The Double Career of James Polk
By (author) William Dusinberre
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Slavemaster President by William Dusinberre
Book DescriptionJames Polk was President of the United States from 1845 to 1849, a time when slavery began to dominate American politics. Polk's presidency coincided with the eruption of the territorial slavery issue, which within a few years would lead to the catastrophe of the Civil War. Polk himself owned substantial cotton plantations- in Tennessee and later in Mississippi- and some 50 slaves. Unlike many antebellum planters who portrayed their involvement with slavery as a historical burden bestowed onto them by their ancestors, Polk entered the slave business of his own volition, for reasons principally of financial self-interest. Drawing on previously unexplored records, Slavemaster President recreates the world of Polk's plantation and the personal histories of his slaves, in what is arguably the most careful and vivid account to date of how slavery functioned on a single cotton plantation. Life at the Polk estate was brutal and often short. Fewer than one in two slave children lived to the age of fifteen, a child mortality rate even higher than that on the average plantation. A steady stream of slaves temporarily fled the plantation throughout Polk's tenure as absentee slavemaster. Yet Polk was in some respects an enlightened owner, instituting an unusual incentive plan for his slaves and granting extensive privileges to his most favored slave. Startlingly, Dusinberre shows how Polk sought to hide from public knowledge the fact that, while he was president, he was secretly buying as many slaves as his plantation revenues permitted. Shortly before his sudden death from cholera, the president quietly drafted a new will, in which he expressed the hope that his slaves might be freed-but only after he and his wife were both dead. The very next day, he authorized the purchase, in strictest secrecy, of six more very young slaves. By contrast with Senator John C. Calhoun, President Polk has been seen as a moderate Southern Democratic leader. But Dusinberre suggests that the president's political stance toward slavery- influenced as it was by his deep personal involvement in the plantation system- may actually have helped precipitate the Civil War that Polk sought to avoid.
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Book DetailsISBN: 9780195157352
(241mm x 162mm x 21mm)
Imprint: Oxford University Press Inc
Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc
Publish Date: 1-Mar-2003
Country of Publication: United States
Books By Author William Dusinberre
Slavemaster President, Paperback (February 2008)
Originally published: New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Them Dark Days, Hardback (September 1995)» View all books by William Dusinberre
The book represents a close study of slavery in the rice plantations of South Carolina and Georgia. The emphasis is principally on the human relations of slavery, both black and white. The book presents unique insights on how the institution of slavery actually functioned in the Antebellum American South.
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Author Biography - William Dusinberre
William Dusinberre is author of the award-winning Them Dark Days: Slavery in the American Rice Swamps.
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