Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Country of Vast Designs by Robert W. Merry

(James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent) A short while ago I read a biography of Andrew Jackson. I became intrigued by the events that occurred during these years. In particular the additional territory added to the Union. While still a General during the presidency of James Monroe he conquered Florida whereby Spain ceded it to America and also added tens of millions of acres to the Union from Indian tribes in the South and West. James Polk was supported by Jackson with advice and consul until his death. Polk became President by default. At the time he was running for Vice President. The delegates at the Democratic Convention were deadlocked. He was stunned to learn of his nomination. Once he became President he resolved to accomplish his most important goals during one four year term and he did. The most important, in my opinion, was acquiring all remaining lands in the West including the Texas, New Mexico and Oregon territories. He added over five hundred thousand square miles and gave the United States free access to the Pacific. The total amount far exceeds the Louisiana Purchase. It encompassed all lands between America at that time and the Pacific Coast, except for a small area of 30,000 square miles in Southern Arizona and New Mexico, referred to as the Gadsden Purchase which was acquired in 1854. This goal was popular with the people who foresaw increased opportunity as lands became available, but the job was not easy. In the Northwest England claimed ownership. There was a possibility of war between the two countries. When we relented on ceding the lower half of Prince Edward Island to Canada which gave them free access to the port at Vancouver agreement was reached. While this was going on, Polk aggressively prodded Mexico by moving troops to the Rio Grande River. Mexico responded by attacking and killing a number of soldiers. Military actions were forthcoming in Texas, New Mexico and California. Mexican ports were blockaded and Mexico City was occupied. Finally a treaty was signed ceding these lands to America. During all this time Polk was berated for the Mexican War by politicians of the Whig Party including Daniel Webster and even a freshman Congressman named Abraham Lincoln. Most of the problems in ending the war with Mexico had nothing to do with that country. It was the issue of slavery in the new territories. It became inescapable in August 1846. Polk was asking the Congress for $2 million to offer to Mexico, an amount he had good reason to believe would accomplish that objective. Unexpectedly a relative unknown Congressman, David Wilmot offered an amendment forever known as “The Wilmot Resolution”. It provided; “That, as an express and fundamental condition to the acquisition of any territory from the Republic of Mexico by the United States, by virtue of any treaty which may be negotiated between them, and to the use by the Executive of the moneys herein appropriated, neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any part of said territory, except for crime, wherein the party shall first be duly convicted.” This, in effect was challenging the slave states to give up on their bringing slaves to these new lands. Once again, as it was in Jackson’s term the specter of cessation was breathed new life. Not only did Polk not get the money requested but the war became secondary to the issue of slavery. You can only imagine the pressure this would add during wartime. He was under great strain during the rest of his term. While he did accomplish his goal, it drastically affected his health. After his term ended he only lived four extra months dying at the age of fifty three. I am willing to grant that he was a patriot who gave his life for his country. That is the same status I give to FDR. The strain of office also took his life. I see that as the same as dying on the field of battle. Historians in 1962 rated Polk as being in the top eight presidents at that time. After reading this biography I must concur. The greatest of leaders throughout history were the ones who pursued their objectives through thick and thin without regard to their own well-being. He was certainly one of those. This is a well-researched and written book worthy of reading. It is 500 pages with a great deal of information which I have not included in this short report. Jack B. Walters April 23, 2013

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