The state Senate voted 20-6 in favor of a resolution 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 allows the bodies to be exhumed and moved about 50 miles south to Columbia to the grounds of the James K. Polk Home and Museum.
Those in favor of the move say the move would more appropriately honor the president who played a central role in helping expand the U.S. across the continent.
“We want to honor James K. Polk and his wife,” said Sen. Joey Hensley, a Republican from Hohenwald who sponsored the resolution. “We want to have him somewhere where people can talk about him, and see what all he accomplished.”
“I think it will bring a lot more recognition to a man who did so much for this country,” added Sen. Bill Ketron, a Republican from Murfreesboro.
However, the resolution has been met with mixed reviews from family members. Teresa Elam, a 7th generation niece of President Polk, has fought the decision by passing out letters to senators asking that they vote against the resolution.
“We just wanted a chance to say stop this travesty,” said Elam. “It’s almost like grave robbing.”
Elam said she has done extensive research on the President’s wishes. His will calls for him to be buried at Polk Place in Nashville. However, after his wife died in 1891, a family disagreement led to the home being sold and Polk’s remains were moved to the Capitol. Polk Place no longer exists.
Elam said the Polk family had several opportunities to move his remains to Columbia but never did. She said the resolution was just a way to try and boost tourism.
“To go visit the grave and have to pay $28 a head and you have tourists everywhere,” said Elam. “It’s just disrespectful. It’s just wrong. You are desecrating the grave.”
The James K. Polk Home and Museum in Columbia has supported the move.
“The James K. Polk Home and Museum in Columbia most closely fits Polk’s request to be buried at home as the only remaining home Polk lived in except for the White House,” said Thomas Price, curator of the James K. Polk Ancestral Home, in a statement. “Since 1929, it has been the main historic site for James K. Polk, welcoming tens of thousands of visitors each year, and it is home to the largest collection of Polk artifacts. We hope having the Polks’ tomb here will honor the legacy of our 11th President. “
The Senate vote is the first step of the process. The Tennessee Historical Commission and the Tennessee Capitol Commission will still need to sign off before any changes could be made.
The Davidson County Chancery Court must also determine if the remains can be moved.