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Portsmouth Pomp for President Polk

PRESIDENTIAL VISIT IN 1847  (continued)


Friendly Enemies

President Polk on SeacoastNH.comudge Woodbury's welcome continued in the same flowery vein for several more paragraphs. In the course of it, he called attention to the importance of the Navy Yard, and the key location of Fort Constitution. At the time of President Polk's visit to the town, Congress had just authorized a dry dock for the Navy Yard after years of agitation for it and Woodbury dwelt on the matter: 'We look anxiously toward the means of public usefulness increased here by the Dry Dock which has been happily authorized under your administration; cherishing as we do as strong conviction that such expenditures tend to render imperishable that great principle, now embodied into the American code of public law --- Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute."

When the dry dock came into being, nearly five years later, it was of the floating variety, and was built on Pierce Island and then floated to the Navy Yard. The Journal's reporter found himself in the sad position, for a newsman, of not being able to hear the President's reply to Woodbury's speech. The Journal was strongly anti-Polk, anti-slavery and anti-war, but its coverage of the event was fair. When Polk finished speaking, he was taken inside the building and there introduced to local citizens, and members of his suite were introduced. Among these was James Buchanan, then secretary of state, but who would become the 15th president.

From Congress Hall, the party rode out to Judge Woodbury's mansion at Elm Place, just off present-day Woodbury Avenue. The fine old house is gone, razed to make way for the Woodbury Manor housing project. After enjoying the judge's hospitality, the party returned in town and went to the Rockingham House for a lunch prepared by the owner, Thomas Coburn. That structure, too, is gone, destroyed by fire in 1884.

Bad Boys Burning

Angry bad boys burn carriage in Polk visit protest / SeacoastNH.comBy one o'clock, the President left Portsmouth for Newburyport, where he arrived at 1:45. Nowhere in the Journal's coverage is there any mention of the fact that a gang of youths really had the town jumping in the early hours of the Fourth. The tale is told in the famous novel "Story of a Bad Boy" by Portsmouth's famed writer Thomas Bailey Aldrich. In the ground breaking 1869 novel, a gang of local boys wreck havoc by burning an old stagecoach in the middle of Market Square.

What had brought about the wild night was the usual ineptness of public officials. They had ordained that there would be no Fourth of July celebration because of President Polk's visit on Monday the 5th. Portsmouth youths then and now are not easily intimidated, and the police had a pretty rough night on the Fourth. Overworked, President Polk died soon after his one term ended. It would take another 20 years before Thomas Bailey Aldrich told the world of his momentous night during the President's visit to Portsmouth.

By Ray Brighton. Edited by Reprinted courtesy of the pub lisher.

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Rambles About Portsmouth, by Raymond Brighton, Portsmouth Marine Society, Peter Randall Publisher, 1993 Reprinted by permission of the publisher. © 1994 Portsmouth Marine Society










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