Archive for the ‘Young Hickory’ Tag

Portraits: James Polk   Leave a comment

James Knox Polk (1795 – 1849)

Polk is the first President with an extant photograph.

Polk is the first President with an extant photograph.

The 11th President of the United States, 1845 – 1849

AKA: Napoleon of the Stump, Young Hickory

From: North Carolina, Tennessee

College: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Married to: Sarah Childress

Children: None

Party: Democratic

Previous Jobs: Planter, Tennessee State Senator, lawyer, US Representative, Speaker of the House, Governor of Tennessee

In His Words:  “It becomes us, in humility, to make our devout acknowledgments to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, for the inestimable civil and religious blessings with which we are favored.”

“Thank God, under our Constitution there was no connection between church and state.”

“With me it is emphatically true that the presidency is ‘no bed of roses.'”

“I am heartily rejoiced that my term is so near its close. I will soon cease to be a servant and will become a sovereign.”

“I love you Sarah. For all eternity, I love you.” (his last words)

Not true: Or perhaps it is true that Polk lied us into the Mexican War (again, we should all believe that history does repeat itself!).  If he lied.  See?  It’s just like what happened with the Iraqi War!  But back to 1845.

Polk was determined to obtain California from Mexico, extending the US borders from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  When the Mexicans turned down $15 million, Polk ordered Zachary Taylor to occupy an area claimed by Mexico — and the US — near the Texas border.  After the Mexicans attacked, Polk asked Congress for a declaration of war because the Mexicans had “spilled American blood on American soil.”  Opposition parties strongly doubted Polk’s characterization of the facts.  Abraham Lincoln specifically doubted Polk’s veracity on the issue.

Congress approved the declaration of war.  Just like in 2003 — if you believe the Republican President lied then, and the Democratic President lied in 1846.

True: Polk was in poor health growing up.  When his pain became intolerable, he had an operation to remove urinary stones.  Only brandy was used as an anesthetic, but the surgery was successful.  Unfortunately, it may have left him sterile; he did not have children.

Though “Hail To The Chief” was first used to honor George Washington in 1815 at the close of the War of 1812, it became a tradition with the entrance of President Polk 30 years later. Due to his small size (he was 5′-8″), his wife was afraid he might not be noticed when he entered a room.  Therefore, the band was always requested to play “Hail To The Chief,” and with a great flourish of drums, a path was cleared for President Polk to enter the room.

Polk is the only President who also served as Speaker of the House.

Polk believed that Federal money should not be spent on internal improvements like roads and canals.

Though an efficient and competent president and deft in his handling of Congress, he was exhausted by his efforts and did not seek reelection; he died three months after leaving office.

The Official Portrait: 1858 portrait was by George Healy.  He painted more portraits, and of more eminent people, than any other painter of his day.  He also painted the official White House portrait of Millard Fillmore.James K Polk, Official Presidential Portrait

James Polk signature

Portraits: Franklin Pierce   Leave a comment

Franklin Pierce (1804 – 1869)

The 14th President of the United States, 1853 – 1857

AKA: Young Hickory of the Granite Hills, Handsome Frank (proof that most never saw him!)

From: New Hampshire

College: Bowdoin College, Northampton Law School

Married to: Jane Appleton

Children: Franklin, Frank Robert, Benjamin

Party: Democrat

Previous Jobs: Lawyer, state representative, US Representative, US Senator

In His Words:  “You have summoned me in my weakness. You must sustain me by your strength.”

“Do we not all know that the cause of our casualties is the vicious intermeddling of too many of the citizens of the Northern States with the constitutional rights of the Southern States, cooperating with the discontents of the people of those states? Do we not know that the disregard of the Constitution, and of the security that it affords to the rights of States and of individuals, has been the cause of the calamity which our country is called to undergo? And now, war! war, in its direst shape — war, such as it makes the blood run cold to read of in the history of other nations and of other times — war, on a scale of a million of men in arms — war, horrid as that of barbaric ages, rages in several of the States of the Union, as its more immediate field, and casts the lurid shadow of its death and lamentation athwart the whole expanse, and into every nook and corner of our vast domain.”

“Frequently the more trifling the subject, the more animated and protracted the discussion.”

Not true: Pierce was branded a coward by some after he passed out and was carried from the battlefield at the Battle of Churubusco, part of the Mexican American War.  Here’s what happened:

In 1847, Pierce was serving in the US Army, and was promoted to Brigadier General.  He took command of the army marching on Mexico City.  During the Battle of Contreras, he was injured when his horse stepped into a crevice, breaking its leg and pinning Pierce underneath.  Contemporary accounts say he was seriously injured, including a sprained knee.

He returned to the battlefield the next day, but had to be tied into the saddle.  His pain proved to be so great, however, that he passed out and had to be carried from the field.  His political opponents branded him a coward.  However, in his memoirs, Ulysses S Grant (who was not a political ally of Pierce’s) said that the negative description was “unfair and unjust.”  He further stated that Pierce was “a gentleman and a man of courage.”

Pierce returned to command and led his brigade in its capture of Mexico City.

True:  Pierce saw much tragedy in his life.  For example, all 3 of his sons died before he was inaugurated as President.

Franklin Pierce was the first President to have a Christmas tree in the White House.  He was also the first to install a bathtub in the White House, which was somewhat controversial, as many people of the time thought taking baths was not healthy and would make you sick.

Pierce gave his 3,319-word inaugural address from memory, without the aid of notes.

During his administration, bloodshed over the issue of slavery followed the passage of Kansas-Nebraska Act, which repealed the Missouri Compromise and re-opened the question of slavery in the West.  Pierce worked with Senator Stephen A Douglas, who was advocating building a railroad to the west from Chicago, while simultaneously asserting that it was each state’s right to decide the question of slavery in their territory.  Part of that effort resulted in the purchase of what is now the southern part of Arizona and New Mexico for $10,000,000 from Mexico.

Pierce was the only elected President who sought but did not win his party’s nomination for a second term.

The Official Portrait: George Healy painted the official White House portrait of Franklin Pierce in 1858 after an earlier sitting in 1853.  Healy painted most of the presidents in the mid-19th century.

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