Thursday, November 04, 2010

James K. Polk, #11

now finished:
Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America by Walter R. Borneman

One of my favorite things about this book is in the photos section in the middle: the first picture of a president's cabinet, taken in 1846. It's so exciting to think about how new and exciting daguerrotype and photography were for them! After reading my first ten president bios, and flipping through a few reprints of painted portraits in this Polk book, there it was: a photo of the Cabinet. Which, by the way, included Mason, Marcy, Walker, Bancroft and a man named Cave Johnson (the Tennessee peeps had some fantastic names during this period of U.S. history!) James Buchanan was also in Polk's cabinet, but he was absent on picture day.

I liked this book, although it wasn't really a bio that takes you into the life of Polk so much as the expansion of the country and how his presidency related to that. Still, it was interesting, and I got enough into him to be very, very sad when he died a mere three months after leaving office. He had a diary going on, and his last entry was back in Tennessee with Sarah at their house where they were planning to kick it and relax and retire, and he's "arranging my library of books in presses which I had caused to be made to hold them." The last entry. Thirteen days later, he's gone, and Sarah is a widow for forty years.

He did irk me a lot during his presidency, basically just marching into Mexico and saying, "We want this land, so we're going to occupy it and take it, 'K, thanks." The United States is so not entitled to California, Arizona or New Mexico. AT ALL. The ranting "why don't they speak English" anti-illegal alien voices in the Southwest need to take it down a notch, for real, and read this book.

Texas is a whooooole other story.

"In politics," writes Borneman, "when the going gets tough, it's time for a road trip." He includes lots of information about Polk's travels, including back and forth across Tennessee. That was another really interesting part of the book for me, the growth and influence and people of Tennessee. There was Andrew Jackson, for starters: Old Hickory liked Polk, mentored him, and helped him get elected. The Tennessee governor and other campaigns involved visiting the eastern, middle, and western parts of Tennessee, which each had its own politics, people, ideology, lifestyle, and so forth.

The Baltimore 1844 convention and the way Jackson's/Polk's people worked out the nomination for Polk and not for Van Buren was nothing short of amazing. For that part alone it would be worth reading this book.

All in all, a good read. Still greatly enjoying my little prez bios project!

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