As per the bill, the bodies would be relocated from the state capital grounds to the yard of a home in Columbia, Tennessee, called the James K. Polk House, though Polk never owned it and lived there but several months.
The 11th U.S. president and former Tennessee governor loved Nashville so much that he specified in his will that he was to be buried there.
And so he was. But 169 years later, under the guise that Polk’s burial place is hidden away in a corner of the state Capitol grounds and a disservice to the president, lawmakers caved to a multiyear effort to move the grave to gin up revenue for the Polk house and museum.
Thing is, Polk’s burial place is not hidden away but would be if it’s moved. Visitors to the state Capitol can hardly miss the monuments to Tennessee’s former governor as well as to Presidents Andrew Johnson and Andrew Jackson. All are within sight of the Capitol building.
President Polk, who spent some number of nights in Kingsport at the Netherland Inn, was born in 1795 in North Carolina and came to Tennessee to study law. He set up a successful practice in Nashville, was elected to the state legislature and then to the U.S. House. A close ally of Andrew Jackson, he left Congress to become Tennessee’s governor from 1839 to 1841, and though a dark horse candidate for president in 1844, won on a compromise.
Polk said he would serve only one term and was true to his word in that respect and others. He is one of the few presidents who during his four years in office met every single major domestic and foreign policy goal set during his campaign. He won the Mexican-American War, giving the nation nearly all of what is now the American Southwest; wrested the Oregon territory from Great Britain; reorganized the U.S. Treasury; oversaw the opening of the U.S. Naval Academy and Smithsonian Institution; and was there for the groundbreaking of the Washington Monument.
Polk died of cholera only several months after leaving office, and due to fear of spreading the disease, was buried in a public cemetery with other victims. But a year later, his widow had him moved to his home in Nashville, about 400 yards from the Capitol building. He and his wife were relocated to the Capitol grounds after a legal fight among heirs after her death in 1893 resulted in the home being torn down.
Nashville is where President Polk wanted to be buried and is where he should remain. It is unconscionable to even consider moving his tomb. The desecration requires the approval of the Tennessee Historical Commission and its executive director, Patrick McIntyre, strongly opposes it. In a scathing letter, McIntyre condemned the effort, saying it would "create a false sense of history." Also opposing it is the state historian and Polk descendants.
The museum now needs to appeal to the State Capitol Commission which, let us hope, will side with the family, the historical experts, and President Polk himself and leave him in peace.