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    James K. Polk Superb Campaign Autograph Letter Signed: During his presidential campaign, the Democratic nominee directs the vindication of his grandfather against Whig charges that he was a Tory during the American Revolution.

    Signed: "James K. Polk", one page, 7.75" x 9.75". Columbia, August 24, 1844. Addressed on the postmarked integral leaf by Polk to: "Col. Saml. H. Laughlin/Nashville/Tennessee". The address leaf is docketed by Laughlin: "Hon. J.K. Polk/Aug. 24, 1844./Wrote to him Sept. 2, 1844/that I had waited ten/days for Com. from L.V./Henry-before publishing/papers left by E. Polk." The letter is headed by Polk: "(Private)." In full: "My Dear Sir: Dr. Ramsey writes to me expressing some concern for fear that he may be given as authority - for part of an article which appeared in the Union some time ago, upon the subject of Ezekiel Polk's Revolutionary services. You will of course make no reference to the Doctor as the author of the letter from which you quoted. If Edwin Polk left the additional proofs of Ezekiel Polk's services with you, publish them in the Union as soon as you can, and then let the matter rest. I see the National Intelligencer attempts to ward off the form of the charges now proved to be false, by insinuating that the charge of Toryism was started by my friends in order to draw off the public attention from other more important matters. This shows that they see it is recoiling on them. You will find the article in the Intelligencer of the 15th instant. A short notice of this may be proper, but without taking up much of your paper about it. Your friend."

    The 1844 Democratic National Convention was held in Baltimore, May 27-30, 1844. There were 266 votes cast. A two-thirds majority, 177, was need for nomination. On the first ballot, former President Martin Van Buren had 146 votes, former Governor of Michigan Territory Lewis Cass had 83 votes, and former Vice President Richard M. Johnson had 24 votes. On each successive ballot, Van Buren's vote total lessened and Cass's votes rose until Cass passed Van Buren on the fifth ballot. On the eighth ballot, Cass had 114 to Van Buren's 104, still a long way from 177. But there was a new name on the ballot: former Governor of Tennessee James K. Polk with 44 votes. New Yorkers switched their support of Van Buren to Polk and, on the ninth ballot, James K. Polk received 233 votes and his nomination was made unanimous. He was the first "dark horse" candidate nominated for President. Earlier in May, the Whigs had nominated Henry Clay on the first ballot by acclamation. Their widely circulated slogan "Who is James K. Polk?" represented the Whig charge of Polk's personal obscurity and insignificance, particularly compared to the national prominence of Clay. Whigs spread a lie that Polk's grandfather Ezekiel was a Tory during the Revolutionary War. Polk took personal charge of this accusation. As is evident by this letter, Polk treated the charge against his grandfather very seriously. He devoted far more time and energy to these charges than to any other issue in the campaign. His old friend Dr. James G.M. Ramsey spent practically his whole time during the campaign gathering evidence and writing refutations. Under Polk's direction, Col. Laughlin published a pamphlet, "A Vindication of Colonel Ezekiel Polk" and ten thousand copies were distributed.

    Ezekiel Polk (1747-1824) was, in fact, a surveyor in North Carolina and, in the Revolutionary War, was a Captain in the North Carolina Militia. After his property was occupied by the British, he joined the South Carolina Militia and became Lieutenant Colonel of the 12th Regiment.

    Edwin Polk (1818-1854) was a member of the Tennessee State Legislature and was James K. Polk's cousin.

    Col. Samuel H. Laughlin (1796-1850) was a lawyer, Tennessee State Senator (1838-1844), and editor of the Nashville Union (1840-1843). President Polk appointed him Recorder of the General Land Office (1845-1850).

    Dr. James G. M. Ramsey (1797-1884) was a physician, banker, railroad advocate, scholar, and staunch secessionist. An historian of Tennessee's early settlement history, Dr. Ramsey published The Annals of Tennessee to the End of the Eighteenth Century in 1853. In 1861, Ramsey was a staunch states' rights Democrat who publicly supported secession and served as a treasury agent and field surgeon for the Confederacy. After the war, he was granted amnesty by friend and fellow Tennessean, President Andrew Johnson.

    Democrat James K. Polk defeated Whig Henry Clay in the election. Polk won 170 electoral votes (15 states) to Clay's 105 votes (11 states). It was disappointing to Polk that not only didn't he win Tennessee, but his hometown of Columbia went for Clay.

    The integral leaf is addressed by Polk. There is a small nick at the left edge as a result of the letter being opened by Laughlin. This full page letter is in extra fine condition. ALsS of Polk have always been scarce because of his relatively short time on the national political scene and the fact that he died just three months after leaving the White House. Presidential campaign letters written by a candidate elected President, especially those with family content, are rarely encountered and this one concerning a personal attack on the nominee's grandfather is particularly desirable and would be an exceptional addition to a presidential collection. From the Gary Grossman Collection.


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    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    April, 2007
    16th-17th Monday-Tuesday
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