tv QA Amy Greenberg CSPAN March 11, 2019 5:58am-7:00am EDT
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c-span3 online at c-span.org, , and on the free c-span radio app. ♪ >> this week on "q&a," amy greenberg talking about her book " on sarah polk. >> amy greenberg, why did you name your book "lady first?" prof. greenberg: well, it wasn't the title that the press wanted. when i thought about first lady sarah polk, and how she deployed power, i thought about the fact that, in her own mind, she was always a lady before anything else.
she thought of herself as mrs. james k. polk. she was very invested in people differing to her, but she was also willing to defer to men. and she also considered herself a lady, so i thought "lady first" was a good title. brian: what would you say about their relationship? prof. greenberg: james and sarah polk had about as close and positive of a relationship as any married couple could have. they were rarely separated. the reason sarah came to washington in the first place when james was a new congressman , and she was just 22 years old, was because they could not stand to be a part. they were newly married. the whole time they were married , they depended on each other far more than anybody else. she was james' closest confidant. he did not have a lot of male friends, but he and sarah were basically inseparable. have a lot ofhe
male friends? onf. greenberg: depending who you talk to, there are different answers to that question. my reading of his character and all of his letters and studying his career over the past decade, i think that he was an introvert. he was, i think, a nervous person. he was not a voluble, fun guy. he had almost no sense of humor. so, people did not really take to him, and he had a hard time forging close connections with other people, with the exception of members of his own family and sarah. there is also the point that he lied as well to various politicians, so he had a beingtion of untrustworthy. brian: did the public know he was lying at the time? prof. greenberg: i don't think they did. this is a question historians have debated.
particularly, as pertained to the declaration that he made about the united states going to war with mexico. so, rather than going to congress to ask for a declaration of war, he went to congress and he said, a war is in the process. just give me some money to fight this war. the statement that he made to congress was that american blood had been shed on american soil. and despite all of the united states' effort to avoid war with mexico, it was mexico's war. he basically said the united states is not responsible for this war. mexico is the enemy. and that, i think, everybody knew it was a lie. there were probably people who did not know, but everyone in congress knew it was a lie. brian: you went to the university of california at berkeley. prof. greenberg: i did, yes. brian: you got a phd from harvard. when did you first get interested in the u.s.-mexican war?
prof. greenberg: that is a great question. when i was in grad school, my dissertation advisor was a great historian named bill ganap. his advisor, when he had first gone to grad school at berkeley was charles. charles sellers wrote two williams of what was supposed to life.rilogy on polk's one afternoon, as historian grad students tend to do, i pulled these volumes down from the great stacks of the library, and started reading them. and i found the way that sellers wrote about polk, and the way that he brought the antebellum era in america to life to be utterly compelling. that is when i got interested in polk. and i grew up in southern
california. when i was growing up, very little was ever said about the u.s.-mexican war. i am pretty confident our curriculum in school switched period to theon , bear flag revolt when americans were up against mexican or spanish rule and declared california free. ever remember learning about the u.s.-mexico war, but by the time i was in college, i realized, wow, that california was taken from mexico. brian: we have, back in 2012, an address you made at the abraham lincoln library in springfield, illinois about a wicked war. prof. greenberg: yes. brian: that is another one of your books. when did you write that, and what is the main message in that book? prof. greenberg: so, the way i that interested in sarah polk was in the process of writing that book. when i look back at my career of
every book rose out of the previous books. what i really wanted to do was tell the story of the u.s.-mexico war in a way that was focused on individuals, and how they were affected affected by the war. i felt like, as a scholar and as a teacher, there were no books about the u.s.-mexico war that really made sense to students. there is a lot of battles in a lot of different places, and the u.s. wins all of them, and then the u.s. takes all of this land. it is kind of a hard story to narrate, unless you just want to narrate it as the u.s. was incredibly advanced in terms of technology, and had an amazing fighting force, and defeated mexico, end of story. i knew for a fact that a lot of people died in the war and impacted a lot of people. so i thought, what if i wrote the story in the way that somebody might narrate a war,
like world war ii? or the civil war, so that people got a sense that it was a wart were people suffered and people sacrificed. and not just an abstract moment where the u.s. steamrolled over mexico, and then took away all of this territory, which now we feel is a part of the united states, and that is great. so, the main message of that war -- the main message of the book was that the war mattered to a lot of people and really profound ways. the war mattered to all the officers that later thought in -- that later fought in the civil war. they got their start in the u.s.-mexico war. ulysses s. grant is a person that called it a wicked war. robert e lee. most of the generals in the civil war fought in the u.s.-mexico war. it mattered to them, but it also
matter to all of the men who went to mexico and thought. and it mattered to the family members who fought. and it mattered to abraham lincoln, who gave his first national speech about how the u.s.-mexico war was immoral. so, i want to place the war in the context of the time period, and show how it affected people. brian: the years of the war? prof. greenberg: 1846 to 1848. brian: let me go back to which you said earlier. did james polk lie us into that war? prof. greenberg: he did lie to us about the war. brian: how many people died in that war? prof. greenberg: between 13000 and americans. 15,000brian: and what did america think of that war back then? prof. greenberg: good question. the war started off with a burst of enthusiasm. there was a whole generation of young men who had grown up hearing stories about the texas revolution, which was a decade earlier, about the alamo.
which of course, we can never forget. these were these two moments where the mexican army put to death prisoners in a way that was just horrifying to americans and pretty much unethical from a batter filled -- from a battlefield standpoint. so, people in the u.s. were raised thinking of mexico as deceitful, and a country that had really betrayed america. so, when polk said that american blood had been shed on american soil, there was a huge rush of volunteer enthusiasm for the war. many more men volunteered to fight then there was room for in ies.unteer infantry' so, the war started out with incredible enthusiasm. not just enthusiasm among the democratic party, but also among the opposition party. we live in such a partisan time now that it is hard to imagine a
president of one party declaring a war, and lying to get the country into the war, and politicians on the other side, knowing it is a lie, but being very enthusiastic about the war. members of congress quit congress to fight in the war. and that was to about the democratic party and the opposition party. the thing about the war was that, everyone was convinced it would be a really short war. that mexico would roll over and we would be done. mexico would give us everything we wanted. texas, california, it would be an easy fight. james k. polk,'s brother wrote him and said, can i get a position as an officer in the war? i'm over in europe, but i will come home. and polk said, don't even bother. the war will be done in three months. little did he know that a year
into the war, the u.s. would have won a number of battles comes securing both texas and california, but the mexicans refused to surrender. so, that was the moment really when americans started turning against the war. when reports of casualties started coming back. when a lot of soldiers died. but also, when it did not look like the war would end quickly. i would say the battle took about a year. it was a whole another six-month after that, during which time u.s. occupied mexico city. they still would not surrender. and that was when the public turned against the war. so by the time the treaty guadalupeay hill - hildago made its way from mexico to the white house february of 1848, by that point,
there is a huge upsurge of antiwar sentiment. congress has been taken over by the wiig party, and there are public meetings all around the country to bring the war to a close. polk has been forced to accept it treaty and does not get him all that he wants. brian: if there was no mexican war, what would be different about the united states right now? prof. greenberg: that is a great question. so, historians don't like to engage in counter-factual -- in general.se so, i have thought about this a lot. we were not have california. mexico was in pretty bad financial trouble and some say mexico would have been eventually sold. texas might be in different shape. it might be smaller.
maybe we would not own new mexico. maybe we would not have arizona. it is hard to imagine, is in it? what else would be different? -- it is hard to imagine, isn't it? what else would be different? james mcpherson and his battle cry freedom makes a good argument that the civil war happened when it did because the north and the south could not agree over whether slavery should be allowed in the territories taken from mexico. had there been no mexican war, maybe the civil war would not have happened when it did. maybe it would have happened later. prof. greenberg: -- brian: i know that james polk was only there for 40 years. who was president on either side of him. prof. greenberg: on either side of him, the president that was right before him was a guy named john tyler. john tyler became president when harrison, when he died suddenly. and so, john tyler, who was this
guy from virginia, and kind of on the ticket to balance the , tylerwith harrison became president and he was the , first president became president because the president had died. and when he first became president, everyone called him his accidentcy, because it was an accident that he was president. and now, it is really too that if aedit president dies, the vice president is really the president. but at that time he never knew. maybe it was like sitting in, or maybe he should defer to congress. no one really knew. tyler was able to grab the moment and say i am the president. when you speak to me, you refer to me as the president, i will do everything the president does. i will veto as much legislation as i want. even though he was supposedly in the whig party, he vetoed a bunch of whig legislation.
he got kicked out of the whig party. brian: what about the president that came in after? prof. greenberg: the president after james k. polk was another whig it was zachary taylor. we have tyler on one side and taylor on the other. james k. polk, when he became president he said he would only serve one term. auntie stuck to that. and -- - new and he stuck to that. it was the last ancient that he -- it, to hand over power was the last thing he wanted, to hand over power to the opposition party. he did handed over to a war hero and the war that he started. ironically for polk, because of his war, a general became president and that general was zachary taylor who was a whig. the subject of this book is his
wife sarah polk compared what would you say about her? prof. greenberg: there is a lot to say about her, i wrote a pretty long book. brian: she is going to be over at the house for dinner, and he wanted to tell your husband or friends, what would you tell them about her. prof. greenberg: ok. we are not going to serve wine because she does not drink. i would say that she is a charming dinner companion. in the conversation is going to be wonderful -- and the conversation is going to be wonderful. she is very well-red. we can talk about the latest look. she is going to be a very good listener. she will probably listen more than she speaks. i think it will be a really fun dinner, but we will not serve her any wine. brian: how educated is she? prof. greenberg: she, for the time and being a woman, is extremely educated. she attended the salem academy, which is in north carolina. and at the time was, either the first or second best school for women in the tire -- in the
entire united states. this is a time period when colleges are not open to women at all. if you wanted to be educated, and your family had the means, your two options were to have a private tutor, or to go to a women's academy. and women's academy's for a long time were pooh-poohed by historians and scholars because they focused on things like needlework and piano. thinkff that we tend to of now is not real learning. but in addition to learning girlswork and piano, the at the salem academy learned hard science, political philosophy, mathematics. they were reading the same books that men were reading in men's colleges in the same time period. brian: how many children did they have? prof. greenberg: so, sarah and james polk had no children.
and the reason for that, everybody is pretty sure, is because when james was a teenager, he had crippling bladder stones. and there was no known treatment for this at the time. but his father heard about a doctor and took james over 100 miles to meet this doctor. and the doctor did surgery on james to remove the bladder stones. and it is pretty clear that the surgery left james unable to father children. so, he and sarah never had kids. one thing i would love to know, but they left no letters about this, is whether, when sarah agreed to marry james, she knew they would not have children? having looked at all of their and all of the correspondence who knew them the best, i have seen no evidence
that they missed having children, or that they wanted to have children, or that they felt sad about not having children. but one thing is for sure, the fact that sarah polk had no children is what allowed her to into a political partner for james, and really the most powerful political woman of the time period. ownr women, even james' sister, gave birth over 10 times. most women's lives were taken up with childbearing and child rearing, and sarah did not have that thing to worry about. brian: the word piety you referred to her. why? prof. greenberg: she was extremely religious. she was raised presbyterian. a kind of presbyterian that was going out of style at the time she was being raised. she believed, like her mother, and like what were called old school presbyterians, that god had basically determined whether or not you were going to heaven
or hell at ahead of time. -- heaven or hell ahead of time. god was maybe unknowable. and certainly, that you cannot -- that you could not in sure -- own you cannot ensure your salvation. one reason why it even came popular is because they said to people, talking about baptist, methodist, and presbyterians, they said, look, that god is knowable. if you look into your heart, and you find the lord, the lord will lead you to salvation. sarah did not believe that. she believed in hierarchy, and tradition, and the catechism, so it is a very, very traditional religious view of the world, and men were -- in which put on the top of the latter --
er, white the ladd men, and women were below them, and slaves were below white people, and this was all ordained by god. she took the sabbath extremely seriously. the only time i ever found her to deny james anything was one sunday that he asked her to do some work for him. political work, and she said she would not do it. she did not work on sunday. she did not allow business to be done on sunday. she did not drink, she did not dance, she did not play cards. this raised some eyebrows. washington, d.c. at the time when she moved there was a freewheeling city. people drank a lot. cards were extremely popular. everyone loved going to the theater. she did not do any of that stuff. brian: putting james polk in perspective, i rotate down -- i wrote down that he was in a
house from 1825 to 1839, was speaker. he was governor of the state of tennessee 1839 to 1841. why did he run twice and lose after he had been governor? prof. greenberg: that is a good question. maybe the better question is, why did he leave washington, d.c. where he had become speaker of the house, he had a great reputation, his wife was extremely happy? successful woman. they just both loved it there, so why did he leave? the reason he left is because the opposition party, the whigs, they were taking the southwest by storm. kentucky was firmly in the hands of the whigs, and tennessee look theike it would fall into hands of the whigs, too. the whigs or interested and willing to put serious money into improving roads and bridges and canals in the west. everybody in the west wants to be able to get their crops to market, they want to be more connected financially with the east coast.
they feel like farmers east of the appalachians have an unfair advantage because there is no good roads and no good shipping. so, they are all falling for its, i guess you could call big government whig platform. polk said, i will go to tennessee, run for governor, because i am basically the only democrat and the entire state of -- democrat into the entire -- democrat in the entire state of tennessee who is beloved enough to win. the fact of the matter is that he does not have a successful two years. he ultimately cannot stop the slide of the party into the hands of the whigs. so when he runs in 1941 to get reelected and loses, that is the first time he has ever lost any race in his life, and he just comes as a huge shock. , aftero not think sarah
that, expected him to run again, or wanted him to run again. it made sense to stay in tennessee, deal with business and wait for a call to come from washington. either he could be a senator, or he could return to the house. she did not see the appeal of staying in tennessee. he wanted to give it another try so he ran again and lost again. brian: you say in your book that she helped him past the gag rule. what was the gag rule and how did she help? prof. greenberg: so, the gag roll is james' signature victory. and the gag rule was a rule that tabled, without discussion, any petition that came to congress that dealt with slavery. the right to the petition is enshrined in the constitution. but in the 19th century, it was a huge deal. in a time before there are
telephones, when travel is difficult, petitioning was one of the main ways people could communicate with congress. so, a group of like-minded people would get together and write a petition and send it to congress. and starting in the early 1830's, groups of anti-slavery americans, particularly, or notably women would get together , and write a petition, and send it to congress. the petition would say something like, "we petition congress that slavery be made illegal." this is never going to happen, but the very fact that these petitions were being read out loud in congress was so upsetting to southerners that they were able to convince the american public, and the house of representatives that one of the main rights in the
abridged,on should be so that they and their sentiments were not offended. slavery was seen as so sensitive that you just couldn't talk about it. to suggest that slavery was wrong was so unacceptable that southerners could not have it. a slave owner,as managed to get this through congress. and it was shocking. it was a shocking thing, particularly four northerners. john quincy adams, who had been president years before, a one term president, he went to congress as a representative for massachusetts, and he made it his main work to bring up slavery as much as possible in response to the gag rule. so he would not be gagged. he was constantly being called to order because he would talk about slavery. brian: how did she do as a health worker? prof. greenberg: so, james, not
naturally good at convincing people to do things, not a good ammunicator, not necessarily persuasive person. sarah opened up rooms in the boarding house that she lived in. particularly to entertain. and she held biweekly or wherekly dinner parties, she wouldn't by members of congress to come and talk, and they would talk over issues, and she would lobby them carefully, always saying, the speaker of the house thinks this, or the speaker of the house thinks that. brian: was he there? prof. greenberg: sometimes. often times he was not. he loved to work, so many times he would work and leave it to sarah to do the negotiating. , you talk about how sick he was, and that he died three months after he left
the presidency at age 53. one of the notes i wrote down was that command james polk's death, sarah had 56 slaves. how did that come about, what about the mississippi plantation? prof. greenberg: this book that i wrote is a biography of sarah polk, but it is about all the people she owned. and there were a lot of people, and it is about slavery. slavery was central to the polk presidency, and it was really central to sarah's life. one of the reasons that sarah was such an eligible marriage prospect was that, upon her father's death, she inherited eight or nine slaves. and those slaves were valuable human property. ,so, men were lining up to meet her. she was wealthy, and a lot her wealth was based on slaves. both her family and james' family got rich off of slavery, growing cotton, so slavery was
part of their family makeup. james started out as a lawyer, but he did not make a lot of money. it did not seem like he cared about money that much. he definitely was not a rich man. and he bought his first plantation when he was in congress. he bought it in tennessee. he just hoped to make money with it. this required buying slaves to staff the plantation. he eventually sold that plantation and bought a whole bunch of land in mississippi that the choctaw indians had recently been pushed off of. and this is another big story of the book. the way in which indians are pushed off of land that they own so that slave owners can move in and use african-american people to grow cotton and make money. that is kind of how western expansion happens in the southwest. and polk is not only driving that with legislation, but
making money off that, so he buys the plantation in mississippi, and he tells sarah that he intends to make more money or lose more money. this was the only time in his life where i see him gambling. he says, we need to make a gamble on this plantation and try to make some money. and he moves the slaves from the tennessee plantation. he also moves some of sarah's family slaves, those she inherited from her father that had been living in tennessee. but then, he starts buying slaves because the mortality , theon this plantation plantations were terrible. there is a lot of malaria. the diseased climate was terrible. younger people moved.
for african-american slaves who lived on the east coast being sold to mississippi was one of the worst dates people could imagine because it is basically a death sentence. james has to keep buying them people the sand to the plantations -- james has to keep buying juncker people to work the plantations. insistings were slavery was natural and even god's plan. some southerners were claiming slavery is less exploitation than working in a factory for an immigrant. they had a lot of crazy arguments like this. couldth that said, a man not in 1844 run for president and have it be known that he was buying and selling slaves. that he was involved in the other become a dirty business of
slave sales. poke had his friend say that even though he had slaves, he inherited them, and the only reason he had the most to keep families together. that is what you have to say. it was all a lie. even if he was saying that, he was buying more slaves for the plantation. once he became president, he had sarah work as the middle woman in between himself and the people he was buying slaves from. it was up to her to take the money for the slaves to be purchased and sent to the plantation. all that said, i don't think sarah was particularly involved in his plantation. --y had an overseer she was
they had an overseer that was there. he died in 1853. 1849, when he died in 1849, he was 53. at that point, she inherited the plantation. face theed her to reality of owning a plantation, which is that, as much of southerners might like to think that they were good to their slaves, growing cotton on a plantation was a money-making venture, and making money meant forcing the slaves to work, oftentimes beyond their capacity. so, she was thrust into, for of, a difficult decision
running a plantation. and she did so up until the civil war. she was alive 42 years after he died? prof. greenberg: yes. privilege she got a of of the government somehow to send mail. how did that happen? prof. greenberg: the franklin privilege is interesting. it was an honor that was given to her after james' death, this right to send letters, and it was a right also given the former president does and former first ladies -- given to former presidents and former first ladies. brian: one of the interesting notes on the slave business is she bought paul ginning from dolly madison.
for what purpose? jenningse bought paul to help dolly madison out. dolly madison was destitute and had a son, who was a gambler and gambled away all of her money. and she was broke. she was living in washington, d.c. as this figure beloved by everybody, but she was broke. so by buying paul jennings from dolly, sarah was able to give money to dolly. but she only rented paul jennings from dolly. she employed jennings and gave dolly the morning as a way to help her out. prof. greenberg: have you ever read the memo more? -- n: it
brian: have you ever read the memoir? prof. greenberg: yes and it was amazing. he was very dedicated to the madisons, who treated him extremely badly, especially dolly. brian: it is not a small item, in what role did she play raising money for the washington monument? prof. greenberg: very funny you mention that. i was driving into d.c. with my 12-year-old daughter, and she said, there is the washington monument. i said, do you know who raised the money? and she said, sarah polk. i trained her well. dolly madison had a dream for a monument for george washington, helphe convinced sarah to with a fundraising effort in reach out to her rich friends to
build this monument to george raised the and sarah they for the monument, or raising money for the corner stone. james laid the first stone on the fourth of july. brian: you mentioned your daughter. can i mention her name? prof. greenberg: wild. brian: how old is violet? prof. greenberg: she is 12. brian: what do --what does she think of this? prof. greenberg: i think she is proud of her mother. are nowher brother freshmen in college and a think it is good. brian: why should people care about this in today's world? you started out by saying that james polk lied and we have heard that word a lot in the past several years.
two politicians always like? liveo politicians always lie? politicians always james was theg: first. politicians could not be known to lie. politicians did ally, but you had to live in a way -- politicians did lie, but you had inlive in such a way -- lie such a way. the reason i wrote this book is when i was researching the last book, i was so astounded by all of the stuff sarah polk did and she exercised power. she wrote letters to a supreme court justice and members of
congress that were completely competent, 100% about politics. and were not noticeably different from a letter a man would write, and they wrote back to her in the same vein, no speaking down to her. her brother as well. she had a brother named john who would write her and say, can you tell me what is happening with this election? i assume no one knows as well as you do. it was obvious to me that she as aneated, i cannot say equal, but in a way that made no sense to me, given the way we talk about women's roles in this time. . it struck me this narrative of women gaining power when they gained the vote. yeah the anniversary of women winning -- we have the anniversary of women winning the
right to vote. stems fromical power the franchise struck me as no way representative of what was going on sarah polk. did of more research i women who lived in a political world, i saw more and more of this, women not being treated as mentally inferior or unable to operate politically, that they were being treated has political actors. they could not vote, but they were influencing legislation, they were expressing their opinions about things, and i thought sarah polk was the key antelling that story in alternative political world that just because women could not vote, did mean they did not have political power -- did not mean they did not have political power. read the inaugural
address. this is what he said back in 1845, whenever he gave this speech. at the time, blacks were not american citizens and women cannot vote. did you have to have property to vote back then? prof. greenberg: did you did not. brian: here is one line -- all citizens, whether native or adopted, are placed on terms of precise equality, all are entitled to equal rights and equal protection. he said that in a speech. prof. greenberg: that was the democratic elite, the democratic party grew to power because andrew jackson came to office
and said, look, all white men should be equal. we are all equals here. no more hierarchy based on money or rank. we are doing away with rank. so, white men are all equal. the way he interpreted that was no group should have any special opportunities that poor white men did not have. it was nothing everybody needs to have the same amount of money, but everybody has the right to become as rich as they could and nothing should stand in your way. if you are in an educated -- if you were an uneducated farmer, nothing should stop you from getting opportunities. they believed it.
blacksno coincidence could not vote. if all white men are equal, no one else is equal. brian: going back to the speech to another paragraph. it is a source of deep regret that in some sections in our country, misguided persons indulged in schemes and agitations, which the object is destruction of domestic institutions existing in other sections, institutions which existed at the adoption of the .onstitution prof. greenberg: what you think that institution is? slavery. they are saying, north, stay out of the south's business. plantede need no thanks
around the government to control a strengthened in opposition to coffers -- toe its authors. he talked about the national debt becoming institution of european monarchy. he looked at the budgets. 6 million. was and 1849, 60 9 million. why did it jump? prof. greenberg: the war with mexico. what the war does it forces the u.s. to borrow all of the money from european bankers. we have to start paying all that debt. brian: i have to read that because today, we are $22
trillion debt. --is viewed as an essential to existing government, melancholy is a condition that can bewhose government sustained only by a system which periodically transforms -- transfers large amounts of money to the authors of its people. what is the story? prof. greenberg: the story here is that, my success, the whigs are the party of big government, and they are willing to use debt in order to build infrastructure. terrifiedmocrats are of debt. they don't believe in debt or spending federal money for anything, except for the protection of the country. brian: anybody like that today? [laughter] prof. greenberg: i don't know.
there must be somebody like that today. brian: that you can't name them? prof. greenberg: finally study the 19th century -- i only study the 19th century. brian: here is more from that speech -- it is company may believe that our system may be safely extended to the utmost bounds of our territorial limits, and that is it shall extend the bonds of our union so , willom being weakened become stronger. prof. greenberg: but that is in response to -- what that is in response to is the whig party, where they did not think we should be spending all of our money and energy. taking territories way out to the west, what should we be doing a strengthening the economy per-pupil did live, building factories, improved
so thatxtend credit young men who did not have money could take out loans and start a business. they really believed in economic development where the democrats believed in territorial expansion. democrats thought the best way to live in the u.s. was to be a farmer, be an independent land-owning farmer. grow your crops, don't live in a city, participate in your committee, and on your own land. and in order to do that, we areed more land, so those two different views. prof. greenberg: you write -- brian: you write about manifest destiny? prof. greenberg: sullivan was a journalist, he coined the term, the idea goes back almost all to
the founding of the united states, or perhaps earlier. this is the idea that the american experiment, the thisent of europeans to new continent, that it was destined to be the greatest civilization in the history of the world, and that god had singled out this european people who moved to the americans, informed this amazing country, the first democracy, with the 1st constitution and political freedom, that be a
natural process a anybody, canadian, mexican, anyone living near the united states would look at the united states and say, wow, everything is better there. let's join in. brian: what was your key to getting new information? i mean, you mentioned earlier about people in the supreme court. you seem to have a lot of letters between them. where did you find them and having ever been published before? prof. greenberg: before i wrote this book, there had been no biography of sarah polk. there was one short biography written by a doctor some time ago that had good information in
it, but also used some sources some brands don't accept as fictional. so, putting together, trying to raise sarah polk's story was building an archive of her stories. ladies leftst diaries and sarah polk did not do that. there have been a number of biographies that have come out about john quincy adams' wife. adams loved to write letters and there isa diary, and all of this material, and sarah polk has no material. i collected all the letters i could find and then i wrote to
archivists. they put me in touch with people who owned letters that have not been published. papers,or of the polk michael david cohen was so remarkably helpful. every time they came across a letter regarding sarah, he would forward it to me, so a lot of people all around the country helped me out. pass: i cannot which you michael cohen, saying he shared the only known example of james polk laughing. [laughter] prof. greenberg: he found a letter where james was looking at the plans for this remarkable house he hoped to build in nashville, which he ended up building. there was a joke about one room would be the ballroom for dancing, and the reason it was a joke because james and sarah did
not dance at all. joke, but not a funny joke and he did not joke at all. this, howore we end long have you been at penn state? prof. greenberg: 24 years. i teach american 19th century history and of course on the republic up tohe the u.s.-mexico war, one of my favorite classes. i teach the u.s. and latin america, and i also have a class sex and violence in 19th century america, which i designed to attract students. brian: did it work? prof. greenberg: it did. brian: you taught sarah polk to your students? prof. greenberg: not yet. brian: and when you do, when
will you? you gave it away when you mentioned sex and violence. there was funny of sex and violence, but she had no part in that. [laughter] prof. greenberg: i mean, there is a lot of brothels in cities, and of course, sarah did not go near those places. boxing was a popular sport. brian: was she a gossip? prof. greenberg: i don't think she was. brian: you say in the book he was not. fair,greenberg: if i am she was a gossip. letters,look at the they were clearly gossiping. brian: closer relationship with karen brown? prof. greenberg: i think they were friends, straight up political friends who would rather talk to each other about politics anybody else.
years afterived 42 he died. how sick was he? prof. greenberg: he never had a strong constitution. he just was never a healthy person and i don't think he ate very much. brian: was he smaller than her? prof. greenberg: people always talked about her being tall, but when you look at her dresses, they are tiny. she was no more than 100 pounds and 5'3". she had a size two foot. to 5'7".s small, 5'6" brian: did she really wear black for the rest of her life after he died? prof. greenberg: every day. brian: that she was out among the public. prof. greenberg: prof. greenberg: yes, and her black clothes were well tailored, but
yeah, she never stopped wearing black. she really embraced the role of polk's widow. she wanted to convince the american public that polk was a great president. by the time the war was over, the reputation of the u.s. was not that great. the republican party emerged out of the whig party. the republicans really looked to the whig essar forbearers thought the democratic party was the bad party. it was problematic for the war, so nobody had anything good to say about the war or poke. sarah made it her business to k. polk.mrs. james
how many letters did you end up collecting? prof. greenberg: over 100, less than 200. brian: what you going to do with those? prof. greenberg: they are all on my computer. brian: are you going to put them in a library? prof. greenberg: that is a great idea. maybe i should do that. brian: did you get another book out of the time spent the sarah polk? is there something else you want to ride out about -- write about? prof. greenberg: i was thinking about writing about the polk plantation in mississippi. some of the people who lived on the plantation ended up fighting in the civil war on the union side, and then, went on and had lives. thanks to pension records after the civil war, you can trace what happened to some of these
people. brian: last question. a few got a chance to meet sarah polk, do you think you would like her? think ieenberg: um, i would like her more than james. [laughter] prof. greenberg: but there would be things we could not talk about. brian: flight? -- like? prof. greenberg: like slavery, and i am not a huge fan of that political platform. brian: the cover with her portrait is from wear and was it your idea? prof. greenberg: the cover has a painted when she was in the white house, and what the ifign people came up with they took one of james' campaign ribbons and did a design on the
ribbon and put it behind her as if she was running for president. i was really impressed. brian: the name of the book is hasy first," and our guest been amy greenberg. thank you very much. prof. greenberg: thank you. ♪ tofor free transcripts or give us your comments about this q&1.org --isit us at q&a.org. >> next sunday on "q&a," and a rock war veteran talks about his inicle "time for peace afghanistan."
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mathur looks at proposals for paid family leave. "washington journal" is next. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2019] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] ♪ host: good morning. it is monday, march 11th. the house meets at noon eastern paris to the senate reconvenes at 3:00 p.m. and both chambers get there look at the 2020 budget proposal when the white house delivers the spending plan later this morning. we begin on the renewed debate over lowering the voting age in this country. last week, the house decided against the measure aimed at lowering the age to 16. we want to know what you think about that idea. if you support lowering the voting age to 16, phone number