Tennessee Lawmakers Reject Renewed Effort To Move Polk's Tomb From Capitol Grounds

Mar 20, 2018
Originally published on March 19, 2018 8:23 pm

Tennessee lawmakers have narrowly rejected an effort to move the tomb containing the remains of James K. Polk and his wife, Sarah, putting an end for now to a two-year debate over what to do with the memorial to the nation's 11th president.

The Tennessee House of Representatives rejected a resolution by a single vote Monday night, which called for moving Polk to the grounds of a family home in Columbia that's operated by a nonprofit dedicated to his memory.

Supporters said he'd receive more attention there than in his current resting place on the grounds of the state Capitol. Opponents countered that it violated Polk's clear wish to be buried in Nashville.

"It's very meaningful to him that he remain here in Nashville, where he has rested in peace for 125 years," said state Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet. "I think that's all anybody wants for their kin, is that they rest in peace."

Polk served a single term in the White House. His legacy included founding the U.S. Naval Academy, establishing the Smithsonian Institution and prosecuting the war with Mexico that brought Texas and much of the Southwest under U.S. control. He was also a slave owner who supported extending slavery into much of the newly acquired territory.

After politics, Polk returned to Nashville in 1849 but died just months later from cholera. He was originally buried in the city cemetery for sanitary reasons, but a year later, his body was reinterred on the grounds of his Nashville home, Polk Place, as stated in his will.

He remained there until Sarah Polk's death in the 1890s. Because they left no heirs, the home was razed and both were entombed on the northeastern corner of the Capitol grounds, about 400 yards from the location of Polk Place.

Backers of Senate Joint Resolution 141 argued the burying him at the Polk home in Columbia would be closer to his original intentions. And 49 legislators agreed. But that was one vote short of the 50 votes needed to pass any piece of legislation in the Tennessee House, meaning his remains will stay put in Nashville — at least for the time being.

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