American History (1492-1870)

1.0 Introduction

James K. Polk once a lawyer, a congressman and a governor of Tennessee was the eleventh president of the United States. He succeeded Andrew Jackson and was the predecessor of the famous Abraham Lincoln. There are many achievements that stand out in the American history that he contributed greatly to like acquiring California, leading the Mexican War, reduction of tariffs as well as establishing an independent tariff system.

Therefore, even though he was a war president, he did much more than leading Americans during the Mexican War. On the same note, he used not only war to achieve his ambitions, but also diplomacy. Since he was in leadership during the salve trade era, his major contributions are striking and greatly helped to shape the history of the United States.

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For instance, the 1850 compromise which occurred immediately after his leadership is an important historical event in the history of United States. He was able to acquire areas such as Utah, Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico. There is much more that James K. Polk achieved during his presidency and his entire life. Bent on that, this paper shall focus on his life, his contributions towards shaping the history of United States as well as significance of his actions.

2.0 Background Information

It is important to understand the background information of James Polk before embarking on his major contributions. He was born on 2nd November 1795, as a first born son of Jane and Samuel Polk who were leaders in their community. During his childhood, Polk was greatly influenced politically by his elders and religiously by his mother who observed Calvinism. The family latter relocated to Tennessee where they prospered not only economically but also politically (Kellogg, pp. 95).

His school life was successful since when he was studying in Columbia; he was able to pass his examination in the Carolina University and was admitted as a sophomore. In addition, during his graduation in 18l8, he was the best student in the senior class. When he latter returned to Tennessee, he chose to learn law with the assistance of Felix Grundy. Nonetheless, his main interest was not in law but in politics because by 1823, he was already campaigning for the seat of state house representative.

In the year 1824, at twenty eight, Polk married his wife Sarah who was twenty by then. Although they did bear children, they were married for their whole life. Sarah was very significant in Polk’s political career since he was not only an active member in his campaigns, but was also gave him advice and helped him in speeches.

2.1 Polk’s Political Career

Polk embarked on his political life enthusiastically because in the year 1825, he was contesting for a congress seat in the Tennessee District. Although his opponents believed that he was too young to have won, he emerged victorious and made his way to the congress.

His first speech in the year 1826 was marked by his proposal for abolishment of the Electoral College to enable the president to be chosen popular vote. He was elected back to congress in the year 1827 after which he corresponded with Jackson and helped him in his presidency campaigns in the year 1828.

He continued to preserve his seat in congress and was given several positions during Jackson’s administration. Polk became the speaker of the house in the same year after defeating Bell, his opponent. During his time as a speaker in both Jackson’s and Van Buren administration, he was able to deal effectively with the major issues by then which included slavery and economic issues.

In the year 1839, Polk became the governor of Tennessee defeating Newton Canon by more than two thousand votes. Even though he still contested for the governor seat in 1841 and 1843, he did not succeed in any (Television Networks). Nevertheless, he managed to be nominated by Democrats as a presidential nominee in the year 1844.

The fact that he was for the territorial expansion and manifest destiny helped him gain favor with the Democrats. He was able to narrowly defeat Henry Clay who was a Whig candidate. Immediately after, he embarked on his presidential duty of electing members of the cabinet which he managed to finish before his inauguration in the year 1845.

2.2 Major Contributions of Polk during his Presidency

The presidency of James K. Polk started in the year 1845, being the youngest president ever in the history of United States. He started his term by setting four main goals which were inclusive of reducing tariffs, acquiring Oregon County as well as acquiring California and New Oregon. Although he was in office for only four years, he was able to achieve all his objectives. All his major accomplishments indicate the reason why he is an important person in the history of United States.

Polk was achieved his domestic policy by coming up with a tariff bill in the year 1846 assisted by Robert Walker who was the Treasury Secretary as well as by the leaders of the congress. On the same note, the president managed to put to an end deposit of federal revenues from private banks to government banks. Such accomplishments were very effective in helping Polk accomplish his economic goal since he once stated “I would bring Government Back to what it was intended to be-a plain economical Government” (Leonard, pp. 19).

2.21 The Mexican American War

The annexation of Texas contributed greatly to the war between Americans and Mexicans. The main aim of James K. Polk was to claim California early enough before any other nation from Europe. Most importantly, Polk was interested with the Bay of San Francisco in order to get an access to India. Although Polk had sent one of his diplomats by the name Sidel to negotiate for the purchase of California and New Mexico, his offer was turned down.

As a result, he decided to send his troops under the leadership of General Taylor to the area which was being claimed by United States and Mexico. The fact that Mexican Soldiers attacked the American soldiers fueled Polk’s decision to ask the congress to allow him declare war to Mexico. Although he was opposed by some members of the congress especially the Whigs, his request was granted (Television Networks).

The war began immediately since by the year 1846, New Mexico had already been captured by the American troops under the leadership of General Stephen Kearny. Mexico was defeated but it only surrendered in 1848 after agreeing with Polk’s peace terms, marking the end of the war.

The treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is one of the key issues that resulted from the American Mexican War and was very significant. It was being negotiated by Trist in the year 1848 and although Democrats were demanding for the whole of Mexico to be annexed, Polk agreed to negotiate.

After the treaty was signed, one million and two hundred thousand square miles of Mexico became part of United States. The size of Mexico was reduced by half while that of United States increased by a third. The parts which were affected by the treaty include Colorado, California, New Mexico, Nevada, and Wyoming, Utah as well as most parts of Arizona.

Moreover, Mexico was able to get fifteen million dollars while United States benefited greatly because it was acknowledged as the controller of the area which was initially disputed. The issue of slavery was also introduced by Wilmot although it was not the main goal of the war. The treaty was finalized in the year 1848 and after it was voted for by the Whig, territorial acquisition became legal and the war came to an end (The West Film Project).

2.22 Resolving the Oregon Boundary

During his administration, Polk was determined to urge Britain to resolve the dispute concerning Oregon boundary which had persisted since the year 1818. Although the previously United States had agreed end the dispute by dividing the region, Britain was not for the idea as it was interested with the area along the Columbia river. Polk used diplomacy to negotiate with Lord Aberdeen who was the British Foreign Secretary by then.

They came up with the Oregon treaty which enabled Oregon country to be divided according to the initial proposal of United States; along the forty ninth parallel. Although some Democrats were not pleased since they wanted the whole of Oregon, United States was able to acquire quite a large part which ended up being the area occupied by Washington, Idaho and Oregon states as well as by some parts of Wyoming and Montana States.

2.3 Death of James K. Polk

Polk left office on 4th March 1848 and three months latter, he succumbed to ill health and died in his home. He stayed in office for only one hundred and three days and was the youngest president by then to not only have entered office but also to have retired and died. He left a lasting reputation as a strong and great president mostly due to his major accomplishments while in office.

3.0 Discussion

3.1Why Was Polk Important in United States

All presidents in United States history are important but Polk’s contribution cannot be overlooked whatsoever. Historians who have studied about him have described him in several ways and all show not only his strong characteristics by also his importance in United States. To begin with, he was an active president who achieved all his goals in his short term in office. During his era, the only presidents who were comparable with him were Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.

Although he had many notable achievements, expansion of United States is far much important. While discussing his major contributions, expanding the boundaries of United States is never left out. Through the use of the Mexican American War, he was able to acquire some land which ended up being occupied by some states in America.

For example, studies indicate that after the annexation of Texas which led to the war between America and Mexico, Polk was the commander in chief. As a result, United States was able to acquire some territories in the South as well as in the West.

The issue of Oregon boundaries stands out especially due to the fact that though he used war in Mexico, diplomacy was applied while dealing with the issue. Although he engaged in War and became successful, his use of diplomacy in the history of United States stands out.

He was able to negotiate with Great Britain on the issue concerning Oregon boundaries and at the end of it all, the dispute was resolved. Although he was mush criticized especially after going to war with Mexico, what he achieved was quite remarkable considering that increasing the size of a country by a third is not only impressive but also a great achievement.

Polk contribution to the economic arena in United States remains to be an outstanding issue. Earlier studies had indicated that he managed to establish an independent treasury system. It was his main goal to affect the economy of the country and his contributions in the same started when he was a governor, before becoming a president. Although a lot of resources were spent during the American Mexican war, the benefits out do the total cost.

3.2 How Polk shaped the history of United States

The fifty three years Polk was alive and more so active politically contributed greatly in shaping the history of United States. Although Polk was criticized because he did not end slavery during his administration, the situation he created contributed greatly to the end of it latter after he had left office.

As much as he was trying to balance between the needs and the expectations of the Northerners and the southerners, the conditions he created during his administration were not satisfactory enough to end slavery. As a result, the compromise of 1850 took place after he had left office when the northerners and the southerners agreed to resolve some issues related to slavery.

The 1850 compromise is not only a notable event, but it impacted greatly the politics of United States. It generally represents a total of five bills which were passed as a means of ending the conflict which had existed between the northern and the southern states. The States in the north were free while the southern states were referred to as slave states.

There were many issues that had resulted to the conflict like the expansion of the United State’s states territories, settlement of the Oregon boundary dispute and the famous war between America and Mexican. The main goal of the compromise was to curb the spread of slavery in the territory in order to balance the interest of both the northern and southern states (Waugh pp. 182).

The compromise led to the formation of the Republican Party and after some years, the same conditions lead to the outbreak of the civil war in United States. The civil war is very significant in the history of United States especially due to the fact that it lead to the end of slavery. If the actions of Polk while he was alive and in office contributed to the civil war, then he did much in shaping the history of United States since the war was very consequential.

3.21 Gold Rush in California

California is a territory that resulted from the expansion of United States during the reign of James K. Polk. History records that by the year 1848, it is only a small population that had settled in the region. Amongst them was John Sutter who was an immigrant from Europe. He had established a saw mill and even before the territory was formally acquired by United States, one of his workers noticed something shinny and latter on, it was realized that it was gold.

Discovery of Gold in the region was very significant because many people migrated to the region and within no time, the population had greatly increased. California applied to become a free state and even though it was initially opposed, the 1850 compromise paved way for it.

Discovery of gold in California had many impacts especially in the economic arena. Initially, silver was mainly being used in economic exchanges but after gold was discovered, the condition lead to an instability which lasted up to the twentieth century when both gold and silver were removed from the coinage.

Gold discoveries contributed greatly to development because industries which were established ended up increasing job opportunities. Some gold mint companies were established to help in the production of coins like Moffat and Company, Grieg and Norris as well as Templeton Reid. Apart from the economic impact, gold discovery increased the tension between the northern and southern states, a condition which also led to civil war.

Gold rush was a significant because it helped to divide the history of America in to two terms; before gold rush and after the gold rush. In addition, the era was marked by enormous immigration of people to the region in search of better standards ( Digita History).

3.3 Would U.S. History be different if it were not for the actions of James K. Polk?

Having studies the impact of James K. Polk during his life and presidency in United States, it is clear that the country would be very different if he never existed. To begin with, the history of a country is characterized by major events such as wars. Polk was the driving force behind the Mexican American War which features greatly in the history of America. In addition, his actions contributed to civil war which is also very significant in the history of United States (The West Film Project).

Actions of Polk did not only gain recognition locally, but also internationally. For instance, after becoming victorious during the Mexican war, America was able to win the respect of Europe. Moreover, the expansion of United States towards west enabled the country to be contributing towards the affairs of the pacific.

Most importantly, United States did not only gain recognition internationally, but also was promoted to occupy the second position in power rank. Therefore, the country could now be consulted and considered while dealing with international issues especially regarding the New World. Therefore, it is clear that without Polk, the history of United States would be different and lacking in many ways.

4.0 Conclusion

James K. Polk, the eleventh president of United States is one of the key personalities who made major contributions locally and internationally. Having existed in the nineteenth century, he left lasting impacts especially because he contributed to the territorial expansion of United States, hence why he is referred to as an expansionist president. He was so enthusiastic about western expansion and due to the same; he managed to be nominated as a presidential candidate.

Polk was a man who shaped the history of United States in several ways like the emergence of the civil war after he had left office and retired. Gold Rush in California, one of the areas which resulted from territorial expansion shaped the economic history of United States as well. Therefore, it is quite clear that without him, the history of United States would have been different (Digita History).

Works Cited

Digita History. 19th Century. 2010. Web. 24th November 2010. .

Kellogg, William O. E-Z American History. New York: Barron’s Educational Series, 2010. Print.

Leonard, Thomas M. James K. Polk: a clear and unquestionable destiny. Boulder: Rowman & Littlefield , 2001. Print.

Television Networks. James K. Polk. 2010. Web. 20 November 2010. .

Television Networks. President Polk declares war on Mexico. 2010. Web. 24 November 2010. .

The West Film Project. James Knox Polk. 2001. Web. 24 November 2010 .

Waugh, John C. On the brink of Civil War: the Compromise of 1850 and how it changed the course of American history. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003. Print.

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