President Polk and war with Mexico

James Knox Polk

In the Presidential campaign of 1844 two primary issues were of concern, the annexation of Texas, and the question of westward expansion or manifest destiny and the Oregon Territories, then claimed jointly by both the United States and Great Britain. With the support of Andrew Jackson, James Polk narrowly won over his opponent, Henry Clay. Just before his inauguration, on February 28, 1845, congress passed a resolution calling for the annexation of Texas, independent from Mexican rule since 1836. This greatly angered Mexico’s leadership.

After Polk’s election the dispute with Britain over where to divide the Oregon Territory quickly grew, and Polk’s opponents coined the famous saying “Fifty-four forty or fight.” But soon the Oregon Treaty of 1846 that created the current boundary line between the United States and Canada at the 49th parallel was signed.

Zachary Taylor 1848

In 1845 Polk sent John Slidell to Mexico with an offer to purchase California and New Mexico. In early 1846 General Zachary Taylor was dispatched north of the Rio Grande River to pressure Mexico into discussions, but then the Mexican government refused to see Slidell and tension increased dramatically. Polk called this an insult to the United States. When Mexican soldiers crossed the Rio Grande and killed Americans he asked congress for war. Congress approved the resolution on May 11, 1846.

By summer General Stephen W. Kearny had taken New Mexico, Captain John C. Fremont had led the Bear Flag Revolt in California, and Commodores Sloat and Stockton had captured Monterey, San Diego, and Yerba Buena in San Francisco Bay. The war in California was over by early 1847, and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed in 1848, ended the conflict. As a result of this treaty the size of the United States increased by a third, and with the new additions of Texas and the Oregon Territories the modern shape of the country was almost complete. Polk had obtained the dream of Manifest Destiny, America now stretched from Atlantic to Pacific. And as if by divine will, gold was discovered in California only nine days before the official end of the war.

Westward Ho

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