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Portsmouth Pomp for President Polk

James K Polk

Instigating war with Mexico, spreading slavery, James K. Polk was not beloved by Portsmouth citizens generally. But he got a civil welcome here. President Polk almost ran smack into "bad boy" Thomas Bailey Aldrich during his 1847 visit to Seacoast, New Hampshire.




SEE: Next visits by Franklin Pierce and Ulysses S Grant

James K Polk 11th President / Library of Commerce, American MemoryPresident James Knox Polk (1745 - 1849) was not like other presidents who had visited the Seacoast. At 49 he was the youngest chief executive in history and a southerner to boot. So close a protégé of Andrew Jackson, Polk was nicknamed "Young Hickory", and after twice losing re-election as governor of Tennessee, Polk went on to become the nation's first dark horse presidential candidate. A declared one-term President, Polk's expansionism led to the giant US addition of Texas and California and set the stage for the battle over slavery that soon split the nation into Civil War. He died just months after his term ended. In this article, historian Ray Brighton makes the connection between Polk's visit and the most famous Fourth of July in Portsmouth history. --- JDR

President Polk is Coming!

After the visits of George Washington and James Monroe, 30 years and five presidents came and went before another chief executive graced the streets of New Hampshire’s old port city. President James Polk ran into some antipathy in the course of his visit. It was his lot to be presiding over an unpopular war, the one with Mexico from 1846 to 1847.

Some hint of the problems President Polk faced is contained in a strongly worded item in the Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics on June 26th, 1847:    

"BUENA VISTA -- This according to the New Hampshire Gazette is to be the watch-word for the Polk War Party at the coming election. This is well. Let it be understood, then that we are not called upon to decide between a federalist and some other 'ist', but to vote for or against Mr. Polk's war for conquest and slavery. Those who are fond of war and blood-shed, those who approve of extravagance and waste and great loans and burdensome taxes, will vote for a representative who will act as Mr. Polk pleases."

"But those who are opposed to war," the newspaper continued, "who do not approve of slavery, who are not anxious for conquest, and who deem our present debt and present taxes large enough, will vote for a representative whose views agree with their own. Let the issues in this contest be War and Slavery on the one side -- Peace and Freedom on the other."

As indicated in this emotional article, an election for seats in the National Congress was brewing, and in June, 1847, President Polk took to the road to campaign for his policies. In the same issue of the Journal was a brief item from Baltimore in which President Polk reportedly said in a speech that he wouldn't be a candidate for re-election under any circumstances. The Journal gave the Boston Post as the source for the President's itinerary. He was heading toward Boston, via New York, and due there on June 29th. The next day he planned to move on to Lowell, and then July lst he was to be in Concord, NH. The next day he would go to Portland, Maine. The Journal added:

"Letters have been received in this town, stating the President may make a short visit to Portsmouth, probably after visiting Maine. No certain arrangement, however, has yet been made. However, it didn't take Portsmouth long to get up a full head of steam in planning to receive the eleventh leader of the United States."  . ."


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