James Knox Polk's 214th Birthday
- James Polk wrote in his diary:
This is my birthday. According to the record in my father's family Bible I was born on the 2nd of November, 1795. I am, therefore, fifty three years old. It will be 21 years on to-morrow since my father died. My mother is still living. Upon each recurrence of my birthday I am solemnly impressed with the vanity & emptiness of worldly honors and worldly enjoyments, and of [the wisdom of] preparing for a future estate. In four months I shall retire from public life forever. I have lived three fourths of the period ordinarily allotted to man on earth. I have been highly honoured by my fellow-men and have filled the highest Station on earth, but I will soon go the way of all the earth. I pray God to prepare me to meet the great event.
I was busily occupied in my office during the whole day. A part of the day I spent in preparing my annual Message. I desire to have it in a state of forwardness, as far as I can anticipate the topics upon which I should treat, before the members of Congress begin to assemble in Washington, which may be expected shortly after the Presidential election, which will take place on the 7th of the present month. When they begin to assemble they will occupy much of my time, and I have more leisure to devote to the message now than I will have then.
None of my secretaries called to-day. I saw two or three subordinate officers on business. I disposed of business on my table and saw Company as usual at 2 O'Clock P. M. It was [a] quiet day with me and nothing of importance occurred.
It seems that celebrating birthdays was not his habit, or else his secretaries should have called to make congratulations. I wonder why this was so and whether leaving birthdays uncelebrated was an individual habit or a general custom when and where he lived.
Polk never mentions any birthdays besides his own, and also not his 25th wedding anniversary. In his diary he'd rather tell us about
a couple of peculiar private anniversaries. In the entry of the 18th of October 1848 we read about two of them:
It happens to occur to me and I therefore record it, that thirty years ago this day I arrived at my father's house in Tennessee on my return from the University of North Carolina, where I had graduated in the month of June preceding. I closed my education at a later period of life than is usual, in consequence of having been very much afflicted and enjoyed very bad health in my youth. I did not commence the Latin Grammer until the 13th of July, 1813. My instructor was the Rev. Dr. Robert Henderson of the Presbyterian church, who taught an Academy two or three miles South of Columbia, Tennessee.
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As for the new Book on Polk: I abstained from ordering it at the bookshop when I saw the cover. Why the hell did the author have to accept the most improbable of Polk's better known portraits on it? I'm a bit quirky in this regard and have spontaneous prejudices against writers of biographies who would sell the book about their subject with a second-rate portrait if several better ones are available. I'll wait for comments either here or on other sites, before I'll get the book myself.