POLK, James K. Autograph letter signed ("James K Polk," with flourish) as Presidential nominee, TO HIS VICE PRESIDENTIAL RUNNING-MATE GEORGE M. DALLAS (1792-1864), Columbia, Tennessee, 20 June 1844. 3 1/8 pages, 4to (9 7/8 x 7¾ in.), professional repair along vertical fold, otherwise very fine.
POLK AND HIS RUNNING-MATE PLAN CONFIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN STRATEGY
A marvelous political letter. Less than a month after garnering the Democratic party's nomination for President, Polk introduces himself to his running-mate, a respected Pennsylvania politician, and discusses their strategy for the forthcoming "canvass" or campaign. Polk opens his letter, marked "Confidential," rather formally: "The nomination made by the Democratic National Convention at Baltimore, by which your name and my own were placed on the same ticket, would seem to make it proper that there should be a few interchanges of opinions and views, upon the various points which may arise in the progress of the canvass."
One key issue was Polk's widely publicized vow to seek only a single term in office, and he expresses regret that he could not confer with Dallas before declaraing this intention in his acceptance letter: "There was only one point in my answer upon which I would have been pleased to have had your opinion; it is that in which I declare my purpose, in the event of my election, to retire at the end of four years. The reasons for assuming this position will readily suggest themselves, & I hope may be satisfactory. I was careful to express only my own individual determination, without intending...to commit the party or any member of it upon the one term principle."
After informing Dallas that he will not be travelling during the campaign, in order to uphold "the dignity of my position," he turns to a discussion of the tariff, a sensitive issue in the Vice Presidential candidate's home state of Pennsylvania: "I addressed a letter to our neutral friend the Hon. J.K. Kane of your City in which I communicated to him my general views upon the subject of the tariff...I requested him to show my letter to yourself...and take your advice as to the necessity or propriety of its publication." Arguing that he would prefer not to publish expositions of his views, but would rather stand upon his political record, he asserts: "There would be no difficulty in ascertaining my views on the tariff, by an examination of my notes & speeches." Polk asks Dallas to compare their views on the tariff and let him know "whether there is any difference of opinion between us." (In fact, the two men did have opposing views on the issue. Dallas, responding to the demands of his constituents to protect home industry, supported a protective tariff; Polk, like many southerners, opposed them. When Polk supported the Walker Tariff of 1846, which reduced import duties, Dallas's decision to stand by the President, and to cast the deciding vote of approval in the Senate, largely destroyed his political career at home.)
Polk concludes on a friendly note: "I hope you will communicate with me upon all matters connected with the canvass freely & without reserve. Whatever you may say will be regarded as strictly confidential." He assures Dallas that "the greatest enthusiasm prevails among the Democracy of this state, since the nominations were known. Therefore [it] may be put down among the Democratic States."
The campaign was largely waged in the press, with sharp ad hominem attacks. The Whig party's Presidential nominee, Henry Clay, was widely expected to win an easy victory over the dark-horse Democratic ticket. Clay, though, opposed the annexation of Texas, which offended southern voters, and was himself a slave-holder, which cost him support in the north. A third-party candidate, Birney of Michigan, running on an abolitionist platform, secured the electoral votes of the state of New York and tipped the election to Polk.