Manifest Destiny
and Its Legacy


Our manifest destiny [is] to overspread the continent
allotted by Providence for the free development of our
yearly multiplying millions.

T erritorial expansion dominated American diplo-
macy and politics in the 1840s. Settlers swarm-
ing into the still-disputed Oregon Country
The Accession of “Tyler Too’’

aggravated relations with Britain, which had staked A horde of hard-ciderites descended upon Washing-
its own claims in the Pacific Northwest. The clamor ton early in 1841, clamoring for the spoils of office.
to annex Texas to the Union provoked bitter tension Newly elected President Harrison, bewildered by
with Mexico, which continued to regard Texas as a the uproar, was almost hounded to death by Whig
Mexican province in revolt. And when Americans spoilsmen.
began casting covetous eyes on Mexico’s northern- The real leaders of the Whig party regarded “Old
most province, the great prize of California, open Tippecanoe’’ as little more than an impressive fig-
warfare erupted between the United States and its urehead. Daniel Webster, as secretary of state, and
southern neighbor. Victory over Mexico added vast Henry Clay, the uncrowned king of the Whigs and
new domains to the United States, but it also raised their ablest spokesman in the Senate, would grasp
thorny questions about the status of slavery in the the helm. The aging general was finally forced to
newly acquired territories—questions that would be rebuke the overzealous Clay and pointedly remind
answered in blood in the Civil War of the 1860s. him that he, William Henry Harrison, was president
of the United States.
Unluckily for Clay and Webster, their schemes
*Earliest known use of the term Manifest Destiny, sometimes soon hit a fatal snag. Before the new term had fairly
called “Manifest Desire.’’ started, Harrison contracted pneumonia. Wearied


The Whigs in Power 371

by official functions and plagued by office seekers,
the enfeebled old warrior died after only four weeks
in the White House—by far the shortest administra-
tion in American history, following by far the longest
inaugural address.
The “Tyler too’’ part of the Whig ticket, hitherto
only a rhyme, now claimed the spotlight. What man-
ner of man did the nation now find in the presidential
chair? Six feet tall, slender, blue-eyed, and fair-haired,
with classical features and a high forehead, John Tyler
was a Virginia gentleman of the old school—gracious
and kindly, yet stubbornly attached to principle. He
had earlier resigned from the Senate, quite unneces-
sarily, rather than accept distasteful instructions
from the Virginia legislature. Still a lone wolf, he had
forsaken the Jacksonian Democratic fold for that of
the Whigs, largely because he could not stomach the
dictatorial tactics of Jackson.
Tyler’s enemies accused him of being a Demo-
crat in Whig clothing, but this charge was only par-
tially true. The Whig party, like the Democratic
party, was something of a catchall, and the acciden-
tal president belonged to the minority wing, which
embraced a number of Jeffersonian states’ righters.
Tyler had in fact been put on the ticket partly to
attract the vote of this fringe group, many of whom
were influential southern gentry. Financial reform came first. The Whig Congress
Yet Tyler, high-minded as he was, should never hastened to pass a law ending the independent trea-
have consented to run on the ticket. Although the sury system, and President Tyler, disarmingly agree-
dominant Clay-Webster group had published no able, signed it. Clay next drove through Congress a
platform, every alert politician knew what the bill for a “Fiscal Bank,’’ which would establish a new
unpublished platform contained. And on virtually Bank of the United States.
every major issue, the obstinate Virginian was at Tyler’s hostility to a centralized bank was noto-
odds with the majority of his adoptive Whig party, rious, and Clay—the “Great Compromiser’’—would
which was pro-bank, pro–protective tariff, and have done well to conciliate him. But the Kentuck-
pro–internal improvements. “Tyler too’’ rhymed ian, robbed repeatedly of the presidency by lesser
with “Tippecanoe,’’ but there the harmony ended. men, was in an imperious mood and riding for a fall.
As events turned out, President Harrison, the Whig, When the bank bill reached the presidential desk,
served for only 4 weeks, whereas Tyler, the ex- Tyler flatly vetoed it on both practical and constitu-
Democrat who was still largely a Democrat at heart, tional grounds. A drunken mob gathered late at
served for 204 weeks. night near the White House and shouted insultingly,
“Huzza for Clay!’’ “A Bank! A Bank!’’ “Down with the
John Tyler: A President The stunned Whig leaders tried once again.
Without a Party Striving to pacify Tyler’s objections to a “Fiscal
Bank,’’ they passed another bill providing for a “Fis-
cal Corporation.’’ But the president, still unbending,
After their hard-won, hard-cider victory, the Whigs vetoed the offensive substitute. The Democrats
brought their not-so-secret platform out of Clay’s were jubilant: they had been saved from another
waistcoat pocket. To the surprise of no one, it out- financial “monster’’ only by the pneumonia that had
lined a strongly nationalistic program. felled Harrison.

372 CHAPTER 17 Manifest Destiny and Its Legacy. for a dis. he received protective tariff. The Whig slo- party by a caucus of Whig congressmen. but realizing the need for addi- numerous letters threatening him with death. the genteel pro-British Federalists had died an emphatic veto. and he again wielded tion. out. gan. the customs duties slackened as the country gradually stiff-necked Virginian was formally expelled from his edged its way out of the depression. British travelers. Tyler had no fondness for a “Executive Ass. and a seri. slave auctioneering. among other features. But old Democrat that he was. In addi- Treasury was not overflowing. Tyler appreciated the necessity of bringing additional revenue to the Trea. wrote acidly scheme and pushed down the rates to about the of American tobacco spitting. .’’ To the delight of Democrats. Tyler could see no point ingredients. ominously by 1842. tribution among the states of revenue from the sale Anti-British passions were composed of many of public lands in the West. A War of Words with Britain The proposed Whig tariff also felt the prick of the president’s well-inked pen. Hatred of Britain during the nineteenth century sury. moderately protective level of 1832. roughly 32 per- condemned Tyler as “His Accidency’’ and as an cent on dutiable goods. he reluctantly signed the law of of influenza then sweeping the country was called 1842. Democrats. A wave tional revenue. In subsequent months the pressure for higher the “Tyler grippe. “Harrison. His entire cabinet resigned a Day and Bean Soup. Two Dollars a Day and Roast Beef. “Ten Cents House of Representatives. seething with indignation. eventually yielding to the boisterous Jacksonian Chastened Clayites redrafted their tariff bill. who was then in the midst of delicate negotiations with England. red-coated in squandering federal money when the federal memories of the two Anglo-American wars. sniffing with aris- They chopped out the offensive dollar-distribution tocratic noses at the crude scene. except Secretary of State Webster. The poison had festered because it provided. 1841–1848 Whig extremists.’’ ous attempt to impeach him was broached in the was reduced by unhappy Democrats to.’’ in a body. he looked with a came to a head periodically and had to be lanced by frosty eye on the major tariff scheme of the Whigs treaty settlement or by war.’’ Widely burned in effigy. At bottom lay the bitter.

which regarded the Caroline and railroads to build. Washington officials lodged vigorous but paper broadsides. whose views were avidly read on both sides of finally attacked on the New York shore by a deter- the Atlantic. minority of Canadians that it never had a real They were determined. was a borrowing nation in raiders as members of a sanctioned armed force the nineteenth century. after establishing an alibi. The craft in fact sank short of the ing attacks on Yankee shortcomings. when British officials in the eral states defaulted on their bonds or repudiated Bahamas offered asylum to 130 Virginia slaves who them openly. plummeting over enlarging on the travel books. But the literary fireworks did not end here. Yet hundreds of hot-blooded against the Yankees. Lawrence River to home in 1837. it simply could not enforce tall-timbered Aroostook River valley. An American dubbed the “Aroostook War. flared up. McLeod was freed heeled creditor is never popular with the down-at. which was brought passions to a boil in 1837. including Charles Dickens. the London For- *Not until 1891 did Congress extend copyright privileges to for. This unlawful invasion of American soil—a thus touching off the “Third War with England. with its and not as criminals. was arrested and indicted for murder. Canada entered the disputed no-man’s-land of the as in the case of Texas. Tough-knuckled lumberjacks from both Maine and to uphold its weak neutrality regulations. eign Office took an unusual step. the authors. It must have been air- the-heels debtor. When the panic of 1837 broke and sev. It was critics. taut again in 1841. though futilely. the conciliatory . British ineffective protests. The by Maine under the misleading peace treaty of 1783. song: Yankee Doodle borrows cash. Imperial Britain. was a lending nation. as the erupted in Canada. and only ink was spilled. when a short-lived insurrection is icebound several months of the year. and other unsavory features steamer. The well. they launched sneer. in 1840. made clear that his execution overflowing coffers. One of them offered a new stanza for an old Creole. furnished military route ran through disputed territory—claimed also supplies or volunteered for armed service. mined British force. The St. Three years later. would mean war.’’ threatened to widen into a full-dress shooting war. Travel books penned by these insurgents across the swift Niagara River. for they were being denied New York. But again. as a defensive precaution chance of success. American jour. Lurid American illustrators showed the flaming British magazines added fuel to the flames when. with expensive canals to dig London Foreign Office. Tensions with Britain 373 lynching. to build a road westward from Americans. counterviolation of neutrality—had alarming after- tunately. after rich royalties by the absence of an American copy. hoping to strike a blow for freedom the seaport of Halifax to Quebec. laden with shrieking souls. stirred up angry outbursts in America. The small-scale lumberjack clash. Manipulating the Maine Maps And then he snaps his fingers at The jolly flat [simpleton] who lends it. ton a nonprofessional diplomat. ship. well knew. plunge.* line raid. which set the vessel on fire. Ugly fights unpopular laws in the face of popular opposition. But the proposed against the hereditary enemy. eye gouging. Washington regime tried arduously. Niagara Falls. allegedly boasting in a tavern of his part in the Caro- right law. and the phrase “bloated British tight. honest Englishmen assailed Yankee had rebelled and captured the American ship trickery. Fortunately. The tension forthwith eased. jury. It was supported by such a small British. Yankee Doodle spends it. was carrying supplies to the of the rustic Republic. the Caroline. The Sprawling America.’’ For. entered the fray incident was dramatically revived in the state of with gall-dipped pens. this British-American war was fought with maths. remembering the War of 1812. As the crisis deepened in 1842. nals struck back with “you’re another’’ arguments. and both sides summoned the local mili- A provocative incident on the Canadian frontier tia. An explosive controversy of the early 1840s involved Troubles of a more dangerous sort came closer the Maine boundary dispute. but it snapped can tongue. It sent to Washing- eign authors. A Canadian named McLeod. and only one American was killed. for it was good enough to convince a New York bond-holder’’ rolled bitterly from many an Ameri.

owed more fearsome efforts. During the uncertain eight years since 1836. British mer- chants regarded Texas as a potentially important free- trade area—an offset to the tariff-walled United . 1842 threatened war if the American eagle should ever gather the fledgling republic under its protective wings. whose bulging gering since 1837. they could not tell when he would cordial relations with Secretary Webster. Texas N. Mexico. defensive shield of a protectorate. retain some 7. French schemers Webster-Ashburton treaty thus: were likewise attracted by the hoary game of divide “See the feeling with which the treaty has and conquer. their nerves frayed by pro. Confronted with such tracted negotiations in the heat of a Washington perils. they presumably would inflame the claim by war. ward surge of the American colossus. finally agreed to compromise on the Britain and France. In addition. ent Texas. surrendered United States) 6.H. who had strike again. the Americans were to the Texans concluded treaties with France. 1841–1848 An overlooked bonus sneaked by in the small print of the same treaty: the British. The British got less Britain was intensely interested in an independ- land but won the desired Halifax-Quebec route. On the basis of a rough. foreshad- The two statesmen. What does this America. split-the. A puppet Texas. BRUNSWICK o sto ro o R. L S (Acquired by Montreal United States) Halifax Shines Alone MAINE NOVA SCOTIA VT. in having to maintain their blacks there. refusing Proposed road route to recognize Texas’s independence. Holland.S. The Texans were forced to maintain a costly mil- financier Lord Ashburton. or British abolitionists were busily intriguing for a that they have escaped a great danger. to be reconquered in the future. was patched up by an exchange biceps posed a constant threat to nearby British of diplomatic notes. dancing to strings pulled by Britain. John R. could be turned upon the Yankees.000 square miles of the 12. mean? Why. they been received in America.-Canadian boundary farther west.374 CHAPTER 17 Manifest Destiny and Its Legacy. Mexico actually did make two half- recently been lionized during a visit to Britain. Such a republic would check the south- During the negotiations the Caroline affair. difference arrangement. gained a great diplomatic victory over us. Vastly outnumbered by their wealthy American woman. behind which foreign powers could move into the Americas and challenge The London Morning Chronicle greeted the the insolent Monroe Doctrine. The area was later found to con- Quebec kR . in adjusting the QUEBEC (Given up by U. If successful in freeing the few they have felt it. though ineffectual. ce r en aw The Lone Star of Texas t. NEW tain the priceless Mesabi iron ore of Minnesota. in the hope of securing the Maine boundary. In 1839 and 1840.000 square and Belgium. These actions would result. miles of wilderness in dispute. in the fragmentation and militarization of enthusiasm it has excited. as foothold in Texas. who had married a itary establishment. He speedily established Mexican foe. Texas was driven to open negotiations with summer. Mexican officials loudly Maine Boundary Settlement. Subsequent clashes would create a smoke-screen diversion. either that the Americans have Dangers threatened from other foreign quarters. regarded the Webster-Ashburton treaty line Lone Star Republic as a province in revolt. mark the hoped. hearted raids that. malin.500 square miles. possessions in the New World.’’ nearby slaves of the South. A St. had led a precarious existence.

for the area was no longer Mexico’s to be despoiled of. to that portion north of the Columbia River. He therefore arranged for annexation by so-called Florida Treaty of 1819. chose. Americans were in a multiplication table. Tyler despaired Spain. British manufacturers likewise perceived that If Mexy back’d by secret foes. Russia retreated to a joint resolution. It sprawled magnificently west of the preted the narrow Democratic victory. inviting foreign intrigue that menaced West and see a young man with his mate of the American people. visit Texas as an independent nation threatened to him again. The foes of expansion assailed annexation. those vast Texas plains constituted one of the great Still talks of getting you. Britain. The so-called Oregon Country was an enormous date. gal. and instead of two. gal. and the “conscience Whigs’’ feared that Texas in the Union United States. After a spir.’’ Aware of their opposition. the line of 54° 40' by the treaties of 1824 and 1825 ple majority in both houses of Congress. The continued existence of eighteen. Disputes over Texas and Oregon 375 States. This solution required only a sim. wilderness. “Our people are spreading out with the aid of By 1845 the Lone Star Republic had become a the American multiplication table. British claims to Oregon were strong—at least eighth star on the American flag. so willing. Lame duck president Tyler thereupon inter. to the line of 54° 40'—the present southern tip of the Eager to crown his troubled administration with Alaska panhandle. but hardly true in 1845. Whatever the peculiar circumstances of the Texas revolution. dependence on American fiber—a supply that might What other power would have spurned the be cut off in time of crisis by embargo or war. and north of California accuracy. An independent Why we can lick ’em all you know Texas would relieve British looms of their chronic And then annex ’em too. the hardy perennial candi. after the lapse of thirty years. These two remaining ited debate. as a “mandate’’ to acquire Texas.’’ The proexpansion Democrats under James K. Many by four nations: Spain. cotton-producing areas of the future. schemers. so fair. the Americans had great province. though the first to raise its banner in Oregon. while southern hotheads cried. Oregon Fever Populates Oregon “Texas or Disunion. of securing the needed two-thirds vote for a treaty in bartered away its claims to the United States in the the Senate. Texas became a leading issue in the presi- dential campaign of 1844. They Mexico angrily charged that the Americans had were based squarely on prior discovery and explo- despoiled it of Texas. with dubious Rockies to the Pacific Ocean. Russia. Yet Mexico left the Texans dangling by faith in their procreative powers. All or substantial parts of this this splendid prize. twenty-two. Texas was formally invited to become the twenty. would be red meat to nourish the lusty “slave Two claimants dropped out of the scramble. the United The Belated Texas Nuptials States can hardly be accused of unseemly haste in achieving annexation. Polk finally triumphed over the Whigs under Henry Clay. As the years stretched out.’’ “lick all creation’’ mood when they sang “Uncle Sam’s Song to Miss Texas’’: . and rivals now had the field to themselves. This was to some extent true in 1836. Boasted one denying their right to dispose of themselves as they congressman in 1846. Tyler deserves much of the immense area were claimed at one time or another credit for shepherding Texas into the fold. with America and Britain. the resolution passed early in 1845. so rich. That is what I call the American both in America and in Europe. Go to the danger spot. Nine long years were surely a decent wait between the beginning of the courtship Partly because of the fears aroused by British and the consummation of the marriage. realistic observers could see that the Mexicans would not be able to reconquer their lost In winning Oregon. power. imperial domain of Texas? The bride was so near. you will find involve the United States in a series of ruinous wars.

’’ of God. One gon continued to live peacefully side by side. could also point was thereupon adopted. a sprinkling of whom had settled south of the Columbia River. They stimulated interest in a faraway domain that countless Americans had earlier assumed *The average rate of progress in covered wagons was one to two would not be settled for centuries. and on actual occupation. Captain The handful of Americans in the Willamette Val- Robert Gray in 1792 had stumbled upon the majes. were instru. But the Brit- flung Hudson’s Bay Company. could muster only seven hundred or so States. profitably with the Indians of the Pacific Northwest Lawrence of the West. These men and women knife and “revolving pistol.’’ expert with bowie the Columbia. in saving the soul of the Indian. 1841–1848 ration. domain at the forty-ninth parallel. on treaty rights. A scheme for peaceful “joint occupation’’ Americans. in the 1830s. In increasing numbers. week. who regarded the Columbia River as the St. or about five months for the entire journey. which was trading ish. their creaking cov- 1804–1806 had ranged overland through the Oregon ered wagons jolted over the two-thousand-mile Country to the Pacific. and time of negotiating the Treaty of 1818 (see p. were unwilling to yield this for furs. the United States had sought to divide the vast The most important colonizing agency was the far. children.* By 1846 about five thousand Americans sionaries and other settlers. which he named after his ship. ley was suddenly multiplied in the early 1840s. 251). pending future settlement. tic Columbia River. died en route. some of reached the grassy Willamette River valley. The British. pridefully to exploration and occupation. in the face of this rising torrent of mental in saving the soil of Oregon for the United humanity. miles an hour.376 CHAPTER 17 Manifest Destiny and Its Legacy. stream. . in addition to horses and oxen. At the estimate is seventeen deaths a mile for men. south of them tough “border ruffians. when “Oregon fever’’ seized hundreds of restless and the famed Lewis and Clark expedition of pioneers. vital artery. This shaky American toehold Oregon Trail as the human rivulet widened into a was ultimately strengthened by the presence of mis. for their part. Thousands of humans. women. This amounted to about one hundred miles a Scattered American and British pioneers in Ore.

’’ all the way to 54° 40'. The area in dispute consisted of the character. his friend and neighbor. Speaker of the House of Representatives for four years and gover- nor of Tennessee for two terms. Land greed and ideals—“empire’’ and “liberty’’—were thus conven- iently conjoined. Outbellowing the before being engulfed by their neighbors. easily the most popular man in the country. meeting there later. The campaign of 1844 was in part an expression of the mighty emotional upsurge known as Manifest Destiny. came out flat-footedly in their platform for the edly in the population race. . America had repeatedly offered the forty-ninth parallel. Sponsored by Andrew Jackson. Countless citizens in the 1840s and 1850s.’’ Whigs attempted to jeer him into oblivion with the taunt. the forty-ninth parallel on the calling the kettle black. The slogan “Fifty-four forty or fight’’ was evidently not coined shadowed by the question of annexing Texas. he was rather implausibly touted by Democrats as yet another “Young Hickory. Polk?’’ They soon found out. Finally the expansionists. The Oregon Controversy 377 A Mandate (?) for Manifest Destiny The two major parties nominated their presidential standard-bearers in May 1844. and a slaveowner. dominated by the pro-Texas south- erners. and possibly over South America as well. Whig log-cabinites in the game of slogans. dential election of 1844. (Their own candidate. ruthless. The Democrats. was enthusiastically chosen by the Whigs at Baltimore. believed that Almighty God had “manifestly’’ destined the American people for a hemispheric career. but he was hardly an unknown or decrepit nag. industrious.’’ They also con- ment of the Oregon Country was in actual contro. seemed hopelessly deadlocked. Polk may have been a dark horse.’’ a dissolute versy by 1845. and intelligent public servant. Polk of Tennessee. trotted out and nominated James K. they were beginning to “Reannexation of Texas’’* and the “Reoccupation of see the wisdom of arriving at a peaceful settlement Oregon. The whole fateful issue was now tossed into the presi. where it was largely over. rough quadrangle between the Columbia River on Polk. and the Pacific Ocean on the west. 252). they A curious fact is that only a relatively small seg. until two years later. Losing out lopsid. he was a deter- mined. Britain had repeatedly offered the line of the Columbia. Ambitious but often frustrated Henry Clay. They subjects north of the Columbia. demned Clay as a “corrupt bargainer. *The United States had given up its claims to Texas in the so- called Florida Purchase Treaty with Spain in 1819 (see p. feeling a sense of mission.) north. in 1846. “Who is James K. also owned slaves—a classic case of the pot the south and east. Expansionist Democrats were strongly swayed by the intoxicating spell of Manifest Destiny. America’s first “dark-horse’’ or “surprise’’ presidential candidate. shouted “All of Oregon or None. They would irresistibly spread their uplifting and ennobling democratic institutions over at least the entire continent.

He might have lost more olution three days before leaving the White House. His burdens were increased by an to ensure the election of pro-Texas Polk.’’ but he certainly alienated the more ardent antislaveryites. many of which would otherwise have gone to long). Oregon. he also favored postponement (an charge to annex Texas—and he signed the joint res- appeal to the North). the voters to take Texas. the anti-Texas ously and drove himself mercilessly into a prema- Liberty party.000 votes. the tariff. “Dark Horse’’ Polk nipped Polk the Purposeful Henry Clay at the wire. There the tiny son. white-haired (worn votes. Polk).378 CHAPTER 17 Manifest Destiny and Its Legacy. by spoiling Clay’s chances and helping ture grave. They countered with such slogans as “Hooray for proclaimed that they had received a mandate from Clay’’ and “Polk. as noisemakers. when the results were so close. and stern-faced. or Clay. Texas. In the stretch drive. a clear-cut mandate on anything. and the issues so numerous—including presidency when he wrote a series of confusing let. Methodical and the annexation of Texas. Of middle height antislavery Liberty party absorbed nearly 16. They seemed to say that while he personally internal improvements? Yet this unclear “mandate’’ favored annexing slaveholding Texas (an appeal to was interpreted by President Tyler as a crystal-clear the South). if ever. he was shrewd. hard-working but not brilliant. (James K. and ters. ers’ will is to hold a special election on a given issue. the acrobatic Clay date but of muddle. .300. flushed with victory.000 (five feet eight inches). 1841–1848 The Whigs. took no back seat. the bank. The picture that emerged in 1844 is one not of man- On the crucial issue of Texas.’’ They also spread the lie that a gang of is seldom. 170 to 105 votes in the Elec- toral College and 1.338. slavery. hastened unwillingness to delegate authority. Land-hungry Democrats. P. But a presidential election and Liberty. Clay would have won if he had not lost “Young Hickory’’ Polk.464 to 1. Ironically. the personalities so miser’’ appears to have compromised away the colorful. and Texas. The “Great Compro. gray-eyed. unlike “Old Hickory’’ Jack- New York State by a scant 5. What else could there have been tried to ride two horses at once. Slavery.097 in the popu- lar column. Union. lean. Tennessee slaves had been seen on their way to a The only way to secure a true reflection of the vot- southern market branded with the initials J. he took life seri- the unlucky Kentuckian. K. ground if he had not “straddled. was not an impressive figure.

though not without loud com. was followed by boom times and heavy imports. unceremoniously success achieved it completely in less than four dropped by the Whigs in 1841. But southern Democrats. be an excellent revenue producer. The third and fourth points on Polk’s “must list’’ devised a tariff-for-revenue bill that reduced the were the acquisition of California and the settle- average rates of the Tariff of 1842 from about 32 per. retary of the Treasury. Polk. Purposeful in the highest degree. But these prophets of doom 54° 40' pledge of his own platform. Walker lobbied the measure been promised northern Democrats in the cam- through Congress. His sec.’’ wrote a contempo. that American manufactur. cent to 25 percent. largely because it “What he went for he fetched. once they plaints from the Clayites. himself and the middle states. rapidly cooled off. wispy Robert J. but victory at One of Polk’s goals was a lowered tariff. a southerner. rary. especially in New England had annexed Texas. he developed A second objective of Polk was the restoration a positive four-point program and with remarkable of the independent treasury. Congress raised a storm of opposition. The Walker Tariff of 1846 proved to bound by the three offers of his predecessors to . Polk Takes Command 379 narrow-minded. conscientious. last rewarded the president’s efforts in 1846. ment of the Oregon dispute. With the strong support of low. Pro-bank Whigs in years. But feeling missed the mark. and persistent. paign of 1844. had no intention of insisting on the ing would be ruined. Walker. “Reoccupation’’ of the “whole’’ of Oregon had tariff southerners.

irked by the previous rebuff. 1841–1848 House Vote on Tariff of 1846 senators speedily accepted the offer and approved the subsequent treaty. The revolution-riddled regime in Mexico Ye Willamette R. 1846 fewer than a thousand “foreigners. hat in hand. came and other disciples of Manifest Destiny had long around and themselves proposed the line of 49°. The was widely regarded as America’s future gateway to the Pacific Ocean. “Great Britain is powerful and Mexico is The next move on the Oregon chessboard was weak. Among other friction points. the ministry So Polk. some of whom had “left their consciences’’ Area of original dispute behind them as they rounded Cape Horn. A more serious bone of contention was Texas. States had claims against the Mexicans for some $3 Colum PACIFIC COUNTRY M i s s o u ri R million in damages to American citizens and their R OCEAN Ft. over Oregon time. Vancouver ne llow s t o property. Given F r aser R. after threatening war if MEXICO the United States should acquire the Lone Star Republic. he again proposed the compromise line of South. British anti. U N I T E D STATES had formally agreed to assume most of this debt but 42° had been forced to default on its payments. had recalled its minister from Washington . South and Southwest 58 20 Satisfaction with the Oregon settlement among TOTAL 114 93 Americans was not unanimous. something that in the long run was better: a reason- suaded that the Columbia River was not after all the able compromise without a rifle being raised. St. 1846 sand sun-blessed Spanish-Mexicans and as many as 54° 40' British treaty line.’’ 49° NORTH AMERICA Polk was eager to buy California from Mexico. He Early in 1846 the British. It consisted of perhaps thirteen thou- The Oregon Controversy.380 CHAPTER 17 Manifest Destiny and Its Legacy. This splendid harbor the decision squarely into the lap of the Senate. Lawrence of the West and that the turbulent American hordes might one day seize the Oregon Country. coveted its verdant valleys. Misunderstandings with Mexico ness on behalf of an unpopular monopoly. of Missouri. There were Compromise line. despite a few diehard shouts Regions For Against of “Fifty-four forty forever!’’ and “Every foot or not New England 9 19 an inch!’’ The fact that the United States was then a Middle states 18 44 month deep in a war with Mexico doubtless influ- West and Northwest 29 10 enced the Senate’s final vote. R Spanis S n a ke ail h treaty line. these transplanted Yankees might yet bring Cal- BRITISH ifornia into the Union by “playing the Texas game. The British minister in Washington. The population of California in 1845 was curi- ously mixed. Why fight a hazardous war over this wilder. hotbed of Manifest Destiny and “fifty-four fortyism. the Hud- son’s Bay Company. which had already “furred out’’ much of the area anyhow? Faraway California was another worry of Polk’s.’’ up to Britain. 1819 go n Tr Ore The Mexican government. got began to experience a change of heart. But he did get expansionists (“Little Englanders’’) were now per. The northwestern states.’’ joined the antislavery forces in condemn- ing what they regarded as a base betrayal by the London. Why all of Texas but not all of Oregon? 49°. Fortunately for peace. retorted the expansionist Senator Benton initiative. neither “fifty-four forty’’ nor a fight. threw cious bay of San Francisco. brusquely spurned this olive branch.” mostly Ameri- Focus of dispute by 1846 cans. despite all the campaign bluster. 1818 seventy-five thousand dispirited Indians. and especially the spa- President Polk. on his own Because. (CANADA) OREGON but relations with Mexico City were dangerously embittered. the United Puget Sound bia R.

’’ The golden prize of California continued to cause Polk much anxiety. . efforts’’ to avoid a clash. Polk. Polk’s presidential diary reveals that he expected at any moment to hear of a clash. Diplomatic relations were of bloodshed arrived. once it was annexed. to march from the Nueces River to the Rio Grande. under General Zachary Taylor. at best. Two cabinet mem- bers spoke up and said that they would feel better satisfied if Mexican troops should fire first. as fate would have it. troops had crossed the Rio Grande and attacked Deadlock with Mexico over Texas was further General Taylor’s command. These. and a dispute over the two the Mexicans was unnecessary. among other alternatives. felt a strong moral obligation to defend Texas in its claim. news following annexation. for his part. peaceful adjustment. were claiming the more southerly Rio Grande instead. But the proud Mexican people would not even per- mit Slidell to present his “insulting’’ proposition. were rather flimsy pretexts. Abraham Lincoln this boundary quibble than was the United States. he ordered four thou- sand men. He declared that despite “all our River. on rather far. and not in the President. it was unconstitutional. and no-man’s-land between the Nueces and the Rio . Polk. That very evening. he informed his cabinet on May 9. On June 1. the south. Yet Polk was careful to keep Mexico was in no way molesting or menacing American troops out of virtually all of the explosive the United States or the people thereof. hostilities had been forced fetched grounds. 1846. was instructed to offer a maximum of $25 million for California and territory to the east. (1809–1865) wrote. On January 13. In a last desperate throw of the dice. long era of Spanish-Mexican occupation. as long as there was any real prospect of power of levying war is vested in Congress. provoca- tively near Mexican forces. that he pro- posed to ask Congress to declare war on the basis of (1) unpaid claims and (2) Slidell’s rejection. 1846. Causes of the Mexican War 381 known to have been ill-founded) were circulating that Britain was about to buy or seize California— a grab that Americans could not tolerate under the Monroe Doctrine. . In their eyes all of Texas was still theirs. But the expansive Texans. 1860. The new envoy. less than a year before he The Mexicans were far less concerned about became president. Polk dispatched John Slidell to Mexico City as minister late in 1845. American Blood on American (?) Soil A frustrated Polk was now prepared to force a show- down. because the Grande. During the Americans killed or wounded. with a loss of sixteen tightened by a question of boundaries. On April 25. 1846. Disquieting rumors (now . When none occurred after an anxious wait. Mexican completely severed. further aroused. sent a vigorous war mes- western boundary of Texas had been the Nueces sage to Congress. although “The act of sending an armed force among temporarily in revolt. inasmuch as rivers seemed pointless.

382 CHAPTER 17 Manifest Destiny and Its Legacy.’’ The more . God forgive her. though they later con. he overwhelmingly voted for war. reason to regard as their own. and enthusiastic vol. “Ho for the Halls of the Montezumas!’’ been shed on soil that the Mexicans had good and “Mexico or Death!’’ Inflamed by the war fever. A gangling.’’ who could die of “spotted fever. introduced certain resolutions that demned “Jimmy Polk’s war. 1841–1848 Major Campaigns of the Mexican War upon the country by the shedding of “American In his message to Congress. rough- even antislavery Whig bastions melted and joined featured Whig congressman from Illinois. would have explained that American blood had unteers cried. ham Lincoln. Lincoln. one Abra- with the rest of the nation. persistence that he came to be known as the “spotty She’s akneelin’ with the rest. He pushed his “spot’’ resolutions with such Massachusetts.’’ As James Russell Lowell requested information as to the precise “spot’’ on of Massachusetts lamented. Polk was making blood upon the American soil. American soil where American blood had been shed. If he had been a historian.’’ A patriotic Congress history—not writing it.

and further pin down the The Mexicans were finally repulsed with extreme hated yanquis. spearheading the main thrust. he hoped to fight it on a limited scale and and strict discipline. was entrusted The Mastering of Mexico to General Winfield Scott.’’ American operations in the Southwest and in Did Polk provoke war? California was an imper. Both sides. which pushed inland from the coastal city of Vera Cruz early in 1847. was concerned. A conquest of Mexico’s vast and arid difficulty. for had not the “insolent’’ Yankee crushing blow at the enemy’s vitals—Mexico City. Rough and Ready’’ because of his iron constitution The Mexicans. were eager to teach the Mexicans a lesson. The only way to get it was to use teen hundred troops over the famous Santa Fe Trail force or wait for an internal American revolt. Kearny led a detachment of seven- sell it at any price. in turn. with its drowsy plazas. war. Polk agreed to this discreditable 1847 in one of the most brilliant campaigns in intrigue. A handsome giant of a man. branded the president a liar—“Polk the trymen to a desperate defense of their soil. Yet from Fort Leavenworth to Santa Fe. were spoiling for a fight. General Zachary Taylor meanwhile had been Feisty Americans. the dashing explorer. the black slaves. he reached Buena Vista. The in the Mexican campaign by inadequate numbers of dethroned Mexican dictator Santa Anna. sincerely believed sized forces. heavily overstaffed with generals.’’ Possessing a considerable times wore a Mexican straw hat—he fought his way standing army. He proved to be the most . They were hoping that the quarrel with five thousand men was attacked by some twenty Britain over Oregon would blossom into a full-dress thousand march-weary troops under Santa Anna. There. Scott had emerged as a hero from the War of 1812 and had later earned the nickname “Old Fuss Polk wanted California—not war. by mountainous terrain. freeing gratifying victories. When war broke out. and lassoing whole regiments of on February 22–23. and if the American blockading squadron would permit by political backbiting at home. he pushed the quarrel to a bloody with the local Americans. ner of the short-lived California Bear Flag Republic. The 1848 by “spontaneous combustion. The command of the main expedition. picked a fight by polluting their soil? Many earnest General Taylor. he would sell out his coun. Bent on grasping California by fair he collaborated with American naval officers and means or foul. He was severely handicapped then pull out when he had captured the prize. by expiring enlistments. Known as “Old sionists. could not win decisively in the semi- that Mexico was the aggressor. in later years John C. Grievances against province was won. But when war and Feathers’’ because of his resplendent uniforms came. once American military annals. say that “Old Zack’’ would be elected president in Both sides were fired by moral indignation. by disease. Yet he succeeded in him to slip into Mexico. battling his way up to Mexico City by September try. for the claws of the British outpost. on the other hand. proceeded to rally his coun- them Whigs. as far as Polk men. let it be known that ous enemy. But the double-crossing Santa Anna. Incredibly. In 1846 Gen- ative point in his program. California were completely successful. After several they boasted of invading the United States. though a good leader of modest- Americans. were burning to humiliate and incredibly unsoldierly appearance—he some- the “Bullies of the North. Captain Mexico were annoying yet tolerable. In helping to overthrow Mexican rule in 1846. by a more numer- with his teenage bride in Cuba. just “hap- America endured even worse ones. lion might snatch the ripening California fruit from But before Kearny could reach California. Mendacious. across the Rio Grande into Mexico. his weakened force of Americans. and overnight Zachary Taylor became the expanses seemed fantastic. deserts of northern Mexico. War with Mexico 383 extreme antislavery agitators of the North. But in 1846 pened’’ to be there with several dozen well-armed patience had ceased to be a virtue.’’ Mexican people could fight with the flaming sword Sound American strategy now called for a of righteousness. the fertile the talons of the American eagle. especially in view of the “Hero of Buena Vista. This sunbaked delay seemed dangerous. then exiled troops. many of he returned to Mexico. 1847. especially southwestern expan. was easily captured. Frémont. who had hoisted the ban- showdown.’’ One Kentuckian was heard to bungling American invasion of Canada in 1812. as it came near doing. in fact. and Mexico would not eral Stephen W.

who This total expanse. The United States agreed to fluid pen. at a cost of $10.000. he the enormous area stretching westward to Oregon sent along with Scott’s invading army the chief clerk and the ocean and embracing coveted California. was about one- among other weaknesses was afflicted with an over. They Polk was anxious to end the shooting as soon as he confirmed the American title to Texas and yielded could secure his territorial goals. half of Mexico. abruptly followed his original instructions.’’ pp. The president was furious. sixty-five-page letter explaining why he was not coming home. he had generally disgusted with his blundering envoy. The wordy diplomat then dashed off a between 1783 and 1861. Trist and Scott arranged for an armistice pay $15 million for the land and to assume the with Santa Anna. But Trist. Polk. Negotiating a treaty with a sword in one hand Polk submitted the treaty to the Senate.384 CHAPTER 17 Manifest Destiny and Its Legacy.000 (see “Makers of America: The Cali- bolster his defenses. claims of its citizens against Mexico in the amount tor pocketed the bribe and then used the time to of $3. and forwarded it to Washington. Accordingly. including Texas. grasping a fleeting opportunity to negotiate. Trist had proved highly annoying. fornios. 1841–1848 distinguished general produced by his country recalled Trist. of the State Department. The terms of the treaty were breathtaking. 386–387). Trist. Although and a pen in the other was ticklish business. And speed was . 1848. The wily dicta. Nicholas P.250. signed Fighting Mexico for Peace the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on February 2.

reluc- sive and vexatious policing problem. Christianity protest against this reflux of the As fate ordained. Uncle Sam pointed proudly to the “Anglo-Saxon spirit of fair had been regarded with some complacency. moreover. as well as other foreign skeptics. alarmed by the mounting tary prowess. The Mexicans. and that they had been paid who had planned to offer $25 million before fighting something for their land. . Lee and Lieutenant Ulysses S. and .250. Henceforth. But the fruits of the fighting contemplate the idea of recalling our troops were enormous. nents who wanted all of Mexico and by opponents Long-memoried Mexicans have never forgotten who wanted none of it. Montezuma. founded in dubbed “Mexican Whigs’’ or “Conscience Whigs’’ 1802. even play. The Such was one phase of Manifest Destiny. campaigns provided priceless field experience for most of the officers destined to become leading generals in the forthcoming conflict. has scarcely lessened their the war. intoxicated by Manifest Destiny. for as the proverb has it. that their northern enemy tore away about half of Victors rarely pay an indemnity. most of “Now we ask. . they were even threatening to vote down around Mexican ports. Civilization and appetite comes with eating. A sharp stimulus was given to the spirit ruled it for the last twenty-five years? Why. sabo. fully justified its existence through the well- —were denouncing this “damnable war’’ with trained officers. he was increasingly feared there was still a responsible Mexican government to as the “Colossus of the North. the Mexican War was the tide of barbarism and anarchy. whether any man can coolly them taken by disease. apologists have and Latin America as a whole. South would do well not to be too greedy. The war also marked an ugly turning it. which did increasing heat.’’ blood-spattered schoolroom of the Civil War. Scott probably would have been forced to retreat. arranged to pay $18. If America had seized it. The treaty though poorly led. it was condemned both by those oppo. resign this beautiful increased by about one-third (counting Texas)—an country to the custody of the ignorant addition even greater than that of the Louisiana cowards and profligate ruffians who have Purchase. untrustworthy bully. in exis- supplies for the armies in the field. notably the antislavery zealots. The argument that they were lucky a costly conflict has been “forced’’ on them. who might next despoil them taged Polk’s expansionist program. sings in its stirring hymn about the Halls of and the fruits of victory might have been tossed away. Cynics have charged that the Americans were point in the relations between the United States pricked by guilty consciences. Chagrined the nation would have been saddled with an expen. not to lose all of it. was occupy . A swelling group of The army waged war without defeat and without expansionists. the teenage lads of the mili- enough. tary academy there (los niños) perished to a boy. . The Peace Settlement with Mexico 385 Profit and Loss in Mexico Early in 1848 the New York Evening Post demanded. realized that the with increased respect for each other. Opposing armies. Yet Polk. British critics. If they had done tence since 1798. Hitherto. won new laurels and to this day so. At Chapulte- was finally approved by the Senate. including Cap- tain Robert E. Farseeing tantly revised upward their estimate of Yankee mili- southerners like Calhoun. fought heroically.000 after winning bitterness. Oddly pec. The Marine Corps. the Mexican War was a small one. already vast. from the [Mexican] territory we at present America’s total expanse. It cost some thirteen thousand American lives. emerged anger of antislavery agitators. despite formidable obstacles and a clamoring for all of Mexico. especially after their country. half-dozen or so achingly long marches. was a major blunder. of Manifest Destiny. Another peril impended. Having secured control of the House valuable work in throwing a crippling blockade in 1847. the humanity cries out against it. As wars go. The antislavery Whigs in Congress— The Military Academy at West Point.’’ A decisive factor was the need for haste. while friendliness. 38 to 14.’’ Suspicious neighbors carry out the treaty and before political foes in the to the south condemned him as a greedy and United States. Useful also was the navy. of their soil. . near Mexico City. Grant. . imperative.

For this expenditure of blood and sions were encouraged to adopt Christianity and money. States from sea to shining sea. toward its frontier outpost. at the conclusion of and civil offices in their new home. dation. and. debased Indian work- ers. Franciscan missionaries until Mexico threw off the can conquerors who had once ruled California. an enterprising Francis- can friar. the former citizens of Mexico who herders. Thousands of Americans had fallen in Bay. brought in vast tracts of the desert Southwest. govern- mental) authorities. most important. There. The Californios n 1848 the United States. Indians in the iron grip of the mis- war machine. It secured Texas. This “secularization’’ program attacked and eroded the immense power of the missions and of their Franciscan masters—with their bawling herds of cattle. Mexico now emptied its jails to send settlers to the sparsely populated north. swollen with the spoils of racing Russian traders to bountiful San Francisco I war. millions of acres of land. and Pioneers from the Mexican heartland of New Spain. These frequently maltreated mission Indi- The largest single addition to American territory in ans occupied the lowest rungs on the ladder of history. Upon the loftiest rungs perched the Californios. Americans. whereupon the The Spanish had first arrived in California in infant Mexican government turned an anxious eye 1769. the nation was repaid with ample land— were often forced to toil endlessly as farmers and and with people. in the process suffering disease and degra- now became. the Mexican Cession stretched the United Spanish colonial society. Yet even the the Mexican War. whether willingly or not. and millions of dollars had been invested in a along the coast. reckoned the costs and benefits of the conflict with Mexico. extending their New World empire and out. dwelled some thirteen thousand proud Californios had deferred to the all-powerful Californios—descendants of the Spanish and Mexi. claiming land port cities of California. included the great prize—the fruited valleys and they had trailed Serra to California. built and garrisoned fortresses. and lucrative foreign 386 . transferred author- ity from the missions to secular (that is. Father Junipero Serra. soon established twenty-one missions battle. Spanish colonial yoke in 1821.

sands of young Mexicans would flock into California fornios saw their recently acquired lands and their and the Southwest. 387 . and from de Alcalá (1769) those citadels the Californios ruled in their turn until the Mexican War. bearing the names of Spanish missions and so harshly did the word Yankee ring in their ears that Californio ranchos. Overwhelmed by the inrush of Anglo gold-diggers—some eighty-seven thousand after rags in the face of the Anglo onslaught. San Juan Capistrano (1776) teen lashes per week. Half a cen- the discovery at Sutter’s Mill in 1848—and undone tury later. The Californios’ glory faded in the wake of the Spanish Missions and Presidios American victory. even though in some isolated places they clung to their political offices for a decade or two. beginning in 1910. facts. San Francisco Solano S (1823) San Rafael  I E (1817) San Francisco de Asís San Francisco (1776) R San José  (1797) R Santa Clara (1777) A Santa Cruz (1791) San Juan Bautista N E (1797) Monterey San Carlos V A Borromeo (1770)  Soledad (1791) San Antonio  D A de Padua (1771)  San Miguel (1797) PACIFIC  San Luis Obispo (1772) OCEAN La Purísima  Concepción (1787)  Santa Ynez (1804) Santa Barbara  (1786)  San Buenaventura (1782)  San Fernando Rey (1797) trade. Vast ranchos (ranches) formed. When the Civil War broke out in 1861. The frocked friars had commanded their fief.  San Gabriel doms so self-confidently that earlier reform efforts (1771) had dared to go no further than levying a paltry tax on the missions and politely requesting that the missionaries limit their floggings of Indians to fif. hundreds of thou- by the waning of the pastoral economy. dominated by Anglos. a place far different from that By 1870 the Californios’ brief ascendancy had which their Californio ancestors had settled so utterly vanished—a short and sad tale of riches to hopefully in earlier days. and much of their Presidios (Forts) (1798) land and their assets were confiscated by the Cali. But during the 1830s. the  Missions San Luis Rey  power of the missions weakened. They would enter a region liber- recently established political power slip through ally endowed with Spanish architecture and arti- their fingers. But they would find it a land many Californios supported the South. El Camino Réal (Royal Road) San Diego  fornios. the Cali.

the opening shots of the Mexi- An’ to plunder ye like sin. the ugly moral heritage of an embittered slavery dis- tion. unwilling to be robbed of prospective Civil War. Repre.’’ introduced a fateful amend. had prophetically on the floors of Congress.388 CHAPTER 17 Manifest Destiny and Its Legacy. In a broad sense. fearful of the some satisfaction in knowing that the territory southern “slavocracy. the penalty of eating it would be to subject our insti- tion of $2 million with which to buy a peace. tutions to political death. It stipulated that slavery should never exist in apple of discord that could well be called Santa any of the territory to be wrested from Mexico. an’ to scorn ye. soon came They jest want this Californy to symbolize the burning issue of slavery in the So’s to lug new slave-states in territories. shortly after the warned that “Mexico is to us the forbidden fruit . In line with Lowell’s charge. . But. 1841–1848 Most ominous of all. . Abolitionists assailed the Mexican conflict slave states. can War were the opening shots of the Civil War. John C. Ralph Waldo Emerson. as one provoked by the southern “slavocracy’’ for its Antislavery men. Polk had requested an appropria.’’ Mexicans could later take sentative David Wilmot of Pennsylvania. the bulk of the Ameri. “Wilmot Proviso. . “Mexico will poison us. in Congress and out. The Hosea Biglow drawl in his Yankee dialect. but not the Senate. Calhoun.’’ eventually endorsed by the legis- latures of all but one of the free states. fought the restriction tooth and nail. Anna’s revenge. As James Russell Lowell had no less bitterly for the exclusion of slaves. the war rearoused the The disruptive Wilmot amendment twice snarling dog of the slavery issue. Southern not stop yelping until drowned in the blood of the members. and the beast did passed the House. battled own evil purposes. as in the case of the Texas revolu. In 1846. the basic explanation was proximity rather pute. Even the great champion Quarreling over slavery extension also erupted of the South. To abuse ye. President Polk left the nation the splendid physical can volunteers were admittedly from the South and heritage of California and the Southwest but also Southwest.’’ said the philosopher than conspiracy. wrenched from them had proved to be a venomous ment. shooting started.

hmco. For web resources. go to http://college. Chronology 389 Chronology 1837 Canadian rebellion and Caroline incident 1846 United States and Mexico clash over Texas boundary 1841 Harrison dies after four weeks in office Kearny takes Santa Fe Tyler assumes presidency Frémont conquers California Wilmot Proviso passes House of 1842 Aroostook War over Maine boundary Representatives Webster-Ashburton treaty 1846- 1844 Polk defeats Clay in “Manifest Destiny’’ 1848 Mexican War election 1847 Battle of Buena Vista 1845 United States annexes Texas Scott takes Mexico City 1846 Walker Tariff 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo Independent Treasury restored United States settles Oregon dispute with Britain For further reading. see page A12 of the Appendix. Previous Chapter Next Chapter .com.