History In Music- “James K. Polk” by They Might Be Giants. A week ago I featured the They Might Be Giants single “Istanbul [Not Constantinople} – today I am flipping over that single and writing about and playing the b-side- ‘James K. Polk”- on this date in 1846 President James K. Polk asked for a Declaration of War against Mexico -it would be approved two days later- starting the Mexican-American War.
First the song- John Linnell and his friend a history buff named Mathew Hill. They were sitting around talking about obscure presidents and Polk’s name came up. They were talking about how you can’t write a song that is just fact based- so this song they wrote was just that- no editorializing just the facts- they did get a few facts a little wrong- Van Buren wasn’t an abolitionist – he was just against the expansion of slavery and Oregon wasn’t purchased during the Polk presidency it was just divided up between the UK and US with the Oregon Treaty of 1846. Other than that they got their facts right- again like “Istanbul” – “James K. Polk” is a quirky They Might Be Giants tune.
Some fun facts on POTUS #11 James K. Polk.
- Polk, from Tennessee was a protege of Andrew Jackson. His nickname was “Young Hickory.”- after Jackson’s “Old Hickory.”
- I would rank Polk as the best one term POTUS. When he ran he said he would serve only one term and that is what he did. He had a few goals-1. Lower tariffs 2-Make a compromise with the United Kingdom to acquire the Oregon Territory 3-Establish and Independent Treasury and 4- Obtain California from Mexico. He achieved his goals and went home after four years.
- His chief advisor was his wife Sarah- who may be the most underrated First Lady. She was an educated lady who helped him write his speeches, gave him political advise and played an active role in his political campaigns. They had no children.
- Polk from all accounts was a hard working, serious man who outside of his wife didn’t trust many others. After leaving The White House- he went back home to Tennessee and promptly died just over three months later. Some believe he had simply worked himself to death- he was only 53. Sarah outlived him by 42 years which is both the longest a First Lady outlived her husband and the longest ‘retirement’ period for a First Lady.
- The television character Al Bundy from “Married With Children” went to James K. Polk High School.
- Polk is currently buried at the Tennessee State Capitol Building in Nashville. There has been a movement to have to Polk’s moved back to their home in Columbia, Tennessee.