Polk and Territorial Ambition H1095

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1 Polk and Territorial Ambition H1095 Activity Introduction Hey! Today we re talking about the polka and a terrestrial coalition! Wait, what? Oh whoops scratch that, folks Today we re talking about a guy named Polk and his Territorial Ambition! Video 1 Introduction So let me ask you something have you ever found yourself innocently eating a ham sandwich when suddenly your thoughts turn to the eleventh president of the United States, James K. Polk? Me too!!! In fact, this has happened to me so much that I seriously considered giving up eating ham sandwiches altogether I think word association might have been the problem. You know ham is a pork product and pork sound like Polk so naturally, I d start thinking of President Polk, right?! Anyways, instead of giving up my beloved ham sandwiches, I decided to learn everything I could about the life of President Polk, and that seemed to cure my affliction. So now I would like to share with you some important info so you can avoid any ham sandwich-related tragedies in the future. Go ahead and watch this video all about James K. Polk. Video 1 Although James K. Polk was the youngest president the United States had ever had up to that time, he left an unforgettable legacy and became the president most strongly associated with the idea of Manifest Destiny. James K. Polk was born in 1795 in a log farmhouse in Pineville, North Carolina, but in 1806 his family moved to Tennessee where his father, Samuel, became a well-known planter. Then in 1818, Polk graduated first in his class from the University of North Carolina where he had been admitted as a sophomore. He returned to Nashville to

2 study law under famed national attorney Felix Grundy, and he was admitted to the Bar in 1820 and began a private practice in Columbia, Tennessee. Polk's father and grandfather had raised him as a Jeffersonian Democrat. Polk's first public office was as chief clerk of the Tennessee senate from 1819 to 1822, but then he resigned to run for the state legislature in 1822, defeating the incumbent candidate. It was there that he became well known for his speeches, earning him the nickname Napoleon of the Stump. Then, in 1824, he married Sarah Childress who assisted him with speeches, gave advice on policy, and was always active in his campaigns. That same year, Polk supported Andrew Jackson, who was the leading politician in Tennessee, for his run for president, and while Jackson was running for president, Polk ran for the House of Representatives. Polk won, but Jackson lost. While in Congress, Polk steadfastly championed Jacksonian democracy. He opposed the Second Bank of the United States. He wanted gold and silver to replace paper currency and favored agricultural interests over industrial ones. This led to his being called Young Hickory, as a reference to his support of Jackson, whose nickname was Old Hickory. Jackson won the presidency in 1828, and Polk's rise to political power began in earnest. Polk headed the pro-administration faction in the House of Representatives and was chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. He was also crucial to the implementation of Jackson's plan to destroy the Second Bank of the United States. In 1835, Polk was chosen Speaker of the House, and while speaker he worked for Jackson's policy goals. Then in 1839, Polk resigned his seat to run for governor of Tennessee, where he defeated the incumbent Whig. He later lost a re-election in 1841 to the Whig candidate, James C. Jones, and then challenged and lost to Jones again in 1843.

3 In all three campaigns for governor, Polk argued against Whig economic policies, which gained him a national spotlight within the Democratic Party. This helped him in the election of 1844, in which Polk won the Democratic nomination, and eventually the presidency. You see, the Democratic Convention focused on the issue of Texas' annexation; however, Martin Van Buren, the former president and leading contender for the nomination, opposed annexation, which upset Jackson and many others. Therefore, Van Buren did not get enough votes in the first balloting, and after six more ballots, a clear choice still had not emerged. In the end, Polk was introduced as a candidate, and after three more rounds of balloting, he won the nomination. The campaign of 1844 centered on the issue of annexation of Texas and territorial expansion in the West. Polk's unwavering support for expansion won him the election. He was helped by the fact that his Whig opponent, Henry Clay, did not take a firm position in the Texas debate. When he took office on March 4, 1845, Polk, at 49, was the youngest president to take office to that point, and on the night of his inauguration, Polk confided to his naval secretary that one of his main objectives was to acquire California. He believed that California should be part of the United States because of the Manifest Destiny, but he also wanted the large bay at San Francisco, seeing it as key to expanding U.S. trade in the Pacific. James K. Polk's strong belief in expansionism and Manifest Destiny clenched his 1844 election victory; however, Polk's belief in Manifest Destiny and his expansionist policies combined with the desire for more territory would bring about the Mexican War. Video 1 Recap Wow! That was so interesting that I m really craving a ham sandwich right now! Mmmm, pork. Anyways, let me think back to what I remember from the video. James K. Polk was a Democrat from North Carolina and during his political career he adopted the nickname Young Hickory because of his unwavering support of Andrew Jackson s policies.

4 What else do I remember oh yes! In eighteen thirty-five, Polk was made Speaker of the House. And even though he lost his bid to become governor of Tennessee in eighteen thirty-nine, he went on to win the presidency in eighteen forty-four. That s a pretty big success, don t you think? And on top of that, at the time of his election he was the youngest president in U.S. history. But of all the things that make him stand out, Polk is perhaps most famous for his strong belief in the nation s Manifest Destiny no, that is not a metal band. Reading Passage 1 Introduction Now as you already know, Polk s campaign for presidency centered on gaining more territory for the United States: Texas and all of Oregon to be exact. And even before Polk took office in March of eighteen forty-five, Texas was brought into the Union. However, things with Oregon were not quite settled and it would take a little bit more time to reign them in. If you want to find out a bit more about Oregon history and how Polk eventually brought it into the Union, read this fun little passage. Reading Passage 2 Introduction So after gaining Texas and Oregon for the United States, Polk decided he still wasn t done. Yes siree, this guy had some serious territorial ambition and he wasn t afraid of any problems that his ambition might stir up. Hey, wait, maybe that s why I keep thinking of Polk when I eat ham sandwiches Maybe, just maybe, I am associating him with ham because ham comes from PIGS!.yes!...maybe that s why I think of Polk! because he was a greedy little land piggy!!!! Oink, oink, oink! Ok, ok Reality check! I realize that the whole ham sandwich thing is a bit of stretch, but the point is that this guy really did want to acquire a lot of land for the United States. And the reason is cause he was totally into Manifest Destiny! No! I already told you, Manifest destiny is an idea on expansion not a metal band!

5 Sheesh, so do you believe me about greedy Mr. Polk? Well, read this passage and find out why he started setting his sights on New Mexico and California. Video 2 Introduction So now that you have an idea of how land-crazy James K. Polk was, it s time to find out just how far he was willing to go to see his dreams of territorial expansion come true. You see, Polk was about to get the United States into a rather serious altercation with Mexico. But even before he began to provoke Mexico, there was already some bad blood there. Not sure what I mean? Well, watch this video and find out what led to the big old fight between Mexico and the United States in eighteen forty-five. Video 2 In the years following Texas's independence from Mexico, the fate of the Republic of Texas remained uncertain. A growing debt and continued threat of invasion from Mexico combined with rage from the Comanche nation kept the leaders of the republic struggling to maintain control. Andrew Jackson rejected annexing Texas in 1836 because he feared that the political repercussions would prevent Martin Van Buren, his handpicked successor, from winning the presidency, mainly because the Missouri Compromise Texas would have been admitted as a slave state and the anti-slavery factions in the Northern states would have come out in force against Martin Van Buren. Meanwhile, the Mexican government refused to recognize Texas' independence, viewing the state as a province in revolt. Because of this, Texas spent large amounts of money on its military, since a superior number of Mexican troops could invade at any time. This led Texas to negotiate with England and France to try to secure protection from Mexico, a fact that Sam Houston let the United States know. After James K. Polk was elected president in 1844, Texas joined the Union. A treaty would have been needed to get Texas admitted to the Union, but President Tyler, who

6 did not want Polk to get credit for the annexation, knew he could not get the treaty ratified by the two-thirds majority needed, so he had his supporters in Congress pass a joint resolution on March 1, 1845, and Texas became the 28th state later that year. This made Mexico really angry, and it claimed that the United States had actually stolen Texas. You see, relations with Mexico were strained even before the annexation of Texas. First off, the United States claimed that Mexico owed it around $3 million, that Mexico had defaulted on its payments. Also, Mexico had long promised to go to war with the United States if it annexed Texas. An ongoing border dispute further raised tension between the two nations. During the Spanish and Mexican occupation of Texas, the southern border of Texas had been fixed at the Nueces River; however, Texans claimed that the southern border was actually the Rio Grande. Now President Polk, having recently granted Texas statehood, felt obligated to defend the Texan's claims. Polk had another goal as well, California. Polk and other supporters of Manifest Destiny felt that California should be part of the United States. They also believed that San Francisco Bay was crucial to U.S. trade in the Pacific, and according to the rumor at the time, Britain was trying to buy or seize California. Fearing British control of the Bay, Polk sought to buy California and New Mexico from Mexico. He sent John Slidell to Mexico City to offer as much as $25 million for California and what would become New Mexico and Arizona. Mexico was neither inclined nor prepared to negotiate. In fact, in 1846 Mexico had four different presidents. Nonetheless, a common belief of many of the leaders was that selling the territories would tarnish Mexico's national honor. Slidell returned to the United States without ever having gained an audience with Mexican officials. So on January 13, 1846, Polk ordered 4,000 troops under General Zachary Taylor to march south from the Nueces to the Rio Grande, and he expected hostilities to begin at any moment. But having heard nothing by May 9, Polk called a cabinet meeting and proposed asking Congress to declare war because of the unpaid 3 million and Slidell's rejection, but his cabinet preferred to let the Mexicans fire first, and that very evening,

7 news of conflict arrived. It claimed that a 63-man U.S. scouting party was attacked by a force of 2,000 Mexican calvary, and 11 of the U.S. soldiers were killed. Polk issued a war declaration to Congress charging that despite the efforts to avoid conflict a war had been thrust upon the nation. Congress, overwhelmed by patriotism, resoundingly voted for the war. Now many historians argue that Polk forced a war on Mexico. This seems likely since Polk badly wanted to add California to the United States, and because Mexico would not sell it, he knew the only way to get it would be by force. This, combined with the rumor of British interest in California, made Polk believe that he could not afford to be patient, so war was not to be avoided. The United States determined to have California and Texas and complete its coast-to-coast expansion, but Mexico was equally determined not to lose one-quarter of its territory to the United States. Video 2 Recap Yikes! War with Mexico has been declared!!! Run for cover!!! Geronimo!!! Man in the Hole!!! And while you re at it, Remember the Alamo! I m just trying to warn you of what s ahead, but before you look forward to what s next, let's take a look at what we just learned from this video. So Mexico was really angry with the United States after it added Texas to the Union but the Mexicans anger didn t stop there. Nope. They were also angry with Texas over a border dispute that went something like this. I am Mexico and I say that Texas southern border is fixed at the Nueces River. Well I am Texas and I say that it is farther south, at the Rio Grande. We also saw in the video that Polk wanted to take California and New Mexico away from Mexico. At first he tried to do it diplomatically by offering to buy the two provinces but Mexico said, No way, Jose. And finally we saw that the border dispute in Texas would lead to the eruption of the U.S.-Mexican war in eighteen forty-six. Did you get it all on the first go-round or want to watch again?

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