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Saturday, 19th December, 1846.
I addressed a note to Senator Calhoun of South Carolina this morning requesting him to call on me today. He called about five o'clock P.M. I stated to him my embarrassment in conducting the war with Mexico, when I bad to rely upon General Taylor and General Scott, neither of whom had any sympathies with the government, and the former of whom had already thrown obstacles in the way of the prosecution of the plans of the government. I expressed to him my desire to have authority from Congress to appoint a Lieutenant-General to take command of the army, and told him frankly that if I was invested with such authority I would appoint Senator Benton of Missouri to command. He was decidedly opposed to having such an officer and gave his reasons for his opinion at some length. I found that his mind was settled upon the subject and that it was useless to press it. I next introduced the two million appropriation for which I had asked with a view to negotiations with Mexico. Of this he approved, and said he would vote double that sum, or more if necessary. He said he could not vote for it with the slavery restriction which had been attached to a bill with the same object in the House of Representatives near the close of the last session of Congress, and that if such a restriction were contained in any treaty with Mexico, he would vote against ratifying the treaty. I told him that such a restriction would be most mischievous, and would probably defeat the object in view. I then asked him what boundary I ought to insist upon in a treaty with Mexico, saying to him that I would be pleased to have his opinion upon that point. He mentioned Upper California as being important to us, and intimated that he would be satisfied with the acquisition of that territory. I then told him that the boundary which I proposed, to obtain, if practicable, would cede to the United States the provinces of New Mexico, Upper and Lower California. He said that would be entirely satisfactory to him, and added that he attached but little value to Lower California and cared but little about it. I asked what sum I should agree to pay for such a boundary, in addition to the claims due to our own citizens and the expenses of the war. He answered that he would pay a blind sum and would not stand on a few millions of dollars. I told him if such a treaty was made slavery would probably never exist in these provinces. To this he readily assented, and said he did not desire to extend slavery; but that if the slavery restriction was put into a treaty, it would involve a principle, and whatever the other provisions of the treaty were, he would vote against it. My conversation with him was a frank and pleasant one. He was in a good humour, talked in a pleasant tone, and, I inferred, was pleased that I had sent for him.
Hon. Robert Dale Owen of Indiana, one of the Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, called and submitted to me for my approval, and that of the members of the Cabinet named in the act of the last session upon that subject, another selection for a site for the institution, which the Regents proposed. The site now proposed contains about 16
acres, and is the south half of the Mall between 9th and 12th Streets in the city of Washington. He said he had seen Mr. Burke, the Commissioner of Patents, who was willing to give his assent to this selection. When the Cabinet met I submitted the proposed site to them and they all assented.
- Polk: The Diary of a President, 1845-1849, Covering the Mexican War, the Acquisition of Oregon, and the Conquest of California and the Southwest-Book by Allan Nevins, James Polk; 1929