Wednesday, August 25, 2010
James K. Polk
Nickname: Young Hickory
James K. Polk was the first presidential dark horse. The opposition’s famous slogan was “Who is James K. Polk?”. Polk’s association with Jackson throughout his political career had helped bring him to the light of presidency. Polk, like Jackson, didn’t trust banks and was very much for expansion. As soon as he was elected over Whig, Henry Clay, he told the public that he was only going to run for one term. But he set four specific goals for this term: 1) a reduction in tariffs; 2) the creation of an independent treasury; 3) a settlement of disputes with Great Britain over Oregon; and 4) the acquisition of California. Hardworking and effective, Polk achieved all four goals during his single term.
These accomplishments came with a cost, however. With Texas now part of the U.S., there were newfound disputes with Mexico over where Mexico land started, and where it ended. Texas claimed all the way to the Rio Grande, while Mexico claimed more land of the south west part of the state. Polk had his men go down to the disputed area, where they are promptly fired upon. Many still speculate that Polk had purposefully started a conflict with Mexico to gain land from them, but we’re not completely sure. I think it was intentional though. After Polk had Zachery Taylor and Winfield Scott attack Mexico from the North and the east from the sea, Mexico was defeated and had to give the U.S. California, New Mexico, and Arizona, or the land that comprised most of these future states. Polk felt generous and gave Mexico 15 million dollars for the land. Mexico had earlier demanded over twice that much for the land.
With California now a part of the United States and the Gold rush in 49 bringing a swelling of the population, who calls for statehood, the slavery issue comes back. Should California be free or slave? Polk didn’t have to answer that question and left it for the next president. However, Wisconsin and Oregon are brought into the Union as free states per the Missouri Compromise.
One of the best things Polk did was declare that it was the people’s right to elect the president directly and had the old electoral system done away with. Polk, physically drained by long hours of hard work, died just a few months after returning home. Good thing he didn’t go for a second term.
Polk was a man after Jackson’s heart, as people will notice from his similar nickname. This served him well in some respects, but some might say his expansionist ways led the U.S. to a war it wasn’t supposed to be in. We did gain a lot of land from the war, but it did reignite the slavery issue. Polk was a man of his word and accomplished all that he had said he would. That’s pretty good for one term.