May 08, 1847

American President James K. Polk Gives Orders for a Fire-Proof Victory Celebration for the Battle of Cerro Gordo in Washington

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"Saturday, 8th May, 1847 – This evening has been designated by the citizens of Washington for the illumination of the city, in honour of the triumph of our arms by land and sea in the pending war with Mexico. I learned that some of the officers of the public departments were preparing to illuminate. Some of these buildings, and especially those of the War, Navy and State Departments, are not fireproof, are very combustible, and contain the most valuable public records of the Government. I thought there was danger from fire to have them illuminated, and after consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury, when I visited him, and afterwards with the Secretaries of War and the Navy, who concurred with me that it might be unsafe. I gave directions that none of the public offices should be illuminated. I illuminated the Presidential Mansion, and each of the Heads of Departments illuminated their respective houses."
                                 The Diary of James K. Polk During His Presidency, 1845 to 1849.

Here Polk, mindful of the dangers of unattended candles and oil lamps, gives orders not to illuminate public offices in honor of General Scott’s victory at the Battle of Cerro Gordo. The Presidential Mansion and the private residences of Cabinet members will, he says, be lit instead.
Gaslight – which would prove so much safer than candles and lamps – was not installed in the White House until 1848.

Autograph Letter Signed, as President, 1 page, quarto, no place [Washington], May 8, 1847. To Secretary of the Treasury, Robert J. Walker.

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Dear Sir!

I have seen the Secretary of War, who concurs in opinion, that there might be danger from fire - in illuminating his office this evening - and that it would be most prudent not to do so. I will cause the Presidential mansion to be lighted - and I hear that the private residences of each of the heads of Departments will do the same. None of the public offices will be illuminated; will you give orders accordingly - so far as respects your Department?

May 8th, 1847

Yours Truly,


To the Hon. Robert J. Walker
Secretary of the Treasury