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James K. Polk and the Expansionist Impulse (Library of American Biography)
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Top Customer Reviews
Haynes' book is hardly the final word on Polk; he compresses the first thirty years of Polk's life into a single chapter, raising many questions that are then left unanswered. It is only when Polk emerges as one of Andrew Jackson's lieutenants in the House of Representatives that the narrative slows enough to allow for insights. Haynes sees Polk as the "consummate Jacksonian," serving as a loyal lieutenant and emerging as one of the foremost heirs to his legacy. Yet two successive defeats in races for the governorship of Tennessee dimmed his political star, and his name was not among those of the frontrunners for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1844.
Nonetheless, Polk emerged from a deadlocked convention as the first "dark horse" nominee in American history. Hynes argues that the significance of the 1844 presidential convention lies in the embrace of territorial expansion as an issue that united a broad range of groups in a diverse country, which helped Polk defeat Henry Clay in the subsequent election. As president, Polk was a hands-on manager who carefully monitored every department of the executive branch. While viable with the small bureaucracy in the Washington of his day, this proved impractical when managing the far-flung war against Mexico.Read more ›
What makes Polk stand out from these others is that he actually accomplished something noteworthy. During his presidency, the U.S. warred with Mexico. This war was significant not only because it marked the first time the U.S. fought a war in foreign territory, but more importantly, it resulted in the U.S. acquiring a vast amount of land, including California and New Mexico (it also forced Mexico to recognize that Texas was now part of its northern neighbor). In addition, Polk was able to more peacefully obtain what would become Oregon and Washington from England.
The acquisition of Mexican land was controversial during the war and even remains the source of argument today. Long before the controversies of weapons of mass destruction, there were the debatable origins of the Mexican War; Polk was determined to acquire land and set up things to force a conflict. Besides the somewhat dubious origins of the war, the result for the U.S. was also filled with negatives; the new territories would exacerbate North-South conflicts (particularly about slavery) and - though temporarily alleviated by the Compromise of 1850, would eventually lead to the Civil War.
Sam Haynes has written an excellent if brief biography of Polk.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book is simple, not scholarly. If you are looking for a seminal work on James K. Polk, look elsewhere. Read morePublished on October 24, 2008 by Hunter Starr
11 James K. Polk - 1845-49
Polk is our most underrated president. He championed the idea of manifest destiny. Read more
A short book written more as text book that about the life of Polk.
I was disappointed with the book.
We need more about James K. Polk. Read more