James Knox Polk, 1795-1849, 11th US President (1845-1849)

James Knox Polk, 1795-1849, 11th US President (1845-1849)

James Knox Polk, 1795-1849, 11th US President (1845-1849)

President at the time of the Mexican War. A career politician, he served in some capacity from 1823 until just before his death. A Democrat, he was nominated as their president for the Presidency in 1844 as a 'dark horse' candidate after deadlock and the Democratic Convention, where he had expected to be nominated only for the vice-presidency. Amongst his policies, were a determination to acquire California from Mexico, and to allow Texas into the union, two policies that contributed greatly to the outbreak of the Mexican War. He won the presidency because the Whig opposition was split, with the breakaway Liberty party taking enough votes off the Whigs to give him a 38,000 vote majority out of 2,638,000 votes.

Results of the Mexican War

He was the youngest president yet to serve, hard working, and closely involved with every element of his government. In 1846 he ordered troops to the Rio Grande, triggering war with Mexico. His relationship with General Winfield Scott, the commander of the US Army was fraught, as Scott was a dedicated Whig (and later stood for the Presidency himself). Thus Polk was unwilling to allow Scott too much glory from the war, and initially obstructed Scott's plans for an amphibious invasion of central Mexico, but was eventually forced to approve the plan. Once it succeeded, Scott was recalled to face spurious charges, but to Polk's embarrassment was received as a national hero, and awarded a congressional gold medal, which Polk had to present. Polk was never physically strong, and the demands of the presidency left him exhausted, and he died on 15 June 1849, only three months after leaving office.


James Knox Polk

His family moved (1806) to the Duck River valley in Tennessee and there, after graduating from the Univ. of North Carolina (1818) and studying law under Felix Grundy, he began (1820) to practice law in Columbia. Polk served in the state legislature (1823󈞅) and in the U.S. House of Representatives (1825󈞓), where he was speaker for the years 1835󈞓. He was a leading Jacksonian Democrat. In 1839 he was elected governor of Tennessee, but he was defeated for reelection by the Whig candidate in 1841 and 1843.

Polk had vice presidential ambitions, but Andrew Jackson, convinced that Martin Van Buren Van Buren, Martin,
1782�, 8th President of the United States (1837󈞕), b. Kinderhook, Columbia co., N.Y. Early Career

He was reared on his father's farm, was educated at local schools, and after reading law was admitted (1803) to the bar.
. Click the link for more information. had committed political suicide by announcing his opposition to the annexation of Texas, urged Polk to consider the presidency. With the Van Buren and Lewis Cass Cass, Lewis,
1782�, American statesman, b. Exeter, N.H. He established (1802) himself as a lawyer in Zanesville, Ohio, became a member (1806) of the state legislature, and was U.S. marshal for Ohio from 1807 to 1812.
. Click the link for more information. factions deadlocked at the Democratic convention at Baltimore in 1844, George Bancroft Bancroft, George,
1800�, American historian and public official, b. Worcester, Mass. He taught briefly at Harvard and then at the Round Hill School in Northampton, Mass., of which he was a founder and proprietor. He then turned definitively to writing. His article (Jan.
. Click the link for more information. advanced Polk as a candidate behind whom both sections could unite, and the "dark horse" won the nomination. Polk campaigned on an expansionist platform and narrowly defeated Henry Clay Clay, Henry,
1777�, American statesman, b. Hanover co., Va. Early Career

His father died when he was four years old, and Clay's formal schooling was limited to three years.
. Click the link for more information. by carrying New York state, where the presidential candidacy of James G. Birney of the Liberty party Liberty party,
in U.S. history, an antislavery political organization founded in 1840. It was formed by those abolitionists, under the leadership of James G. Birney and Gerrit Smith, who repudiated William Lloyd Garrison's nonpolitical stand.
. Click the link for more information. cut into Clay's vote.

Presidency

To the surprise of many, the new President proved to be his own man he even ignored Jackson's wishes on several matters. Renouncing a second term for himself, he required the members of his cabinet, which included James Buchanan Buchanan, James,
1791�, 15th President of the United States (1857󈞩), b. near Mercersburg, Pa., grad. Dickinson College, 1809. Early Career

Buchanan studied law at Lancaster, Pa.
. Click the link for more information. , Robert J. Walker Walker, Robert John,
1801󈞱, American public official, b. Northumberland, Pa. A lawyer, he practiced for a time in Pittsburgh. In 1826 he moved to Natchez, Miss. As a Democratic Senator (1836󈞙) from Mississippi, Walker was an ardent advocate of U.S.
. Click the link for more information. , William L. Marcy Marcy, William Learned,
1786�, American politician, b. Southbridge, Mass. He settled in Troy, N.Y., where he practiced law and, after serving in the War of 1812, held local offices.
. Click the link for more information. , and Bancroft, to devote all their energies to their offices, not to campaigning to succeed him.

Polk announced that his administration would achieve "four great measures": reduction of the tariff reestablishment of the independent treasury settlement of the Oregon boundary dispute and the acquisition of California. All were accomplished. The Walker Tariff, one of the lowest in U.S. history, was enacted in 1846, as was the bill restoring the Independent Treasury System Independent Treasury System,
in U.S. history, system for the retaining of government funds in the Treasury and its subtreasuries independently of the national banking and financial systems. In one form or another, it existed from the 1840s to 1921.
. Click the link for more information. . Despite the aggressive Democratic slogan "Fifty-four forty or fight Fifty-four forty or fight,
in U.S. history, phrase commonly used by extremists in the controversy with Great Britain over the Oregon country. The rights of the United States, they maintained, extended to the whole region, i.e., to lat.
. Click the link for more information. ," the dispute with Great Britain over Oregon was peaceably resolved with the adoption of lat. 49°N (the 49th parallel) as Oregon's northern boundary.

Relations with Mexico, on the other hand, reached a breaking point after the annexation of Texas. Polk had hoped to purchase California and to settle other difficulties with Mexico by negotiation. However, after the failure of the mission of John Slidell Slidell, John
, 1793�, American political leader and diplomat, b. New York City. He became a prominent lawyer and political figure in New Orleans and served as a Democrat in Congress (1843󈞙). In 1845, Slidell was appointed special U.S.
. Click the link for more information. to Mexico, the President ordered the American advance to the Rio Grande that precipitated the Mexican War Mexican War,
1846󈞜, armed conflict between the United States and Mexico. Causes

While the immediate cause of the war was the U.S. annexation of Texas (Dec., 1845), other factors had disturbed peaceful relations between the two republics.
. Click the link for more information. . As a result of the war, the United States acquired not only California but the entire Southwest.

Few presidents have worked harder, and few have equaled Polk's record of attaining specific, stated aims. He labored so strenuously in fact that his health gave way, and he died a few months after leaving office.

Bibliography

See The Diary of James K. Polk (ed. by M. M. Quaife, 4 vol., 1910 abr. in 1 vol. by A. Nevins, 1952) his correspondence, ed. by H. Weaver and P. H. Bergeron (2 vol. 1969󈞴) biographies by C. G. Sellers, Jr. (2 vol., 1957󈞮), C. A. McCoy (1960, repr. 1973), and W. R. Borneman (2008) R. W. Merry, A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War, and the Conquest of the American Continent (2009).


Early Years

James Knox Polk was born in Pineville, a small town in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, on November 2, 1795, and graduated with honors in 1818 from the University of North Carolina. Leaving his law practice behind, he served in the Tennessee legislature, where he became friends with Andrew Jackson. Polk moved from the Tennessee legislature to the United States House of Representatives, serving from 1825 to 1839 (and serving as speaker of the House from 1835 to 1839). He left his congressional post to become governor of Tennessee.


James Knox Polk

His family moved (1806) to the Duck River valley in Tennessee and there, after graduating from the Univ. of North Carolina (1818) and studying law under Felix Grundy, he began (1820) to practice law in Columbia. Polk served in the state legislature (1823󈞅) and in the U.S. House of Representatives (1825󈞓), where he was speaker for the years 1835󈞓. He was a leading Jacksonian Democrat. In 1839 he was elected governor of Tennessee, but he was defeated for reelection by the Whig candidate in 1841 and 1843.

Polk had vice presidential ambitions, but Andrew Jackson, convinced that Martin Van Buren Van Buren, Martin,
1782�, 8th President of the United States (1837󈞕), b. Kinderhook, Columbia co., N.Y. Early Career

He was reared on his father's farm, was educated at local schools, and after reading law was admitted (1803) to the bar.
. Click the link for more information. had committed political suicide by announcing his opposition to the annexation of Texas, urged Polk to consider the presidency. With the Van Buren and Lewis Cass Cass, Lewis,
1782�, American statesman, b. Exeter, N.H. He established (1802) himself as a lawyer in Zanesville, Ohio, became a member (1806) of the state legislature, and was U.S. marshal for Ohio from 1807 to 1812.
. Click the link for more information. factions deadlocked at the Democratic convention at Baltimore in 1844, George Bancroft Bancroft, George,
1800�, American historian and public official, b. Worcester, Mass. He taught briefly at Harvard and then at the Round Hill School in Northampton, Mass., of which he was a founder and proprietor. He then turned definitively to writing. His article (Jan.
. Click the link for more information. advanced Polk as a candidate behind whom both sections could unite, and the "dark horse" won the nomination. Polk campaigned on an expansionist platform and narrowly defeated Henry Clay Clay, Henry,
1777�, American statesman, b. Hanover co., Va. Early Career

His father died when he was four years old, and Clay's formal schooling was limited to three years.
. Click the link for more information. by carrying New York state, where the presidential candidacy of James G. Birney of the Liberty party Liberty party,
in U.S. history, an antislavery political organization founded in 1840. It was formed by those abolitionists, under the leadership of James G. Birney and Gerrit Smith, who repudiated William Lloyd Garrison's nonpolitical stand.
. Click the link for more information. cut into Clay's vote.

Presidency

To the surprise of many, the new President proved to be his own man he even ignored Jackson's wishes on several matters. Renouncing a second term for himself, he required the members of his cabinet, which included James Buchanan Buchanan, James,
1791�, 15th President of the United States (1857󈞩), b. near Mercersburg, Pa., grad. Dickinson College, 1809. Early Career

Buchanan studied law at Lancaster, Pa.
. Click the link for more information. , Robert J. Walker Walker, Robert John,
1801󈞱, American public official, b. Northumberland, Pa. A lawyer, he practiced for a time in Pittsburgh. In 1826 he moved to Natchez, Miss. As a Democratic Senator (1836󈞙) from Mississippi, Walker was an ardent advocate of U.S.
. Click the link for more information. , William L. Marcy Marcy, William Learned,
1786�, American politician, b. Southbridge, Mass. He settled in Troy, N.Y., where he practiced law and, after serving in the War of 1812, held local offices.
. Click the link for more information. , and Bancroft, to devote all their energies to their offices, not to campaigning to succeed him.

Polk announced that his administration would achieve "four great measures": reduction of the tariff reestablishment of the independent treasury settlement of the Oregon boundary dispute and the acquisition of California. All were accomplished. The Walker Tariff, one of the lowest in U.S. history, was enacted in 1846, as was the bill restoring the Independent Treasury System Independent Treasury System,
in U.S. history, system for the retaining of government funds in the Treasury and its subtreasuries independently of the national banking and financial systems. In one form or another, it existed from the 1840s to 1921.
. Click the link for more information. . Despite the aggressive Democratic slogan "Fifty-four forty or fight Fifty-four forty or fight,
in U.S. history, phrase commonly used by extremists in the controversy with Great Britain over the Oregon country. The rights of the United States, they maintained, extended to the whole region, i.e., to lat.
. Click the link for more information. ," the dispute with Great Britain over Oregon was peaceably resolved with the adoption of lat. 49°N (the 49th parallel) as Oregon's northern boundary.

Relations with Mexico, on the other hand, reached a breaking point after the annexation of Texas. Polk had hoped to purchase California and to settle other difficulties with Mexico by negotiation. However, after the failure of the mission of John Slidell Slidell, John
, 1793�, American political leader and diplomat, b. New York City. He became a prominent lawyer and political figure in New Orleans and served as a Democrat in Congress (1843󈞙). In 1845, Slidell was appointed special U.S.
. Click the link for more information. to Mexico, the President ordered the American advance to the Rio Grande that precipitated the Mexican War Mexican War,
1846󈞜, armed conflict between the United States and Mexico. Causes

While the immediate cause of the war was the U.S. annexation of Texas (Dec., 1845), other factors had disturbed peaceful relations between the two republics.
. Click the link for more information. . As a result of the war, the United States acquired not only California but the entire Southwest.

Few presidents have worked harder, and few have equaled Polk's record of attaining specific, stated aims. He labored so strenuously in fact that his health gave way, and he died a few months after leaving office.

Bibliography

See The Diary of James K. Polk (ed. by M. M. Quaife, 4 vol., 1910 abr. in 1 vol. by A. Nevins, 1952) his correspondence, ed. by H. Weaver and P. H. Bergeron (2 vol. 1969󈞴) biographies by C. G. Sellers, Jr. (2 vol., 1957󈞮), C. A. McCoy (1960, repr. 1973), and W. R. Borneman (2008) R. W. Merry, A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War, and the Conquest of the American Continent (2009).


James Knox POLK, Congress, TN (1795-1849)

POLK James Knox , a Representative from Tennessee and 11th President of the United States born near Little Sugar Creek, Mecklenburg County, N.C., November 2, 1795 moved to Tennessee in 1806 with his parents, who settled in what later became Maury County attended the common schools and was tutored privately graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1818 studied law admitted to the bar in 1820 and commenced practice in Columbia, Tenn. chief clerk of the state senate 1821-1823 member of the state house of representatives 1823-1825 elected as a Jacksonian to the Nineteenth through the Twenty-fourth Congresses and reelected as a Democrat to the Twenty-fifth Congress (March 4, 1825-March 3, 1839) chairman, Committee on Ways and Means (Twenty-third Congress) Speaker of the House of Representatives (Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth Congresses) did not seek renomination in 1838 having become a candidate for governor governor of Tennessee 1839-1841 elected as a Democrat as President of the United States in 1844 inaugurated on March 4, 1845, and served until March 3, 1849 declined to be a candidate for renomination died in Nashville, Tenn., June 15, 1849 interment within the grounds of the state capitol.


11th President of the United States: James Knox Polk (1845-1849)

Settlement of the Oregon Territory with Britain and the acquisition of the Southwest through war with Mexico, the United States grew substantially in size.

James Knox Polk was no stranger to politics when he was elected United States President in 1844, yet he was not the favored candidate and is considered the first “dark horse” elected to the office as it would not be until the 9th ballot of the Democratic Party Convention that he was accepted as the party standard bearer.

Early Years of James Knox Polk

James Knox Polk was born in Pineville, Mecklenberg County, North Carolina. His family moved to Tennessee in his youth. He returned to study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill graduating in 1818. He returned to Tennessee after graduation and continued his studies under the tutelage of a well known and respected Nashville lawyer, Felix Grundy.

With the support of Grundy he was appointed to and later elected the clerk to the Tennessee State Senate. He had during that period a short career with the local militia rising to the rank of colonel.

Polk’s elective political career really started to progress when he was elected to the Tenessee State Legislature as a Representative in 1823. This was followed by his election to the United States House of Representatives in 1825. After election to consecutive terms he became head of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee in 1833 and House Speaker in 1835.

In 1838, the young Democratic Party in Tennessee requested that Polk consider running for Governor. He was elected and left Congress to assume this new role.

Polk was defeated for the Governorship in 1841 and again in 1843.

Presidential Politics 1844

Polk had hoped to be nominated for Vice President at the Democratic Convention. However, the party was divided. Former President Martin Van Buren had achieved a majority of the votes but not the two-thirds count required. As a compromise after hours of balloting, Polk was nominated and to balance the ticket Senator George Mifflin Dallas of Pennsylvania was chosen as his running mate.

The popular vote was quite close with just over 38,000 votes separating Polk from his chief opponent Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky, the Whig candidate, out of over 2.6 million ballots cast.

Polk as President

Polk had four major objectives in his Presidency which he laid out at the beginning of what he stated would be only one term. They were:

  • resolve the issue with Great Britain over the dispute of ownership of the Oregon Territory
  • reform of the United States banking system with an independent Treasury
  • acquire western territory particularly California
  • reduce tariffs on goods

Polk managed to achieve these goals in the single term which he sought.

Polk’s Legacy

With the resolution of the Oregon Territory the United States acquired Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and portions of Montana and Wyoming. As a result of the Mexican American War, California, Nevada, Utah, most of Arizona, and parts of New Mexico, Wyoming, and Colorado were added as well.

In total, over 1,000,000 square miles had been added to the United States.

He would survive to see his successor Zachary Taylor inaugurated, but did not live much longer dying at age 53.


James Knox Polk

Why Famous: Polk served as Governor of Tennessee and served as the 11th President of the United States (1845 to 1849). He was essentially a compromise candidate between the various Congressional factions, and is considered by historians to be the last strong pre-Civil War president, in part because he achieved every domestic and foreign goal set out during his presidential campaign.

His presidency was dominated by his foreign policy successes. He threatened war with Britain over the issue of which nation owned the Oregon Country, then backed away and split the ownership of the region with Britain.

When Mexico rejected the American annexation of Texas, Polk led the nation to a sweeping victory in the Mexican–American War, which gave the United States most of its present Southwest. In addition he agreed the Oregon Treaty with Britain, settling disputes in the Pacific Northwest.

In domestic policies he reduced tariffs and re-established the Independent Treasury. Polk pledged not to stand for a second term, and died from cholera three months after his retirement in 1849.

Born: November 2, 1795
Birthplace: Pineville, North Carolina, USA
Star Sign: Scorpio

Died: June 15, 1849 (aged 53)
Cause of Death: Cholera


In 1825, Polk won a seat in the US House of Representatives, where he would serve for 14 years. He earned the nickname "Young Hickory" because of his support of Andrew Jackson, who was known as "Old Hickory." When Jackson won the presidency in 1828, Polk's star was on the rise, and he became quite powerful in Congress. He served as speaker of the House from 1835–1839, only leaving Congress to become the governor of Tennessee.

Polk was not expected to run for president in 1844. Martin Van Buren wanted to be nominated for a second term as president, but his stance against the annexation of Texas was unpopular with the Democratic Party. The delegates went through nine ballots before compromising on Polk as their pick for president.

In the general election, Polk ran against Whig candidate Henry Clay, who opposed the annexation of Texas. Both Clay and Polk ended up receiving 50% of the popular vote. However, Polk was able to get 170 out of 275 electoral votes.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Eugene I. Mc Cormac, James K. Polk: A Political Biography (1922).

Allan Nevins, ed., The Diary of a President, 1845–1849, 2 vols. (1929 repr. 1952).

Charles A. Mc Coy, Polk and the Presidency (1960).

Additional Bibliography

Haynes, Sam W., and Oscar Handlin. James K. Polk and the Expansionist Impulse. New York: Longman, 1997.

Leonard, Thomas M. James K. Polk: A Clear and Unquestionable Destiny. Wilmington, DE: S.R. Books, 2001.

Seigenthaler, John. James K. Polk. New York: Times Books, 2004.

Richard Griswold del Castillo

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Presidency

When he took office on March 4, 1845, Polk, at 48, became the youngest man to assume the presidency up to his time. According to a story told decades later by George Bancroft, Polk set four clearly defined goals for his administration: the re-establishment of the Independent Treasury System, the reduction of tariffs, acquisition of some or all the Oregon boundary dispute, and the purchase of California from Mexico. Resolved to serve only one term, he accomplished all these objectives in just four years. By linking new lands in Oregon (with no slavery) and Texas (with slavery) he hoped to satisfy both North and South.

Fiscal policy

In 1846, Congress approved the Walker Tariff (named after Robert J. Walker, the Secretary of the Treasury), which represented a substantial reduction of the high Whig-backed Tariff of 1842. The new law abandoned ad valorem tariffs instead, rates were made independent of the monetary value of the product. Polk's actions were popular in the South and West however, they earned him the contempt of many protectionists in Pennsylvania.

In 1846, Polk approved a law restoring the Independent Treasury System, under which government funds were held in the Treasury, rather than in banks or other financial institutions.

Slavery

Polk's views on slavery made his presidency bitterly controversial between proponents of slavery, opponents of slavery, and advocates of compromise, and the effect of his own career as a plantation slaveholder on his policymaking has been argued. During his presidency, many abolitionists harshly criticized him as an instrument of the " Slave Power," and claimed that the expansion of slavery lay behind his support for the annexation of Texas and later war with Mexico. Polk stated in his diary that he believed slavery could not exist in the territories won from Mexico, but refused to endorse the Wilmot Proviso that would forbid it there. Polk argued instead for extending the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific Ocean, which would prohibit the expansion of slavery above 36° 30' west of Missouri, but allow it below that line if approved by eligible voters in the territory.

Foreign policy

Polk was committed to expansion&mdashDemocrats believed that opening up more farms for yeoman farmers was critical for the success of republican virtue. (See Manifest Destiny.) To balance the interests of North and South he sought the Oregon territory (comprising present-day Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia), as well as Texas. He sought to purchase California, which Mexico had neglected.

Texas

President Tyler had interpreted Polk's victory as a mandate for the annexation of Texas. Acting quickly because he feared British designs on Texas, Tyler urged Congress to pass a joint resolution admitting Texas to the Union Congress complied on February 28, 1845. Texas promptly accepted the offer and officially became a state on December 29, 1845. The annexation angered Mexico, however, which had succumbed to heavy British pressure and had offered Texas its semi-independence on the condition that it should not attach itself to any other nation. Mexican politicians had repeatedly warned that annexation meant war.

Oregon territory

Polk put heavy pressure on Britain to resolve the Oregon boundary dispute. Since 1818, the territory had been under the joint occupation and control of Great Britain and the United States. Previous U.S. administrations had offered to divide the region along the 49th parallel, which was not acceptable to the British, who had commercial interests along the Columbia River. Although the Democratic platform had asserted a claim to the entire region, Polk was prepared to quietly compromise. When the British again refused to accept the 49th parallel boundary proposal, Polk broke off negotiations and returned to the "All Oregon" position of the Democratic platform, which escalated tensions along the border.

Expansionists after the 1844 election shouted "Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!" This slogan, often associated with Polk, was in fact the position of his rivals in the Democratic Party, who wanted Polk to be as uncompromising in acquiring the Oregon territory as he had been in annexing Texas. Polk wanted territory, not war, and compromised with the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Aberdeen. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 divided the Oregon Country along the 49th parallel, the original American proposal. Although there were many who still clamored for the whole of the territory, the treaty was approved by the Senate. The portion of Oregon territory acquired by the United States would later form the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, and parts of the states of Montana and Wyoming.

War with Mexico

After the Texas annexation, Polk turned his attention to California, hoping to acquire the territory from Mexico before any European nation did so. The main interest was San Francisco Bay as an access point for trade with Asia. In 1845, he sent diplomat John Slidell to Mexico to purchase California and New Mexico for $30 million. Slidell's arrival caused political turmoil in Mexico after word leaked out that he was there to purchase additional territory and not to offer compensation for the loss of Texas. The Mexicans refused to receive Slidell, citing a technical problem with his credentials. Meanwhile, to increase pressure on Mexico to negotiate, in January 1846 Polk sent troops under General Zachary Taylor into the area between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande&mdashterritory that was claimed by both the U.S. and Mexico.

Slidell returned to Washington in May 1846, having been rebuffed by the Mexican government. Polk regarded this treatment of his diplomat as an insult and an "ample cause of war", and he prepared to ask Congress for a declaration of war. Serendipitously, mere days before he intended to make his request to Congress, Polk received word that Mexican forces had crossed the Rio Grande area and killed eleven American troops. Polk now made this the casus belli, and in a message to Congress on May 11, 1846, he stated that Mexico had "invaded our territory and shed American blood upon the American soil." He did not point out that the territory in question was disputed and did not unequivocally belong to the United States. Several congressmen, including a young Abraham Lincoln, expressed doubts about Polk's version of events, but Congress overwhelmingly approved the declaration of war, with many Whigs fearing that opposition would cost them politically. In the House, anti-slavery Whigs led by John Quincy Adams voted against the war among Democrats, Senator John C. Calhoun was the most notable opponent of the declaration.

By the summer of 1846, New Mexico had been conquered by American forces under General Stephen W. Kearny. Meanwhile, Army captain John C. Frémont led settlers in northern California to overthrow the small Mexican garrison in Sonoma. General Zachary Taylor, at the same time, was having success on the Rio Grande. The United States also negotiated a secret arrangement with Antonio López de Santa Anna, the Mexican general and dictator who had been overthrown in 1844. Santa Anna agreed that, if given safe passage into Mexico, he would attempt to persuade those in power to sell California and New Mexico to the United States. Once he reached Mexico, however, he reneged on his agreement, declared himself President, and tried to drive the American invaders back. Santa Anna's efforts, however, were in vain, as generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott destroyed all resistance.

Polk sent diplomat Nicholas Trist to negotiate with the Mexicans. Lack of progress prompted the President to order Trist to return to the United States, but the diplomat ignored the instructions and stayed in Mexico to continue bargaining. Trist successfully negotiated the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, which Polk agreed to ratify, ignoring calls from Democrats who demanded the annexation of the whole of Mexico. The treaty added 1.2 million square miles (3.1 million square kilometers) of territory to the United States Mexico's size was halved, whilst that of the United States increased by a third. California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming were all included in the Mexican Cession. The treaty also recognized the annexation of Texas (and so the Mexican Cession includes the land annexed) and acknowledged American control over the disputed territory between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande. Mexico, in turn, received the sum of $15 million. The war involved less than 20,000 American casualties but over 50,000 Mexican casualties. It had cost the United States nearly $100 million.

Congressman Abraham Lincoln challenged the factual claims made by President Polk about the boundary, claiming it was indeterminant and should not have been a cause of war. In January 1848, the Whigs won a House vote attacking Polk in an amendment to a resolution praising Major General Taylor for his service in a "war unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun by the President of the United States". . The resolution, however, died in committee. The Whigs who had been so opposed to Polk's policy in January 1848 suddenly changed position in the summer. Two-thirds of the Whigs in the Senate voted for Polk's treaty that ended the war and acquired vast new lands (most of New Mexico, Arizona and California). Later in 1848, the Whigs nominated Zachary Taylor, the hero of the war, for president. Taylor said there would be no future wars, but he refused to criticize Polk, who kept his promise not to run for reelection. The Whigs therefore dropped their criticism of the war and won the election. Meanwhile the Wilmot Proviso injected the issue of slavery in the new territories, which Polk insisted during the war both to other congressmen and in his diary had never been a war goal.

In the summer of 1848, President Polk authorized his ambassador to Spain, Romulus Mitchell Saunders, to negotiate the purchase of Cuba and offer Spain up to $100 million. Cuba was close to the United States and had slavery, so the idea appealed to Southerners but was unwelcome in the North. The Spanish government rejected Saunders' overtures.


Watch the video: James K. Polk: Part 1: Young Hickory!