James K. Polk

Capitol Commission: Not so fast on Polk move

Gov. Bill Haslam attends a ceremony at the James K. Polk tomb in Nashville on Nov. 2, 2012. (Image credit: Gov. Bill Haslam’s office)

(A report from on our James K. Polk correspondent J.R. Lind)

The Capitol Commission, the obscure hodgepodge body charged with maintenance of the state Capitol grounds, will wait just a bit longer to decide whether to give its imprimatur to the effort to relocate the tomb of President James K. Polk and his wife, Sarah.

The commission heard arguments from both sides Friday, but opted to delay a vote to some unspecified future date on the advice of chairman Larry Martin, the commissioner of Finance and Administration.

Spearheaded by Maury County legislators led by Republican Sen. Joey Hensley of Hohenwald, the movement to exhume the Polks from their tomb on the Capitol grounds and move them to the Polk Ancestral Home in Columbia has wound through the legislature for nearly two years.

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Re-vote on Polk resolution featured wild swings for and against

Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) was among 13 members who swung their support to the Polk resolution after declining to support it the first time, while 11 switched from yes to no.

A net gain of two supporters was enough to secure passage of a resolution urging the body of President Jame K. Polk to be exhumed from the state Capitol grounds and moved to Columbia. But that doesn’t tell the whole story about the the wild swing in votes on the controversial measure.

Just 37 members voted for the resolution both times it was up on the floor. Eleven lawmakers who had voted for it when it failed on a 49-37 vote last month (one short of the 50-vote minimum) jumped ship to vote against it when it came back up on Monday night. But it gained the support of 13 members who hadn’t voted for it the first time to pass 51-37 on the re-vote.

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Call to exhume President Polk falls short in House

A resolution calling for the bodies of President James K. Polk and his wife, Sarah, to be exhumed from the grounds of the state Capitol and move them to Columbia has fallen one vote short in the House.

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Haslam: “Leave James and Sarah where they are”

A visitor walks by the tomb of James K. Polk tomb in Nashville on March 13, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Knoxville News Sentinel caught up with Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday, asking him about a variety of issues including his feelings about a work requirement for TennCare recipients (he supports the bill), his NCAA bracket (it’s busted), and calls to exhume the bodies of President James K. Polk and and his wife, Sarah, from the grounds of the state Capitol grounds and move them to Columbia.

Haslam said he’d be disinclined to move the Polks: “I guess if the vote was up to me I’d leave them buried there on the grounds.”

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House sub blocks push to disinter and relocate President James K. Polk’s body

The House State Government Subcommittee has rejected a legislative resolution authorizing disinterment of the bodies of President James K. Polk and his wife from a tomb on the state capitol grounds and moving them to Columbia.

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Some James K. Polk kin oppose disinterring, moving body

The New York Times has done a lengthy article on the proposal to move the bodies of President James K. Polk and his wife from the Tennessee state capitol grounds to his parents’ home in Columbia, including comments from a Polk descendant lobbying against the relocation.

As the article notes, a legislative resolution (SJR141) declaring the General Assembly’s approval of moving the remains is scheduled for a Senate floor vote Monday evening.  It was scheduled for a vote Thursday, but the Senate adjourned before taking it up.


Supporters say the move will properly honor an unjustly overlooked president, a man who expanded the territory of the United States by a third, signed a law establishing the Smithsonian Institution and created the Naval Academy.

Opponents, including Teresa Elam, 65, a distant relative of Polk’s, are calling it nothing short of macabre, and an unsavory effort to promote tourism in Columbia, a city of 37,000 about 50 miles south of Nashville that is otherwise known for a colorful yearly celebration of its mule-breeding industry.

“They’re desecrating a grave,” said Ms. Elam, who has walked the halls of the Capitol with a sheaf full of historical documents, making her case to lawmakers. “It’s been on the Capitol grounds for about 124 years. It’s dishonor and disrespect.”

The Tennessean on Saturday, a day after the Times article appeared, did its own report on the issue, also quoting Elam along with another distant relative of the late president, Bill Mason.

Elam said she’s spoken to more than a dozen other descendants who are just as upset as she is. She described relocating the remains as “despicable” and only “using remains for a pony show.” Mason said it’s rare for any set of remains to be moved, much less three times.

“I wouldn’t want any relative of mine — lowly or high-born — treated that way,” Mason said.

Elam and Mason said there are very few ideas in their mind that would sway them. The only suggestion Elam offered would be to create a “complete total perfect replica” in Columbia of the memorial that lies on the Capitol grounds.

Note: A previous post HERE.


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