Which U.S. Presidents Owned Slaves?

James K. Polk (1845-1849)

1826: “When this country became free and independent, this species of population [slaves)]was found amongst  us.  It had been entailed upon us by our ancestors, and was viewed as a common evil; not confined to the locality  where it was, but affecting the whole nation.  Some of the States which then possessed it have since gotten clear of  it: they were a species of property that differed from all other: they were rational; they were human beings.”  (McCormac,  p612)

1830:  “A slave dreads the punishment of stripes [i.e. whipping] more than he does imprisonment, and that description of punishment has, besides, a beneficial effect upon his fellow-slaves.”  (Sellers,  p186)

1835: As Speaker of the House of Representatives Polk had to deal with the constant barrage of  anti-slavery petitions delivered by Congressman John Quincy Adams and others.  Polk ruled that the  petitions had to be received, but could then be rejected – a compromise that pleased no one.  His inability to control the House permitted Adams to link abolitionism  to the Constitutional right to  petition.  (McCormac, p94)

  1838:  “The Abolitionists [are] fanatical and wicked agitators.”  (Sellers.  P349)

  1841: Polk’s plantation was troubled by slaves running away to nearby plantations, claiming  mistreatment  by the overseer. When Polk visited the plantation he had the most recent two brought  back and whipped.  (Sellers.  P446)

  1846:  Polk discussed the Southwest with Senator Wilmot, who was trying to make certain that slavery would not be allowed  in the former Mexican lands.  “I told him  I did not desire to extend slavery, that I would be satisfied to acquire by treaty from Mexico the Provinces of New  Mexico and the Californias, and that in these Provinces slavery could probably never exist, and the  great probability was that the question would never arise in the future organization of territorial or  State Governments in these territories.” (McCormac. p618)

  1848: “The agitation of the slavery question is mischievous and wicked, and proceeds from no  patriotic motive by its authors.  It is a mere political question on which demagogues and ambitious  politicians hope to promote their own prospects for political promotion.  And this they seem willing to  do even at the hazard of disturbing the harmony if not dissolving the Union itself.”  (Polk,  v4. p251)