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Polk and the Issue of Slavery

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  • Ken S
    I ve just received my copy of William Dusinberre s book entitled Slavemaster President which discusses the apparantly contradictory positions taken by Polk
    Message 1 of 2 , Apr 5, 2006
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      I've just received my copy of William Dusinberre's book
      entitled "Slavemaster President" which discusses the apparantly
      contradictory positions taken by Polk on the issue of slavery in his
      personal life and in his Presidency. I haven't started reading the
      book yet (I'm finishing another book I'm reading first), but I'm
      fascinated by the subject, and especially by the assertion by the
      author that Polk shares in the responsibility of creating the climate
      for the civil war years later. I haven't been able to make the
      connection, but thus far I've only relied on summary articles on the
      point. Specifically, I haven't been able to determine if the criticism
      of Polk is that he didn't act on the slavery issue sooner (if so, the
      same criticism could be levelled at every President before Lincoln) or
      if there was something specific Polk did to aggravate the situation.

      I invite discussion from group members (all 9 of us) on whether this
      is a fair criticism of Polk, or whether his attitude must be tempered
      with the mores of the day.

      I've added several links including a book review of "Slavemaster
      President" written by Jonathan Atkins of the History Department of
      Berry University. I've also added a link to a page containing
      quotations by Polk on the subject of slavery. I hope you will find
      these interesting.

      My aim is neither to glorify nor villify Polk, but the foster an open
      and honest discussion on the subject, and I welcome your comments.
    • Travis Thompson
      Ken: I am glad to learn that you now have Slavemaster President. I will be interested in learning your impressions of this book once you have had an
      Message 2 of 2 , Apr 5, 2006
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        Ken:
                I am glad to learn that you now have "Slavemaster President."  I will be interested in learning your impressions of this book once you have had an opportunity to read it. 
                In the meantime, Iet me offer 2 tentative responses to the assertion/criticism that Polk aggravated the pre-Civil War Situation.
                First,  in response to the criticism that Polk (and other pre-Lincoln Presidents) didn't "act" on the slavery issue sooner, I would ask where was the constitutional authority for these Presidents to do so in the first place?  Let's recall the original Constitution does not even use the word "slavery" (although it most assuredly addressed the institution).  However, in doing so, it is only in regard to a few discrete  topics (i.e. no limitation on the importation until a 1808;  census apportionment for representation & taxation(the "3/5s" rule), the return of certain escaped persons (a/k/a the Article 4 "fugitive slave clause").  Moreover, the importation & census/taxation provisions are addressed in Article I, which deals with the Congress.  The slavery institution is not addressed whatsoever in the 2nd Article dealing with the executive branch.  Let's also not forget the 10th amendments.  Perhaps the President was not the most appropriate "actor" to address the slavery issue in the first place.  Perhaps the best "actor" for these purposes would have been the Congress or, better yet, the individual states.
                Secondly,  in pondering what Polk might have done to aggravate the pre-Civil War situation, let's not forget the Compromise of 1820 of the Monroe Administration.  This important legislation served to limit the spread of slavery beyond certain boundaries of the original Louisiana Purchase territorial acquisitions.  However, this delicate balance became considerably disrupted following the vast amounts of new territory claimed by Polk following the Mexican War, thus renewing that old bugaboo as to what manner and to what extent will the new territories be open for slavery.  This renewed bugaboo would be termporarily resolved a year after  the conclusion of Polk's administration  via the Compromise of 1850.  This new compromise would hold for a few years until the Kansas-Nebraska dispute, followed by the U.S. Supreme Court's negation of the 1820 compromise legislation in the infamous Dred Scott Decision, followed eventually by the election of Lincoln, and the secession of several Southern States, and the invasion of certain of those States under the direction of Lincoln, etc.  Thus, if we trace our way back, can we not at least consider that Polk's actions and directives might possibly have contributed to this eventual sequence of events?  Isn't there at least a logical or plausible possiblity? 
                Anyway, these are tentative thoughts for now, and are far from comprehensive.  I will interested to know your own thoughts on these matters.
                Regards,
                Travis


        From: James_K_Polk_Appreciation@yahoogroups.com [mailto:James_K_Polk_Appreciation@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Ken S
        Sent: Wednesday, April 05, 2006 12:16 PM
        To: James_K_Polk_Appreciation@yahoogroups.com
        Subject: [James_K_Polk_Appreciation] Polk and the Issue of Slavery

        I've just received my copy of William Dusinberre's book
        entitled "Slavemaster President" which discusses the apparantly
        contradictory positions taken by Polk on the issue of slavery in his
        personal life and in his Presidency. I haven't started reading the
        book yet (I'm finishing another book I'm reading first), but I'm
        fascinated by the subject, and especially by the assertion by the
        author that Polk shares in the responsibility of creating the climate
        for the civil war years later. I haven't been able to make the
        connection, but thus far I've only relied on summary articles on the
        point. Specifically, I haven't been able to determine if the criticism
        of Polk is that he didn't act on the slavery issue sooner (if so, the
        same criticism could be levelled at every President before Lincoln) or
        if there was something specific Polk did to aggravate the situation.

        I invite discussion from group members (all 9 of us) on whether this
        is a fair criticism of Polk, or whether his attitude must be tempered
        with the mores of the day.

        I've added several links including a book review of "Slavemaster
        President" written by Jonathan Atkins of the History Department of
        Berry University. I've also added a link to a page containing
        quotations by Polk on the subject of slavery. I hope you will find
        these interesting.

        My aim is neither to glorify nor villify Polk, but the foster an open
        and honest discussion on the subject, and I welcome your comments.







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