James K. Polk: Foreign Affairs

Polk was a foreign affairs writer

Polk’s foreign policy was centered around the U.S. desire for more territory in North America. The United States expanded its borders in the early years of the republic, even before the Revolutionary War, as Americans looked west. President Polk’s term was intended to stretch from coast to coast, and he intended to do so by the end of his term

Texas has been Annexed

President Tyler sent a joint resolution to Congress in the last months of his term to annex Texas. The Senate requires a two-thirds majority for a treaty, but a resolution only requires a simple majority. Tyler sent a resolution to Congress because he knew the Senate wouldn’t vote on it. The congress passed a joint resolution before Polk’s inauguration. Texas was allowed to enter the union as a slave state in December 1845. Mexico promised war against the United States if it annexed Texas. Mexico broke off diplomatic relations with the United States after Texas moved its militia west of the Nueces River, which gave it a claim to the Rio Grande


Polk had promised to settle the boundary of the Oregon Territory with Britain during the 1844 campaign, and he quickly obtained sole title to Oregon. Polk did not repudiate the slogan “5440′ or Fight” that his supporters used in the 1844 campaign, which promoted the occupation of the entire territory. The United States and Great Britain had been in this region for over a century, and it was clear that Polk wanted the west coast of North America for the United States. Polk told Britain that he wanted all the territory to be up to 5440′. The President’s bluster earned him a compromise rather than a war with the British. Polk agreed to a boundary at the 49th parallel, giving the United States control of the Columbia River and Oregon, Idaho, and Washington

War with Mexico

Polk focused his attention on Mexico. The area was at stake. Great Britain and Mexico had been talking about buying California. The British had offered to support the independence of Texas in exchange for the abolition of slavery. Polk sent a special envoy, John Slidell, to Mexico, just north of the Rio Grande, after moving troops into the disputed territory. Slidell was carrying a U.S. offer to buy California and other powers to settle border claims. The Mexican president had indicated a willingness to deal with Slidell, but army officers who were against him revolted

Mexican troops crossed the Rio Grande and killed eleven U.S. soldiers. Polk requested a declaration of war from Congress, arguing that Mexicans had killed fellow-citizens on our own soil. Both nations were at war by May 13th. The nation turned on the Federalists after they opposed the War of 1812, but most Whigs opposed the war. Fourteen members of the House and two senators voted against the declaration. Lincoln, a first-term Whig congressman from Illinois, condemned the war as an “unconstitutional” and aggressive act, even challenging Polk to take him to Texas and show him the spot where Mexicans had shed American blood. His decision not to run for a second term was due to this position being unpopular with his western electorate

The Mexican Army was completely defeated by the U.S. Army in seven months. The first phase was conducted by General Taylor’s army. Taylor was nicknamed “Old Rough and Ready” for his victories at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma and his capture of Monterrey after being reinforced by several thousand volunteers

General Stephen Watts Kearny led an army of fifteen hundred regulars and fighting frontiersmen west from Fort Leavenworth to Santa Fe in New Mexico, occupying it on August 18, 1846. The Kearny’s army fought their way through the Mexican province of Chihuahua, then went to link up with Taylor’s army at Monterrey in the spring of 1847. Half of Kearny’s forces joined American settlers in California under the command of Captain John C. Fremont, who had captured Sonoma and declared California an independent republic. The term “bear-flag revolt” was created by their flag, which displayed a picture of a bear

The third phase of the war had all the markings of a comic opera. In July of 1845, Polk gave safe passage into Mexico for a former Mexican army officer who had been exiled to Cuba after being overthrown in a palace coup. Santa Anna was hated by Texans and distrusted by his own countrymen, the man who commanded Mexican forces at the Battle of the Alamo. He promised Polk that he would make peace in return for a $30 million payoff. Santa Anna was named the president of the republic and the supreme commander of the army when he arrived in Mexico City. He immediately raised a new army and moved north to attack Taylor’s force at Monterrey. Polk was worried about Taylor’s popularity. Polk was angry with the general for declaring an armistice without his approval, and he ordered a invasion of central Mexico

Taylor, a Whig who suspected political intrigue on Polk’s part, met in battle Santa Anna’s fifteen-thousand-man army at Buena Vista on February 22, 1847. The Americans had defeated Santa Anna’s army in a battle that was marked by the bravery of a Mississippi infantry unit commanded by Jefferson Davis. Whigs began to mention Taylor’s name as a possible candidate for the presidency when his popularity soared after his victory

Scott captured the port of Veracruz in March 1847. He launched a five-month, hard-fought campaign over the two hundred miles to Mexico City. Scott’s army was cut off from its supply bases, filled with ill-trained volunteers, and operating in unknown terrain, which was predicted by most European military strategists. After a bloody battle, Scott’s army was in control of Mexico City on September 14, 1847

Polk sent Nicholas Trist to negotiate the terms of Mexican surrender with another new government after Santa Anna was overthrown in Mexico City. Polk was pressured to wring every possible concession from Mexico by his own party’s expansionist fervor. Polk really wanted California, but some people wanted to annex “All Mexico”. The President recalled Trist after he resisted Polk’s instructions. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed on February 2, 1848, authorizing the U.S. to pay 15 million dollars for California and New Mexico, and the Rio Grande as the Texas border. Polk decided to submit the treaty to the Senate. The treaty was approved by a vote of thirty-eight to fourteen in the Senate. Half of the opposition was from Democrats who wanted more Mexican territory, and the other half was from Whigs who wanted nothing. The Mexican Cession gave up a third of its territory to the United States, increasing the US’s size by one-fourth. The Mexican Cession now contains the states of Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California, and a few other states. Polk created the Department of the Interior to help organize and administer the new western lands

The American deaths in the Mexican War were mostly from disease, although 2,053 of them died in battle. 4,100 Americans were wounded. Mexico had over 50,000 casualties. Polk relied on volunteers to give the Mexican War a democratic character, and it was the first war covered by large numbers of the press. The movement to extend democracy was started by influential American men like James Fenimore Cooper and Walt Whitman

The Treaty of New Granada was signed

Polk was concerned that Britain might use the war with Mexico to expand its claims in Central America and the Caribbean, so he responded positively to the initiative of New Granada. The agreement was signed by the U.S. Minister. The United States promised to guarantee the isthmus’s neutrality. The Panama Canal was paved the way for construction in 1914 by Polk, who had already found boosters within his cabinet. Polk opened discussions with Spain to purchase Cuba, although his goal was to prevent another war of annexation being pushed by some fellow Democrats. Spain was not interested in the U.S. offer

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