The presidency of James K. Polk began on March 4, 1845, when James K. Polk was inaugurated as President of the United States, and ended on March 4, 1849. He was a Democrat, and assumed office after defeating Whig Henry Clay in the 1844 presidential election. Polk left office after one term, fulfilling a campaign pledge he made in 1844, and he was succeeded by Whig Zachary Taylor. A close ally of Andrew Jackson, Polk's presidency reflected his adherence to the ideals of Jacksonian democracy and manifest destiny.
Polk is often considered the last strong pre-Civil War president, having met during his four years in office every major domestic and foreign policy goal set during his campaign and the transition to his administration. Polk's presidency was particularly influential in U.S. foreign policy, and his presidency saw the last major expansions of the Contiguous United States. When Mexico rejected the U.S. annexation of Texas, Polk achieved a sweeping victory in the Mexican–American War, which resulted in the cession by Mexico of nearly the whole of what is now the American Southwest. He threatened war with the United Kingdom over control of the Oregon Country, eventually reaching an agreement in which both nations agreed to partition the region at the 49th parallel.
Polk also accomplished his goals in domestic policy. He ensured a substantial reduction of tariff rates by replacing the "Black Tariff" with the Walker tariff of 1846, which pleased the less-industrialized states of his native South by rendering less expensive both imported and, through competition, domestic goods. Additionally, he built an independent treasury system that lasted until 1913, oversaw the opening of the U.S. Naval Academy and of the Smithsonian Institution, the groundbreaking for the Washington Monument, and the issuance of the first United States postage stamp.
Polk did not closely involve himself in the 1848 presidential election, but his actions strongly affected the race. General Zachary Taylor, who had served in the Mexican–American War, won the Whig presidential nomination and defeated Polk's preferred candidate, Democratic Senator Lewis Cass. Scholars have ranked Polk favorably on lists of greatest presidents for his ability to promote, obtain support for, and achieve all of the major items on his presidential agenda. However, he has also been criticized for leading the country into war against Mexico and for exacerbating sectional divides. Polk has been called the "least known consequential president" of the United States.
Presidency of James K. Polk
|March 4, 1845 – March 4, 1849|
|President||James K. Polk|
|Seal of the President|
In the months leading up to the 1844 Democratic National Convention, former President Martin Van Buren was widely seen as the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. Polk, who desired to be the party's vice-presidential nominee in the 1844 election, engaged in a delicate and subtle campaign to become Van Buren's running mate. The potential annexation of the Republic of Texas by President John Tyler upended the presidential race; while Van Buren and the Whig frontrunner, Henry Clay, opposed the annexation and a potential war with Mexico over the disputed territory, Polk and former President Andrew Jackson strongly supported the territorial acquisition. Disappointed by Van Buren's position, Jackson threw his support behind Polk for the party's 1844 nomination.
When the Democratic National Convention began on May 27, 1844, the key question was whether the convention would adopt a rule requiring the presidential nominee to receive the vote of two-thirds of the delegates. With the strong support of the Southern states, the two thirds-rule was passed by the convention, effectively ending the possibility of Van Buren's nomination due to the strong opposition he faced from an unyielding and significant minority of delegates. Van Buren won a majority on the first presidential ballot, but failed to win the necessary super-majority, and support for Van Buren faded on subsequent ballots. On the eighth presidential ballot, Polk won 44 of the 266 delegates, as support for all candidates other than Polk, Lewis Cass, and Van Buren dissipated. Following the eighth ballot, several delegates rose to speak in support of Polk's candidacy. Van Buren, then realizing that he had no chance of ever winning the 1844 presidential nomination, threw his support behind Polk, who won on the next ballot. In doing so, Polk became the first "dark horse" candidate ever to win a major U.S. political party's presidential nomination. After Senator Silas Wright, a close Van Buren ally, declined the vice presidential nomination, the convention nominated former Senator George M. Dallas of Pennsylvania as Polk's running mate.
After learning of his nomination, Polk promised to serve only one term, believing that this would help him win the support of Democratic leaders such as Cass, Wright, John C. Calhoun, Thomas Hart Benton, and James Buchanan, all of whom had presidential aspirations. Further, he avoided taking a position on the protectionist Tariff of 1842, but appealed to the key state of Pennsylvania by using rhetoric favorable towards tariffs. In New York, another key swing state, Polk's campaign was greatly aided by the gubernatorial candidacy of Wright, who managed to unite the factions of the New York Democratic Party.
The abolitionist Liberty party nominated Michigan's James G. Birney, while the 1844 Whig National Convention nominated Henry Clay on the first ballot. Notwithstanding that Polk had been Speaker of the House of Representatives and governor of Tennessee, Whig stump speakers scorned Polk, mocking him with the chant "Who is James K. Polk?" in reference to Polk's relative obscurity compared to both Van Buren or Clay. The Whigs blanketed the nation with hundreds of thousands of anti-Polk tracts, accusing him of being a puppet of the "slaveocracy" and a radical who would destroy the United States over the annexation of Texas. Democrats like Robert Walker recast the issue of Texas annexation, arguing that Texas and as Oregon were rightfully American but had been lost during the Monroe administration. Walker further argued that Texas would provide a market for Northern goods and would allow for the "diffusion" of slavery, which in turn would lead to gradual emancipation. In response, Clay argued that the annexation of Texas would bring war with Mexico and increase sectional tensions.
Ultimately, Polk triumphed in an extremely close election, defeating Clay 170-105 in the Electoral College; the flip of just a few thousand voters in New York would have given the election to Clay. Birney won several thousand anti-annexation votes in New York, and his presence in the race may have cost Clay the election.
Polk was inaugurated as the nation's 11th president on March 4, 1845, in a ceremony held on the East Portico of the United States Capitol. Chief Justice Roger Taney administered the oath of office. Polk's inauguration was the first presidential inauguration to be reported by telegraph and shown in a newspaper illustration (in The Illustrated London News).
Polk's inaugural address, written with the help of Amos Kendall, was a message of hope and confidence. At 4,476 words, it is the second longest inaugural address, behind only that of William Henry Harrison. In his inaugural address, Polk touched on the Jacksonian principles that had guided his political career and Democratic Party positions that would guide his administration. A major theme of the speech was the nation's westward expansion. He detailed how important the addition of Texas to the Union was, and noted that Americans were moving into lands even further west (California and Oregon). He declared:
But eighty years ago our population was confined on the west by the ridge of the Alleghanies. Within that period—within the lifetime, I might say, of some of my hearers—our people, increasing to many millions, have filled the eastern valley of the Mississippi, adventurously ascended the Missouri to its headsprings, and are already engaged in establishing the blessings of self-government in valleys of which the rivers flow to the Pacific.
At the time that Polk became president, the nation's population had doubled every twenty years since the American Revolution and had reached demographic parity with Britain. Polk's tenure saw continued technological improvements, including the expansion of railroads and increased use of the telegraph. These improved communications and growing demographics increasingly made the United States into a strong military power, and also stoked expansionism.
|The Polk Cabinet|
|President||James K. Polk||1845–1849|
|Vice President||George M. Dallas||1845–1849|
|Secretary of State||James Buchanan||1845–1849|
|Secretary of Treasury||Robert J. Walker||1845–1849|
|Secretary of War||William L. Marcy||1845–1849|
|Attorney General||John Y. Mason||1845–1846|
|Postmaster General||Cave Johnson||1845–1849|
|Secretary of the Navy||George Bancroft||1845–1846|
|John Y. Mason||1846–1849|
Polk governed with the help of his cabinet, in which he placed great importance. The cabinet regularly met twice a week, and Polk and his six cabinet members discussed all major issues during these meetings. Despite his reliance on his cabinet, Polk involved himself in the minutiae of the various departments, especially regarding the military.
In selecting a new cabinet, Polk generally heeded Jackson's advice to avoid individuals who were themselves interested in the presidency, though he chose to nominate Buchanan for the crucial and prestigious position of Secretary of State. Polk respected Buchanan's opinion and Buchanan played an important role in Polk's presidency, but the two often clashed over foreign policy and appointments. Polk frequently considered dismissing Buchanan from office, as he suspected Buchanan of placing his own presidential aspirations above service to Polk, but Buchanan always managed to convince Polk of his loyalty.
Polk put together an initial slate of cabinet choices that met with the approval of Andrew Jackson, who Polk met with in January 1845 for the last time, as Jackson died in June 1845. Cave Johnson, a close friend and ally of Polk, would be nominated for the position of Postmaster General. Though Polk was personally close with the incumbent Navy Secretary, John Y. Mason, he replaced him after Jackson insisted that none of Tyler's cabinet be retained. In his place, Polk selected George Bancroft, a historian who had played a crucial role in Polk's nomination. Polk also selected Senator Robert J. Walker of Mississippi as Attorney General.
However, after news of Buchanan's selection for State was leaked, Vice President Dallas (an in-state rival of Buchanan) and a slew of Southerners insisted that Walker receive the higher position at Treasury. Polk instead chose to nominate Bancroft as a compromise at Treasury while nominating Mason as Attorney General and a New Yorker, William L. Marcy, as Secretary of War. Polk had intended the Marcy appointment to mollify Van Buren, but Van Buren was outraged at the move, in part due to Marcy's affiliation with the rival "Hunker" faction. Polk then further enraged Van Buren by finally choosing Walker for Treasury; Bancroft was shifted back to Navy Secretary.
After the outbreak of the Mexican-American War, Polk shook up his cabinet, sending Bancroft to Great Britain as an ambassador, shifting Mason to his old position of Navy Secretary, and successfully nominating Nathan Clifford as Attorney General.
According to a story told decades later by George Bancroft, Polk set four clearly defined goals for his administration:
While his domestic aims represented continuity with past Democratic policies, successful completion of Polk's foreign policy goals would represent the first major American territorial gains since the Adams–Onís Treaty of 1819.
The 1844 death of Justice Henry Baldwin had created a vacancy on the Supreme Court, and Tyler's failure to fill the seat left a Supreme Court seat open when Polk took office. Polk's attempt to fill Baldwin's seat became embroiled in Pennsylvania politics and the efforts of factional leaders to secure the lucrative post of Collector of Customs for the Port of Philadelphia. As Polk sought to find his way through the minefield of Pennsylvania politics, a second position on the high court became vacant with the death, in September 1845, of Justice Joseph Story; his replacement was expected to come from his native New England. Because Story's death had occurred while the Senate was not in session, Polk was able to make a recess appointment, choosing Senator Levi Woodbury of New Hampshire, and when the Senate reconvened in December 1845, the Senate confirmed the appointment of Woodbury. Polk's initial nominee for Baldwin's seat, George W. Woodward, was rejected by the Senate in January 1846, in large part due to the opposition of Buchanan and Pennsylvania Senator Simon Cameron.
Polk eventually offered Buchanan the open seat, but Buchanan, after some indecision, turned it down. Polk subsequently nominated Robert Cooper Grier, who won confirmation. Justice Woodbury served until his death in 1851, but Grier served until 1870. In the slavery case of Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), Grier wrote an opinion stating that slaves were property and could not sue.
Polk appointed eight other federal judges, one to the United States Circuit Court of the District of Columbia, and seven to various United States district courts.
The Republic of Texas had gained independence from Mexico following the Texas Revolution of 1836, and, partly because Texas had been settled by a large number of Americans, there was a strong sentiment in both Texas and the United States for the annexation of Texas by the United States. During the transition period after the 1844 election, President Tyler sought to complete the annexation of Texas. While the Senate had defeated an earlier treaty that would annex the republic, Tyler proposed that Congress accomplish annexation through a joint resolution. Due to disagreements regarding the extension of slavery, Senator Benton of Missouri and Secretary of State Calhoun disagreed on the best way to annex Texas, and Polk became involved in negotiations to break the impasse. With Polk's help, the annexation resolution narrowly cleared the Senate.
In a surprise move two days before Polk's inauguration, Tyler extended to Texas a formal offer of annexation. Polk's first major decision in office was whether to recall Tyler's emissary to Texas, who bore an offer of annexation based on that act of Congress. Though it was within Polk's power to recall the messenger, he chose to allow the emissary to continue, with the hope that Texas would accept the offer. Polk also retained the United States Ambassador to Texas, Andrew Jackson Donelson, who sought to convince the Texan leaders to accept annexation under the terms proposed by the Tyler administration. Though public sentiment in Texas favored annexation, some Texas leaders disliked the strict terms for annexation, which offered little leeway for negotiation and gave public lands to the federal government. Nonetheless, in July 1845, a convention in Austin, Texas ratified the annexation of Texas. In December 1845, Polk signed a resolution annexing Texas, and Texas became the 28th state in the union. The annexation of Texas would lead to increased tensions with Mexico, which had never recognized Texan independence.
Since the signing of the Treaty of 1818, the Oregon Country had been under the joint occupation and control of the United Kingdom and the United States. Previous U.S. administrations had offered to divide the region along the 49th parallel, which was not acceptable to Britain, as it had commercial interests along the Columbia River. Britain's preferred partition, which would have awarded Puget Sound and all lands north of the Columbia River to Britain, was unacceptable to Polk. Edward Everett, President Tyler's ambassador to Great Britain, had informally proposed dividing the territory at the 49th parallel with the strategic Vancouver Island granted to the British. However, when the new British minister in Washington, Richard Pakenham, arrived in 1844, he found that many Americans desired the entire territory. Oregon had not been a major issue in the 1844 election, but the heavy influx of settlers to the Oregon Country and the rising spirit of expansionism in the United States made a treaty with Britain more urgent.
Though both the British and the Americans sought an acceptable compromise regarding Oregon Country, each also saw the territory as an important geopolitical asset that would play a large part in determining the dominant power in North America. In his inaugural address, Polk announced that he viewed the American claim to the land as "clear and unquestionable", provoking threats of war from British leaders should Polk attempt to take control of the entire territory. Polk had refrained in his address from asserting a claim to the entire territory, which extended north to 54 degrees, 40 minutes north latitude, although the Democratic Party platform called for such a claim. Despite Polk's hawkish rhetoric, he viewed war with the British as unwise, and Polk and Buchanan opened up negotiations with the British. Like his predecessors, Polk again proposed a division along the 49th parallel, which was immediately rejected by Pakenham. Secretary of State Buchanan was wary of a two-front war with Mexico and Britain, but Polk was willing to risk war with both countries in pursuit of a favorable settlement.
In his December 1845 annual message to Congress, Polk requested approval of giving Britain a one-year notice (as required in the Treaty of 1818) of his intention to terminate the joint occupancy of Oregon. In that message, he quoted from the Monroe Doctrine to denote America's intention of keeping European powers out, the first significant use of it since its origin in 1823. After much debate, Congress eventually passed the resolution in April 1846, attaching its hope that the dispute would be settled amicably. When the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Aberdeen, learned of the proposal rejected by Pakenham, Aberdeen asked the United States to re-open negotiations, but Polk was unwilling to do so unless a proposal was made by the British.
With Britain moving towards free trade with the repeal of the Corn Laws, good trade relations with the United States were more important to Aberdeen than a distant territory. In February 1846, Polk allowed Buchanan to inform Louis McLane, the American ambassador to Britain, that Polk's administration would look favorably on a British proposal based around a division at the 49th parallel. In June 1846, Pakenham presented an offer to the Polk administration, calling for a boundary line at the 49th parallel, with the exception that Britain would retain all of Vancouver Island, and British subjects would be granted limited navigation rights on the Columbia River until 1859. Polk and most of his cabinet were prepared to accept the proposal, but Buchanan, in a reversal, urged that the United States seek control of all of the Oregon Territory.
After winning the reluctant approval of Buchanan, Polk submitted the full treaty to the Senate for ratification. The Senate ratified the Oregon Treaty in a 41–14 vote, with opposition coming from those who sought the full territory. Polk's willingness to risk war with Britain had frightened many, but his tough negotiation tactics may have gained the United States concessions from the British (particularly regarding the Columbia River) that a more conciliatory president might not have won.
The United States had been the first country to recognize Mexico's independence following the Mexican War of Independence, but relations between the two countries began to sour in the 1830s. In the 1830s and 1840s, the United States, like France and Britain, sought a reparations treaty with Mexico for various acts committed by Mexican citizens and authorities, including the seizure of American ships. Though the United States and Mexico had agreed to a joint board to settle the various claims prior to Polk's presidency, many Americans accused the Mexican government of acting in bad faith in settling the claims. For its part, Mexico believed that the United States sought to acquire Mexican territory, and believed that many Americans filed specious or exaggerated claims. The already-troubled Mexico–United States relations were further inflamed by the possibility of the annexation of Texas, as Mexico still viewed Texas as an integral part of their republic. Additionally, Texas laid claim to all land north of the Rio Grande River, while Mexico argued that the more northern Nueces River was the proper Texan border. Though the United States had a population more than twice as numerous and an economy thirteen times greater than that of Mexico, Mexico was not prepared to give up its claim to Texas, even if it meant war.
The Mexican province of Alta California enjoyed a large degree of autonomy, and the central government neglected its defenses; a report from a French diplomat stated that "whatever nation chooses to send there a man-of-war and 200 men" could conquer California. Polk placed great value in the acquisition of California, which represented new lands to settle as well as a potential gateway to trade in Asia. He feared that the British or another European power would eventually establish control over California if it remained in Mexican hands. In late 1845, Polk sent diplomat John Slidell to Mexico to win Mexico's acceptance of the Rio Grande border. Slidell was further authorized to purchase California for $20 million and New Mexico for $5 million. Polk also sent Lieutenant Archibald H. Gillespie to California with orders to foment a pro-American rebellion that could be used to justify annexation of the territory.
Following the Texan ratification of annexation in 1845, both Mexicans and Americans saw war as a likely possibility. Polk began preparations for a potential war, sending an army led by General Zachary Taylor into Texas. Taylor and Commodore David Conner of the U.S. Navy were both ordered to avoid provoking a war, but were authorized to respond to any Mexican breach of peace. Though Mexican President José Joaquín de Herrera was open to negotiations, Slidell's ambassadorial credentials were refused by a Mexican council of government. In December 1845, Herrera's government collapsed largely due to his willingness to negotiate with the United States; the possibility of the sale of large portions of Mexico aroused anger among both Mexican elites and the broader populace.
As successful negotiations with the unstable Mexican government appeared unlikely, Secretary of War Marcy ordered General Taylor to advance to the Rio Grande River. Polk began preparations to support a potential new government led by the exiled Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna with the hope that Santa Anna would sell parts of California. Polk had been advised by Alejandro Atocha, an associate of Santa Anna, that only the threat of war would allow the Mexican government the leeway to sell parts of Mexico. In March 1846, Slidell finally left Mexico after the government refused his demand to be formally received. Slidell returned to Washington in May 1846, and gave his opinion that negotiations with the Mexican government were unlikely to be successful. Polk regarded the treatment of his diplomat as an insult and an "ample cause of war", and he prepared to ask Congress for a declaration of war.
Meanwhile, in late March 1846, General Taylor reached the Rio Grande, and his army camped across the river from Matamoros, Tamaulipas. In April, after Mexican general Pedro de Ampudia demanded that Taylor return to the Nueces River, Taylor began a blockade of Matamoros. A skirmish on the northern side of the Rio Grande ended in the death or capture of dozens of American soldiers, and became known as the Thornton Affair. While the administration was in the process of asking for a declaration of war, Polk received word of the outbreak of hostilities on the Rio Grande. In a message to Congress, Polk explained his decision to send Taylor to the Rio Grande, and stated that Mexico had invaded American territory by crossing the river. Polk contended that a state of war already existed, and he asked Congress to grant him the power to bring the war to a close. Polk's message was crafted to present the war as a just and necessary defense of the country against a neighbor that had long troubled the United States. In his message, Polk noted that Slidell had gone to Mexico to negotiate a recognition of the Texas annexation, but did not mention that he also sought the purchase of California.
Some Whigs, such as Abraham Lincoln, challenged Polk's version of events. One Whig congressman declared "the river Nueces is the true western boundary of Texas. It is our own president who began this war. He has been carrying it on for months." Nonetheless, the House overwhelmingly approved of a resolution authorizing the president to call up fifty thousand volunteers. In the Senate, war opponents led by Calhoun also questioned Polk's version of events, but the House resolution passed the Senate in a 40-2 vote, marking the beginning of the Mexican–American War. Many congressmen who were skeptical about the wisdom of going to war with Mexican feared that publicly opposing the war would cost them politically.
In May 1846, Taylor led U.S. forces in the inconclusive Battle of Palo Alto, the first major battle of the war. The next day, Taylor led the army to victory in the Battle of Resaca de la Palma, eliminating the possibility of a Mexican incursion into the United States. Taylor's force moved south towards Monterrey, which served as the capital of the province of Nuevo León. In the September 1846 Battle of Monterrey, Taylor defeated a Mexican force led by Ampudia, but allowed Ampudia's forces to withdraw, much to Polk's consternation.
Meanwhile, Winfield Scott, the army's lone major general at the outbreak of the war, was offered the position of top commander in the war. Polk, War Secretary Marcy, and Scott agreed on a strategy in which the US would capture northern Mexico and then pursue a favorable peace settlement. However, Polk and Scott experienced mutual distrust from the beginning of their relationship, in part due to Scott's Whig affiliation and former rivalry with Andrew Jackson. Additionally, Polk sought to ensure that both Whigs and Democrats would serve in important positions in the war, and was offended when Scott suggested otherwise; Scott also angered Polk by opposing Polk's effort to increase the number of generals. Having been alienated from Scott, Polk ordered Scott to remain in Washington, leaving Taylor in command of Mexican operations. Polk also ordered Commodore Conner to allow Santa Anna to return to Mexico from his exile, and sent an army expedition led by Stephen W. Kearny towards Santa Fe.
While Taylor fought the Mexican army in east, U.S. forces took control of California and New Mexico. Army Captain John C. Frémont led settlers in Northern California in an attack on the Mexican garrison in Sonoma, beginning the Bear Flag Revolt. In August 1846, American forces under Kearny captured Santa Fe, capital of the province of New Mexico. He captured Santa Fe without firing a shot, as the Mexican Governor, Manuel Armijo, fled from the province. After establishing a provisional government in New Mexico, Kearny took a force west to aid in the conquest of California. After Kearny's departure, Mexicans and Puebloans rebelled against the provisional government in the Taos Revolt, but U.S. forces crushed the uprising. At roughly the same time that Kearny captured Santa Fe, Commodore Robert F. Stockton landed in Los Angeles and proclaimed the capture of California. Californios rose up in rebellion against U.S. occupation, but Stockton and Kearny suppressed the revolt with a victory in the Battle of La Mesa. After the battle, Kearny and Frémont became embroiled in a dispute over the establishment of a government in California. The controversy between Frémont and Kearny led to a break between Polk and the powerful Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton, who was the father-in-law of Frémont.
Whig opposition to the war grew after 1845, while some Democrats lost their initial enthusiasm. In August 1846, Polk asked Congress to appropriate $2 million in hopes of using that money as a down payment for the purchase of California in a treaty with Mexico. Polk's request ignited opposition to the war, as Polk had never before made public his desire to annex parts of Mexico (aside from lands claimed by Texas). A freshman Democratic Congressman, David Wilmot of Pennsylvania, offered an amendment known as the Wilmot Proviso that would ban slavery in any newly acquired lands. The appropriations bill, including the Wilmot Proviso, passed the House with the support Northern Whigs and Northern Democrats, breaking the normal pattern of partisan division in congressional votes. Wilmot himself held anti-slavery views, but many pro-slavery Northern Democrats voted for the bill out of anger at Polk's perceived bias towards the South. The partition of Oregon, the debate over the tariff, and Van Buren's antagonism towards Polk all contributed to Northern anger. The appropriations bill, including the ban on slavery, was defeated in the Senate, but the Wilmot Proviso injected the slavery debate into national politics.
Polk's Democrats would pay a price for the resistance to the war and the growing issue of slavery, as Democrats lost control of the House in the 1846 elections. However, in early 1847, Polk was successful in passing a bill raising further regiments, and he also finally won approval for the money he wanted to use for the purchase of California.
Santa Anna returned to Mexico City in September 1846, declaring that he would fight against the Americans. With the duplicity of Santa Anna now clear, and with the Mexicans declining his peace offers, Polk ordered an American landing in Veracruz, the most important Mexican port on the Gulf of Mexico. As a march from Monterrey to Mexico City was implausible due to rough terrain, Polk had decided that a force would land in Veracruz and then march on Mexico City. Taylor was ordered to remain near Monterrey, while Polk reluctantly chose Winfield Scott to lead the attack on Veracruz. Though Polk continued to distrust Scott, Marcy and the other cabinet members prevailed on Polk to select the army's most senior general for the command.
In March 1847, Polk learned that Taylor had ignored orders and had continued to march south, capturing the northern Mexican town of Saltillo. Taylor's army had repulsed a larger Mexican force, led by Santa Anna, in the February 1847 Battle of Buena Vista. Taylor won acclaim for the result of the battle, but the theater remained inconclusive. Rather than pursuing Santa Anna's forces, Taylor withdrew back to Monterrey. Meanwhile, Scott landed in Veracruz and quickly won control of the city. Following the capture of Veracruz, Polk dispatched Nicholas Trist, Buchanan's chief clerk, to negotiate a peace treaty with Mexican leaders. Trist was ordered to seek the cession of Alta California, New Mexico, and Baja California, recognition of the Rio Grande as the southern border of Texas, and American access across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
In April 1847, Scott defeated a Mexican force led by Santa Anna at the Battle of Cerro Gordo, clearing the way for a march on Mexico City. In August, Scott defeated Santa Anna again at the Battle of Contreras and the Battle of Churubusco. With these victories over a larger force, Scott's army was positioned to besiege Mexico's capital. Santa Anna negotiated a truce with Scott, and the Mexican foreign minister notified Trist that they were ready to begin negotiations to end the war. However, the Mexican and American delegations remained far apart on terms; Mexico was only willing to yield portions of Alta California, and still refused to agree to the Rio Grande border. While negotiations continued, Scott captured the Mexican capital in the Battle for Mexico City.
In the United States, a heated political debate emerged regarding how much of Mexico the United States should seek to annex, with Whigs such as Henry Clay arguing that the United States should only seek to settle the Texas border question, and some expansionists arguing for the annexation of all of Mexico. Frustrated by the lack of progress in negotiations, and troubled by rumors that Trist was willing to negotiate on the Rio Grande border, Polk ordered Trist to return to Washington. Polk decided to occupy large portions of Mexico and wait for a Mexican peace offer. In late 1847, Polk learned that Scott had court-martialed a close ally of Polk's, Gideon Johnson Pillow. Outraged by that event, Polk demanded Scott's return to Washington, with William Orlando Butler tapped as his replacement.
In September 1847, Manuel de la Peña y Peña replaced Santa Anna as President of Mexico, and Pena and his Moderado allies showed a willingness to negotiate based on the terms Polk had relayed to Trist. In November 1847, Trist received Polk's order to return to Washington. After a period of indecision, and with the backing of Scott and the Mexican government (which was aware that Polk had ordered Trist's recall), Trist decided to enter into negotiations with the Mexican government. As Polk had made no plans to send an envoy to replace him, Trist thought that he could not pass up the opportunity to end the war on favorable terms. Though Polk was outraged by Trist's decision, he decided to allow Trist some time to negotiate a treaty.
Throughout January 1848, Trist regularly met with Mexican officials in Guadalupe Hidalgo, a small town north of Mexico City. Trist was willing to allow Mexico to keep Lower California, but successfully haggled for the inclusion of the important harbor of San Diego in a cession of Upper California. The Mexican delegation agreed to recognize the Rio Grande border, while Trist agreed to have the United States cover prior American claims against the Mexican government. The two sides also agreed to the right of Mexicans in annexed territory to leave or become U.S. citizens, American responsibility to prevent cross-border Indian raids, protection of church property, and a $15 million payment to Mexico. On February 2, 1848, Trist and the Mexican delegation signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
Polk received the document on February 19, and, after the Cabinet met on the 20th, decided he had no choice but to accept it. If he turned it down, with the House by then controlled by the Whigs, there was no assurance Congress would vote funding to continue the war. Both Buchanan and Walker dissented, wanting more land from Mexico. Some senators opposed the treaty because they wanted to take no Mexican territory; others hesitated because of the irregular nature of Trist's negotiations. Polk waited in suspense for two weeks as the Senate considered it, sometimes hearing that it would likely be defeated, and that Buchanan and Walker were working against it. On March 10, the Senate ratified the treaty in a 38–14 vote that cut across partisan and geographic lines. The Senate made some modifications to treaty, and Polk worried that the Mexican government would reject the new terms. Despite those fears, on June 7, Polk learned that Mexico had ratified the treaty. Polk declared the treaty in effect as of July 4, 1848, thus ending the war.
The Mexican Cession added 600,000 square miles of territory to the United States, including a long Pacific coastline. The treaty also recognized the annexation of Texas and acknowledged American control over the disputed territory between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande. Mexico, in turn, received $15 million. The war had cost the lives of nearly 14,000 Americans and 25,000 Mexicans, and had cost the United States roughly one hundred million dollars. With the exception of the territory acquired by the 1853 Gadsden Purchase, the territorial acquisitions under Polk established the modern borders of the Contiguous United States.
Polk had been anxious to establish a territorial government for Oregon once the treaty was effective in 1846, but the matter became embroiled in the arguments over slavery, though few thought Oregon suitable for that institution. A bill to establish an Oregon territorial government passed the House after being amended to bar slavery; the bill died in the Senate when opponents ran out the clock on the congressional session. A resurrected bill, still barring slavery, again passed the House in January 1847, but it was not considered by the Senate before Congress adjourned in March. By the time Congress met again in December, California and New Mexico were in U.S. hands, and Polk in his annual message urged the establishment of territorial governments in California, New Mexico, and Oregon. The Missouri Compromise had settled the issue of the geographic reach of slavery within the Louisiana Purchase territories by prohibiting slavery in states north of 36°30′ latitude, but Polk sought to extend this line into the newly acquired territory. If extended to the Pacific, this would have made slavery illegal in Northern California, but would have allowed it in Southern California. A plan to accomplish the extension was defeated in the House by a bipartisan alliance of Northerners. As the last congressional session before the 1848 election came to a close, Polk signed the lone territorial bill passed by Congress, which established the Territory of Oregon and prohibited slavery in it.
When Congress reconvened in December 1848, Polk again called for the establishment territorial governments in California and New Mexico, a task made especially urgent by the onset of the California Gold Rush. However, the divisive issue of slavery blocked any such legislation. Polk made it clear that he would veto a territorial bill that would have had the laws Mexico apply to the southwest territories until Congress, considering it to be the Wilmot Proviso in another guise. It was not until the Compromise of 1850 that the matter of the territories was resolved.
Polk's ambassador to the Republic of New Granada, Benjamin Alden Bidlack, negotiated the Mallarino–Bidlack Treaty with the government of New Granada. Though Bidlack had initially only sought to remove tariffs on American goods, Bidlack and New Granadan Foreign Minister Manuel María Mallarino negotiated a broader agreement that deepened military and trade ties between the two countries. The treaty also allowed for the construction of the Panama Railway. In an era of slow overland travel, the treaty gave the United States a route to more rapidly travel between its eastern and western coasts. In exchange, Bidlack agreed to have the United States guarantee New Granada's sovereignty over the Isthmus of Panama. The treaty won ratification in both countries in 1848. The agreement helped to establish a stronger American influence in the region, as the Polk administration sought to ensure that Great Britain would not dominate Central America. The United States would use the Mallarino-Bidlack Treaty as justification for numerous military interventions in the 19th century.
In mid-1848, President Polk authorized his ambassador to Spain, Romulus Mitchell Saunders, to negotiate the purchase of Cuba and offer Spain up to $100 million, an astounding sum at the time for one territory, equal to $2.9 billion in present-day terms. Cuba was close to the United States and had slavery, so the idea appealed to Southerners but was unwelcome in the North. However, Spain was still making huge profits in Cuba (notably in sugar, molasses, rum, and tobacco), and thus the Spanish government rejected Saunders' overtures. Though Polk was eager to acquire Cuba, he refused to support the proposed filibuster expedition of Narciso López, who sought to invade and annex Cuba.
The Tariff of 1842 had set relatively high tariff rates, and Polk made a reduction of tariff rates the top priority of his domestic agenda. Though he had taken an ambivalent position on the tariff during the 1844 campaign in order to win Northern votes, Polk had long opposed a high tariff. Many Americans, especially in the North, favored high tariffs as a means of protecting domestic manufacturing from foreign competition. Polk believed that protective tariffs were unfair to other economic activities, and he favored reducing tariff rates to the minimum level necessary for funding the federal government. Upon taking office, Polk directed Secretary of the Treasury Walker to draft a law that would lower tariff rates. Though foreign policy and other issues prevented Congress and the administration from focusing on tariff reduction in 1845 and early 1846, Walker worked with Congressman James Iver McKay to develop a tariff reduction bill. In April 1846, McKay reported the bill out of the House Ways and Means Committee for consideration by the full House of Representatives.
After intense lobbying by both sides, the bill passed the House on July 3, with the vast majority of favorable votes coming from Democrats. Consideration then moved to the Senate, and Polk intensely lobbied a group of wavering senators to assure passage of the bill. In a close vote that required Vice President Dallas to break a tie, the Senate approved the tariff bill in July 1846. Dallas, from protectionist Pennsylvania, voted for the bill because he decided that his best political prospects lay in supporting the administration. Following the congressional passage of the bill, Polk signed the Walker Tariff into law, substantially reducing the rates that had been set by the Tariff of 1842. The Walker Tariff would remain in place until the passage of the Tariff of 1857, staying in effect longer than any other tariff measure of the nineteenth century. The reduction of tariffs in the United States and the repeal of the Corn Laws in Great Britain led to a boom in Anglo-American trade and, in large part due to growing international trade, the economy entered a strong period of growth in the late 1840s.
In his inaugural address, Polk called upon Congress to re-establish the Independent Treasury System under which government funds were held in the Treasury and not in banks or other financial institutions. Under that system, the government would store federal funds in vaults in the Treasury Building and other government buildings, where those funds would remain until they were used to fund the government. President Van Buren had previously established the Independent Treasury system, but it had been abolished during the Tyler administration. Under the status quo that prevailed when Polk took office, the government deposited its funds in state banks, which could then use those funds in ordinary banking operations. Polk believed that this policy resulted in inflation, and was also philosophically opposed to involving the government in banking. The Whigs had wanted to create a new national bank since the expiration of the charter of the Second Bank of the United States in 1836, but their efforts had been vetoed by President Tyler, and Polk strongly opposed the re-establishment of a national bank. In a party-line vote, the House of Representatives approved Polk's Independent Treasury bill in April 1846. After personally winning the support of Senator Dixon Lewis, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Polk was able to push the Independent Treasury Act through the Senate, and he signed the act into law on August 6, 1846. The system would remain in place until the passage of the Federal Reserve Act in 1913.
During Polk's presidency, Congress passed bills to provide federal funding for internal improvements such as roads, canals, and harbors. Those who favored such funding, many of whom were Whigs, believed that internal improvements aided economic development and Western settlement. Unlike tariffs and monetary policy, support for federally-funded internal improvements split the Democratic Party, and a coalition of Democrats and Whigs arranged for the passage of internal improvement bills despite Polk's opposition. Polk considered internal improvements to be matters for the states, and feared that the passage of federal internal improvements bill would encourage legislators to compete for favors for their home district; Polk felt that such competition for federal resources damaged the virtue of the republic. When Congress passed the Rivers and Harbors Bill in 1846 to provide $500,000 to improve port facilities, Polk vetoed it. Polk believed that the bill was unconstitutional because it unfairly favored particular areas, including ports that had no foreign trade. In this regard he followed his hero Jackson, who had vetoed the Maysville Road Bill in 1830 on similar grounds. In 1847, Polk pocket vetoed another internal improvements bill, and Congress would not pass a similar bill during his presidency.
Like Jackson, Polk saw slavery as a side issue compared to other matters such as territorial expansion and economic policy. However, the issue of slavery became increasingly polarizing during the 1840s, and Polk's expansionary policies increased its divisiveness. During his presidency, many abolitionists harshly criticized him as an instrument of the "Slave Power", and claimed that he supported western expansion because he wanted to extend slavery into new territories. For his part, Polk accused both northern and southern leaders of attempting to use the slavery issue for political gain. The divisive debate over slavery in the territories led to the creation of the Free Soil Party, an anti-slavery (though not abolitionist) party that attracted Democrats, Whigs, and members of the Liberty Party.
Authoritative word of the discovery of gold in California did not arrive in Washington until after the 1848 election, by which time Polk was a lame duck. Polk was delighted by the discovery of gold, seeing it as validation of his stance on expansion, and he referred to the discovery several times in his final annual message to Congress that December. Shortly thereafter, actual samples of the California gold arrived, and Polk sent a special message to Congress on the subject. The message, confirming less authoritative reports, caused large numbers of people to move to California, both from the U.S. and abroad, thus helping to spark the California Gold Rush. The California gold rush injected large quantities of gold into the U.S. economy, helping to ease a long-term shortage of gold coins. In large because of this gold, the Whigs were unable to whip up popular enthusiasm for a revival of the national bank after Polk left office.
One of Polk's last acts as president was to sign the bill creating the Department of the Interior (March 3, 1849). This was the first new cabinet position created since the early days of the Republic. Polk had misgivings about the federal government usurping power over public lands from the states. Nevertheless, the delivery of the legislation on his last full day in office gave him no time to find constitutional grounds for a veto, or to draft a sufficient veto message, so he signed the bill.
Three states were admitted to the Union during Polk's presidency:
Honoring his pledge to serve only one term, Polk declined to seek re-election in 1848. With Polk out of the race, the Democratic Party remained fractured along geographic lines. Polk privately favored Lewis Cass as his successor, but resisted becoming closely involved in the election. At the 1848 Democratic National Convention, Buchanan, Cass, and Supreme Court Justice Levi Woodbury emerged as the main contenders. Cass drew support from both the North and South with his doctrine of popular sovereignty, under which each territory would decide the legal status of slavery. Cass led after the first ballot, and slowly gained support until he clinched the nomination on the fourth ballot. William Butler, who had replaced Winfield Scott as the commanding general in Mexico City, won the vice presidential nomination. Cass's nomination alienated many northerners and southerners, each of whom saw Cass as insufficiently committed to their position on the slavery issue.
During the course of the Mexican War, Generals Taylor and Scott emerged as strong Whig candidates. As the war continued, Taylor's stature with the public grew, and he announced in 1847 that he would not refuse the presidency. The 1848 Whig National Convention took place on June 8, with Taylor, Scott, Henry Clay, and Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster emerging as the major candidates. Taylor narrowly led Clay after the first ballot, and his support steadily grew until he captured the nomination on the fourth ballot. Clay bemoaned the selection of the ideologically ambiguous Taylor, who had not articulated his preferred policies on the major issues of the day. The Whigs chose former Congressman Millard Fillmore of New York as Taylor's running mate.
In New York, an anti-slavery Democratic faction known as the Barnburners strongly supported the Wilmot Proviso and rejected Cass. Joined by other anti-slavery Democrats from other states, the Barnburners held a convention nominating former President Martin Van Buren as their own presidential nominee, and Van Buren eventually became the Free Soil Party's nominee. Though Van Buren had not been known for his anti-slavery views while president, he embraced them in 1848. Van Buren's decision to run was also affected by Polk's decision to give patronage to rival factions in New York. Polk was surprised and disappointed by his former ally's political conversion, and he worried about the divisiveness of a sectional party organized around anti-slavery principles. Van Buren was joined on the Free Soil Party's ticket by Charles Francis Adams Sr., son of former President and prominent Whig John Quincy Adams.
In the election, Taylor won 47.3% of the popular vote and a majority of the electoral vote, giving the Whigs control of the presidency. Cass won 42.5% of the vote, while Van Buren finished with 10.1% of the popular vote, more than any other third party presidential candidate at that time. Despite the increasingly polarizing slavery debate, Taylor and Cass both won a mix of northern and southern states, while most of Van Buren's support came from northern Democrats. Polk was very disappointed by the outcome as he had a low opinion of Taylor, seeing the general as someone with poor judgment and few opinions. Polk left office in March 1849, and he died the following June.
Polk's historic reputation was largely formed by the attacks made on him in his own time. Whig politicians claimed that he was drawn from a well-deserved obscurity. Sam Houston is said to have observed that Polk was "a victim of the use of water as a beverage". Senator Tom Corwin of Ohio remarked "James K. Polk, of Tennessee? After that, who is safe?" The Republican historians of the nineteenth century inherited this view. Polk was a compromise between the Democrats of the North, like David Wilmot and Silas Wright, and Southern plantation owners led by John C. Calhoun. The Northern Democrats thought that when they did not get their way, it was because he was the tool of the slaveholders, and the conservatives of the South insisted that he was the tool of the Northern Democrats. These views were long reflected in the historical literature, until Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and Bernard De Voto argued that Polk was nobody's tool, but set his own goals and achieved them.
Polls of historians and political scientists have generally ranked Polk as an above-average president, and Polk tends to rank higher than every other president who served between the presidencies of Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln. A 2018 poll of the American Political Science Association’s Presidents and Executive Politics section ranked Polk as the 21st best president. A 2017 C-Span poll of historians ranked Polk as the 14th best president.
Polk biographers over the years have sized up the magnitude of Polk's achievements and his legacy, particularly his two most recent. "There are three key reasons why James K. Polk deserves recognition as a significant and influential American president," Walter Borneman wrote. "First, Polk accomplished the objectives of his presidential term as he defined them; second, he was the most decisive chief executive before the Civil War; and third, he greatly expanded the executive power of the presidency, particularly its war powers, its role as commander-in-chief, and its oversight of the executive branch." President Harry S. Truman summarized this view by saying that Polk was "a great president. Said what he intended to do and did it."
While Polk's legacy thus takes many forms, the most outstanding is the map of the continental United States, whose landmass he increased by a third. "To look at that map," Robert Merry concluded, "and to take in the western and southwestern expanse included in it, is to see the magnitude of Polk's presidential accomplishments." Though there were powerful forces compelling Americans to the Pacific Ocean, some historians, such as Gary Kornblith, have posited that a Clay presidency would have seen the permanent independence of Texas and California.
Nevertheless, Polk's aggressive expansionism has been criticized on ethical grounds. He believed in "Manifest Destiny" even more than most did. Referencing the Mexican–American War, General Ulysses S. Grant stated that "I was bitterly opposed to the [Texas annexation], and to this day regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory." Whig politicians, including Abraham Lincoln and John Quincy Adams, contended that the Texas Annexation and the Mexican Cession enhanced the pro-slavery factions of the United States. Unsatisfactory conditions pertaining to the status of slavery in the territories acquired during the Polk administration led to the Compromise of 1850, one of the primary factors in the establishment of the Republican Party and later the beginning of the American Civil War.
The 1844 United States presidential election was the 15th quadrennial presidential election, held from November 1, to December 4, 1844. Democrat James K. Polk defeated Whig Henry Clay in a close contest that turned on the controversial issues of slavery and the annexation of the Republic of Texas.
John Tyler's pursuit of Texas annexation threatened to undermine the unity of both the Whig and the Democratic parties, as the annexation of Texas would expand the institution of slavery in the United States. At the time, the two major parties each had wings in the Northern United States and the Southern United States, but the possibility of the expansion of slavery threatened the ability of both parties to reach inter-sectional compromises. Expelled by the Whig Party after clashing with their domestic policies, Tyler hoped to use the annexation of Texas to propel him to a second term despite the controversial nature of the issue.
The early front-runner for the Democratic nomination was former President Martin Van Buren, but his rejection of Texas annexation damaged his candidacy. Due to opposition from former President Andrew Jackson and most Southern delegations, Van Buren was unable to win the necessary two-thirds vote at the 1844 Democratic National Convention. The convention instead settled on former Governor James K. Polk of Tennessee, who emerged as the first dark horse nominee. Polk ran on a platform that embraced America's popular commitment to territorial expansionism, often referred to as Manifest Destiny. With the nomination of the pro-annexation Polk, Tyler dropped out of the race and supported the Democratic candidate. The Whigs nominated Henry Clay, a long-time party leader who adopted an anti-annexation platform. Though a slave owner himself, Clay denounced annexation as a threat to North-South sectional unity, as well as a potential cause of war between the United States and Mexico. His attempts during the campaign to finesse his anti-annexation position on Texas alienated many voters.
Polk successfully linked the United States–British boundary dispute over the partition of the Oregon Territory with the Texas annexation debate. In doing so, the Democratic Party nominee united the anti-slavery Northern expansionists, who demanded Oregon as free-soil, with pro-slavery Southern expansionists, who insisted on acquiring Texas as a slave state. In the national popular vote, Polk beat Clay by less than 40,000 votes, a margin of 1.4%. James G. Birney of the anti-slavery Liberty Party took 2.3% of the vote. Polk won the electoral vote 170–105, but the flip of several thousand votes in closely contested New York would have delivered the election to Clay. In the aftermath of the election, Polk presided over the annexation of Texas, which triggered the Mexican–American War.1846 State of the Union Address
The 1846 State of the Union Address was presented to the 29th United States Congress, containing both the United States Senate and United States House of Representatives on Tuesday, December 8, 1846. It was the 56th address given. President James K. Polk, the 11th president, had written it. It was written during the Mexican–American War, and speaks a lot of it. "The existing war with Mexico was neither desired nor provoked by the United States."Battle of Monterrey
In the Battle of Monterrey (September 21–24, 1846) during the Mexican–American War, General Pedro de Ampudia and the Mexican Army of the North was defeated by the Army of Occupation, a force of United States Regulars, Volunteers and Texas Rangers under the command of General Zachary Taylor.
The hard-fought urban combat led to heavy casualties on both sides. The battle ended with both sides negotiating a two-month armistice and the Mexican forces being allowed to make an orderly evacuation in return for the surrender of the city.History of the United States Democratic Party
The Democratic Party is the oldest voter-based political party in the world and the oldest existing political party in the United States, tracing its heritage back to the anti-Federalists and the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republican Party of the 1790s. During the Second Party System (from 1832 to the mid-1850s) under Presidents Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren and James K. Polk, the Democrats usually bested the opposition Whig Party by narrow margins. Both parties worked hard to build grassroots organizations and maximize the turnout of voters, which often reached 80 percent or 90 percent of eligible voters. Both parties used patronage extensively to finance their operations, which included emerging big city political machines as well as national networks of newspapers. The party was a proponent for slave-owners across the country, urban workers and caucasian immigrants.
From 1860 to 1932 in the era of the American Civil War to the Great Depression, the opposing Republican Party, organized in the mid-1850s from the ruins of the Whig Party and some other smaller splinter groups, was dominant in presidential politics. The Democrats elected only two Presidents to four terms of office for twenty-two years, namely Grover Cleveland (in 1884 and 1892) and Woodrow Wilson (in 1912 and 1916).
Over the same period, the Democrats proved more competitive with the Republicans in Congressional politics, enjoying House of Representatives majorities (as in the 65th Congress) in 15 of the 36 Congresses elected, although only in five of these did they form the majority in the Senate. Furthermore, the Democratic Party was split between the Bourbon Democrats, representing Eastern business interests; and the agrarian elements comprising poor farmers in the South and West. The agrarian element, marching behind the slogan of free silver (i.e. in favor of inflation), captured the party in 1896 and nominated William Jennings Bryan in the 1896, 1900 and 1908 presidential elections, although he lost every time. Both Bryan and Wilson were leaders of the progressive movement in the United States (1890s–1920s).
Starting with 32nd President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 during the Great Depression, the party dominated the Fifth Party System, with its progressive liberal policies and programs with the New Deal coalition to combat the emergency bank closings and the continuing financial depression since the famous Wall Street Crash of 1929 and later going into the crises leading up to World War II. The Democrats and the Democratic Party finally lost the White House and control of the executive branch of government only after Roosevelt's death in April 1945 near the end of the war and after the continuing post-war administration of Roosevelt's third Vice President Harry S. Truman, former Senator from Missouri (for 1945 to 1953, elections of 1944 and the "stunner" of 1948). A new Republican Party President was only elected later in the following decade of the early 1950s with the losses by two-time nominee, the Governor of Illinois Adlai Stevenson (grandson of the former Vice President with the same name of the 1890s) to the very popular war hero and commanding general in World War II, General Dwight D. Eisenhower (in 1952 and 1956).
With two brief interruptions since the Great Depression and World War II eras, the Democrats with unusually large majorities for over four decades, controlled the lower house of the Congress in the House of Representatives from 1930 until 1994 and the Senate for most of that same period, electing the Speaker of the House and the Representatives' majority leaders/committee chairs along with the upper house of the Senate's majority leaders and committee chairmen. Important Democratic progressive/liberal leaders included 33rd and 36th Presidents Harry S. Truman of Missouri (1945–1953) and Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas (1963–1969), respectively; and the earlier Kennedy brothers of 35th President John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts (1961–1963), Senators Robert F. Kennedy of New York and Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts who carried the flag for modern American liberalism. Since the presidential election of 1976, Democrats have won five out of the last eleven presidential elections, winning in the presidential elections of 1976 (with 39th President Jimmy Carter of Georgia, 1977–1981), 1992 and 1996 (with 42nd President Bill Clinton of Arkansas, 1993–2001) and 2008 and 2012 (with 44th President Barack Obama of Illinois, 2009–2017). Democrats have also won the popular vote in 2000 and 2016, but lost the Electoral College with Al Gore and Hillary Clinton, respectively. The 1876 and 1888 elections were other two presidential elections in which Democrats won the popular vote, but lost the Electoral College (the Democrats candidates were Samuel J. Tilden and Grover Cleveland). Social scientists Theodore Caplow et al. argue that "the Democratic party, nationally, moved from left-center toward the center in the 1940s and 1950s, then moved further toward the right-center in the 1970s and 1980s".Inauguration of James K. Polk
The inauguration of James K. Polk as the 11th President of the United States took place on Tuesday, March 4, 1845, a rainy day with morning thunderstorms. The inauguration marked the commencement of the only four-year term of James K. Polk as President and George M. Dallas as Vice President. Polk was sworn in at the East Portico of the United States Capitol by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney. This was the first inaugural ceremony to be reported by telegraph and to be shown in a newspaper illustration (in The Illustrated London News).Independent Treasury
The Independent Treasury was the system for managing the money supply of the United States federal government through the U.S. Treasury and its sub-treasuries, independently of the national banking and financial systems. It was created on August 6, 1846 by the 29th Congress, with the enactment of the Independent Treasury Act of 1846 (ch. 90, 9 Stat. 59), and it functioned until the early 20th century, when the Federal Reserve System replaced it. During this time, the Treasury took over an ever-larger number of functions of a central bank and the Treasury Department came to be the major force in the U.S. money market.James K. Polk
James Knox Polk (November 2, 1795 – June 15, 1849) was the 11th president of the United States from 1845 to 1849. He previously was speaker of the House of Representatives (1835–1839) and governor of Tennessee (1839–1841). A protégé of Andrew Jackson, he was a member of the Democratic Party and an advocate of Jacksonian democracy. Polk is chiefly known for extending the territory of the United States during the Mexican–American War; during his presidency, the United States expanded significantly with the annexation of the Republic of Texas, the Oregon Territory, and the Mexican Cession following the American victory in the Mexican–American War.
After building a successful law practice in Tennessee, Polk was elected to the state legislature (1823) and then to the United States House of Representatives in 1825, becoming a strong supporter of Andrew Jackson. After serving as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, he became Speaker in 1835, the only president to have been Speaker. Polk left Congress to run for governor; he won in 1839, but lost in 1841 and 1843. He was a dark horse candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in 1844; he entered his party's convention as a potential nominee for vice president, but emerged as a compromise to head the ticket when no presidential candidate could secure the necessary two-thirds majority. In the general election, Polk defeated Henry Clay of the rival Whig Party.
Polk is considered by many the most effective president of the pre–Civil War era, having met during his four-year term every major domestic and foreign policy goal he had set. After a negotiation fraught with risk of war, he reached a settlement with the United Kingdom over the disputed Oregon Country, the territory for the most part being divided along the 49th parallel. Polk achieved a sweeping victory in the Mexican–American War, which resulted in the cession by Mexico of nearly all the American Southwest. He secured a substantial reduction of tariff rates with the Walker tariff of 1846. The same year, he achieved his other major goal, re-establishment of the Independent Treasury system. True to his campaign pledge to serve only one term, Polk left office in 1849 and returned to Tennessee; he died in Nashville, most likely of cholera, three months after leaving the White House.
Scholars have ranked Polk favorably for his ability to promote and achieve the major items on his presidential agenda, but he has also been criticized for leading the country into war against Mexico and for exacerbating sectional divides. A slaveholder for most of his adult life, he owned a plantation in Mississippi and bought slaves while President. A major legacy of Polk's presidency is territorial expansion, as the United States reached the Pacific coast and became poised to be a world power.James Polk (disambiguation)
James K. Polk (1795–1849) was the 11th President of the United States.
James Polk may also refer to:
James Polk (journalist) (born 1937), American journalist
James H. Polk (1911–1992), United States Army four-star general who served as Commander-in-Chief of United States Army Europe 1967–1971
James G. Polk (1896–1959), U.S. Congressman from Ohio
USS James K. Polk (SSBN-645), a United States Navy ballistic missile submarine
"James K. Polk" (song), a song by They Might Be GiantsList of federal judges appointed by James K. Polk
Following is a list of all Article III United States federal judges appointed by President James K. Polk during his presidency. In total Polk appointed 10 Article III federal judges, including 2 Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States, 1 judge to the United States Circuit Court of the District of Columbia, and 7 judges to the United States district courts.
Polk faced some obstacles in seating Justices on the Supreme Court. After Henry Baldwin's death in April 1844, Polk nominated James Buchanan for the seat, but Buchanan declined the nomination. Polk then nominated George Washington Woodward of Pennsylvania to Baldwin's seat, but the nomination was rejected by the United States Senate by a vote of 20-29. Polk finally succeeded with the nomination of Robert Cooper Grier, filling the vacancy after two years.Mexican–American War
The Mexican–American War, also known in the United States as the Mexican War and in Mexico as the Intervención estadounidense en México (American intervention in Mexico), was an armed conflict between the United States of America and the Second Federal Republic of Mexico from 1846 to 1848. It followed in the wake of the 1845 American annexation of the Republic of Texas, not formally recognized by the Mexican government, disputing the Treaties of Velasco signed by the unstable Mexican caudillo President/General Antonio López de Santa Anna after the Texas Revolution a decade earlier. In 1845, newly elected U.S. President James K. Polk, who saw the annexation of Texas as the first step towards a further expansion of the United States, sent troops to the disputed area and a diplomatic mission to Mexico. After Mexican forces attacked American forces, Polk cited this in his request that Congress declare war.
U.S. forces quickly occupied the regional capital of Santa Fe de Nuevo México along the upper Rio Grande and the Pacific coast province of Alta California, and then moved south. Meanwhile, the Pacific Squadron of the U.S. Navy blockaded the Pacific coast farther south in lower Baja California Territory. The U.S. Army under Major General Winfield Scott eventually captured Mexico City through stiff resistance, having marched west from the port of Veracruz on the Gulf Coast, where the Americans staged their first ever amphibious landing.
The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, forced onto the remnant Mexican government, ended the war and enforced the Mexican Cession of the northern territories of Alta California and Santa Fe de Nuevo México to the United States. The U.S. agreed to pay $15 million compensation for the physical damage of the war and assumed $3.25 million of debt already owed earlier by the Mexican government to U.S. citizens. Mexico acknowledged the loss of what became the State of Texas and accepted the Rio Grande as its northern border with the United States.
The victory and territorial expansion Polk envisioned inspired great patriotism in the United States, but the war and treaty drew some criticism in the U.S. for their casualties, monetary cost, and heavy-handedness, particularly early on. The question of how to treat the new acquisitions also intensified the debate over slavery. Mexico's worsened domestic turmoil and losses of life, territory and national prestige left it in what prominent Mexicans called a "state of degradation and ruin".Oregon Treaty
The Oregon Treaty is a treaty between the United Kingdom and the United States that was signed on June 15, 1846, in Washington, D.C. The treaty was signed under the presidency of James K. Polk, the treaty brought an end to the Oregon boundary dispute by settling competing American and British claims to the Oregon Country; the area had been jointly occupied by both Britain and the U.S. since the Treaty of 1818.Oregon boundary dispute
The Oregon boundary dispute or the Oregon Question was a territorial dispute over the political division of the Pacific Northwest of North America between several nations that had competing territorial and commercial aspirations over the region.
Expansionist competition into the region began in the 18th century, with participants including the Russian Empire, the United Kingdom, Spain and the United States. By the 1820s, both the Russians, through the Russo-American Treaty of 1824 and the Russo-British Treaty of 1825, and the Spanish, by the Adams–Onís Treaty of 1819, formally withdrew their territorial claims in the region. Through these treaties the British and Americans gained residual territorial claims in the disputed area. The remaining portion of the North American Pacific coast contested by the United Kingdom and the United States was defined as the following: west of the Continental Divide of the Americas, north of Mexico's Alta California border of 42nd parallel north, and south of Russian America at parallel 54°40′ north; typically this region was referred to as the Columbia District by the British and the Oregon Country by the Americans. The Oregon dispute began to become important in geopolitical diplomacy between the British Empire and the new American republic, especially after the War of 1812.
In the 1844 U.S. presidential election, ending the Oregon Question by annexing the entire area was a position adopted by the Democratic Party. Some scholars have claimed the Whig Party's lack of interest in the issue was due to its relative insignificance among other more pressing domestic problems. Democratic candidate James K. Polk appealed to the popular theme of manifest destiny and expansionist sentiment, defeating Whig Henry Clay. Polk sent the British government the previously offered partition along the 49th parallel. Subsequent negotiations faltered as the British plenipotentiaries still argued for a border along the Columbia River. Tensions grew as American expansionists like Senator Edward A. Hannegan of Indiana and Representative Leonard Henly Sims of Missouri, urged Polk to annex the entire Pacific Northwest to the 54°40′ parallel north, as the Democrats had called for in the election. The turmoil gave rise to slogans such as "Fifty-four Forty or Fight!" As relations with Mexico were rapidly deteriorating following the annexation of Texas, the expansionist agenda of Polk and the Democratic Party created the possibility of two different, simultaneous wars for the United States. Just before the outbreak of the Mexican–American War, Polk returned to his earlier position of a border along the 49th parallel.
The 1846 Oregon Treaty established the border between British North America and the United States along the 49th parallel until the Strait of Georgia, where the marine boundary curved south to exclude Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands from the United States. As a result, a small portion of the Tsawwassen Peninsula, Point Roberts, became an exclave of the United States. Vague wording in the treaty left the ownership of the San Juan Islands in doubt, as the division was to follow "through the middle of the said channel" to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. During the so-called Pig War, both nations agreed to a joint military occupation of the islands. Kaiser Wilhelm I of the German Empire was selected as an arbitrator to end the dispute, with a three-man commission ruling in favor of the United States in 1872. There the Haro Strait became the border line, rather than the British favored Rosario Strait. The border established by the Oregon Treaty and finalized by the arbitration in 1872 remains the boundary between the United States and Canada in the Pacific Northwest.Revolt of the Polkos
In February 1847, five Mexican National Guard regiments rose up in rebellion against the Mexican government, in protest over legislation that permitted the government to requisition money and property from the Catholic Church. Led by General Matías Peña y Barragán, the group issued a set of demands which included the resignation of the President and Vice President of Mexico. When the demands were not met, fighting broke out in Mexico City. President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was able to negotiate a peaceful solution with the rebels in March 1847.Richard Rush
Richard Rush (August 29, 1780 – July 30, 1859) was the 8th United States Attorney General and the 8th United States Secretary of the Treasury. He also served as John Quincy Adams's running mate on the National Republican ticket in 1828.
Born in Philadelphia to Benjamin Rush, a prominent physician and Founding Father, Richard Rush graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1797 and pursued a legal career. After gaining renown for his oratorical skills, he was appointed as Attorney General of Pennsylvania in 1811. Later that year, President James Madison appointed Rush to the position of Comptroller of the Treasury, and Rush became one of Madison's closest advisers during the War of 1812. Madison elevated Rush to the position of United States Attorney General in 1814. Rush remained in that position after James Monroe took office, and he also briefly served as the acting Secretary of State. In this capacity he concluded the Rush–Bagot Treaty, which limited naval armaments on the Great Lakes.
After John Quincy Adams returned to the United States to assume the position of Secretary of State, Rush was appointed as the ambassador to Britain. In 1825, Rush accepted Adams's offer to serve as Secretary of the Treasury. When Adams sought re-election in 1828, he chose Rush as his running mate, but Adams lost the presidential election to Andrew Jackson. After the election, Rush served as a diplomat for various groups, and he helped establish the Smithsonian Institution. During the presidency of James K. Polk, Rush served as the minister to France. He returned to the United States in 1849 and died in Philadelphia in 1859.Rivers and Harbors Bill
The Rivers and Harbors Bill was a bill passed by Congress in 1846 to provide $500,000 to improve rivers and harbors. When the Senate passed the Rivers and Harbors Bill 34 to 16 on July 24, 1846, opponents lobbied for a presidential veto. It was vetoed by President James K. Polk on August 3. The bill would have provided for federally funded internal improvements on small harbors, many of them on the Great Lakes. Polk believed that this was unconstitutional because the bill unfairly favored particular areas, including that which had no foreign trade.
Polk believed that these problems were local and not national. Polk feared that passing the Rivers and Harbors Bill would encourage legislators to compete for favors for their home districts, a type of political corruption that would spell doom to the virtue of the republic. In this regard he followed his hero, Andrew Jackson, who authored the Maysville Road veto in 1830 on similar grounds. Henry Clay and his Whig Party, by contrast, supported the bill because they believed the national government had a responsibility to promote trade commerce and economic modernization.Texas annexation
The Texas annexation was the 1845 annexation of the Republic of Texas into the United States of America, which was admitted to the Union as the 28th state on December 29, 1845.
The Republic of Texas declared independence from the Republic of Mexico on March 2, 1836. At the time the vast majority of the Texian population favored the annexation of the Republic by the United States. The leadership of both major U.S. political parties, the Democrats and the Whigs, opposed the introduction of Texas, a vast slave-holding region, into the volatile political climate of the pro- and anti-slavery sectional controversies in Congress. Moreover, they wished to avoid a war with Mexico, whose government refused to acknowledge the sovereignty of its rebellious northern province. With Texas's economic fortunes declining by the early 1840s, the President of the Texas Republic, Sam Houston, arranged talks with Mexico to explore the possibility of securing official recognition of independence, with the United Kingdom mediating.
In 1843, U.S. President John Tyler, then unaligned with any political party, decided independently to pursue the annexation of Texas in a bid to gain a base of popular support for another four years in office. His official motivation was to outmaneuver suspected diplomatic efforts by the British government for emancipation of slaves in Texas, which would undermine slavery in the United States. Through secret negotiations with the Houston administration, Tyler secured a treaty of annexation in April 1844. When the documents were submitted to the U.S. Senate for ratification, the details of the terms of annexation became public and the question of acquiring Texas took center stage in the presidential election of 1844. Pro-Texas-annexation southern Democratic delegates denied their anti-annexation leader Martin Van Buren the nomination at their party's convention in May 1844. In alliance with pro-expansion northern Democratic colleagues, they secured the nomination of James K. Polk, who ran on a pro-Texas Manifest Destiny platform.
In June 1844, the Senate, with its Whig majority, soundly rejected the Tyler–Texas treaty. The pro-annexation Democrat Polk narrowly defeated anti-annexation Whig Henry Clay in the 1844 presidential election. In December 1844, lame-duck President Tyler called on Congress to pass his treaty by simple majorities in each house. The Democratic-dominated House of Representatives complied with his request by passing an amended bill expanding on the pro-slavery provisions of the Tyler treaty. The Senate narrowly passed a compromise version of the House bill (by the vote of the minority Democrats and several southern Whigs), designed to provide President-elect Polk the options of immediate annexation of Texas or new talks to revise the annexation terms of the House-amended bill.
On March 1, 1845, President Tyler signed the annexation bill, and on March 3 (his last full day in office), he forwarded the House version to Texas, offering immediate annexation (which preempted Polk). When Polk took office at noon EST the next day, he encouraged Texas to accept the Tyler offer. Texas ratified the agreement with popular approval from Texans. The bill was signed by President Polk on December 29, 1845, accepting Texas as the 28th state of the Union. Texas formally joined the union on February 19, 1846. Following the annexation, relations between the United States and Mexico deteriorated because of an unresolved dispute over the border between Texas and Mexico, and the Mexican–American War broke out only a few months later.Timeline of United States history (1820–1859)
This section of the Timeline of United States history concerns events from 1820 to 1859.Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (Tratado de Guadalupe Hidalgo in Spanish), officially titled the Treaty of Peace, Friendship, Limits and Settlement between the United States of America and the Mexican Republic, is the peace treaty signed on February 2, 1848, in the Villa de Guadalupe Hidalgo (now a neighborhood of Mexico City) between the United States and Mexico that ended the Mexican–American War (1846–1848). The treaty came into force on July 4, 1848.With the defeat of its army and the fall of its capital, Mexico entered into negotiations to end the war. The treaty called for the U.S. to pay US$15 million to Mexico and to pay off the claims of American citizens against Mexico up to US$5 million. It gave the United States the Rio Grande as a boundary for Texas, and gave the U.S. ownership of California and a large area comprising roughly half of New Mexico, most of Arizona, Nevada, and Utah, and parts of Wyoming and Colorado. Mexicans in those annexed areas had the choice of relocating to within Mexico's new boundaries or receiving American citizenship with full civil rights.
The U.S. Senate advised and consented to ratification of the treaty by a vote of 38–14. The opponents of this treaty were led by the Whigs, who had opposed the war and rejected Manifest destiny in general, and rejected this expansion in particular. The amount of land gained by the United States from Mexico was further increased as a result of the Gadsden Purchase of 1853, which ceded parts of present-day southern Arizona and New Mexico to the United States of America.Walker tariff
The Walker Tariff was a set of tariff rates adopted by the United States in 1846. The Walker Tariff was enacted by the Democrats, and made substantial cuts in the high rates of the "Black Tariff" of 1842, enacted by the Whigs. It was based on a report by Secretary of the Treasury Robert J. Walker. The Walker Tariff reduced tariff rates from 32% to 25%; it coincided with Britain's repeal of the Corn Laws and led to an increase in trade. It was one of the lowest tariffs in American history.