Correspondence of JAMES K. POLK

Editorial Practice

The current editor of the Correspondence of James K. Polk has, in most regards, retained the editorial policies of his predecessors. Beginning with Volume 12, however, the editors have modified policies to enhance completeness, conciseness, or clarity. The guiding purpose has remained the clear and accurate presentation of Polk's correspondence.

This digital volume consists of selected letters transcribed in full and annotated, to a limited extent, with endnotes. I define Polk's correspondence as all letters written by or to him. These include circulars (letters sent to multiple recipients) and notes (letters written in the third person), but not other documents sent by mail (such as newspaper clippings, meeting proceedings, or bills). I do not include anything published in James D. Richardson's Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents or any reports published in John Bassett Moore's Works of James Buchanan; though some of these messages and reports begin with a date and salutation, they are letters in form only and can be found in those volumes.1 Nor do I include Polk's other messages to Congress or the reports by cabinet members, structured as letters to Polk, that he enclosed in and Congress published with his annual messages.2

This early edition of Volume 14 differs from the letterpress volumes not only in its digital format but also in the absence of most annotation and of summaries of unpublished letters. Those will appear in the final hardcover and digital editions. Annotation herein is restricted to information about the texts and, where necessary to avoid confusion, very limited context. Endnotes provide neither identifications of people and topics nor full names for people mentioned in letters. As always, though, readers can assume that a reference to "Polk" in the annotation is to James K. Polk. In the annotation I refer to the war fought by the United States and Mexico by the succinct term that Polk and many of his correspondents used, "the Mexican War."

In general, the editor and the editorial assistant have transcribed the letters faithfully with a strict regard for original spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and text placement. To improve clarity and to accommodate the demands of printed and digital type, however, we have yielded to a few standard rules of normalization. We have capitalized initial words of sentences and supplied sentence-ending punctuation if sentence divisions are clear; if sentence divisions are unclear, we have indicated so in notes. If a word in a manuscript can be read with equal ease as either the conventional or an unconventional spelling, we have transcribed it as the former. Similarly, if a word's capitalization is ambiguous, we have followed conventional upper- or lower-case usage. We have incorporated authors' interlineations and cancellations into the texts without comment, except where an explanation or the retention of struck-out text (in brackets) is necessary for readers' comprehension. Unintentional consecutive word repetitions have been omitted.

We have transcribed short dashes on the base of the line as commas or periods where the authors used them as such. We have ignored redundant punctuation and meaningless flourishes or ink marks. We have brought superscripts down to the line and transcribed markings beneath or beside superscripts as periods. We have omitted punctuation following the abbreviations "st," "nd," "rd," and "th"; punctuation after "s" if an author used it with every plural noun; and punctuation after a letter's date or signature. We have replaced colons or flourishes used to end abbreviations or initials with periods. We have standardized quotation marks, using double marks for a quotation and single marks for a quotation within a quotation, and have placed periods and commas before closing quotation marks. We have replaced nonstandard punctuation (such as a comma below a dash) with the most similar punctuation available that retains the author's meaning. Underlined text is represented by italics.

Regardless of their position in the manuscript, we have set a letter's salutation and its place and date of composition on one line (or more if necessary) immediately below the letter's heading. In a letter written over two days, the second date appears at its place in the manuscript. Except in rare cases where they are particularly illuminating, we have omitted complimentary closings; an ellipsis at the end of a letter indicates a closing that either appears in the manuscript's final paragraph or, though positioned separately, continues the final sentence of that paragraph. We have rendered each author's signature in capitals and small capitals on its own line, but have placed the signature to a postscript in upper- and lower-case letters at the end of the last paragraph of the postscript. We have omitted professional titles that follow signatures. We have set each postscript at the end of its letter; a note indicates if it appears elsewhere in the manuscript.

Most of the transcriptions are based on extant letters held in archives or private collections. In rare cases, they derive from publications of letters or from original manuscripts of which the project has obtained copies but whose current locations are unknown. Three letters in this volume were originally written in languages besides English. The only version of a German letter that has been found, though, is the English translation that was presented to Polk and is transcribed herein. For the French and Spanish letters that the president received, I publish English translations by French historian Margaret Cook Anderson and by Mexican War historian John C. Pinheiro and myself.

Each letter's headnote includes the physical description and location of the version transcribed, along with identifications of other known extant versions or publications of the letter. We have noted the city or other location to which a published letter was addressed, whether written inside the letter or on its cover-the envelope if one was used or the exterior of the folded letter if one was not-in the headnote; we have noted probable addresses for letters whose covers are missing. Also in the headnote, we have included information from the recipient's or another's endorsement if it adds to readers' understanding of the letter (Polk and his secretaries often summarized letters on their covers, but we generally have not included those summaries). In two cases, where Polk wrote an important endorsement in letter form, we have transcribed it in full above the headnote. We have quoted, in the headnote, the author's notation of "private" or other such stipulation; this text is from the top of the letter unless otherwise indicated. We have included delivery information such as the names of couriers, but mentioned postmarks only if they reveal significant information such as a delay in mailing or the route of an international letter.

Brackets within a letter indicate text that we have inserted to complete a probable meaning, text whose transcription is uncertain, cancelled text that we have retained, or text that we have transcribed from a different version of the letter. A note indicates the nature of the bracketed text. The letters include many errors and unconventional spellings; bracketed text to complete meanings, or notes with corrected spellings, have been inserted only where confusion is likely otherwise. Bracketed ellipses indicate text that is illegible, usually owing to damage, archival tape, or poor ink transfer in Polk's copy press; a note indicates the problem. Brackets also surround supplied places or dates of composition (if omitted from or incorrectly stated in a manuscript), supplied signatures (if omitted from or cut out of a manuscript), and supplied postscript headings.

Although this volume contains relatively little annotation, in crafting it I have consulted numerous primary and secondary sources. These include many well-known reference books and monographs. To ensure accuracy, only facts for which I have at least one reliable primary source or two reliable secondary sources have been included. Owing to these considerations and pursuant to my desire that, in the final edition of the volume, the notes not overwhelm the letters, I have foregone the naming of sources in the notes except in rare cases where confusion may result otherwise.

Letters often refer to other letters to or from Polk. In general, readers may find such letters in this series. Some remain to be summarized for the final edition of this volume. I have noted if a mentioned letter has not been found. If an author refers to a letter in this series without giving the correspondent and date, I have supplied that information.

I have identified in notes, with archival locations, all documents enclosed within letters published in this volume. Notes also indicate enclosures mentioned in the correspondence that have not been found. A letter's headnote indicates if the letter is itself an enclosure. I include notes for enclosed objects only if they have been found; most have not.

  1. The volumes of those series covering the months included in this volume are James D. Richardson, ed., A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, vol. 4 (Washington, D.C. : GPO, 1897), and John Bassett Moore, ed., The Works of James Buchanan: Comprising His Speeches, State Papers, and Private Correspondence, vol. 8 (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1909).
  2. Polk's Fourth Annual Message to Congress, dated December 5, 1848, and accompanying documents including reports by Secretary of the Treasury Robert J. Walker, Secretary of War William L. Marcy, Secretary of the Navy John Y. Mason, and Postmaster General Cave Johnson can be found in House Executive Document No. 1, 30th Congress, 2nd Session.