James K. Polk: The Eleventh Retrospective
“Whatcha got ain’t nothin new. This country’s hard on people, you can’t stop what’s coming, it ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.” – Ellis, No Country for Old Men (2007)
James K. Polk
Polk wanted to fulfill the ideological promise of Andrew Jackson‘s presidency. He was the most accessible president in U.S. history. The Marine Corps band played on the White House lawn every Wednesday and was made open to the public. Polk made himself available to all American Citizens, and said he would only serve one term.
Polk viewed himself as the first servant of the people, and is thought of as the hardest working President in U.S. history, installing gas lights in the White House to work through the night. Polk was the first president to delve deep into the budget. He asked the heads of various departments to send their budget requests to him before sending them to Congress.
4 Goals In 4 Years
In his one term, Polk wanted to settle the controversy between the United States and Great Britain over the Oregon territory, to bring California into the United States, to set up an independent treasury to fix the prevailing credit mess since the Jackson administration and to lower tariffs on imports into the American economy. Polk succeeded in pressuring Congress to set up an independent treasury and lower tariffs on imports. To achieve his territorial goals, he used force.
America’s manifest destiny, or providential destiny to expand westward, was more than an idea for Polk. It was his presidential mandate. Polk threatened war with Great Britain to gain the Oregon Territory. The northern boundary of Oregon was the latitude line of 54 degrees, 40 minutes. “54-40 or Fight!” became the rallying cry.
Polk went to war with Mexico to settle the Texas border and acquire the southwest and California. The Mexican War of 1846 dominated Polk’s administration and along with the acquisition of the Oregon territory would become his legacy. Polk’s greatness was due to the fact that he took the country from just west of the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean in 4 years. He made us a continental nation from “sea to shining sea.”
Polk, to his credit did not draw a line at 54-40 and actually got the 49th parallel. That’s right, the President drew a line in the sand, and when it was crossed, he drew another line to achieve his ultimate goal. The bitching that ensued from the reduced dimensions of the newly acquired Oregon territory has largely been forgotten similar to when other Presidents had “lines in sands crossed” to achieve their ultimate goals.