POLK, James Knox (1795-1849), President. Autograph letter signed (''James K Polk'') as the Democratic nominee for President, to Samuel H. Laughlin, editor of the Nashville Union, Columbia, Tennessee, 26 July 1844. 2 2/3 pages, 4to (9 7/8 x 7 5/8 in.), seal hole affecting two words, otherwise in fine condition.
POLK, James Knox (1795-1849), President. Autograph letter signed ("James K Polk") as the Democratic nominee for President, to Samuel H. Laughlin, editor of the Nashville Union, Columbia, Tennessee, 26 July 1844. 2 2/3 pages, 4to (9 7/8 x 7 5/8 in.), seal hole affecting two words, otherwise in fine condition.
POLK'S CAMPAIGN AND THE POWER OF THE PRESS: "NOTHING CAN HAVE SO MUCH INFLUENCE IN CONTROLLING THESE EVENTS AS THE PUBLIC PRESS"
A revealing testimony to the burgeoning role of the press in national political campaigns. In the middle decade of the century, the revolutionary introduction of the cylinder press and the use of steam power had made it possible for newspapers to reach a mass audience, and politicians were quick to realize the potential of these wide circulation papers.
In 1844, the Democratic Party nominated dark-horse candidate Polk over Martin Van Buren and Lewis Cass, but Polk faced an uphill battle against the popular Whig, Henry Clay. Here, he frets that an article will not be printed soon enough: "I am mortified that your letter to our festival here...has not been published. The cause is that the paper has been crowded with matter....I sincerely desired its publication but fear now that it would appear out of time. The events of your journey...transpired three weeks before...and it has now been two weeks since...you know the troubles of printers, and those who have to deal with them, sufficiently well to make 'many grains of allowance,' for their short-comings." Polk tells Laughlin he has high expectations for his paper: "the Union should be a great paper during the pending contest. It is looked to from all parts of the Union..." and "It was the understanding that Nicholson & Humphreys were to contribute their aid...Harris I have no doubt would willingly aid if requested, without appearing as being known, connected in any way with the Editorial Department." Polk cites Thomas Ritchie's paper as a model: "Mr. Ritchie & the Globe and indeed all the leading organs have numerous contributors in this way." He offers a further endorsement of Harris: "[He] has a remarkable talent in infusing spirit and enthusiasm into any paper with which he is connected."
Polk confirms that the newspapers are a critical element in his campaign against Clay: "We want the aid of our whole talent & fame & if you see no objection to it...[a] new spirit should be thrown into the paper. The ascendancy of political parties not only now, but for years to come, depends on the events of the next 100 days, and nothing can have so much influence in controlling these events as the public press. If we can keep up the present enthusiasm all will be well. If we suffer it to ab[ate] it may be otherwise."
Provenance: Mrs. Philip D. Sang (sale, Sotheby's, 27 March 1985, lot 228).