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James Knox Polk Dbq Essay

The presidency of James Knox Polk was a memorable one. He was known as America’s first dark horse candidate, and later he was called the only strong commander in chief between Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln (Greenstein 14). Yet, many historians still write him off but he was by no means insignificant. Now, he may have not been as charismatic as Roosevelt or Reagan but charisma does not mean greatness. Polk was without questions one of the most ambitious and successful presidents in history. In four short years, his one term as president (1845-1849), the things that Polk accomplished was nonetheless astonishing.

Polk bears the responsibility for reshaping the boundaries of the United States continentally through negotiation, war and policy that created a status to enable America’s later emergence as a world power (Chaffin 5). Additionally, Polk addressed the most contentious issues of the Jacksonian Era – slavery and fiscal responsibility. While previously there was little debate at the national level, under Polk everything would change – for the better. To begin with, President James K. Polk was the 11th president of the United States of America. He started off as an unlikely candidate for becoming one of our greatest commander and chiefs.

Polk grew up on in Tennessee on a farm where he wasn’t able to help because he was small and frail. He was often afflicted with many illnesses that didn’t allow him to attend school. It wasn’t until he met a doctor named, Ephraim McDowell, who operated on him at 16 that cured him. It was found that he had stones in his urethra (Welsbacher 10). This procedure was extremely painful and done without anesthesia, it was quite the miracle for his suffering to be over. Some attribute this suffering and childhood experience to Polk’s intense political leadership (Greenstein 15).

As it was especially triumphant for a child who was tutored at home to graduate college, let alone finish Law school with honors. Continuing from law school, Polk served as Speaker of the House of Representatives and later became Governor of Tennessee, both experiences which influenced his performance in the White House. His preserving story stated at such a young age and ran through his presidency. As President, James Polk was intent on expanding the parameters of the nation from east to west coast, completing the Manifest Destiny; which was coined during his time.

Polk accomplished this though the annexation of Texas in 1845, the negotiation of the Oregon treaty in 1846 and the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848 after the Mexican-American War. As soon as Polk entered office, the issue of Texas was on the board. The fuse that lit the dispute over Texas was actually Polk’s predecessor, John Tyler. Tyler had requested congress to pass a joint resolution extending the Texas to apply for U. S annexation. Texas had declared themselves independent of Mexico in 1836, however Mexico never fully recognized Texas’ independence.

Consequently, Mexico warned congress that the annexation would be regarded as a belligerent act against Mexico. Even so after Polk was in office he proceeded with the plans to annex Texas. Predictably, Mexico condemned Congress’ actions. However, this was not what ignited the war. The dispute that lit the flame was over the border that Texas claimed. The republic claimed their southern bordered as land north and east of the Rio Grande, but Mexico declared that their boundary was the Nueces River (Chaffin 13). At the same time, Polk had wanted to acquire present day California.

He first tried to purchase the territory. However, Mexico was still angry over the annexation and refused to meet Polk’s emissary (Greenstein 21). It was then that Polk decided to agree with the Republic and defend its boundary as the Rio Grande. As his negotiation tactics to acquire the land failed, he turned to provoking war; in 1846 Polk sent U. S troops to protect Texas from the Mexicans. The troops converged at the Rio Grande. However, the Rio Grande was considered claimed by both countries. Thus, Mexico regarded this as an invasion and broke relations with the United States. (Welsbacher 23).

Furthermore, even though the plans for annexation had happened before Polk entered office, it was not without opposition as Polk continued the efforts. The Whig party at the time had favored negotiations with Mexico. They opposed annexing Texas without Mexican consent and accused Polk of waging unnecessary and illegitimate war (Nau 111). Many considered Polk too aggressive. Polk acquired Texas but he wanted more, during his campaign he promised the people to settle the boundary of the Oregon Territory. His supporters promoted the occupation of the entire terrirtory with the slogan “Fifty-Four Forty or Fight”.

Previously Great Britain and the U. S had jointly occupied the region but it was clear that Polk wanted the west coast. However, as war with Mexico was on the brink and Polk knew he could not afford a war with Britain too. This was one of the reason some opposed Polk. They believed he was trying to face too many threats at once, and heavily amplifying them. Thus, he entered negotiations with Great Britain. Polk’s negotiation tactics were aggressive and relentless. He bluffed to Britain that he wanted territory up to the 54°40′. While Britain originally rejected the proposal, in the end his shrewd tactic ended in an agreement rather than war.

He agreed to divide along the forty ninth parallel. This compromise gave us present day Oregon, Idaho and Washington – as well as control of the Columbia River. While some supporters called this a betrayal, Polk did what he thought was best. He not only added a great deal of territory, he avoid all-out war with Britain over land that crossed into Canada (Roark 378). Although it was too late by the time congress approved the Oregon treaty, war with Mexico was beginning. After the invasion on the Rio Grande; Mexico sent troops to fight back. Polk then informed Congress that Mexico had “shed American blood upon American soil” (Greenstein 21).

Congress declared this an act of war; May 13th, 1846 the U. S declared war against Mexico (Welsbacher 22). The war was not as easy as Polk anticipated. Polk had pushed congress for the declaration after the bloodshed at the Rio Grande. But even though the declaration passed, many opposed citing that the war was immoral and unconstitutional. Many believed Polk was only waging war to annex another slave state that in time a peaceful negotiation could have been had. These were not Polk’s ways though, Polk was hard pressed for time and determined to keep his word in his one term. Polk pushed on. The declaration passed and war was not easy.

Mexico had a much larger army but Polk was unstinting in his leadership during the war. Many battles were lost but the U. S army dominated in most major battles. This was because Polk choose great commander Generals: Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. Polk paid a great detail to the general strategy of the military and naval operations and made informed decisions. Additionally, he gave his personal attention to the supply problems that come with war. His personal attention mattered a great deal in the war. Thanks to Polk’s attention to strategic military forces and our commanding generals, Mexico City fell in 1847.

Then American forces were able to secure control of California and New Mexico (Greenstein 22). This help end the war in February of 1848, with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which resulted in Mexico’s concession. Mexico agreed to give up all claims on Texas and north of the Rio Grande. Additionally, they yielded the provinces of New Mexico and California to the United States in exchange for $15 million. In two short years as president, Polk had already acquired Texas, the lower half of the Oregon Territories and by the terms of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, some additional 500,000 plus square miles (Roark 381).

Polk had fought hard for these territories, while he had literally reshaped our borders Polk had also figuratively done this. Polk reshaped America domestically, one of the main issues during his presidency was the extension of slavery into new American territories. Slavery had been of little debate, nationally, until this point. However, it was an issue that Polk had been prepared for. During his time as Speaker of the House, Polk stacked the committee and made several procedural rulings to push a gag rule through congress (Dusinberre 123). This denied the right of congress to interfere with slavery in a federal possession.

Many believed that this was the cause behind the Mexican war, that the States could have secured the Southwest, Texas and California without war; which Polk provoked. Nevertheless expansion incited congressional legislation that brought the slavery issue front and center during the war with Mexico. This created a hot debate over the war itself and the spread of slavery. In 1846 a congressman introduced an amendment to a spending bill, Wilmot Proviso. The bill asserted that slavery wouldn’t be allowed to exist in the territory acquired from Mexico (Dusinberre 148).

Polk found the entire bill to be “foolish and mischievous”, believing that there was no connection between peace with Mexico and slavery (Nevins 138). Polk claimed to have no interest in extending slavery but it was noted that he was an avid slave owner and many even considered racist. He even bought and sold slaves while in the White House and took measures to keep it a secret (Nevins 190). Although the Wilmot Proviso measure was blocked it widened a rift between political parties. While this issue weakened Polk’s most avid supporters, Polk had a plan.

He endorsed the idea of extending the old Missouri Compromise line of 36°30′ to the Pacific Ocean. This spawned a more controversial concept of whether states could decide to be free or slave. Additionally, while many historians fault Polk for being a slave master, he did what he could to be a decent human being during his time period. There were several occasions in which Polk intervened to keep a slave family together (Dusinberre 80). While Polk was criticized for his tactics and personal agenda, Polk had done a phenomenal job of negotiating his way through his expansion plans.

He had put off a war that had been looming in the shadows; at some point with or without expansion, slavery would have provoked the civil war eventually (Nau 116). Furthermore, Polk’s hands on leadership style would carry over to improving the fiscal situation in America. Polk’s inaugural address had declared, “Ours was meant to be a plain and frugal government” (Greenstein 19). He was unwavering in changing protective tariffs. He had stated his opposition to them all throughout his campaign and in 1846 passed the Walker Tariff.

Whigs and Democrats had been feuding over tariff policy for decades. The Whigs wanted more protection while the Democrats favored lower rates. While Polk had been opposed to protective tariffs, he understood some tariffs might provide protection for certain good by making imports unaffordable, but the issue at what point does the rate become protective is what Polk addressed. His solution was the antiprotectionist tariff of 1846, called the Walker Tariff after its Secretary of Treasury Robert Walker; whom was commissioned by Polk to study the tariff issue.

While some Whigs fought to defeat the bill before congress, there were many more who respected the tariff issue. On the other all, all but a few northerners also opposed it. This called for a tie-breaking vote in Senate that fell on Polk’s winning side. Polk had quickly signed into the law the Walker tariff (Nau 144). This lowered rates to a new standard. Instead of each item being taxed separately, flat rates for items would be issued according to grouping (Nau 145). This proved well worth the fight, as it gave America its first standardized tariff.

Even outside of the war room, Polk proved his tactical and strategical political skills achieving exactly what he set out to do. After his victory in the tariff debate Polk moved on, continuing his political fight against the fiscal issues in America. Polk established the Independent Treasury Act of 1846 and eliminated the possibility of a national bank (Nau 144). This issue was center of discussion long before Polk took office, as Van Buren established an independent treasury in 1840 but the congress repealed it.

And with the Whigs hoping to form nother Central Bank, Polk did what he could to block it. As Polk declared a central bank was an “irresponsible rival of power of the government” (Nau 144). Polk was a fiscal conservative; who exercised personal control over bureaucracy and budget processes. Being the first president to do so, he mastered details of every executive department and called for full accountings of each. This just continues to show how Polk was able to stretch himself into every aspect of the government to fulfil his promises of achievement for America.

From the very beginning of Polk’s career he aimed to become the best president that he could be. Setting out his goals early in his presidency, the twenty five pages of Polk’s inaugural address one can preview the linguistic skills that made him an effective stump speaker, debater, and defender of the Jefferson-Jackson faith. He may not have had the charisma or military experience of Washington, but he was able to navigate his way through the ongoing conflict between populists and monarchists over the interpretations of the constitution between good and evil for the destiny of the nation with grace.

While many fault him for the way he handled his administration, even stating he had stretched himself too thin, he completed every goal he promised the American people. Polk’s aggressive and relentless tactics not only worked well in the war room, but in debate as well. Polk reshaped the continental United States boundaries, completing the Manifest Destiny. As well as reshaping policies for the betterment of America.

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