Newly published letters of President James K. Polk chronicle issues including campaign lies, US policy involving Latino and black Americans, and trade with China.
A digital volume of the Correspondence of James K. Polk, comprising letters from April 1848 to June 1849—the final months of Polk’s presidency and life—was recently published by Newfound Press. The letters illuminate the aftermath of the Mexican-American War, in which the United States acquired half of Mexico’s territory. The letters also discuss white Americans’ disputes with Latino and American Indian populations and debates over whether to permit slavery in the territory.
Michael David Cohen, UT research associate professor of history, is the James K. Polk Project editor. The Polk letters, gathered from the Library of Congress and other repositories, illuminate the personal life and business affairs of one of the most private men to occupy the presidency.
Polk, a former Tennessee governor and congressman, served as the 11th US president from 1845 to 1849. During his term, the US won the war against Mexico and settled the northwestern boundary with Canada, increasing the country in size by one third.
The volume also features letters on the presidential campaign of 1848, the founding of the Democratic National Committee, and the election of Zachary Taylor, the first president with no prior political experience. Other letters address controversies over press censorship, a government sale of military weapons, and an accusation that Polk had lied during his own campaign in 1844.
The Correspondence of James K. Polk publishes the thousands of letters that Polk wrote and received. The 13 previous volumes are available in print from UT Press and online, for free, from Newfound Press.
“The print and digital volumes are crucial resources for scholars and students researching America before the Civil War,” Cohen said. “They offer a glimpse into war, politics, diplomacy, economics, society, and culture in antebellum America.”
The digital volume includes 364 letters. Their authors and recipients include Queen Victoria, Cuban revolutionary Ambrosio J. Gonzalez, and Maha Raja Apurva Krishna Bahadur, the poet laureate of India.
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