- Hardcover: 592 pages
- Publisher: simon and schuster; 2nd edition (2009)
- Language: English
- ASIN: B003WUYRZO
- Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (130 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,405,589 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent Hardcover – 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Merry, president and editor-in-chief of Congressional Quarterly Inc., offers a wide-ranging, provocative analysis of the controversial presidency of James K. Polk. Using a broad spectrum of published and archival sources, Merry depicts Polk as an unabashed expansionist. His political career was devoted to extending American power across the continent. Polk saw the fulfillment of manifest destiny as transcending even the festering issue of slavery. Elected president in 1844, he pursued confrontational diplomacy with Britain, structured a war with Mexico and enlarged the U.S. by over a third, essentially to its present boundaries, in a single term of office. Polk's achievements were correspondingly controversial across the political spectrum. Merry uses congressional debates and newspaper quotations to depict the genesis of a fundamental, enduring debate on America's nature and role. Conceding Polk's personal lapses and his least impressive traits. Merry makes a strong case that Polk's America embraced a sweeping vision of national destiny that he fulfilled. Merry's conclusion that history turns not on morality but on power, energy and will may be uncomfortable, but he successfully illustrates it. 16 pages of b&w photos; 1 map. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
"A compelling, perceptive portrait of one of the oddest men ever to occupy the White House." ---The Wall Street Journal --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
What most impresses me about this book is how faithful Merry is to Polk's character - for better or for worse. He manages to take a less-than-appealing historical figure and neither lionize nor villainize him. Instead we come to know a man who had a bigger impact on our nation's history than he is popularly given credit for. And whether or not the gains to our boarders were ill gotten does not change the fact that we are fundamentally a different place for all his work.
The book is a fascinating read for those looking to understand the generation of presidents that was born after the founding fathers - that second group of leaders who had the difficult job of stewarding the US through its early adolescence, and making manifest the aspirations of the founding generation. We all should understand more about Polk. Merry's book is an appealing and sophisticated way in.
James Knox Polk was born in North Carolina in 1795. He moved to Nashville, Tennessee where he became a lawyer coming under the influence of the formidable 7th President Andrew Jackson. Wheras Jackson, the hero of New Orleans and Democratic president for two terms was called "Old Hickory" Polk became known as "Little Hickory." He was a strong advocate of Jackson serving in the wild and wooly politics of frontier America.
Polk emerged as the first dark horse to emerge from a Democratic Convention with their nomination for President of the United States. Polk defeated Henry Clay the Whig standarbearer in the 1844 election. He was supported by his wonderful wife Sarah Childress Polk whom he had married following the advice of Andrew Jackson. Sarah was vivacious and social whereas Polk was self-righteous, stern and a workaholic. The couple were childless.
Polk told reporters that he would only serve one term as chief executive and kept that promise. He had four major goals as president all of which were achieved. Those goals were:
1. To lower the tariffs
2. To institute an independent and working banking system
3. To obtain California.
4. To win the Oregon Territory for the United States which was in dispute with Great Britain when Polk obtained office.
Polk was a wartime president. The war dragged on from 1846-48 and was very unpopular with the Whigs and Americans who viewed it as a blatant power play to win lands from Mexico. Two Whig Generals Winfield Scott and the 12th US President Zachary Taylor won victory over Santa Anna. Mexico City was conquered. Over 13,000 American soldiers were killed in the fierce fighting.
During Polk's administration the United States added overe 500,000 miles to its territory as the nation for the first time spread from Maine to California. The vast Oregon land was won and New Mexico, Arizona become undisputed US territory. The Manifest Destiny of the nation was a success. Ralph Waldo Emerson was the man who said the United States was a "country of vast designs". Polk made this poetic dream a political reality. He is ranked as high as 11th in many presidential polls.
Polk was never physically strong and died soon after leaving office. His adversary Whig Zachary Taylor became president with Millard Fillmore serving as Vice-President.
Polk wanted the major problem of slavery to go away but it refused to do so. During his term the Wilmont Proviso which would have prohibited slavery in the newly acquired lands was hotly debated in Congress. Senate giants such as Daniel Webster, Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun debated the issue in great senatorial speeches. Polk, meanwhile, was having trouble dealing with the difficult Secretary of State and future president James Buchanan and keeping the money flowing in necessary to fight the Mexican War.
Robert Merry has crafted an excellent book on the Polk administration. The pages are filled with detailed accounts of congressional debates over such hot button issues as slavery, the Mexican War, tariff and money issues. Some readers will find this boring but many will also find it fascinating. Many of the issues ring a familiar bell for today: a first term president, an unpopular war and economic woes.
This is a wonderful book for anyone interested in the Manifest Destiny era. Ecellent and recommended!
Polk swore he only wanted a single term and just served one. He had a messianic belief in his own destiny in history and during his four years we acquired Texas, Oregon, and all the states from the Mexican war. I hadn't realized how dysfunctional the Mexican government was, nor how under-populated were our new acquisitions.
In the end, though, Polk wrote in his diary that success means little, and that many people he worked with were idiots or rascals. While riding to the inauguration of his Whig (read Republican) successor, Zachary Taylor, the latter said, "California and Oregon are so far away they certainly will never be states".
Once again, Polk considered that a most stupid remark.
Extremely well written, moves like a novel and hard to put down.
Outlines the key premises of Jacksonian democracy and the impact they had on our country. Explains the events and execution of the Mexican-American war, the annexation of Texas and Oregon and the expansionism that led to the California and New Mexico territories.
Presents the key philosophical differences on trade (free vs. protectionist), banking, expansionism, America's role in the world and the sectional tensions surrounding slavery that would lead to the civil war.
Fascinating also to see how partisan the politics of this period were. If anything, more cutthroat and divisive than today, with bickering, posturing and positioning for personal advantage in both congress and the cabinet.
Demonstrates the incredible impact one person in the position of American president can have on the world.