Jimmy Polk of Tennessee



The National Clay Minstrel continues with that toe-tapping tune, “Jimmy Polk of Tennessee.”




Tune — “Dandy Jim of Caroline.”

O, every day brings something new,
The Loco Focos find it so;
And strange events have proved to Martin
That doubtful things are “mighty unsartin.”

At Lindenwald the Fox is holed,
The Coons all laugh to hear it told—
Ha! ha! ha! such a nominee
As Jimmy Polk of Tennessee.

O, annexation was the yoke,
That fixed Van like a “pig in a poke!
They poked it to the cunning elf,
By poking Jimmy Polk himself!

At Lindenwald, &c.

And “Cass,” poor fool, his chance has flown,
Like the “lone star,” he stands alone;
His “Texas letter” proves that he,
Should write his name without a C.

At Lindenwald, &c.

And Colonel Johnson too, whose zeal
Burned bright for Texas and Repeal;
The Locos thought Dick “didn’t know beans,”
And so they poked up Polk for greens.

At Lindenwald, &c.

But Polk for greens won’t save their bacon,
The party is to its centre shaken;
E’en Tyler and Texas now do say,
That Polk can’t polk it into Clay.

At Lindenwald, &c.

And Silas Wright (’twas a good joke,
Declined,) he was not fond of Polk;
But, Silas we won’t trouble you,
You’re “right” without the “W.”

At Lindenwald, &c.

Next George M. Dallas they persuade,
Altho’ he wore the black cockade.
And tho’ he went the Bank and Biddle,
To Polk he plays the second fiddle.

At Lindenwald, &c.

Now “choke” and Polk will always rhyme,
And Dallas and gallows is very sublime;
They dosed the Fox on Polk root poison,
Huzza for Clay and Frelinghuysen!

At Lindenwald, &c.


“Dandy Jim of Caroline” was a popular minstrel-show tune.  Please don’t look up the lyrics.  Please.  Don’t.  If you do, that will take you down the rabbit hole into blackface minstrel shows, the “Zip Coon” stock character, and much sadness.

The Loco Focos (or, more commonly, Locofocos) were a radical Democratic splinter party that took their name from a brand of self-lighting match (from an incident when Tammany Hall shut off the gas lights in the chamber where they were meeting so they had to light candles).

Martin Van Buren (1782-1862) was the Sly Fox of Kinderhook.  Lindenwald (now a National Historic Site!) was his house.  The “coons,” or raccoons, were the Whigs, much as the elephants and the donkeys are today’s Republicans and Democrats.

James Knox Polk (1795-1849) ,  was born in North Carolina. He moved with his family to Tennessee in 1806.  He served as a  Representative from Tennessee and as Governor of Tennessee.

Annexation, that is, the annexation of Texas, was the hot topic in the 1840s.  Polk and Dallas favored it, Clay and Frelinghuysen didn’t.  And that’s why there’s a Dallas, Texas, today.

Brigadier General Lewis Cass (1782-1866) stood for the Democratic nomination for President in 1844.  He was defeated on the 9th ballot by James K. Polk.  As Andrew Jackson’s Secretary of War he had been instrumental in enforcing the Indian Removal Act.  His “Texas letter” written 10 May 1844 to Senator Edward A. Hannegan of Indiana, a Democrat, and published in the Washington Globe on 16 May, argued for immediate annexation.  The “lone star” was the symbol of Texas.

Rumpsey Dumpsey, Rumpsey Dumpsey, Colonel Johnson killed Tecumseh.  Richard M. Johnson (1780-1850) was Martin Van Buren’s  vice president, and the only vice president ever elected by the Senate under the 12th Amendment.   He stood for nomination as the Democratic  presidential candidate in 1844, but was not selected.

“Repeal” or Irish Repeal, was a popular cause among Irish immigrants.  It referred to repealing the Acts of Union of 1800 that joined the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.  In the USA the Repealers had torch-light parades, oratory drawing huge crowds, and the Catholic vote.  Anyone who wanted the “Native American” vote, however, leery as they were of immigrants and the immigrants’ weird foreign religion, would stay away from Repeal.

The “greens” would be poke sallet, common in the South, using the leaves of the (poisonous) pokeweed as a foodstuff.

John Tyler (1790-1862), a Whig, had become president after the death of William Henry Harrison.  The Whigs threw Tyler out of the party for supporting the annexation of Texas.

Silas Wright, Jr. (1795-1847) favored the Tariff of 1842 and opposed the annexation of Texas.  The Democrats, attempting to build a broad base,  offered him the vice-presidential nomination in 1844, which he declined, running for Governor of New York instead (he won).

George M. Dallas (1792-1864) of Philadelphia, a Democrat, supported tariff reduction and territorial expansion.   When James K. Polk and Silas Wright were nominated to be the presidential and vice-presidential candidates, Dallas wasn’t even at the convention.  He was awakened at home by  a messenger who told him that Wright had declined the nomination and the party had selected him instead.

The black cockade was meant to imply that Dallas was a Federalist.

The Bank is the Second Bank of the United States, and Biddle is fellow-Philadelphian Nicholas Biddle, the bank’s president.  During Dallas’s two years in the US Senate, the question of the recharter of the bank came up, which Dallas supported.

“The Fox” would have been Martin Van Buren, “The Sly Fox of Kinderhook.”  “Polk root poison” would have been a medicine made of pokeweed root, a gastrointestinal irritant.  (Early 19th century medicine could be frightening. As Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. observed, “if the whole materia medica, as now used, could be sunk to the bottom of the sea, it would be better for mankind-and all the worse for the fishes.”)

Henry Clay (1777-1852), “The Great Compromiser,” ran for president five times without being elected even once.   He was the Whigs’ choice in 1844.

Theodore Frelinghuysen (1787-1862),  “The Christian Statesman,” served as US Senator from New Jersey, Mayor of Newark, and President of Rutgers College during his long and honorable career in public service.

By the end of this project I will have a most exacting knowledge of the politics of 1844.



5 thoughts on “Jimmy Polk of Tennessee

  1. Jim: whatever book you wind up with out of this … I want to read it smile emoticon I know a lot about this period; ping me if I can be of any assistance.

  2. You know my methods, Walter. I do my research in public, and this was indeed something I ran into while doing research. But the story is already written (involving a United States that never left the Articles of Confederation). Perhaps we may someday write a full novel in that same universe.

    I found this songbook fascinating, and the references in it obscure, so decided to look some things up … and here we are.

    Do you, by any chance, have a definitive source for the tune to “The Hurrah Song”?

  3. Alas, no, it isn’t. “The Hurrah Song” has this form:

    Iambic pentameter line, rhyme A
    Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
    Iambic pentameter line, rhyme A
    Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
    Iambic pentameter line, rhyme B
    Iambic pentameter line, rhyme B
    Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
    Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!

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