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Polk and Buchanan Part 2: Polk's Cabinet

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  • Ken S
    As mentioned in an earlier email, I m reading Philip S. Klein s biography of James Buchanan and find it to be a fascinating and detailed piece about the
    Message 1 of 1 , May 3, 2007
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      As mentioned in an earlier email, I'm reading Philip S. Klein's
      biography of James Buchanan and find it to be a fascinating and
      detailed piece about the politics of the time. It's also helping me
      understand the dynamics of what led up to the Civil War better than
      anything else I've ever read. Even though Klein is an apologist for
      Buchanan, he does not write in such a way as to colour the facts or
      make it difficult for the reader to form his or her own opinions.

      I'm at Chapter 13 entitled "Politics Under Polk 1845-1846." In the
      first part of that chapter, Klein makes these three interesting
      observations:

      At p. 163 in a section entitled "The State Department"

      "Buchanan wrote to Polk immediately after the election urging him to
      make 'young Democrats' the core of his Administration. 'The old
      office holders' he said 'generally have had their day and ought to be
      content.' This advice may possibly have been included for self-
      protection in case the president-elect ignored him, but it is also
      meant to flatter Polk, the nation's youngest president, and it might
      serve to eliminate some of the old party hacks."

      Later at p. 163-4 in the same section:

      "Shortly thereafter, on February 17 (1845), Buchanan got a letter
      from Polk inviting him to be Secretary of State. The form letter,
      which Polk sent to all appointees, was unique in the history of
      presidential invitations to cabinet service. It read 'Should any
      member of my Cabinet become a Candidate for the Presidency or Vice-
      Presidency, it will be expected... that he will retire from the
      Cabinet... I will myself take no part between gentlemen of the
      Democratic Party who may become aspirants or candidates to succeed me
      in the Presidential office, and desire that no member of my Cabinet
      shall do so." Polk wanted no department head to use federal patronage
      to promote the interests of his personal political machine."

      At p. 166 Klein explains Polk's rationale in the selection of some of
      his cabinet members:

      "Polk appointed Buchanan to utilize his diplomatic experience and
      placate his faction in Pennsylvania. Robert J. Walker of Mississippi,
      a shrewd financier with a keen interest in Texas bonds and transport
      speculations, became head of the Treasury. He was a commercial man
      and a staunch advocate of free trade. He married a niece of Vice-
      President Dallas and favoured his party. William L. Marcy of New
      York, Secretary of War, was one of the Hunker leaders, an open enemy
      of Van Buren. George Bancroft of Massachusetts, Secretary of the
      Navy, had led the movement to introduce Polk's name to the Baltimore
      convention. John Young Mason of Virginia, Attorney General, and Cave
      Johnson of Tennessee, Postmaster General, completed Polk's cabinet."
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