Causes of the Civil War
Although some historians feel that the Civil War was a result of political blunders and that the issue of slavery did not cause the conflict, they ignore the two main causes. The expansion of slavery, and its entrance into the political scene.
The North didn’t care about slavery as long as it stayed in the South. South Carolina seceded, because Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, was voted into office. The Republican party threatened the South’s expansion and so Southerners felt that they had no other choice.
The United States was divided into three groups by the time the Civil War began: those who believed in the complete abolition of slavery, those who were against the expansion
of slavery, and those who were pro slavery. The Republican party was formed in opposition to southern expansion. Their views were Free Soil, Free Men and Free Labor. The Republicans were anti-South but they were in not abolitionists. They believed that slavery was a flawed system that made the south ineffective and because the North’s free labor system was superior it must be guarded
When the Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860, the South felt threatened, and because expansion was vital to the survival of slavery they also felt their way of life was being threatened. Because slavery was such an important part of Southern society, the South
felt that they could not survive without it. That’s why they were not willing to compromise with the north. To own slaves was a sign of wealth and social prestige and poor farmers who could not afford slaves had a goal to work for. In the election of 1860 you can see that Lincoln only secured 4% of
the popular vote in the South, only winning in the upper 5 states, where in the north he received 54% of the popular vote. This shoes how united the South was in their dislike for Lincoln. If the South had been more divided they might have been more willing to compromise.
The central cause of conflict between North and South was slavery, but it was only in it’s expansion that it became a reason for war. The entrance of slavery into politics made it into a public issue, and once the issue became public the conflict had to be solved.
From the first years in American history, we have drank. Records of the first Europeans on America’s mainland tell about the colonists’ great thirste after their original supplies of European-made alcohol ran out. The settlers made their own wine. Eve Alcohol was imported from all over the world. Innovative colonists made alcohol from almost anything. One song from the 1700’s went like this:
If barley be wanting to make into malt,
We must be content and think it no fault,
For we can make liquor to sweeten our lips
Of pumpkins, and parsnips, and walnut-tree chips.
Not everyone approved of drinking. Many Protestant groups, including the Methodists and Lutherans had strong antidrink traditions based upon religious teachings. Prohibition was first tried in America to protect colonial settlers from the attacks of I The earliest reformers called for moderation, not total abstinence, but as their movement gained strength it demanded a complete prohibition of all beer, wine, and liquor. The first temperance legislation was passed in Massachusetts in 1838. Called the Many people in this era were beginning to be categorized as either drys or wets. Drys were against alcohol and wets were for it. Even with the increasing number of Drys in office, the liquor trade was one of the nation’s biggest industries in the lat Saloons were called the Devil’s Headquarters on earth by some. Supporting the Dry cause were such enigmatic speakers such as Billy Sunday who said:
The saloon is the sum of all villainies. It is worse than war, worse than pestilence, worse than famine. It is the crime of crimes. It is the mother of sins. It is the appalling source of miseries, pauperism and crime.
With all of this prohibition propaganda, the Wets were having a hard time maintaining the upper hand. Large gifts of cash came for the Dry cause from rich industrialists such as Henry Ford.
The Drys saw the prize and sought it with a new fervor. Within one year and eight days of being proposed, 36 states were backing the Eighteenth Amendment. Prohibition went into effect at midnight on Saturday, January 17, 1920. This new legislation out Under the Volstead Act, 1,500 poorly trained people were assigned to enforce Prohibition. They were very ineffective. One way to get alcohol was to make it yourself. Many people hid stills wherever they could. Most people enjoyed the danger of the aut As an inadvertent result of the Prohibition Amendment was a loss of jobs. Some saloon owners closed down and opened speakeasies. Speakeasies were illegal nightclubs which sold liquor. Some beer producers continued to produce beer. They accomplished t Most of the illegal liquor came from other countries. Canada imported huge amounts of liquor which was then smuggled into the United States. Many smugglers acquired alcohol overseas, and then brought it back to the United States. They’d wait until nigh The illegal liquor trade was very appealing to the gangsters of the time. At first, the gangsters were welcomed because they brought alcohol. Soon, however, the public learned better. In Detroit, school children weren’t allowed outside at recess becaus Americans were intrigued by this. Many Americans were captivated by what was happening to America and reflected their feeling is the arts. Underworld, by Ben Hecht, was one of the first popular gangster movies. The American public loved these action-pa Americans grew anxious and more adventuresome. They dared to bend the rules more and more. With speakeasies, the harder to was to gain access too, the more people wanted to get in. These speakeasies changed the nation. Here, people could drink and be On top for the rampant disregard for the law by civilians, many of the law enforcers were corrupt. Many crime lords had the public officials on their payroll. Occasionally, as in the case of Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma in 1927, the officials actually Then there were the good guys, those Federal agents who upheld the Prohibition laws to the fullest. Two of them were Izzy Einstein and Moe Smith, the self proclaimed masters of a thousand disguises. They would put on disguises and go into speakeasies President Hoover took administering the Volstead Act very seriously. Total enforcement, however, never came about. The problem was in the federal government. It placed all enforcement responsibilities on the city and state government. The enforcement as long as it wasn’t sold in saloons or taverns. No compromise could be reached. Many Drys hoped that the passing of the 19th amendment allowing women to vote could prevent the repeal of the 18th Amendment. However, many women’s groups such as the WCTU g The presidential elections of 1932 played a big part in the repeal. Hoover, being blamed for the Depression, lost to Roosevelt. Many Wet candidate won office that year as well. After being admitted to the House and Senate, the 21st Amendment was quickl One of Prohibition’s lasting legacies was organized crime. The vast amount of funds that the gangsters now had allowed them to gain control of prostitution, gambling, drug dealing, as well as other illegal activities. Prohibition has become a modern con
Coffey, Thomas M. The Long Thirst. New York: WW Norton and Co., 1975
Dumenil, Lynn. Modern Temper. New York: Hill and Wang, 1995
Hintz, Martin. Farewell, John Barleycorn. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1996
Karl, Barry D., The Uneasy State. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983.
Kerr, K. Austin, Organized For Prohibition. London: Yale University Press, 1985
Lee, Henry, How Dry We Were: Prohibition Revisited. New Jersey, Prentice-Hall, 1963
Organized Crime . Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia 1996 SoftKey International Inc. and its licensors.
Parrish, Michael E., Anxious Decades. New York: WW Norton and Co., 1992.
Prohibition. Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia 1996 SoftKey International Inc. and its licensors.
Severn, Bill. The End of the Roaring Twenties: Prohibition and Repeal. New York: Julian Messner, 1969
The Nineteenth Amendment
On August 18, 1920 neither the United States nor any State could deny any U.S. citizen the right to vote on account of sex. (Constitution, 1987). Although the quest for equality was hard-fought, many of the women who worked for the vote were surprised they achieved it. (Ryan, 1983). The vote meant more to women than merely controlling money and jobs and equality–the vote meant political power. Like all political changes affecting the United States, the vote was preceded by political discussion, and there were many brilliant women who spoke eloquently for women’s rights.
For suffragists, the issue started with manufacturing. It moved white women out of the household into a world where they could earn more than $16-22 a month. (Ryan, 1983). Unfortunately, the consequence of moving out of domestic employment left these low paying jobs to black women, which was not the intent of the movement. However, for purposes of achieving the vote, this consequence was ignored for the time being. In fact, reports Ryan, the politicos of the women’s suffrage movement at the turn of the century, for political reasons, occasionally donned the ugly garb of racism and xenophobia, claiming themselves superior to blacks and immigrants. These slogans were part of an arsenal of expedient devices suffragists used to achieve their goal. (Ryan, 1983).
One of the main leaders of the movement was Elizabeth Cady Stanton who wrote The Solitude of Self in 1892. (Stanton, 1892). She was one of the biggest proponents of self-sovereignty for women because she believed that ultimately all people came into the world alone and left the world alone–and for this reason they had to be self-reliant. Yet, under current conditions, women were denied self-reliancy, so Stanton’s main goal was to free up all institutions, particularly education for women. At the time, the only training women received was an elementary education, unless privileged, or training for factory jobs. This, said Stanton, did not provide women with the opportunity or training to use all her faculties for her own safety and happiness. (Stanton, 1892). Personal happiness, according to Stanton, not only related to the Declaration of Independence, but also to the enjoyment of self-sufficiency. When a women could develop her mind, she would have the resources thus provided under all circumstances to mitigate the solitude that at times must come to everyone…. (Stanton, 1892).
Stanton was not interested in convincing men they should sympathize with woman’s plight, she said that what was important was fitting every human soul for independent action. (Stanton, 1892). What she asked for was also constitutional–the complete development of every individual for first, his own benefit, and secondly for the general good. (Stanton, 1892). She said that women are already the equals of men in the whole realm of thought, in art, science, literature and government . . ., and their contributions had made them valuable to America. She said, Such is the type of womanhood that an enlightened public sentiment welcomes today, and such the triumph of the facts of life over the false theories of the past. (Stanton, 1892).
One of the most important iterations of the plight of women came from Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Gilman’s purpose was the opposite of Stanton’s. She wanted to show women’s struggle. She wanted to point out not only what she had experienced after leaving her husband, but also that her choices outside of that relationship were extremely limited. She stated that wealth, power, social distinction, fame, even home and happiness, reputation, ease, pleasure, her bread and butter,–all must come to her through a small gold ring. (Gilman, 1898). Having to depend on men, Gilman said, put every woman in the position of being re-humanized over and over again in households owned by father, husband, brother–all of which resulted in restriction, repression, denial, and the smothering ‘no’ which crushed down all her h discover, to learn, to express, to advance…. (Gilman, 1898).
Using an argument familiar in the 1970s, Gilman expressed how this must seem to the future of young women, who knew they could break out of this mold without suffering economically. Gilman wrote that this environment in which young woman grew was equivalent to slavery. Not only was every young girl meticulously trained for a domestic position through her early years, but she was expected to instruct her daughters to accept oppression. Gilman further stated that any woman who did not have a man to back her and wanted economic freedom was destined to become a whore and make her money in private and alone, in the first-hand industries of savage times. (Gilman, 1898). Because of this, the repression of women was, therefore, a reflection on society itself.
However, Gilman said, despite all of these realities known to young girls, despite the fact that women were repressed, a few women had broken out of that mold. These few had proven that women, who hold the same ideals men hold for themselves, could and had risen above their domestic status and had become important to the economy of America. Thomas wrote that this made women invincible, and used this as a means to empower the women who heard her.
Men were intimidated by writings like Gilman’s, so even as men and women discussed the possibility of equality for women, they also discussed ways in which women should be repressed. The most common of these discussions evolved around the amount of education women needed, considering their domestic lifestyles. As the discussion heated up, in 1901, Charles W. Eliot, the president of Harvard, was one of the first to express the idea that the education men received was of no service in women’s education. (Ravitch, 1991). Eliot believed that a woman’s education should include those things that served to further their domestic functions, and that separate educational models and schools should designed for them. (Ravitch, 1991).
Martha Carey Thomas believed that there was no such thing as women’s work, and that true equality was based on the ability of women to transcend those roles and join men as equals in all industries. Drawing upon her own education at Cornell and Johns Hopkins, which transcended the domestic, she wrote Once granted that women are to compete with men for self-support as physicians or lawyers…what is the best attainable training for the physician or the lawyer, man or woman? There is no reason that typhoid or scarlet fever or phthisis can be successfully treated by a woman physician in one way and by a man physician in another way. There is indeed every reason to believe that unless treated in the best way the patient may die…. (Thomas, 1901). She argued for the same intellectual training and the same scholarly and moral ideals. (Thomas, 1901).
Thomas was the first to reach beyond equality and discuss discrimination. She wrote: . . . over one-third of all graduate students in the United States are women…. In the lower grades of teaching men have almost ceased to compete with women, in the higher grade, that is, in college teaching, women are just beginning to compete with men…. There are in the Untied States only eleven independent colleges for women…. (Thomas, 1901). She said statistically No one could seriously maintain that, handicapped as women now are by prejudice in the highest branches of a profession peculiarly their own, they should be further handicapped by the professional training different from men’s…. (Thomas, 1901). The importance of Thomas’s argument is that she backed it with statistics, proving why women should be educated the same as men, and that anything else was not tenable. She left the burden of proof on anyone who believed schools should be segregated. (Thomas, 1901).
All of these arguments were made articulately by women who were politically able to show their male counterparts that they were educated. Not only were they educated in politics and business, but many had educated themselves beyond grade school to become competitive. Finally, by 1920, their arguments were rewarded. After more than eighty years of struggle, American women convinced the majority of American men to open up their ranks to a once totally disenfranchised and politically invisible population. (Ryan, 1983).
Gilman, C.P. (1898). Women and economics. The American Reader. Ravitch, D. gen. ed. (1991). New York: HarperCollins. pp. 204-206.
Stanton, E.C. (1892). The solitude of self. The American Reader. Ravitch, D. gen. ed. (1991). New York: HarperCollins. pp. 201-204.
Ravitch, D., ed. (1991). The American Reader. New York: HarperCollins. pp. 208.
Ryan, M. (1983). Womanhood in America, From Colonial Times to the Present, Third Ediction. New York: Franklin Watts. pp. 170, 213-215.
Thomas, M.C. (1901). Should higher education for women differ? The American Reader. Ravitch, D. gen. ed. (1991). New York: HarperCollins. pp. 208-211.
MANIFEST DESTINY and THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY
The Democratic party headed by President James K. Polk is manipulating the populous of the
United States. President Polk, like his Democratic predecessor, is claiming to be a
defender of all common men. However, this is only his public front. He is actually
controlling the system to ascertain personal wealth and political power. He then warrants
his actions by preaching John L. Sullivan’s concept of Manifest Destiny. It has been known
since the beginning of the 1840’s that the United States is prepared to begin expanding into
Texas and further westward. The Monroe Doctrine of 1823 has kept these Ripe Fruits
waiting for the United States to harvest. President Polk’s Mexico policy is abusive against
Mexicans, Native Americans, and is irrational considering Mexico’s feeble position. His
personal political agenda is not in cadence with the fundamental principles that the United
States is based on. Let it not be forgotten that expansion of this great Union is
imperative to its survival.
The Democratic party has always catered to the emotions of the United States citizens.
1820’s the method of choosing presidential electors became public thus, the choosing of a
President was more in the hands of the populous of this Union. Between the years of 1800
and 1828, twelve states in the union changed to having no property requirements for voting
thus, from the election of 1824 to 1828, the number of people who voted increased three
fold. The democratic party, president Jackson in particular, exploited this change in the
public’s active participation. Jackson’s campaign was designed to be appealing to the
working man and the lower classes, such as shopkeepers, farmers and small merchants. The
attraction to him was illustrated by the rise of the common man. Jackson stated that he
feared a strong central government because it could become a tyranny. However, while he was
in power he purposefully strengthened the executive’s powers. Thus, he was able to abuse
his power without opposition. He did increase the executive’s power by exercising his right
to veto bills he personally disliked. Jackson, although deceitful and over bearing, knew
not to annex Texas. Because at that time, this country and its people could not have
afforded or supported another war. One reason why it would not have been supported by the
people is because, expansion was still thought to cause republics to fall.
John Louis O’Sullivan’s concept of Manifest Destiny describes the United States as spanning
sea to shinning sea. This was written by O’Sullivan in a editorial that was meant to
support the annexation of Texas. His editorial spread a fever of nationalism throughout the
people within this country. O’Sullivan’s idea portrays this Union’s expansion as being its
inevitable nemesis, blessed by god. Manifest Destiny supports the belief that for the
United States to succeed it must spread Republicanism and expand its territories. His
original belief of Manifest Destiny has no evil intentions to it. It is only since
President Polk has been using it that Manifest Destiny’s purpose is anything more then its
face value. Polk is using Manifest Destiny to shield himself from his own actions.
The Democratic party is using Manifest Destiny to change the public’s perception of
During the 1830’s it was believed that expansion would cause the union to fall apart.
Manifest Destiny has changed this and is know increasing nationalism and support for
expansion across the Union. The ways in which the democratic party is pushing new
territories is not in line with the basic principles of the United States. The Democratic
party, unlike the Whig party, does not advocate the tolerance of other races and, is using
Manifest Destiny to cloak its actions from the American people. The oppression of Indians
by killing them, and pushing them off their Native land for economic and political gain does
not attract allot of public support. However, our President is justifying these actions
with the concept of Manifest Destiny. President Polk is using Manifest Destiny as an
absolute truth with no moral obligation to mankind.
Contrary to the Democratic party the Whig party offers a more democratic version of
Destiny. Whigs favor a more humanitarian way of expansion. Unlike president Polk, Whigs
support public schools, the abolition of capital punishment and asylum reform. The Whig
party does not try and keep its supporters ignorant, because they were being denied public
President Polk’s Mexico policy is based on his views towards the external and internal
upon the United States. Externally Polk is hoping to spark a war between the United States
and Mexico. He wants this because he knows the United States will conquer Mexico. This
would then put him in the position to negotiate a deal that would take away all land that
president Polk felt we needed. The war would also internationally increase the United States
power. Polk could then ask for the California territory which is another one of his
campaign goals. Internally Polk desires to annex Texas into the Union, so that it may
become a slave state. This would also create a balance of Congressional power between the
North and South. Texas becoming a slave state is important to him because it was the main
reason why he got elected President. However he equally realizes that some places out west
slaves were not going to be needed as much. This is a very delicate situation because Polk
knows that all his actions, no matter how unreasonable, will be accepted by the populous and
dismissed as the counties Manifest Destiny.
President Polk is using his powers to carry out his and many of his more important
voters racial prejudices. President Polk, a slave holder, has his own intentions for what
is going to be in store for the lands newly acquired by the United States. Proof that much
of Polk’s purpose is racially driven is seen in the different way he treats our northern
partner. Polk rapidly agreed to a treaty about the lands found in Oregon. Since the
British are Angelo – Saxons, such as Polk, he considers them actual human beings. The other
major reason why he expediently signed a treaty is because that territory could not have
been a slave state thus, it is of less importance to him. On the other hand what makes
Texas and California so significant to Polk and his campaign is that the two areas could
possibly become slave states. By accepting these two states into the Union as slave states
the balance between slave states and none slave states would be greatly unequal. This is
what Polk was hoping to do, even though it is not in this countries best interest.
The Whig party finds Polk’s policy on Mexico absolutely appalling. This party knows that
United States just keeps a little pressure upon Mexico they are in such dyer striates they
will concede. There is absolutely no reason for why the United States and Mexico need to go
to war. The Whig party and the Democratic parties agree that it is essential to expand the
Union. Externally it is important so that European powers, particularly France and England,
do not gain control over land rightfully belonging to the United States. Whigs, Democrats,
North and South all agree that to sustain individual liberties the union must expand. James
Madison’s assumption that as this Union expands it would gain stability holds true even to
In 1825 President John Quincy Adams appointed Joel Poinsett as the first US minister to Mexico. His first assignment was to persuade the Mexican government to sell the province of Texas, and thus continue the rapid expansion of the American fledgling democracy. The United States continued to pursue Texas with little success for the next 20 years. It was not until December 1845 when the US finally annexed Texas by a joint resolution (and thus simple majority). Immediately following the Texas acquisition, and with US-Mexican relations swiftly deteriorating, the US sought to acquire the Mexican province of California and consequently, the harbors of San Francisco and San Diego. The American foreign policy with respect to Mexico which ensued in the following years was governed almost exclusively by President James Polk’s personal opinions and actions and then Nicholas Trist’s defiant behavior; a manifestation of the state-centric theory in which key individual decision makers govern policy. However, it is also apparent that many of Polk’s policies were secondarily influenced by the relative power consideration, American mass ideology and public opinion.
Beginning in 1845, President Polk began considering the possible annexation of California; never revealing this intention to the public. Although he wished to achieve this goal peaceably (by simply purchasing the land from Mexico), he soon learned that a conflict was inevitable. When Polk ordered General Taylor to cross the Nueces River and eventually to fortify on the Rio Grande (January 1846), he fully understood the possible consequences of such an action. In fact, by deploying Taylor and his troops, Polk slowly squeezed Mexico militarily until it struck back. Polk waited for Mexican aggression and stressed that American blood was spilled on American soil (this was not quite an accurate statement); thus garnering enough public and congressional support to declare war on Mexico without domestic unrest; as Norman Graebner points out, Polk was too astute a politician to favor any cause until public opinion had crystallized. Although the war declaration had no reference to territorial conquest, Polk’s diary conveys his clandestine intentions of acquiring of the coveted California as well as New Mexico. The decision by the president to occupy Mexico clearly took into account public opinion, but the most striking reason for his unwavering declaration of war was his conviction that California was a strong economic and strategic addition to the US. Secretary of Navy George Bancroft noted that the acquisition of California was among Polk’s top four priorities from the outset of his administration (although this was not public knowledge) and Glenn Price points out that the Mexican War was a result of President Polk utilizing Texas as a means to achieve annexation of California.
Perhaps the most important domestic issue in the years prior to the American Civil War was that of slavery. As John C. Calhoun recognized, if the treaty ending the conflict was silent on the subject of slavery in the ceded territory, the North will oppose it, & if it should prohibit slavery the South would, and in either event, there would be a constitutional majority. This dilemma, some argue, greatly affected the foreign policy decisions that Polk made with respect to Mexico and the relevant territories. However, adherence to this type of societal theory with respect to the Mexican War provides evidence for why Polk might have averted pressures to annex the California and New Mexico; it does not explain Polk’s provocation of a war with the US’s neighbor nor does it explain Polk’s inexorable passion for the Pacific coastline. President Polk considered this issue in his diary when he expressed his disapproval for the Wilmot Proviso, It slavery question is a domestic and not a foreign question, and to connect it with the appropriations for prosecuting the war, or with the two million appropriation with a view to obtain peace, can result in no good. Also, Polk felt that the territories of California and New Mexico were not conducive to slavery, and thus he believed that the question would never arise.
The issue of relative power also deserves consideration when analyzing Polk’s foreign policy. As early as 1840, Great Britain began to expand its control over Mexican claims in California. Thomas Benton relates that The subjection of California to British protection… and the transfer of the public domain to British subjects may have been an impetus for Polk’s decision to declare war. The president’s knowledge of British intent is an explicit example of the relative power theory. Walter LaFeber points out that Polk suspected British influence in California prior to his 1845 inaugural address. Thus, he Polk and his cabinet decided to settle the claims against Mexico and block British influence by declaring war. The US and President Polk were able to preserve the delicate economic and political balance with the strongest nation in the middle of the 19th century. It is extremely difficult to estimate the extent to which these relative power theories affected Polk’s decision to provoke war. It is clear, though, that President Polk was well informed on the issues involving California vis-a-vis Thomas O. Larkin’s (Consul in California) regular reports. Polk, with this knowledge, understood that California would be receptive to US demands following the conflict; thus, the US could push the British out of the profitable Pacific coast. This theory certainly seems logical and convincing; in hindsight however, acquiring California was one of the only positive outcomes of the war from the US perspective. Polk states in his diary, after his position on California is questioned by Buchanan, that the war with Mexico was an affair with which neither England, France nor any other power had any concern. Polk continued by reassuring Buchanan that no power would interfere with the US-Mexican war and that the territories of California and New Mexico were certainly an important part of the decision to begin the war. The president’s remarks convey that the Mexican conflict was not a war to ensure stability of relative power, but an imperialistic war whose chief purpose was territorial conquest of a weak Mexican nation.
As the war developed, General Taylor and Winfield Scott continued the military assault on Mexico. Unexpectedly, and despite sheer domination by American troops, the Mexican government refused to surrender. The general public and Congress began to convey displeasure with Polk’s policies. However, this did not cause the president to modify his course of action; as Graebner points out, Despite such pressures for changes in policy, President Polk refused to alter the course which he had established at the outset of the war. Polk, though, finally responded to Congress and the public in his annual message (1847), the doctrine of no territory is the doctrine of no indemnity; and, if sanctioned, would be a public acknowledgment that our country was wrong, and that the war declared by Congress with extraordinary unanimity was unjust. At last, Polk had made public his intention to retain California and New Mexico after the war. The president’s decision to uphold his policies of territorial expansion during the Mexican War was affected (rather insignificantly) by two domestic concerns. First, the racist general public equated Mexicans with Indians; most felt that they were unfit to govern themselves and others, like Commodore Robert Stockton (who was sent to Mexico in 1845 by Polk) justified continued intervention by pointing out that the US needed to promote her own interests and advance the cause of liberty. Second, Polk was influenced by the American ideology of Manifest Destiny. K. Jack Bauer notes that California was a significant attraction to many Americans, For them it was the natural western limit of the country, a great commonwealth connecting America’s heartland with the wealth of the orient. Although Polk understood and took into consideration the above notions, the main reason for his consistent policy, as Price displays, was his personal determination to acquire the fruits of war.
As the war came to an end, and the peace negotiations began, a new foreign policy emerged. Although Polk refused to vacillate from his initial convictions, his minister to Mexico, Nicholas P. Trist took it upon himself to work out the final conditions of the treaty. This action was in direct opposition to several dispatches from President Polk renouncing Trist’s rights to negotiate for the US. Polk recalls in his diary, He Trist has departed from his instructions so far as to invite proposals from the Mexican commissioners to be submitted to his government for its decision upon them, which can never be accepted by the United States. However, as the negotiations continued, Trist was able to obtain an offer of more favorable terms for the US. Trist sent word of his new arrangement to Washington and Polk reviewed the document with his cabinet. Upon pondering Trist’s new proposal, Polk realized that his main war objectives (Acquisition of California and New Mexico, and the Rio Grande border for Texas) had been successfully obtained under the latest agreement. For this reason, and despite strong reservations by Buchanan, Polk accepted the treaty with minor revisions and sent it to Congress. Among the other reasons for his support of the treaty, Polk stressed that more negotiation was impossible, that Congress would probably discontinue monetary support for the war if he rejected the treaty, and the immense value of California was too important to take risks.
The foreign policy of the peace effort is best described again as the result of judgments made by key individual decision makers. Although it was necessary for Congress to pass the treaty, Both Trist’s and Polk’s actions governed the outcome of the war. If Trist had not defied the government and acted solely on his faith in attaining a mutual peace, the war may have dragged on and the US may have been more harsh with the peace terms upon conclusion of the war. With the All-of-Mexico ideal gaining support, it is difficult to discredit the possibility (good or bad) of the complete dissolution of Mexico. Polk, like Trist, held great influence when he made the decision of whether or not to send the treaty to Congress. The president had more than a fair excuse to renounce the treaty; it had been attained by a former-minister to Mexico who held no power at the time he offered the deal to Mexico.
Some other foreign policy theories explain the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo fairly, but they are not nearly as convincing as the above-mentioned state-centric theory. The domestic question over slavery was not truly considered by either Trist or Polk in their actions following the break in the war. The notion that relative power played a large role does not fit either. The only power with which the US had chance to gain was Great Britain; but Polk foresaw that the world’s greatest power had little interest in California after the war had begun (Britain did not value California enough to fight the US). It may be argued quite eloquently, that the US public opinion and mass ideology affected Trist, Polk or Congress in their decisions regarding the treaty. However, it is obvious from the president’s diary that Polk had his sights on California long before the public. In addition, there is little evidence that Trist was acting in support of public opinion when he defied Polk’s orders to return to the US. Finally, Congress may indeed have been influenced by their respective constituencies and by popular opinion, but their decision, which was inevitable, affected foreign policy the least of the three (had Congress rejected the treaty, Polk still would have controlled future foreign policy).
President James K. Polk had a strong will, a sharp acumen, and a solid understanding of foreign relations. These qualities coupled with his achievement of almost all of his foreign policy goals, cause many historians to rate him as one of the half-dozen great presidents. Polk was able to control foreign relations for the most part by making strong-willed decisions and enacting a consistent policy; a policy which he refused to modify despite disapproval (at various times) by the public, Congress, and quite often, members of his cabinet. Perhaps the only mistake that Polk made was the denunciation of the slavery question, which John C. Calhoun stressed to the president many times. Polk paved the way for the Civil War with his territorial expansion and non-consideration of the major domestic issue of the times. As LaFeber points out, Polk never lived to see the Civil War that his own use of presidential power helped bring about.
Bauer, K. Jack The Mexican War, 1846-1848. University of Nebraska Press. Lincoln: 1974
*Benton, Thomas Hart. A Thirty Years’ View.
Graebner, Norman A. Foundation of American Foreign Policy: A Realist Appraisal from
Franklin to McKinley. Scholarly Resources Inc. Wilmington: 1985
LaFeber, Walter. The American Age. Second Edition. WW Norton and Company.
New York: 1994
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