tv First Ladies Influence Image - Sarah Polk Margaret Taylor Abigail... CSPAN July 4, 2020 11:30am-1:06pm EDT
>> next on "the presidency," and encore from the c-span series "first ladies: influence and image." we will hear about sarah polk, who served alongside james k polk from 1845 to 1849. we will also hear about margaret taylor and abigail fillmore, first ladies during the administration of zachary taylor and millard fillmore.
♪ >> sarah polk was very up on diplomacy. her strong suit happened to be intelligent political discussion. >> she made no bones about the fact that she took no interest in politics and she was her husband's partner. >> she grew up in a political household in tennessee. her father was a local politician so she grew up loving politics. she married james after he won a seat in the legislature. she would not have married him had he been content to be a clerk. >> unfortunately for james k. polk, he died just three months after leaving the white house and sarah began a 42-year widowhood. it became a shrine to her husband. she would invite anybody who wanted to to come for a visit to see the objects they had accrued over there long and illustrious career. >> she lived there for many years on her own and during the civil war, generals on both sides would visit her to pay their respects. it was very interesting commentary on what a beloved status she still held.
>> she was earnest about her husband's work. she went to every post she could go to. she went through the arduous journey. she was very well-liked in the diplomatic community. they had met all kinds of people. friends and enemies and others. they had to make things work out. and things work out. they were very experienced people. frankly, they were more sophisticated than what was around them. >> she very much felt that women should develop their minds and cultivate scholarship as much as men. pretty pathbreaking at that point in history for a first lady to do. >> we know today that first ladies have causes. literacy and reading would have been abigail fillmore's cause. this bookshelf was part of the first white house library. >> she much preferred to be in her room with a good book. to standing in a receiving line making mindless chatter. >> we know abigail was a
wonderful seamstress. we do have her quilt here. a very colorful quilt. >> she was one of the true intellectuals. she loved reading. she was very caught up on politics. she likes very much being a part of all of the cultural accoutrements that came with living in washington. >> welcome to c-span's series "first ladies: influence and image." in this program, we will meet three first ladies. one, her husband's trusted political advisor. the next, a steadfast generals 's wife, and the third, a teacher who established the first white house library. they served during the 1840's and as the country continued to 1850's grow and tensions continued to mount over the issue of slavery. to introduce us to sarah polk, margaret taylor, and abigail fillmore, we have two historians at the table. meet conover hunt, author and historian an expert in historic preservation, and paul finkelman is a historian and legal scholar
based at albany law school, the author of a biography of millard fillmore. welcome to both of you. james k. polk is sometimes described as the least known influential president. would you agree with that and why? >> he is certainly not very well-known and he is certainly important. when he was nominated for president, he had no public office. he had twice lost the governorship of tennessee. before that, he was a one term governor and before that, a member of congress. so, he was a lawyer practicing law in tennessee, and he was what is known as the dark-horse candidate, the first dark-horse candidate. he had hoped to get the vice presidential nomination. that's what he was pushing for. suddenly in a deadlock convention out of nowhere, he is the nominee. most people don't know who he is. he becomes president and almost immediately puts us in a position to have a war with mexico. he pushes for the war. he is prepared to declare war on
mexico and sends troops, including zachary taylor, who would be the next president, to the mexican border in an area that is completely disputed and all international law says it saysgs to mexico, but polk it is american. while he is there, they go to his cabinet and they vote on a saturday afternoon to ask for a declaration of war against mexico. that night, he gets a message because it takes a long time to get information from mexico to washington. that night, he gets a message that taylor's troops had been in combat. and so he rewrites his message to congress saying, "american troops have been killed on american soil." abraham lincoln would later give a speech known as a spot speech in which he would say, "show us the spot where it took place," because it wasn't on american soil. so, he gets us into war with mexico. we acquire mexico. all of this is very important. it also means the complete
blow-up of all of the sectional compromises and pushes the country headlong into what would ultimately be secession and civil war. but we don't know anything about him. susan: well, and his wife is also on frequently -- when you do modern historical surveys of influential first ladies, his wife was always on the top tier. conover: always. susan: why is that? conover: she was truly a political partner with her husband. they did not have children at a time when women were expected to be mothers, and hearth and home, the keepers of the faith. but she was very much her husband's political equal and his partner. she never went too far within the boundaries of what a proper victorian or early victorian lady should be in the 19th century. but everyone knew that they shared an office in the private
apartments. she was active in discussions at the many state dinners they had. and he would ask her to mark newspapers and articles for him to read. she was a sounding board. when franklin pierce became president, he told her husband that he would much rather talk politics with sarah polk than with james polk. and yet the women of the time accepted her. she was very pious, very religious, a very strict presbyterian. she did not allow dancing in the white house. she got rid of hard liquor. but they had wines and, of course, and brandies with the frequent dinners they had. and she was not a prude, but she was very much a woman who knew what she wanted and set her rules out and everyone had to play according to those rules. and she was respected for it. she was very, very popular. susan: well, to introduce you to
the polks by video, we're going to take you to the polk ancestral home. the house that the polks lived in together no longer exists, but this historic site contains much of the history of the family. we'll take you there next. [begin video clip] >> this is the inaugural fan. it's an incredible piece of history. it was a gift from president polk or president-elect polk to his wife, sarah. she carried it with her on the day of his inauguration. it's gilt paper with bone styles ornately carved and it features the lithographic images of the first 11 presidents from washington all the way through james k. polk. she carried it with her throughout the festivities of the inauguration in the spring of 1845. the back is as beautiful as the front and features a lithographic image of the signing of the declaration of independence. the polks came into the white house a young vibrant couple but amidst a democratic party that was widely split. it was one of the reasons why james k. polk said he would run
for a single term only and then step down. so, sarah polk used the white house and her time as the president's wife to enhance her husband's political prestige. dining in the polk white house was a serious affair. twice a week on tuesdays and fridays, mrs. polk would entertain 50 to 75 people coming to dinner. the china that they used was beautiful. the polk china is considered some of the most beautiful of the white house china. it features the presidential seal embossed along the side band. the dinner set is white embossed with gold. they had a tea set that was blue, and they had a dessert set in green. you'll often read that mrs. polk didn't allow alcohol in the white house, that her presbyterian upbringing precluded that from happening. it's not exactly the case. she stopped the serving of whiskey punches at public levees in the polk white house but wine was one of their largest bills during their years there. one of the more interesting objects in the collection sort of speaks to sarah and her ability with music as well. we have a music book that has
handwritten notations and one of the songs featured inside is the song "hail to the chief," which she of course is credited with starting as the official presidential anthem during her time as first lady. [end video clip] susan: i wanted to ask about that "hail to the chief" because a little controversy has erupted between our last program with the tylers who are also claiming that they introduced "hail to the chief," and the polks who as you can see make it part of their history. is there a definitive answer on that? do either of you have it? conover: i won't touch it. [laughter] conover: i don't care. paul: it came about in the 1840's. it's possible that the tylers used it and the polks confirmed its use. it's kind of antiquarian silliness to worry about something like that. there are so many more important things to talk about. susan: you drew a contrast with julia tyler who ended her brief tenure eight months as first
lady by throwing a huge party as they left the white house. with sarah polk more in touch with the times? conover: sarah polk was -- historian william seale calls it an imperial presidency. meaning, that the couple thought the office of the presidency and the white house as the official executive residence needed to be highly respected. and so there was more formal protocol and so on. it was a very liberal approach. you could come with an introduction to any of their receptions, because polk was a democrat. but at the same time, she dressed. he dressed. people were well dressed. there were more formal dinners. there were multiple courses. and it was considered an honor
to be at the white house. basically sarah polk said, "dancing at the white house is not dignified." susan: and she was known for her frugality. does the president still making a $25,000 a year salary and expenses for the white house events have to be paid out of that salary? but how was her frugality seen by the washington and american public? conover: i can do that. paul: i will let her take that one. conover: she reorganized the staffing of the white house. sarah polk was a very well-organized woman. and what she did was she hired a sort of a steward. they brought in their own servants and got rid of the some of the paid staff at the white house. she then got her steward to cut deals with the various vendors, grocers, and so on in the washington area. and if they gave them significant discounts, they would give them the royal seal, as it were. so they say -- susan: the first endorsement. conover: [laughter] right. by her majesties, whatever. you know, it's the american version of that, but kept rather quiet. but if, you know, if you want us to buy all of your rolls for all
of our white house dinners which were a lot, then by god, you're going to have to give us a discount. and it worked. they were very, very frugal in that way, always, during the entire time they were married. susan: and just to clarify, when you say she brought in her own servants, these were slaves? conover: yes. they did have slaves. paul: i was about to say, she owned those servants. and that's important to understand that they come -- the polks come from very wealthy circumstances and they are slaveowners. and they bring a lot of assets with them. so again, they can afford to be president just as john tyler could afford to be president. susan: and we have a quote from her and i'd like to have you put this into context. she writes, "if i should be so fortunate as to reach the white house, i expect to live on $25,000 a year and i will neither keep house nor make butter." that the echoes of modern first ladies and baking a cookie, right? conover: almost like hilary clinton and the cookie.
the context of it is someone some had said "i think i'll vote for mr. clay," his opponent in the president, because they say that his wife keeps a good house and makes her own butter. and that was sarah's retort. the -- and by god, she did live on the $25,000 a year and she did not keep house. she ran a house. and she did not make butter, but she made sure that butter was made efficiently and that the place was run like a top. susan: looks like you had something you want to say. paul: i was going to say slave mistresses don't make butter unless they choose to make butter because they enjoy the handicraft of making butter. and it's important to see this both for sarah polk and for margaret taylor. susan: and i want to tell folks that this is as always an interactive program. you can see we're working facebook comments and tweets in already.
we also want to take your telephone calls and we'll put the phone numbers on the screen. and we'll begin at taking your phoned-in questions as well throughout our program here on our three first ladies we're featuring on this part of our series. you know, dolley madison has been an element of our series from the very beginning and this is dolley's last hurrah. conover: yes, it is. susan: what was dolley madison's role with the polk white house? conover: dolley madison's role was of course she has come back to washington. and sarah polk and dolley became very close. and dolley mentored sarah. and sarah also fed dolley. susan: which was important because she was -- she was ha very broke at the time. conover: treated her as the grande dame and honored her in all of their entertainments. they were the -- the two war first ladies, the war of 1812 and 30 years later, the mexican war. there are many, many parallels between dolley madison and sarah polk. the sense of self, the sense of
fashion, the understanding the role of the first lady in conveying the, you know, sort of indirect that would support her husband's presidency. and by the way, it's not easy to be a first lady during war. there were many, many detractors as the war went on. the -- but, i mean, polk went in and said "i'm going to do the following things in four years" and by god, he did. susan: this is also in the 1840s the first time we have had photography. conover: yes. susan: and we've got a fabulous photograph to show you on screen right now which brings together a number of these characters all in one place. here is -- are the polks and there is dolley madison, the second from the screen right, with her turban as we've been seeing her so often. conover: yes. susan: and we have an opportunity here to see harriet lane who served as a white house hostess later on, and sarah polk and dolley madison with james k. polk.
photography as a political tool, how do politicians absorb this new technology and begin to use it for benefit? paul: well, they're just beginning to figure this out. and you really don't get it i think until the 1850s and maybe the 1860 election when photography is everywhere. now, it is almost a novelty in the 1840s and it's not all that terrific. first of all, you have to sit for a long time. it's not a single-shot click and your picture is there. you have to actually sit there rigidly and not move while the photograph is being taken. so i think they are moving towards photography. what's much more important i think than photography is still the very sophisticated linotype and the sophisticated art in newspapers so you get a wonderful campaign posters that are being done from what when polk runs for example, currier,
who later becomes currier and ives, does a campaign poster for polk's opponent, henry clay, "justice to harry in the west" is a picture of henry clay. so, they are using that kind of technology. photography i think, you probably want to save for the fillmores and beyond. susan: we also have the first known photograph of the white house in this time period which we're going to show next. and we are i should say working with the white house historical association throughout this series. so as we look at this white house in 1846, i think that's the date on this photograph, sarah polk brought some innovations to the white house -- central heating and gas lighting. conover: well, she didn't actually bring them. let's say they arrived. and central heating and gas lighting, she did hold out when they put in the gas lights and insisted that the oval room at
the white house be left with candlelight. and when they turned on the gas lights, of course when they shut down the gas for the night, the whole white house during a reception went dark and yet the oval room was still lit with the beautiful candle lighting. there were experiments, but it ultimately saved the presidential family a lot of money because they had to heat the white house out of that $25,000 salary. and so these efficiencies did come in, starting with the polk's, well earlier but mainly the gas. susan: central heating in the white house must have been a great innovation. conover: central heating in the white house must have been a joke. [laughter] i don't think -- susan: why do you say that? conover: i don't think you would have been very warm. susan: it had to be better than the alternative. conover: right, yes. paul: well, you wonder though because a nice warm fireplace in the right room keeps that room warm. susan: true. paul: again, what we're -- what you're getting at which is always true for the white house,
for every presidency, is that technology is going to change the way presidents campaign, the way presidents portray themselves, and the way presidential families live. notice by the way, you just had a picture of polk up there. he's sitting there very stiff like this because that's what you had to do when you were getting a photograph taken. i just saw a picture of john kennedy giving a speech with his fist in the air and you can almost see the fist shaking in the photograph. you couldn't do that in those days. susan: so we have no sense of personalities so much in these photographs? paul: in fact we get a bad sense of personality because what we get is that these people are absolutely stiff and frozen and have no personality. they are dead. conover: well, they used a brace to keep them still. paul: they're not smiling. you don't smile in these pictures because it would be too hard to smile that long.
susan: gary robinson asked on twitter, conover hunt, what was sarah's educational background that allowed her to be so politically savvy and an equal to her famous husband? conover: one of the most advanced educations for a woman of her day. her father was a great believer in educating women. she and her older sister were educated at academies in murfreesboro, nashville, and then he sent them to the salem academy in winston-salem, the famous moravian school which is salem college today. it's 500 miles away. it took them a month to get there and they were there for two years. but she was unusually well educated for her time. and i think that atmosphere encouraged her to speak her mind and participate in discussions. she grew up in a political household. susan: this next question on twitter is one that we'll answer by video, dave murdock asked, did sarah's frugal ways also prevented her from lavish gowns and fashions, and did the american people see her as frugal? let's watch this video, again back at the polk historic site. and then, we'll talk with you about this because you've done some work on sarah polk's gowns. let's watch.
[video clip] >> how sarah looked was important to her, and i think certainly from the standpoint of how she looked and how she was perceived by the public. but i think she saw it also as a reflection on the presidency itself. she was known for having beautiful dresses and looking incredible in a white house that was equally beautiful. the blue dress is called robe de chambre. it was purchased in paris, france in 1840 by mrs. polk and worn by her late in the administration. it's basically a robe. it would be the undress-dress costume of a first lady. if she was taking visitors before she was properly dressed, this is the dress that she would wear. the white dress is a ball gown, also made in paris, france, a high-end fashion for the 1840s, v-cut in the center. it was a style that mrs. polk used again and again. we get the indication that she found a style that she liked and thought she looked good in and sort of kept with it. but it's a beautiful gown in silk and satin. it has a great deal of lace attached to it as well.
and mrs. polk again, always a frugal woman that she was, often purchased dresses and then would buy a great deal of material to go along with them so she could enhance them and change the way that they looked. so instead of having to buy five or six gowns, she would buy a single gown and then buy extra material to make them look differently. mrs. polk was a master at accessorizing. she had a wonderful collection of handbags and purses and reticules. and then of course, her jewelry was of the american mode in the 19th century. it was thought to be rather un-american for women to wear precious gems and semiprecious stones. instead, she would wear a gold and silver, french paste, and enamel wear. her headdresses are unusual. they're incredibly rare. so, few of these headdresses have survived from this time period because they're made out of silks and satins they tended to get worn out. but we have a wonderful collection of headdresses. and then one unusual piece, a turban which by the 1840s would have probably fallen a little
bit out of fashion. but of course, dolley madison was still alive during the polk administration and was a regular visitor to the polk white house. we wonder if sarah polk didn't adopt that style after mrs. madison. susan: conover hunt is the author of this cover story in the white house history magazine which is published by the white house historical association, showing that you've done a lot of work on sarah polk's approach to fashion and what that symbolized for her. what can you tell us about it? conover: she had a well-established sense of style from her childhood. she grew up with silks and satins. during the white house years, of course she dressed elegantly for evenings and receptions. but in the summer of 1847, they sent an order to paris for some gowns for the first lady, which was not the usual style, and all of the invoices survived, and so do the gowns, which is amazing. sort of the top designers in paris were asked to make some gowns for mrs. -- for the first lady.
this was usually done by a commercial agent that they had. jacob l. martin was the agent in paris. and so, he got the order and immediately found his good friend, madam moulton, quote "good friend", who went around the paris shops and they found a shop. madam manoury made three gowns which you've -- one at the smithsonian, is another of the pink one and the robe de chambre, and the blue gown at the smithsonian survived. but it was very unusual for her. now, this order for clothes, lots of accessories, cost about $450. dolley madison's order in 1811 costs $2000. [laughter] susan: wow. $2000 in dollars of those days? conover: the pink gown that you saw, it was -- had more lace on it which has now taken off, but
that costs $100. the green gowns were about $25 made by seamstresses in washington. but of course, the fabric would have been extra. susan: so, she was trying to find that sweet spot between frugality and image? conover: but she did it so well. everyone said that she was beautifully dressed. she had beautiful deportment. she carried herself like a lady, acted like a lady and was very gracious. susan: paul finkelman, at the same time we're learning about sarah polk and her sort of modern approach to being a political partner, what's happening to women at large in the united states? 1848 is the seneca falls convention. so what's going on with women overall? are they beginning to ask for more presence, power in society? paul: well, the 20 or 30 people at seneca falls are. and it's important to have some perspective on what is happening to women at this time. for most american women, not much is changing and not much is being asked.
the most important changes for women, the cutting edge of women in politics, is actually coming out of the antislavery movement. so that in the north, you have thousands and thousands of women who are politically active really for the first time in american history. in the -- starting in the 1830s, there's -- which is known as the "great petition campaign." and literally hundreds of thousands of petitions show up in washington asking congress to do things like not annex texas because it was seen as a great slave conspiracy, which it was, to repeal the fugitive slave law, to end slavery in the district of columbia. and many of these petitions were gathered by women and many women signed these petitions. so what you get is women actively participating in politics to change america for the better. the other great women's movement is the temperance movement and women are very active in the temperance movement. they're active in movements to prevent prostitution.
and these are things that are, of course, are close to what would be considered domesticity for women, but it's outside the house. it's out in the public space. and what's fascinating is that someone like sarah polk probably with the exception of temperance would have been appalled at what most of these activist women were asking for. eventually, of course, in about 1848, some of the abolitionist women along with a few men such as frederick douglass who's at the 1848 convention are asking for the right to vote for women. and that of course is a long time in coming, but it's beginning at this time. susan: ted is on the phone from jackson, mississippi. hi, ted, what's your question? >> hi, yes. i'd like to know -- i'd like to know who ran against james k. polk when he was running for president. and did sarah polk play a part in getting her husband elected? susan: thanks very much. paul: well, polk runs against
henry clay of kentucky and clay had run for president twice before this. clay believes it's his turn to become president. he expects it will be a cakewalk to the presidency because no one's heard of polk. but clay makes a number of mistakes during the campaign, and in the end in a very close vote, clay loses to polk. oddly enough, clay carries polk's home state of tennessee, but polk carries new york which has the biggest number of electoral votes. and when he carries new york, that puts him into the white house. conover: yes. the issue of a presidential campaign at that time is very different from what we see today. it was considered proper for the candidate to be called to office. the campaigning -- active campaigning went for state offices like the governor. but the candidates did not show
up at the nominating conventions. and afterwards when they were drafted and accepted the nomination, they were letter sent to the editor. very professor finkelman: no stump speeches at all. ms. hunt: sarah was her husband's campaign manager for his campaigns. but during the presidential campaign, it was very much, basically, a lot of them said, whatever you do, don't say anything. [laughter] professor finkelman: when polk ran for congress, he would canvass the district. when he ran for governor, he ran -- went all over the state of tennessee as no other candidate had before. one wonders what was going on in polk's mind when nominated for president, he had to sit home and essentially do nothing except write letters. ms. swain: next is a question
for mary. >> i heard somewhere that barbara bush is related to the polk's and she used their dinner service while george bush was in the office. ms. hunt: i don't know. that's a good question. ms. swain: we are going to go back in time now and learn about how that political partnership came together. you told us that sarah was from a wealthy family. how did she and james meet? ms. hunt: they ran in the same circles. probably either through andrew jackson or through her own father's family. polk graduated from the university of north carolina and then went into law and studied in nashville and became a clerk of the legislature. they met there or they met at andrew jackson's because the polk girls were often at the jackson's home.
certainly jackson is known, or we think he advised polk to marry her. it is commonly said she told polk she wouldn't marry him unless he ran for office. of course, he did, and they were married in 1824. andrew played something of a matchmaker? he and his wife rachel did not have any children of their own. they had many different young people that they took in. jackson would write to sarah and call her, my daughter. ms. swain: is it true that a nickname for sarah was the spanish madonna? ms. hunt: yes. ms. swain: where did that come from? ms. hunt: that was because she had extinct -- extremely dark hair and all of skin. they thought she looked european. exotic. ms. swain: the jackson's had no
children, but sarah and james also had no children. what is the impact of being freed up from housework and not having to do that and her ability to become a political partner? ms. hunt: i think they breezed into that through the years when they realized they weren't going to have children. by the same token, they spent a lot of time with nieces and nephews. sarah, as first lady, brought her nieces into the white house to help her with entertaining and returning calls because she did not return calls. as first lady she did not do it. which was a change in tradition. then of course when she was a widow, she had a nice and a great niece who lived with her. professor finkelman: can i also add, had they had children, she would have had slaves who raised them. she might have slaves who would have been wet nurses when the children were infants. the notion of the burden of
families for someone like sarah polk would be very different than say, when we talk about abigail fillmore, who was a woman a very modest means and has to raise her own children without the help of a house full of slaves. ms. swain: sarah and james come to congress. what is washington like at that time and how involved was she in listening to congressional debates? ms. hunt: she was very actively involved. he went for the first term in the congress without her and never tried that again. she didn't like being left at home. it was often, at that time, that congressman lived in a boarding house and established a mess. several different elected officials living together. sharing meals and a parlor, and so on. they did that for years until he became speaker. then they had to have a larger apartment. she attended the sessions of congress.
she was very, very attentive to the issues of the day. the elected members of congress knew who were in the mess with knew she was very tuned in. ms. swain: polk makes it to speaker of the house. how does that happen? professor finkelman: he's a very good politician. the first time he runs for speaker, he loses. he loses to a man who will later run for president in 1860. then the next time around, he manages. part of it has to do with jacksonian politics. bulk is jackson's man in the house of representatives. when jackson has a strong majority in the house, polk gets to be speaker of the house. ms. swain: we have seen the ascendancy of the presidency, the ascendancy of congress. at this point in our history, which branch of government has more power? professor finkelman: i would say congress.
ms. swain: so, being the speaker was important? professor finkelman: being the speaker is not as powerful as being president. we should understand that. but in terms of the politics of america, more i think is happening in congress than in the presidency. i should add, however, that andrew jackson is an extraordinarily strong president who pushes the envelope of the presidency and alters the dynamics of the presidency. it reverts back when john tyler becomes president, he is very -- a very weak president. being speaker of the house was important. just as it is important today. ms. swain: it sounds like from this quote that sarah polk had a view of this. she wrote that the speaker is the proper person, and with the correct idea of his position, has even more influence over legislation and in directing the policy of the parties, then the
-- then the president. ms. hunt: polk, particularly in he became president, was a powerful president in terms of waging war. he pulled a lot of power into the executive branch. but, henry clay is the one we all think of as building the job of the speaker of the house. the man who ran for president forever. through the years, the speaker's job grows, the presidency grows in power. it ebbs and flows. the balance of power is the key to the whole thing. in that nobody ever just completely runs away with it. it was set up so that cannot happen. ms. swain: our next video demonstrates the role of sarah polk as the political wife. >> the traveling desk is really indicative of sarah's life with
james k polk, mainly as his helpmate. he had no staff. sarah took a hands-on attitude towards being his wife. the traveling desk she took with her on those long trips to washington, d.c., as a congressman they travel to washington twice a year. trips could take 30 days. she is communicating with her family and friends back home. which meant she wrote tens of thousands of letters during her lifetime. the traveling desk is indicative timemmunication in the period. sarah was very much a helpmate to him throughout his political career and he was writing -- when he was writing speeches he would get her opinion. daily she would read the newspapers and underline passages for him to read. she was a regular fixture in the gallery. this was a great time to hear speeches.
politicians like henry clay and john calhoun are giving some of their greatest speeches during this time period. 14 years a member of the house of representatives. to this day, he is the only speaker of the house to become president. which brings with it a whole new level of social status in washington, d.c.. sarah played the part of one of the official hostesses in washington. typically, congress would enact a memorial to the outgoing speaker of the house. officially thanking him for his service. when polk left congress to run for governor of tennessee, the congress was so wildly divided they refused to do that. it is interesting, in the newspapers a number of politicians wrote poems in honor of sarah at the time she left. one of them was joseph story, who wrote a poem lamenting the loss of sarah to washington society. ms. swain: today, we would be amazed that i speaker of the house stepping down to run for
governor. why did he decide to do that? professor finkelman: i think because being speaker of the house is something you didn't do for a long time in those days. congressional careers are often quite short in the 19th century. three or four terms in washington is probably enough. think of the arduous task of just getting to washington from tennessee once or twice a year. it is a lot of work. it is a lot of effort. being the governor is somewhat easier. it is probably less expensive. you are home. and being the governor is a good way to build a political career for the vice presidency or the presidency. what polk's ion is the vice presidency. he doesn't think he will ever be president. but he thinks he could be vice president. ms. swain: and the pathway to the white house? ms. hunt: -- professor finkelman: the vice presidency is not a very good
halfway to the white house. since thomas jefferson, only martin van buren made it as vice president. tyler did only because of the death of the president. ms. swain: sandy is watching us in delaware. you are on. >> my question is, i know they are from tennessee. did shesarah -- what actually think about slavery and what -- and was she a kind slave master? ms. hunt: james polk in his will made an expression that he died, she when she would free their slaves. -- she sold their plantation before the civil or. the issue of slavery was not brought to the forefront either in their marriage or during his administration. it became much more critical with the administrations that
followed polk. professor finkelman: i think in some ways that's not true. the politics of america from the 1830's to the 1860's is swirling around slavery all the time. the opposition to the mexican war, which polk starts and which we did not have to have, in part comes from northerners who see it as a vast conspiracy to steal mexico so that slave owners could have someplace to go. southerners say as much. they say, we want mexico because we want up place for slavery to spread to. bulk --ity is that the are slave owners. they are not opposed. i suspect that she treated her slaves as kindly or as unkindly as was necessary to get the labor and support from the slaves that she wanted. that is what slavery was about. ms. swain: franklin, tennessee.
your question. >> a hero of mine is a nephew of sarah polk named general lucius polk. he served with general patrick clyburn. he tried to get the confederacy, he petitioned the confederate government to end slavery. and get african-americans to fight for the south. he was wounded several times during the war. and that some point, he was sent behind lines and allowed to stay in columbia, tennessee. he would, eventually, run the ku klux klan out of the county. sarah polk, i have heard, somehow kept him from going to the union prison camps when any other confederate prisoner would have been sent to union prison camps. i have heard that she was
afforded power because the union's people respected her so much. ms. swain: thank you. i am going to jump in. our time is short. it is important to say, james k polk announced he was going to be a one term president. we will get to your question. the civil war does come and sarah polk is a widow. how long does james k polk live after leaving the white house? three months. what happens to sarah polk especially during the civil war? she becomes a widow. she war widows weeds for the next 42 years. the house they purchased for their retirement became a shrine to her husband. she became very reclusive. but she received people. during the civil war, she did not take sides. the mayor came to her and said, the union is coming into the city, what should i tell the general?
she said, you may tell him that i am at home. so he came to call. the confederates and the union troops respected her. she did not take sides. she was completely neutral and she isolated herself into that period prior to the civil war. people put their artifacts in storage at polk place to store them. she went right on through. she earned a great deal of respect for that. ms. swain: from both sides? ms. hunt: from both sides. ms. swain: do you have any more comments to add? professor finkelman: only that the contrast would be with president tyler, who becomes a member of the confederate government. having ones taken and owed to support the constitution in the united states. in that sense, the contrast with sarah polk is revealing. jenny weber on
facebook. misses polk lived more than 40 years as a widow. did she continued to be involved in politics? ms. hunt: no she did not. she would speak about her husband's time. any honors that were sent to her, she accepted on behalf of his memory. she was conversant with what was going on but not an active political player. ms. swain: we have one more video from the polk era. let's watch. >> james k polk was a promised one term president. james and sarah were going to retire. while they were in washington still, as they were outfitting the white house as part of the restoration, they took the opportunity to purchase things for polk place.
they picked some of the finest american furniture being made at the time. they are all rosewood-framed with red velvet. we have gentlemen's chairs, and sofas. we have 18 remaining. they would ring the rooms with these little chairs. as they had guests, it would bring them out into the room. we have some interiors of what it looked like, probably taken around the time of her death in 1891. the house is still filled with the objects they collected throughout their political lives together. unfortunately for james k polk, he died just three months after leaving the white house. sarah began a 42-year widowhood. every new year's day, sarah opened polk place and held a levy. polk place became something of a shrine to her husband. she would invite anyone who wanted to visit and see the objects they had collected. patricia linscott on
facebook writes, when i visited nashville, i was shocked at all the plaques. that recognize the offices that were raised. years later i visited the home outside of nashville. why would they allow those buildings to be torn down? ms. hunt: progress. that is just, you know, i have worked in a preservation for fortysomething years. if we didn't have a need to preserve buildings i wouldn't be in the field. the polk home was torn down in nashville. the great-niece kept the artifacts together until they could find a home. that is what the museum in columbia is. montpelier, the madison's home, in private hands for years. and really, not saved until the 1980's. these things go on and on all the time. the homes of the presidents are deemed to be among the most important, but in some cases,
you have multiple homes that one president lived in. ms. swain: as we say goodbye to dolly madison's influence, sheldon cooper asks, as influential as dolley was on future first ladies, did polk provide guidance to future first ladies? ms. hunt: yes. she was alive until the early 1890's. in sarah was the 1849. embodiment of the elegant first lady after dolley died. and the respect passed down with her. yes. that, the building on question is what was sarah polk's legacy? professor finkelman: i will let her answer better. she has written a great deal. ms. hunt: i think that james polk might not have been able to achieve his ambitious one term agenda without her help.
she certainly kept the white house running because he literally worked himself to death. and she handled his legacy well after his unfortunate early death. we have most of the legacy is his. the first postage stamp. the permanent treasury department. almost doubling the size of the united states. and many things to be thankful for. the first ladies themselves are not so much innovators as they are, sometimes they embrace those aspects of the american character that the public needs. and i think that she did it very well. ms. swain: the election of 1848 brought the taylor's into the white house. as we continue our program, we are going to learn more about zachary taylor and, more importantly, his wife margaret peggy taylor. it is a brief stay in the white
house. it will be about 10 minutes worth of exploration here. tell us, set the stage for the 1848 election. professor finkelman: polk is leaving office. he chose to be a one term president, which probably is good because he probably would not have gotten the nomination again. and he probably would have been defeated. he was not very well-liked when he left office. it is true that he started a war which was successfully won. but when it was over he did not want peace. he fired his envoy to mexico and his envoy negotiated a peace treaty after he had been fired
then he got jealous of scott because scott was getting all of the headlines. when the war ended, polk was leaving it to taylor, the great hero of the war. taylor had never done anything political. he had been a career officer for his entire life. taylor, peggy taylor as she is known, had traveled with her husband to some of the most remote military bases in the country. she had been a military wife, a wife of a man who started as a military lieutenant and ended up as a major general. his politics were almost unknown other than he said over and over again, he supported henry clay. henry clay had lost to bulk --
polk. clay had lost two times. clay's party was the whig party. then out of nowhere, taylor gets the nomination. and clay is absolutely devastated that he doesn't get to be nominated. addition to taylor getting the nomination, he completely obscured almost unheard of person, millard fillmore, who, when nominated is the most obscure person ever to be nominated for president at the time. gets the vice presidential nomination. you had this access of taylor running with fillmore, who is a controller of the stated -- state of new york. i currently teach at albany law school where fillmore was living and i will be a visitor at lsu in louisiana. i am the embodiment of the
albany-baton rouge accent as well. i would like to say, let's not discount that the mexican war brought us all of the southwest. california, new mexico, etc.. he was the commander-in-chief and acted like it. as it turned out, that is what history has recorded. we greatly expanded the united states during that time. and we got those properties for very little. in terms of the history of real right eye.k professor finkelman: only if you think that going to war with the country to steal half of their country is an appropriate thing to do. and significant numbers of americans believed that the
mexican war was purely a land grab and a war of aggression. many americans, including john c calhoun, who was a great defender of slavery, leaved that the mexican war was a mistake because calhoun predicted correctly that he would open up again the question of slavery in the territories. and that would cause a catastrophe, which it does. ms. swain: zachary taylor, a couple of points about him. he was the last southerner elected for 64 years. he was the last president to hold slaves during the white house. his partner, peggy taylor, what do we know about her? ms. hunt: she was not particularly keen on being first lady. she had gone around to all of his postings with him. they had innumerable children. it is very interesting that their daughter married the young jefferson davis, who fought with
taylor in mexico and unfortunately, their daughter died after only three months of marriage. but later, in the white house, the taylors became quite close with jefferson davis and his second wife. she was very close to the first lady. the first lady let her daughter do a lot of the entertaining. it was such a brief amount of time, really, that they were in office. professor finkelman: he was inaugurated in march elected in 1849. 1848 but did not take office until march of 1859. and taylor dies in march of 1850. so, there is essentially a 15-month period they were in the white house. she does not want to be there. ms. swain: she retreats to the upstairs of the white house? professor finkelman: she
basically retreats to the upstairs of the white house. oddly enough, like her predecessor, she came from a political family. one of her aunts was married to a three-term governor of maryland and one of her cousins was married to senator johnson of maryland. she came from a very wealthy family of maryland planters, theough she grew up in washington, d.c. and northern virginia area. one of her playmates was nelly, who was the granddaughter of martha washington. so, this is somebody who has been around politics as well. but the opposite of sarah polk. she doesn't want to be involved in politics. she did not want her husband to run for president. ms. swain: here is a snapshot according to the census in 1850. 23 millionion was
and there were now 30 states in the united states. growth sincet 36% the last census. million, orred 3 13.8% of the population. the largest cities in the country or new york city, baltimore, and boston. capitalon dc, as a city, traded on gossip. it seems that the gossip about peggy taylor was that she was a pipe smoker and did not ring any style and substance. that is different from what paul described. what is the truth about her? professor finkelman: she didn't smoke a pipe. pipe smoking is out of nonsense. -- utter nonsense. all of the people close to her say she was allergic to smoke. the problem is, she is a military wife who has traveled from base to base, she has gone -- she lived in some style
because the taylors were very wealthy. they had lots of slaves. they had a plantation in louisiana. some of the slaves would travel with them when they went to bases. she was not a high society woman. she was not a woman who wanted to be around a crowd. and this was not a world she felt comfortable with. when she got to washington and dealt with the gossip and the parties, she simply felt that this is not where she was comfortable and she did not know how to compete and operate, and so she retreated to the second story of the white house and let her daughter do most of the entertaining. ms. swain: and the gossip continued because she was an enigma? professor finkelman: and she wasn't there to defend herself. ms. swain: how did zachary taylor die? ms. hunt: he had cholera didn't he? professor finkelman: zachary
taylor went to a july 4 parade. he watch the parade on a very hot day. zachary taylor was a teetotaler. he either spent the day eating cherries and milk for cucumbers and milk, ending on who you talk to. if one imagines what a bowl of milk would look like after a hot july day in washington, d.c. without ice to keep it cold, he got some kind of intestinal disease. man.s a very tough he had survived winters in michigan and minnesota, he had survived the deserts of mexico. he was rough and ready. the one thing he could not survive was mid-19th century medicine. so when he got sick, he was bled and they did all sorts of other himgs, including giving mercury, which would have killed him if they gave him enough.
he may have died from an intestinal virus, he may have infection, bacterial he may have died because his doctors killed him. what we know is he died very suddenly, to the great shock of the nation. and, perhaps taylor was the last president who could have managed change the conflict. because he was a southern slaveholder who did not believe in spreading slavery to the west. he thought that all of the territories taken from mexico pot to be free. -- not to be free. necessary lead an army to suppress southern suggestions of secession. at one point the texans are preparing to march into santa fe and sees mexico. taylor sends troops and one can
imagine, had he lived, if the texans did this again, taylor would have said, i will be happy to personally lead the army to austin and hang the governor of texas, the way jackson said he would hang the governor of south carolina, which in part ended the nullification crisis. ms. swain: a couple of quick questions. lady misst as first taylor was a devout episcopalian. she promised god to give up the pleasures of our society if her husband returned from war. did it have an impact on her role? ms. hunt: i read that as well in several different publications. i don't think she realized that when her husband came back from the war she was going to end up being first lady. hard to say. ms. swain: on twitter, if any johnson. did margaret play any instruments? and how old was she when she
died? she died just two years after. professor finkelman: she was born in 1788, so that makes her about 65 when she died. ms. swain: many say she died of a broken heart because she was so shocked. she was convinced that he was poisoned. ms. hunt: that's right. ms. swain: that was a story that stayed with zachary taylor for many years. in our lifetime zachary taylor's body was exhumed. professor finkelman: to determine, yes, because of the cherries and milk. ms. swain: no poison? professor finkelman: no poison. when filmore becomes president he gets letters from people who say taylor was poisoned. americans love conspiracy theory. this was a conspiracy theory. ms. swain: we're probably not alone in that. let's listen to sean in columbus, ohio.
you are on the air. >> i was wondering if it is true for margaret taylor prayed her husband's defeat. she was that much against it. was she an invalid at all difficulties with children? ms. hunt: i don't know that she actually prayed for his defeat. she was the first to admit she was not very happy with his victory. professor finkelman: many of these stories are written well after the fact. and as a historian we have to question where is the source of the story? if you hear a story told in five different places, it turns out it is the same story told over and over again and we don't know if it is true. there is a story that taylor was on a steamboat when the movement was to make taylor the nominee, and somebody asked him who he was going to vote for and taylor
said, i'm not sure. and the man said, i am voting for taylor, why won't you? and does not know he is talking to taylor. taylor says, well, i would not vote for taylor because i personally know his wife does not want him to be president. taylor was very unassuming and he often did not appear to be who he was. there is a true story that when he was in mexico, he was sitting in front of his tent -- not with his general stars on -- and some young officer came up and said, will you shine my boots? thinking he was an enlisted man. so taylor shined the man's boots and the next day the officer met his general. ms. swain: quickly here, this is the second time in history a president dies in office. vice presidential succession, did we do a better job of it the second time around? it was a constitutional crisis the first time. they weren't sure how it should work. ms. hunt: quite frankly, they
never fixed it until after the kennedy assassination, with the 27th amendment. professor finkelman: no, we fixed it this way. when harrison dies, the question is, does john tyler become president of the united states or does he remain vice president of the united states and acting president. that is something the constitution does not address. john quincy adams, who hated john tyler, used to refer to him cy, rather than his excellency. by the time fillmore becomes president, the vice president will be inaugurated, he will be sworn in, he is now the president of the united states. fillmore, very graciously asks margaret taylor to stay on in the white house as long as she wishes. and she moves out two days later. she has had enough. ms. swain: you told us earlier about new york and baton rouge accents.
have to learn more about new york and we are going to do that by video. here is the millard fillmore home that you are going to see now on videotape. >> we are in this most charming little home. small as it is, it belonged to millard and abigail fillmore. now, millard and abigail did meet when they were both teachers. they both had this desire and love of reading. abigail actually was brought up in a family that had many books. her father was a baptist preacher and he loved to read. she was surrounded by books her whole lifetime. when she moves into this house with millard fillmore, she continues that. they had their own personal library. she wanted to let young people learn extensively about the world as it was. this room we are in is actually the focus of the entire house. history is made right here.
she independently employed herself as a teacher. she tutored young students in namely in the course of history. this room would have been the living room, but also served as their kitchen. millard and abigail would spend hours by the light of the fire. they would do their reading and writing. and yes, abigail fillmore cooked in this very room. this was her kitchen. here we are in the fillmore bedroom. the original staircase has quite an angle to it. we believe it was a wooden ladder at that time, when abigail and millard lived here. as a young wife and mother dressed in a long skirt and with a toddler on her hip, she ascended that latter into the bedroom. within this room we have the fillmore bed and dresser. we know that abigail was a wonderful seamstress. we do have her quilt here.
-- a colorful quilt called a tumbling block pattern. the house was a very busy place. but it wastier, galloping. abigail would've had many visitors. she would have had people come in. possibly they would have had tea. we can imagine abigail having a very full life. her days were very full. we see her as a hospitable, young woman. young wife. young mother. teacher. >> that house is still available to visit. the 13th president of the united states was the last whig president. and the other thing, this is picking up on something paul mentioned, they came from modest means. all of the presidents before brought personal wealth to the white house.
this begins a series of presidents who are middle-class. what is the impact of that on the institution? ms. hunt: long-term, i think that what we see with the is something of a change that will follow through in the 20th century, looking forward. but, we are still prior to the civil war. that is going to be a giant hiatus in terms of business. and who are the others who are not wealthy? professor finkelman: there are four presidents before this, counting fillmore, who are not wealthy. the adamses. twoin fact, john quincy adams is close to being wealthy. martin van buren comes from a middle-class family. millard fillmore rose up in abject poverty.
as does andrew jackson. millard fillmore's family does land in an area where families owned their land. dies when sheer is they did not have much money. two. she is the first first lady to have worked outside of the home. significantly, she not only works outside the home before she is married, but after she is married for the first few years she works as a schoolteacher when millard is starting his law career. these are people who have experienced poverty and have not at all achieved anything that would be considered other than middle-class status. paul finkelman has written a book on millard fillmore. you arehis biography if interested in reading more. it is still available where you shop for books.
have about 20 minutes to learn about the fillmore presidency and about abigail. abigail brings this sensibility to the role of first lady. how does she approach the job? ms. hunt: actually, she is known for, her legacy, is that she created the first white house library. to herr father left mother when he died, when she was a little girl, was books. they kept those books and it became the core of her education and obviously instilled in her a love of educating others. congress appropriated $2000 for "the president to establish a white house library," but it was understood that she would be the one to select it. and she really preferred to read and engage in intellectual pursuits. but, she did her duty.
and helped her husband. she had a bad ankle, as i recall. she was injured. professor finkelman: she has an injury shortly before he runs for vice president and she really cannot stand. she cannot go to receptions and stand. and lets her daughter, who by this time as a young woman in her 20's, do much of the role of the white house hostess. ms. swain: the introduction of the white house library became a controversy in congress. i read that abigail fillmore successfully lobbied key committee members to bring the library to the white house. what is the story? ms. hunt: she was there at those dinner parties talking to them. it was the standing that she could not do. but she obviously convinced them. and, here comes $2000 to set up a white house library. professor finkelman: which was a lot of money in those days. ms. hunt: it was a lot of money.
it had to be to the president to buy the books. the president being the president. and apparently she did a very good job of selecting volumes for the library. she was interested in music. wasn't she, paul? professor finkelman: she was interested in music. they were also interested in geography. they loved maps. they buy books of maps. they are very interested in the world in that respect. she is a schoolmarm. the little film about the fillmore house, there was slight one error. they were not both schoolteachers. millard fillmore was her student. she was 21 years old and she was teaching at a private academy and millard had been apprenticed to a textile factory to learn how to run machinery. 1830's, inring the the middle of the panic of the 1830's.
the factory laid everyone off, just close down for a while. millard used this time to go back to school and he fell in love with his teacher and she fell in love with him. it's hard to tell from the pictures we see, but both of them are described as being very , very attractive people. queen victoria would later say after she meets fillmore that she -- he was the handsomest man she ever met. that might be an exaggeration. you have these two young, handsome people. fillmore was over six feet tall at a time and most men do not grow to be that tall. he must've been a striking figure. they have a very long courtship because her family does not on her to marry. and they ultimately don't marry until five or six years later. for two years, their courtship is only by letters. he moves to east aurora, goes to buffalo where he becomes a lawyer. ms. swain: ron from north
dakota, you are on. thanks for waiting. >> i was wondering, did mrs. fillmore, what did she do after she got out of the white house? ms. swain: thanks for asking that. we will come back to your question in a little bit. darrell is in tuscaloosa, alabama. ask, did theo white house have plumbing? if so, if it doesn't, when did they get plumbing? -- dishes youis showed, are they still in use? we learned about heating, about plumbing? professor finkelman: fillmore is credited with having the first bathtub in the white house. it's not clear that it is true. this is the problem when you say, what is the first in the
white house? we know the fillmore is installed either the first bathtub or a new bathtub in the white house. ms. swain: question from gary, did religion play a big part in the fillmore's life and their presidency? professor finkelman: let me take that, because it is important to understand how. abigail is the daughter of a baptist minister and she is raised in a baptist community in rural upstate new york. they are raised in the middle of nowhere in a very poor part of new york. she is a baptist. millard has various religious training growing up. but when they get married, they are married by an episcopal priest because in the town abigail lives in, the most prestigious church was an episcopal church. they then moved to buffalo and become unitarians because all of the smart, successful people are becoming unitarians.
so, in fact, religion, i think for the fillmore's, flex call their journey from poverty to middle-class status, to ultimately a secure position in society. they change churches as they go up the social ladder. ms. swain: we are going to learn more about her love of books and establishment of the white house library in this next video. >> when abigail came to the white house, she was appalled that to there were no books. so, this bookshelf was part of the white house library that first she and millard were able to get congress to give her money to start the first white house library, which still exists today. we know that first ladies have causes and literacy and reading would have been abigail's cause. she carried that love and passion for books into the white
house. abigail suffered from illness throughout her time as first lady. and every abigail would have been the hostess for many of the events. this punch bowl would have been one of the items used during entertaining at the white house. mary abigail followed in her mother's footsteps and was very educated herself. she spoke five languages. there are stories of her playing piano or the harp for guests, congressman came to visit the white house. we have abigail's piano and music books that she would have laid from. and we also have her harp that was in the white house. when we say that she entertained in the white house, she literally entertained. ms. swain: and the room in the white house that the fillmore is established as their library was an oval room. it is called the yellow oval
room. this is from our documentary when we visited there. that room, filled with bookcases and musical instruments, became something of a salon. how did they use it? ms. hunt: exactly, as a salon. ms. swain: was it useful in their legislative goals? ms. hunt: she participated in the formal dinners downstairs. there was receiving always going on. the white house had very little privacy. she was known for her interest in writers. professor finkelman: she had charles dickens come to the white house. ms. hunt: way ahead of jackie kennedy, ringing some of these leading lights to the white house. when dolly wasng there. she was interested in literary pursuits. with her bad ankle, i don't think anyone understands what those receptions were like when they threw open the white house
for 5000 people. ms. swain: hours of standing? ms. hunt: hours and hours and hours of standing on your feet. ms. swain: but this salon she created, it would seem like a very intimate place. was it a way to be in the inner sanctum of the president and advance his goals? professor finkelman: i'm not sure. i don't think so. for one thing, few congressmen in those days were interested in talking to a novelist or a cultural figure of like that. she brought the woman known as the swedish nightingale, jenny lind, to sing. then she that would've been a brought her to the white house. celebrity, so perhaps some members of congress would've wanted to come see a celebrity. i think, in a sense, there is a bifurcation here between abigail fillmore creating a cultural setting that the former schoolteacher really wanted to do -- by the way, as a mother she is always a schoolteacher.
she writes letters to her children, because they are separated from their children at various times of their lives, correcting their spelling in previous letters and giving them lists of spelling words to learn. and she may also be always educating her husband, who is not quite as educated as she is. what kinds of titles and authors were in the library? ms. hunt: it was a mixture of the classics. professor finkelman: a lot of shakespeare. ms. hunt: shakespeare. professor finkelman: probably lots of histories. i know a lot of geography books. they were very interested in foreign countries. as president, fillmore sends commodore. to japan, to open up japan. this is in part because fillmore has this personal interest in things foreign, things exotic. ms. swain: it's so important,
but we have to talk about the major legislative piece. zachary taylor dies just as this compromise of 1850 was being debated and millard fillmore picks up the debate over the legislation. in a brief as way as possible, what is significant to the compromise of 1850? professor finkelman: the compromise of 1850 is introduced by henry clay, the man who did not get to be president. it is a separate bill, not the one bill. things, among other organize the new mexico territory, which today would include arizona. the utah territory, which includes nevada and parts of colorado and wyoming. it would admit california into the union as a free state. it also would prevent the sale,
the open auction of slaves in washington, d.c. what it would also give millions of dollars to texas, it would subdivide a portion of new mexico and give what is today west texas, which previously no one believed belonged to test the -- to texas. most notably, it it created the first federal law and your accuracy in the united states. it is an outrageously unfair law in which a legend fugitive slaves are not allowed to testify on their own behalf, so that if a free black is seized in new york, the man can't say no, you've got the wrong person. it created draconian punishments for anyone who interfered. fillmore pushed the fugitive slave law, signs that almost immediately after it is passed by congress. very, veryhen
aggressively enforces it wherever he can. ms. swain: so amy asks, do we know about abigail fillmore's position on slavery and how it might have complemented or different from her husband? ms. hunt: i don't. no, andr finkelman: what is on about both millard and abigail as they come from a part of new york known as the burned-over district. it is said that the fires of revival have been burned-over so was theat it burned-over district. it was the center of the anti-slavery movement. just south of where fillmore was growing up, william seward, one of the most anti-slavery senators in the senate, is starting his political career. just down the road, frederick douglass will live in rochester, new york. with all of this anti-slavery activity going on, neither of the fillmore's ever lift a
finger to fight slavery. they never show any hostility to slavery at all and they show no sympathy to free blacks. it is quite shocking they are clueless about this. and he is running for vice president, someone accuses him of helping fugitive slaves escape. in a letter that is so shocking that it would not say on the air, he simply says incredibly horrible things about black people. and says, why would i ever lift my finger to help them? ms. swain: did abigail's love of books cause any trends in education or library expansion? ms. hunt: to my knowledge, no. but you would have to look for the long-term. they did not have the instantaneous communications. her books were not going to set off a trend in the way modern communications do.
i think that what we are beginning to see as we go into the second half of the 19th century is more and more work teachinge-class women, and so forth. obviously, they would be aware that they had a first lady who was a teacher. honorable profession. and having that library certainly was known. ms. swain: marley, dr. phil, wisconsin. you are on. >> i was just wondering how many children did the fillmores have? professor finkelman: two. >> two. ms. swain: one of them served as the official hostess in the white house. time is short, let's hear from dan. ben is watching us in los angeles. what is your question? >> i would like to know, what was the foreign relations policy like back then? professor finkelman: fillmore's
foreign relations were in part to enhance trade with europe. to enhance trade with other countries he sends naval vessels to japan. at the time japan was completely closed to the outside world. navalre sends some passers and says, you are going to trade with us whether you like it or not. the japanese referred to this as the dark ships. i saw an exhibit in japan of japanese cartoons in which parry is portrayed as a monster. fillmore also negotiates a treaty with switzerland to allow swisson equal terms for citizens and american citizens, but the treaty has a clause which says this can only happen if the people of america will be eligible to own land or have businesses in switzerland. cantons did not allow jews.
when fillmore was told about this he said, well this should not really be a problem. so, he does not seem to be interested in issues that would involve minorities. he later becomes a no-nothing. an anti-catholic after this. ms. swain: from pacifica, california. you are our last question. >> i just had some comments. thank you for this series on the first ladies. the fillmore's, one correction. the fillmores met charles one correction. the fillmores met charles dickens in washington in 1842, they did not host him at the white house. additionally abigail reportedly , advised miller to not signed the fugitive slave law. one of her friends in buffalo was the most comment abolitionist, george washington johnson. ms. swain: thank you, we have 30 seconds left. why don't we use that as a way to ask both of you abigail fillmore's legacy.
ms. hunt: books. learning. literacy. ms. swain: and the fact she may have influenced people by being a working first lady. professor finkelman: i would say -- sadly, she dies shortly after leaving washington and her daughter dies two years later. i can only say there is no documentary evidence whatsoever that abigail advised fillmore not to sign the fugitive slave act into law. this is the apocryphal things people like to throughout there because they want to enhance people's reputations without evidence. ms. swain: abigail fillmore died in the willard hotel, which continually plays able in presidential history. just shortly after the inauguration of their successor, franklin pierce. we have gotten a number of people tweeting about the barbara bush connection, telling barbara pierce
bush. we will try to answer that question next week when we deal with the pearson ministration. thank you both of our guests for being here and to the white house historical association for their continuing help throughout the series. ♪ [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2020] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] ♪
>> this is american history tv , featuring events, interviews, archival films, and visits to college classrooms, museums, and historic places, exploring our past every weekend on c-span3. afternoon, fresh colors, a 1970 information agency film about the american flag. here's a preview. >> the first flag in the american british nation was the english flag of st. george. 1947.ived in objections began and mutely but the first real flag did not appear until 1637. it was in that year john endicott saying it was a gift from the pope, it was a relic of the antichrist for his action, endicott was banned for public office for one year.
as the american revolution grew more heated, no banners of independence begin to appear. the rattlesnake and the pine tree where the most common symbols. in 1775, no one had given much thought to devising colors by which they could recognize each other. flags for ports and ships generally was left to army contractors as a project to play with in their spare time. to mark the formation of the continental army under washington, a flag was raised in massachusetts, but the flag was the flag of britain. the colonists still saw themselves as british citizens, even while they fought british troops.
same flag which flew from ships of the continental navy when they sailed from philadelphia three days later. the same flag again was raised over the port of manhattan island even after the declaration of it -- the declaration of independence had been signed and when no possibility of reconciliation with the mother country existed. ♪ increased, the old flag, symbolic of england, became a banner to be cast off by revolutionaries fighting for independence in a land they declared their own. congressthe young saturday flag of the united states shall be 13 stripes,
alternate red and white, with 13 stars on a blue field, representing a new constellation. >> watch the entire program sunday afternoon at 4:00 eastern, 1:00 pacific, on american history tv. >> next on american history tv, the national constitution center in philadelphia hosts a virtual town hall about george washington's influence in shaping the constitution after the revolutionary war, and as president, his role in making it work. the center's jeffrey rosen moderates the conversation with white house historical association historian lindsay chervinsky and pulitzer prize-winning author edward larson. this and other constitution center programs are available on their website and as podcasts. jeffrey: it is now my great pleasure to put on my constitutional reading glasses -- you can tell i am not actually outside bec i