Saturday, January 02, 2010

James Buchanan Declines the Supreme Court: Was Polk Suprised?

In my recent post discussing President James K. Polk's offer to nominate James Buchanan to the Supreme Court in 1846, I inferred that Polk was not surprised when Buchanan declined the offer on Saturday August 1, 1846. I have located Polk's diary entry describing his meeting with Buchanan that day, and he certainly does not sound surprised. Apparently confirming this, Polk had already done his homework on an alternate nominee, and was prepared to nominate Robert C. Grier:
Mr. Buchanan called about 6 O'Clock P. M. [on August 1, 1846] and informed me that he had decided to remain in the Cabinet and not to accept the offer which I had made him to appoint him Judge of the Supreme Court. He said that he did this cheerfully, although he had long desired a seat on the bench, and that now he would stick to me & go through my administration with me. I then told him that I would nominate Judge Greer [sic] of Pittsburg to the vacant seat on the bench on monday next [i.e., Monday August 3, 1846]. He replied that he would be entirely satisfied with Judge Greer's [sic] appointment.

I can almost hear Polk groaning when he listens to Buchanan announcing "that now he would stick to me & go through my administration with me."

The illustration is courtesy of Pop Art Machine.


  1. Anonymous11:08 AM

    I have really enjoyed this series of posts about Polk. Buchanan sounds like the kind of person who must have made poor Polk tear his hair out! I'm sure he regretted not being able to deep-six him on the court; no wonder Polk decided not to run for a second term!

  2. Frances,

    Thanks for the kind words. Yes, Buchanan was utterly maddening. What Merry emphasizes is that, despite his willingness to take on and push controversial policy positions, there was something in Polk that caused him to avoid personal confrontation with Buchanan. Time after time, Polk erupted privately over Buchanan's inconsistency, dishonesty and/or disloyalty. And yet each time, Polk backed off, although he had ample cause to force Buchanan out.

    I don't think, however, that Buchanan was responsible for Polk's single term. Polk publicly pledged after he accepted the nomination to serve only one term, and he seems never to wavered in his determination to leave after a single term. He was a workaholic and a micromanager, and he seems to have recognized that the presidency would wear him out, as in fact it did. He died only a matter of months after he left office.


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