and early national period and let that play in consolidating the powers of family and shaping ideas about nations and manifest destiny.
the presentation of james k polk in the bank or at first seem to have less in common with the previous papers. however, the issues surrounding the bank war in the westward expansion plays well within the discussion here. polk was so centrally involved and that he would be so dogged in his pursuit should not surprise us given what we now know about his family and the ongoing migration on land. i would not go into the bank award many a person has been lost, it is raining outside we don't want to invite anything more. we won't go into details about the bank war. i think a fruitful avenue for us to think about today is how that ties to the other papers and how to explore pope's resistance to that among his
neighbors demanding that he vote for the bank and his perception of them. he called them dependent debtors of the bank. that begs the question of who they are. how did they fit into the movement in the consolidation of power? were they, like the polk's, families who arrived early and fell on hard times, were they newcomers and found the opportunities for advancement closed? or perhaps they had a different perception of what settlement and consolidation and power entailed and what networks they were a part of at that moment in time. the migratory path of the polk family would roll the family into consolidating political and economic power. the action of jk polk in the u.
s. in advocating destiny is not the name in the recognition of the power of the name polk by an emancipated slave is key. it invites us to explore further the importance of friendship and kinship network in advancing economic and political power. >>what we will do, i will call on people, you can move to the microphone when you have should and direct it to any of the participants, we have about 10 minutes to take questions. please. did elias polk have children? >> not that i have seen. one obituary said he had no children whatsoever. i do not believe that there are
descendents, much like james polk. >>tell us your name. >>i am gary freeze i teach college in north carolina. i have a question about the first polk to mecklenburg county. you indicated the records are not really clear, could you clarify about what you know or don't know about that? >>to tell you the truth, i have not spent a lot of time going into the mecklenburg county history because i lived in maryland i have access to all of the records from the maryland archives so i specialize in what i call earlier colonial history and my colleague who i mentioned who came to the city is an excellent genealogist
could probably answer it better than i can. having said that, i know that the five sons of william polk, who i talked about, they did not come at the same time down into north carolina. in particular his son john who married the daughter of, who is the patriot of evan shelby, married elinor shelby. they were longer in pennsylvania and came down later. certainly my own ancestor, thomas polk came down quite early down around 1754 or five. william polk, as i mentioned, we do not know where he settled, we do not know where he died, we do not know the exact date of his death it was probably around 1758.
that is all i can offer on that. >>can i ask a second to someone else? elias was he genetically a polk i did not catch anything about his parents. >> i personally do not think he is. there will be nothing to confirm or deny it. we know that when samuel polk marries his father, ezekiel, gift him in mecklenburg county, when his wife's father, james knox, when he died, in his will, two women's names name violet and lucy it is transferred to his daughter's husband, so samuel polk get to those two women. around late 1805, late 1806,
those two women were the only ones living on the property. about 1805, 1806 two slave men come on the property. around 1806 elias polk is born. we are not even 1% sure who his parents are. >>you can say he is possibly a north carolina native. >> he would say he was. his marriage certificate and his death certificate say he is from charlotte. he considered himself a north carolina native. >> thank you. >> other questions? >> i have a question for mr. cohen's. i am michael kelley. is it fair to say or oversimplification to say that the cover-up was worth in the worst than the actual scandal?
>> it did not make the bank look good, if he had fessed up to the government yes. i think it was much like watergate, the real problem is what happened afterward. if you openly said to the government i prefer doing this with the money rather than -- there was still some griping that could have been done about that decision, i don't think it would have gotten, but it did make matters worse. >>in this controversy with andrew jackson about the bank. is it your opinion that it is shocking to think that the bank person in charge of the bank with think that he could disregard the direction of his primary customer just to make a little money? >>yes. that was essentially the scandal.
he was an interesting guy. he was very inclusive about optics and the way his behavior came off to other people and just kind of optics and public relations perspective. he was constantly doing things like that, that made the bank same arbitrary and tyrannical and heavy-handed, which is to a certain extent this colombian clumsiness to the way that he played his hand that made his position harder and harder to sustain. >>other questions? okay. thank you very much. let's give him a round of applause. >>[ applause ]
>>we are featuring american history tv programs and a preview of what is available every weekend. lectures in history. american artifacts, real america, the civil war, oral history, the presidency and special event coverage about our nations history. enjoy american history tv now and every weekend on c-span three. >>weeknights this month we are featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what is available every weekend on c- span three. tonight the life and career of general dwight d eisenhower who became america's 34th president in 1953. we begin with historian david tells on how the world war ii partnership between the u. s. army chief of staff george marshall and general eisenhower helped to win the war. mr. mills is a military history professor with the u. s. army command and general staff
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31 at 10 am eastern on book tv >>the united states declared war on mixico on may 13, 1846. but it became known as mr. polk's war resulting in more than 500,000 square miles of new u. s. territory. right now on american history tv, author joseph whelen talks about his book invading mixico america's continental dream in the mexican war 1846-1848 in which he chronicles president james polk's desire to acquire california through war. this is 50 minutes. >> evening. on behalf of the staff and owners, i welcome you and thank you for supporting your independent bookstore. tonight we are honored to have mr. joseph whelen to discuss his new book invading