Polk, the only president to have served as Speaker, signed on the title page.
James K. Polk was young congressman from Tennessee in the late 1820’s, and a supporter of Andrew Jackson. The men corresponded during the presidential 1828 campaign, and when Jackson took office as President in 1829, Polk supported and sustained his policies. In August 1833, after being elected to this fifth term, Polk...
James K. Polk was young congressman from Tennessee in the late 1820’s, and a supporter of Andrew Jackson. The men corresponded during the presidential 1828 campaign, and when Jackson took office as President in 1829, Polk supported and sustained his policies. In August 1833, after being elected to this fifth term, Polk became the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which controlled the nation’s purse. This meant that Jackson had a reliable friend heading the committee. In June 1834, Speaker of the House Andrew Stevenson resigned, leaving the spot for speaker open. Polk ran against fellow Tennessean John Bell for Speaker, and, after ten ballots, Bell won. However, in 1835, Polk, with Jackson’s support, ran against Bell for Speaker again and won.
As Speaker, Polk worked for Jackson's policies, and Martin Van Buren's when he succeeded Jackson in 1837. Polk was a loyal Democrat, and he appointed committees with Democratic chairs and majorities. The two major issues during his speakership were slavery and the economy, in the wake of the Panic of 1837. Van Buren and Polk faced pressure to rescind the Specie Circular, an act that had been signed by Jackson that required that payment for government lands be in gold and silver. However, with support from Polk, Van Buren chose to stick with Jackson’s program. He also issued the infamous gag rule on petitions from abolitionists, which John Quincy Adams so notably opposed. Polk was Speaker for two terms before returning to Tennessee to serve as governor. Throughout these years, Polk attempted to make a more orderly House.
Polk remains the only president who served as Speaker of the House.
“The Manual of Parliamentary Practice for the Use of the Senate of the United States” was written by Thomas Jefferson, and was the first American book on parliamentary procedure. Jefferson saw the need because as vice president he served as the Senate's presiding officer from 1797 to 1801. During these four years, Jefferson worked on various texts and, in early 1801, started to assemble them into a single manuscript for the Senate's use. The manual was arranged in fifty-three categories, and each section included the appropriate rules and practices of the British Parliament along with the applicable texts from the U.S. Constitution and the thirty-two Senate rules that existed in 1801. That year he decided to have the manuscript printed.
It was not until 1828 that Jefferson’s work was expanded and revised into a complete rules manual for Congress. That year the authoritative manual was printed under the name “The Constitution of the United States of America: The Rules of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives: With Jefferson’s Manual.” It was printed in Washington by the renowned editor and printer, Duff Green. The manual contained a printing of the U.S. Constitution, Rules for Conducting Business in the Senate of the United States, Joint Rules of the Two Houses, Standing Rules and Orders for Conducting Business in the House of Representatives of the United States, and Jefferson’s Manual of Parliamentary Practice for the Use of the Senate of the United States, along with the respective indices. In the years after publication, the manual was used by vice presidents in their capacity as the Senate’s presiding officer, and by House Speakers.
This copy of that manual was owned by Speaker of the House James K. Polk, and has his signature on the title page. He clearly used it as Speaker. A relative that owned the book subsequently has placed his ownership signature on the cover.
Signed books of any kind from Polk’s library are very scarce, with our public sale database showing none reaching the market in about two decades. This one, associating Jefferson, Jackson and Polk, and relating to Polk’s Speakership, was last sold by Goodspeed’s of Boston in 1986.
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