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Things went less smoothly in the hunt for California and New Mexico, and ever-increasing tensions led to the Mexican-American War.
After several battles and the American occupation of Mexico City, Mexico ceded New Mexico and California in , and coast-to-coast expansion was complete.
During his campaign, Polk promised to only serve one term as president. He kept that promise and did not seek re-election in Polk left the White House in the spring of and returned to his home in Nashville, Tennessee.
However, the stress of the presidency had taken its toll on Polk and he died that summer at just 53 years old.
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Trist was willing to allow Mexico to keep Baja California, as his instructions allowed, but successfully haggled for the inclusion of the important harbor of San Diego in a cession of Alta California.
On February 2, , Trist and the Mexican delegation signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Polk received the document on February 19,   and, after the Cabinet met on the 20th, decided he had no choice but to accept it.
If he turned it down, with the House by then controlled by the Whigs, there was no assurance Congress would vote funding to continue the war.
Both Buchanan and Walker dissented, wanting more land from Mexico, a position with which the President was sympathetic, though he considered Buchanan's view motivated by his ambition.
Some senators opposed the treaty because they wanted to take no Mexican territory; others hesitated because of the irregular nature of Trist's negotiations.
Polk waited in suspense for two weeks as the Senate considered it, sometimes hearing that it would likely be defeated, and that Buchanan and Walker were working against it.
He was relieved when the two Cabinet officers lobbied on behalf of the treaty. On March 10, the Senate ratified the treaty in a 38—14 vote, on a vote that cut across partisan and geographic lines.
On June 7, Polk learned that Mexico had ratified the treaty. Polk had been anxious to establish a territorial government for Oregon once the treaty was effective in , but the matter became embroiled in the arguments over slavery, though few thought Oregon suitable for that institution.
A bill to establish an Oregon territorial government passed the House after being amended to bar slavery; the bill died in the Senate when opponents ran out the clock on the congressional session.
A resurrected bill, still barring slavery, again passed the House in January but it was not considered by the Senate before Congress adjourned in March.
By the time Congress met again in December, California and New Mexico were in U. When Congress reconvened in December , Polk asked it in his annual message to establish territorial governments in California and New Mexico, a task made especially urgent by the onset of the California Gold Rush.
When the bill was amended to have the laws of Mexico apply to the southwest territories until Congress changed them thus effectively banning slavery , Polk made it clear that he would veto it, considering it the Wilmot Proviso in another guise.
It was not until the Compromise of that the matter of the territories was resolved. Polk's ambassador to the Republic of New Granada , Benjamin Alden Bidlack , negotiated the Mallarino—Bidlack Treaty.
However, Spain was still making profits in Cuba notably in sugar, molasses, rum and tobacco , and thus the Spanish government rejected Saunders's overtures.
In his inaugural address, Polk called upon Congress to re-establish the Independent Treasury System under which government funds were held in the Treasury and not in banks or other financial institutions.
Congress was slow to act; the House passed a bill in April and the Senate in August, both without a single Whig vote. Polk's other major domestic initiative was the lowering of the tariff.
Polk believed that the bill was unconstitutional because it unfairly favored particular areas, including ports that had no foreign trade.
Polk considered internal improvements to be matters for the states, and feared that passing the bill would encourage legislators to compete for favors for their home district—a type of corruption that he felt would spell doom to the virtue of the republic.
Opposed by conviction to Federal funding for internal improvements, Polk stood strongly against all such bills. Similar bills continued to advance in Congress in , though none reached his desk.
The bill did not pass, so it was not needed, but feeling the draft had been ably written, he had it preserved among his papers. Authoritative word of the discovery of gold in California did not arrive in Washington until after the election, by which time Polk was a lame duck.
Polk's political adversaries had claimed California was too far away to be useful, and was not worth the price paid to Mexico. The President was delighted by the news, seeing it as validation of his stance on expansion, and referred to the discovery several times in his final annual message to Congress that December.
Shortly thereafter, actual samples of the California gold arrived, and Polk sent a special message to Congress on the subject.
The message, confirming less authoritative reports, caused large numbers of people to move to California, both from the U.
One of Polk's last acts as President was to sign the bill creating the Department of the Interior March 3, This was the first new cabinet position created since the early days of the Republic.
Polk had misgivings about the federal government usurping power over public lands from the states. Nevertheless, the delivery of the legislation on his last full day in office gave him no time to find constitutional grounds for a veto, or to draft a sufficient veto message, so he signed the bill.
Polk appointed the following justices to the U. Supreme Court :. The death of Justice Henry Baldwin left a vacant place on the Supreme Court, but Tyler had been unable to get the Senate to confirm a nominee.
At the time, it was the custom to have geographic balance on the Supreme Court, and Baldwin had been from Pennsylvania. Polk's efforts to fill Baldwin's seat became embroiled in Pennsylvania politics and the efforts of factional leaders to secure the lucrative post of Collector of Customs for the Port of Philadelphia.
As Polk attempted to find his way through the minefield of Pennsylvania politics, a second position on the high court became vacant with the death, in September , of Justice Joseph Story ; his replacement was expected to come from his native New England.
Because Story's death had occurred while the Senate was not in session, Polk was able to make a recess appointment , choosing Senator Levi Woodbury of New Hampshire, and when the Senate reconvened in December , Woodbury was confirmed.
Polk's initial nominee for Baldwin's seat, George W. Woodward , was rejected by the Senate in January , in large part due to the opposition of Buchanan and Pennsylvania Senator Simon Cameron.
Despite Polk's anger at Buchanan, he eventually offered the Secretary of State the seat, but Buchanan, after some indecision, turned it down.
Polk subsequently nominated Robert Cooper Grier of Pittsburgh, who won confirmation. Sandford wrote an opinion stating that slaves were property and could not sue.
Polk appointed eight other federal judges, one to the United States Circuit Court of the District of Columbia , and seven to various United States district courts.
Honoring his pledge to serve only one term, Polk declined to seek re-election. At the Democratic National Convention , Lewis Cass led on every ballot, though it was not until the fourth that he attained a two-thirds vote.
New York Democrats remained bitter because of what they deemed shabby treatment of Van Buren in , and the former president had drifted from the party in the years since.
Polk was surprised and disappointed by his former ally's political conversion, and worried about the divisiveness of a sectional party devoted to abolition.
He did remove some Van Buren supporters from federal office during the campaign. In the election, Taylor won Cass won Polk departed the White House on March 3, leaving behind him a clean desk, though he worked from his hotel or the Capitol on last-minute appointments and bill signings.
He attended Taylor's inauguration on March 5 March 4, the presidential inauguration day until , fell on a Sunday, and thus the ceremony was postponed a day , and though he was unimpressed with the new President, wished him the best.
Polk's time in the White House took its toll on his health. Full of enthusiasm and vigor when he entered office, Polk left the presidency exhausted by his years of public service.
James and Sarah Polk progressed down the Atlantic coast, and then westward through the Deep South. He was enthusiastically received and banqueted.
By the time the Polks reached Alabama, he was suffering from a bad cold, and soon became concerned by reports of cholera —a passenger on Polk's riverboat died of it, and it was rumored to be common in New Orleans, but it was too late to change plans.
Worried about his health, he would have departed the city quickly, but was overwhelmed by Louisiana hospitality. Several passengers on the riverboat up the Mississippi died of the disease, and Polk felt so ill that he went ashore for four days, staying in a hotel.
A doctor assured him he did not have cholera, and Polk made the final leg, arriving in Nashville on April 2 to a huge reception. After a visit to James's mother in Columbia, the Polks settled into Polk Place.
Attended by several doctors, he lingered for several days, and chose to be baptized into the Methodist Church, which he had long admired, though his mother arrived from Columbia with her Presbyterian clergyman, and his wife was also a devout Presbyterian.
On the afternoon of Friday, June 15, Polk died at his Polk Place home in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of Borneman noted that whether or not they were spoken, there was nothing in Polk's life which would make the sentiment false.
Polk's funeral was held at the McKendree Methodist Church in Nashville. Polk's rest has been twice interrupted. Polk was then moved to a tomb on the grounds of Polk Place as specified in his will in Then, in , the bodies of James and Sarah Polk were relocated to their current resting place on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville.
In March , the Tennessee Senate approved a resolution considered a "first step" toward relocating the Polks' remains to the family home in Columbia.
Such a move would require approval by state lawmakers, the courts, and the Tennessee Historical Commission. Polk was a slaveholder for most of his adult life.
James inherited twenty of his father's slaves, either directly or from deceased brothers. In , he became an absentee cotton planter, sending slaves to clear plantation land that his father had left him near Somerville, Tennessee.
Four years later Polk sold his Somerville plantation and, together with his brother-in-law, bought acres 3. The land in Mississippi was richer than that in Somerville, and Polk transferred his Tennessee slaves there, taking care to conceal from them that they were to be sent south.
From the start of , Polk, having bought out his brother-in-law, owned all of the Mississippi plantation, and ran it on a mostly absentee basis for the rest of his life.
He occasionally visited  —for example, he spent much of April on his Mississippi plantation, right before the Democratic convention.
As older children sold for a higher price, slave sellers routinely lied about age. Between and , he bought five more, aged from 2 to 37, the youngest a granddaughter of the oldest.
This represented three young adults and most of a family, though not including the father, whom James Polk had previously owned, and who had been sold to a slave trader as a chronic runaway.
The expenses of four campaigns three for governor, one for the presidency in six years kept Polk from making more slave purchases until after he was living in the White House.
Instead, he reinvested earnings from his plantation in the purchase of slaves, enjoining secrecy on his agent: "that as my private business does not concern the public, you will keep it to yourself".
Polk saw the plantation as his route to a comfortable existence after his presidency for himself and his wife; he did not intend to return to the practice of law.
Hoping the increased labor force would increase his retirement income, he purchased seven slaves in , through an agent, aged roughly between 12 and The 17 year old and one of the 12 year olds were purchased together at an estate sale ; the agent within weeks resold the younger boy to Polk's profit.
The year saw the purchase of nine more. Three he purchased from Gideon Pillow, and his agent purchased six slaves, aged between 10 and By the time of the purchase from Pillow, the Mexican War had begun and Polk sent payment with the letter in which he offered Pillow a commission in the Army.
The purchase from Pillow was a slave Polk had previously owned and had sold for being a disruption, and his wife and child. None of the other slaves Polk purchased as President, all younger than 20, came with a parent, and as only in the one case were two slaves bought together, most likely none had an accompanying sibling as each faced life on Polk's plantation.
Discipline for those owned by Polk varied over time. At the Tennessee plantation, he employed an overseer named Herbert Biles, who was said to be relatively indulgent.
Biles's illness in resulted in Polk replacing him with Ephraim Beanland, who tightened discipline and increased work.
Polk backed his overseer, returning runaways who complained of beatings and other harsh treatment, "even though every report suggested that the overseer was a heartless brute".
His replacement was discharged after a year for being too indulgent; the next died of dysentery in Others followed, and it was not until that Polk found a satisfactory overseer, John Mairs, who remained the rest of Polk's life and was still working at the plantation for Sarah Polk in , when the widow sold a half-share in many of her slaves.
There had been a constant stream of runaways under Mairs' predecessors, many seeking protection at the plantation of Polk relatives or friends; only one ran away between the time of Mairs' hiring and the end of , but the overseer had to report three absconded slaves including the one who had fled earlier to Polk in and Polk's will, dated February 28, , a few days before the end of his presidency, contained the nonbinding expectation that his slaves were to be freed when both he and Sarah Polk were dead.
The Mississippi plantation was expected to be the support of Sarah Polk during her widowhood. Sarah Polk lived until , but the slaves were freed in by the Thirteenth Amendment , which abolished slavery in the United States.
Like Jackson, Polk saw the politics of slavery as a side issue compared to more important matters such as territorial expansion and economic policy.
On March 4, , new tombstones for three of his slaves, Elias Polk, Mary Polk and Matilda Polk, were placed in the Nashville City Cemetery.
Elias and Mary Polk both survived slavery, dying in the s; Matilda Polk died still in slavery in , at the age of about After his death, Polk's historic reputation was initially formed by the attacks made on him in his own time.
Whig politicians claimed that he was drawn from a well-deserved obscurity. Sam Houston is said to have observed that Polk, a teetotaler, was "a victim of the use of water as a beverage".
Polk was not again the subject of a major biography until , when Eugene I. McCormac published James K. Polk: A Political Biography. McCormac relied heavily on Polk's presidential diary, first published in Schlesinger Sr.
Borneman deemed Polk the most effective president prior to the Civil War, and noted that Polk expanded the power of the presidency, especially in its power as commander in chief and its oversight over the Executive Branch.
Calabresi and Christopher S. Yoo , in their history of presidential power, praised Polk's conduct of the Mexican War, "it seems unquestionable that his management of state affairs during this conflict was one of the strongest examples since Jackson of the use of presidential power to direct specifically the conduct of subordinate officers.
Harry S. Truman called Polk "a great president. Said what he intended to do and did it. The questions of the banking system, and of the tariff, which Polk had made two of the main issues of his presidency, were not significantly revised until the s.
Similarly, the Gadsden Purchase, and that of Alaska , were the only major U. Paul H. Bergeron wrote in his study of Polk's presidency: "Virtually everyone remembers Polk and his expansionist successes.
He produced a new map of the United States, which fulfilled a continent-wide vision. Merry concluded, "and to take in the western and southwestern expanse included in it, is to see the magnitude of Polk's presidential accomplishments.
With the help of his wife, Sarah, he masterminded, provoked and successfully prosecuted a war that turned the United States into a world power.
Rawley wrote in his American National Biography piece on Polk, "he added extensive territory to the United States, including Upper California and its valuable ports, and bequeathed a legacy of a nation poised on the Pacific rim prepared to emerge as a superpower in future generations".
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