CBSN

Resolution to move former President James K. Polk's body approved

NASHVILLE, Tenn. --The Tennessee Senate passed a resolution Monday that would allow the body of former President James K. Polk to be exhumed and moved to a fourth resting place.

Polk and his wife, Sarah, are currently buried on the grounds of the state Capitol.

The resolution would allow the bodies to be exhumed and moved about 50 miles south to Columbia to the grounds of the James K. Polk Home and Museum.

The proposal has riled some folks in Tennessee who think the move desecrates the body of the nation’s 11th president. The state historian objects to the move, and the descendants of the former president are pitted against one another.

Teresa Elam, who says she is a seventh-generation great-niece of the childless Polk, called the whole idea “mortifying.”

“I got so upset about it because they’re going to take these bodies of these fine, wonderful people and bring them down to Columbia and put them on display to make money,” she said.

Others believe the move would more appropriately honor the president who played a central role in helping expand the U.S. across the continent.

The former president left a will saying he wanted to be buried at Polk Place, his mansion in Nashville. But sickness, a legal battle over the estate and the eventual sale of Polk Place outside the family meant he couldn’t have his wish.

Polk, a former Tennessee governor, died of cholera in June of 1849, just three months after leaving the White House. He was originally laid to rest in what is now the Nashville City Cemetery because of an ordinance that said people who died of infectious diseases had to be buried on the outskirts of town within 24 hours.

His body was later moved to Polk Place, but that wouldn’t last. The Polks were dug up and moved to the Capitol after the mansion was sold after their deaths.

The vote, which was 20-6, is the first of several steps necessary to actually move the bodies, including court approval and the blessing of the Tennessee Historical Society.

While he is often overshadowed in the history books by fellow Tennessean Andrew Jackson, Polk, who chose to serve only one term as president, played a central role in helping the U.S. spread across the continent and realize what many Americans considered their Manifest Destiny.

According to a recent C-SPAN survey of presidential historians, Polk ranks 14th among all U.S. presidents, just ahead of Bill Clinton.