James Polk Essay

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The 11th President of the United States of America, James Polk, was born in 1795 and passed away in 1849. He was in power during the so-called "Manifest destiny" era. Just a year before Polk assumed the office of President of the United States of America, his fellow democratic leaders coined the phrase "manifest Destiny" in 1843. Democratic leaders held the Manifest Destiny belief, which held that they were God's chosen people and should take control of the entire territory up to the level of the Pacific Ocean. It is this belief in the concept of Manifest destiny that inspired the rule of President James Polk as the President of the United States of America in in seeking his pursuit for expansion aims. The Paper critically analyses the administration of President James Polk.

A Background of James Polk's Administration

In his run for the Presidency, James Polk was ever referred to as a dark horse by the Majority of the American people because it was expected that he would not beat Henry Clay to become a president in the 1844 elections. To the surprise of Many, Polk garnered the majority votes in the November 1844 presidential elections to become the 11th President of the United States of America. He majorly campaigned on an expansionist idea where he believed that Northern border of Orgon belonged to the United States of America and that he cannot compromise on the same (Greenberg, 34). The border was a very key issue because there was a dispute between the United States of America and Britain over the same piece of land. Immediately after taking office however James Polk did not live to his expectations. This is because while he had promised to settle the Oregon Border, he was compromised to settle to a short distance demarcation (Greenberg, 36). On the hand, just after 2 days of his election, there was another tension between the United States of America and Mexico over Texas. For this reason, James Polk convened a meeting of his cabinet in the year 1846 with aim of discussing a possible war with Mexico (Greenberg, 36). While the cabinet members passed the proposal, it received a lot of opposition especially from the opponents of President Polk even though none of them was willing to challenge the same in the congress.

The chief Clerk of State, Mr. Nicholas Trist was thus sent in the year 1847 to negotiate several concessions in Canada. He was accompanied by troops lead by General Winfield. In the year 1848, Trist managed to enter into a treaty with Mexico although against the wishes of President Polk (Polk, 22). The treaty was referred to as the Guadalupe Hildago treaty of the year 1848. Under the agreement for example, it was agreed that the United States of America was to get the disputed land of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, Utah, Nevada and California. As such, apart from the Louisiana Purchase of the year 1803, it became the single largest land acquisition in the History of the United States of America (Polk, 27). Even that notwithstanding, President Polk Wanted more lands something he could not be granted because of the already existing land concessions.

The Administration of James Polk

For any person to have sustained a campaign and become elected in a manner that James Polk arose to power, there must be evidence of either a broken man or steeled. This is because throughout his entire career, Polk was determine to achieve whatever he wished both to himself and the people of the United States of America. Polk was in a perfect control of the administration of governance matters during his tenure as a president and managed to contain all the rebellious people in order to support his ideas (McCormick, 72). His determination however is not thus measured from his work but rather his age too. At only the age of 49 years, James Polk was already doing what the people of his age had never done in the United States. He became the youngest President of the United States had never seen until his inauguration McCormick, 79). His determination is thus also seen in how he managed to become the Americas top CEO at the age of only 49 years old.

One of the Qualities that Polk brought into the Administration of the United States of America was the belief that the president must be in a position of championing for public interest and become the hope to the common man through ruling in a manner that makes him dominate the government. James Polk was ready to wield power upon himself and direct everything to be done according to his wishes (McCormick, 76). He knew that the job he was undertaking was a very tough one and one on whose results lied the hope of the American people to grow. He thus overworked himself for the interest of his own people, something that sent him to his early grave in the year 1849. Before James Polk could any of his executive duties, he had to evaluate the caretaker of the new role with a lot of diligence and reluctance (McCormick, 78). He also ensured that a proper inspection of departments is done and he made it a priority of monitoring the departments as well as ensuring that all the government entities and departments are accountable (McCormick, 76). Further, unlike other government members who took it as a routine to travel outside the United States of America every summer, James Polk made it his duty to remain within a very close range to Washington to serve the people.

As a character of a good leader, Polk cherished honesty in his work a quality that many of the leaders before him never had. Allan Nevins, one of the biographers who has written about Polk argues that, even though James Polk was very upright and truthful in his dealings, he also had a small degree of deviousness in his approach to issues (Olson & Heather, 65). Further, he tolerated very minimal opposition even from within the members of the democratic movement terming it a selfish stand. For this reason, any person who opposed his ideas and proposals would face a rough time because Polk did not have a heart of forgiving his opponents (Olson & Heather, 65). He considered less of other people's opinion in the management of his day to day work and listened to his views from time to time. For many of those who never understood his leadership style, they ended up calling him a "good hater" (Olson & Heather, 65). He is known for tracking every reactions and discussions he had in the course of his duty by recording in a diary, something he started in the year 1845.

Apart from his character, James Polk dealt with his cabinet in a very strict, cautious and in a reluctant manner. All cabinet members were well appointed by considering individual capabilities as well as regional balance in order to assure the people of the United States of America of an all-inclusive government. In fact about half of his cabinet was composed of the appointees from the congress. Just to Name a Few, James Buchanan who was then Secretary of State came from Pennsylvania, from a Presbyterian Farmers family and his appointment came as a result of the support he received from the state (Olson & Heather, 69). Just like President Polk, James Buchanan was known for his hard and timid stand and his irresolute character. Robert Walker, the then Treasury secretary is remembered for his strict support to President James Polk's expansionist idea and supported him financially in all means (Olson & Heather, 65). He is remembered for the reorganization he made in the treasury by coming up with a subsystem, changing the customs service and strictly implementing the low tariff policies as advocated by President James Polk. President Polk also knew that the strength of his expansionist idea lay in the hands of the Secretary for war. For this reason, he appointed Marcy William, a man who was known for his reasonable efficiency in the administration of the war times (Ray, 56). His strength was so much tested as the congress always hampered his proposals but was always ready to execute the commands of President James Polk. Another very important cabinet secretary in Polk's Cabinet is George Bancroft, the secretary of the Navy who was later transferred to become the cabinet secretary for Britain (Ray, 56). He is in Particular remembered for his quick actions in the use of the Naval Academy as part of the initiative of the Cabinet following an intentional delay for so many years by the Congress. All these people were firm, determined and dedicated to their work. Their efficient work is thus a reflection of how committed President James Polk was in Matters of Public interest and in achieving his dream of expanding the United States of America.

To keep his cabinet under control, President Polk never spoke too often but always kept his opinions confidential until the right time to act. He always wanted to be guided by the experience of his cabinet members and only interjected when he found it necessary to keep his men on toes. Polk made it compulsory for his cabinet to meet at least twice a week and on this occasions, he made sure that he was the one opening the discussions (Wills, 90). All the Cabinet secretaries were granted the permission of visiting the statehouse at any time they felt pressed to present their issues especially touching on the departments. One of the cabinet secretaries who is remembered for his frequent visits to the white house is Buchanan, owing to the complex nature of his job and especially touching on the foreign policies (Wills, 97). At some point, Buchanan had even contemplated resigning from the job and seeking an appointment to the supreme court but his tough nature allowed him to move on to the end of Polk's Regime. It should be noted that at some point, Buchanan even wanted to become a president while still in President Polk's cabinet (Wills, 92). Despite the decision not being received well by Polk he chose to remain the considerate person he always was to the cabinet which he considered as his official family and which he attributed his success.

In making his cabinet more effective in its administration Polk put in some measures of control that could only be compared to what Presidents Jackson and Lincoln measures especially during times that the congress was domineering over the executive. In the events where Polk felt that he was likely to face a very unpopular decision such as the Oregon question, Polk referred seeking coordination with the Congress in order to apportion liability for such decisions (Wills, 90). He was also very cautions not to subject his cabinet to the domination of the congress by avoiding making any decisions that would form precedents that allow cabinet secretaries to seek consultation of the Congress first before acting.

Wartime Administration

Immediately after his election in the year 1844, President James Polk exercised his charismatic leadership traits by leading his army to defeat Mexico in the Palo Alto war and the La Palma battle. This gave him the courage of moving the North Eastern Mexico. At this time America had also waged another campaign to Capture California (Merry, 15). In order to occupy this land, Polk had to combine the efforts of both the regular and the irregular American forces to completely capture California, something he eventually did. At this point, the British forces had less to do because they could not engage into a war without having proper instructions from Britain, something that never happened (Merry, 17). Further, in his own wisdom, President James Polk decided to enter into negotiations with the British representatives and the congress leading to a treaty. This was part of a negotiation with Britain in order to end the matter in a peaceful manner. Through the treaty, the United States of America and Britain boost their relations to the extent of reducing tariffs to facilitate trade (Merry, 18). To this extent, while James Polk was very much determined to expand America, he was also ready to negotiate where necessary to reach an amicable solution.

Having captured Oregon and the Rio Grante, in California, President Polk did not expect very much resistance from the Mexicans. In fact he engaged them in Negotiations through the secretary of States Mr. James Buchman. Talks however failed to yield any fruits and thus forcing the United States of America into war with Mexico. At this point James Polk started waging a war, something that was never taken well by the people of America stating that he was only out to get more slaves (Merry, 18). Polk thus made a proposal to the congress to have the congress approve a sum of two million dollars in order for him to take to Santa Anna to convince her to enter into an agreement with America. In the year 1846, Polk through the assistance of the army was able to capture the Veracruz without any form of resistance from the Mexican troops. As for the other territories, Polk assembled his team and the army to seek a peaceful settlement but Mexico stated that she could only engage in any dialogue with the United States of America when all the United States of America troops get out of Mexico (Merry, 22). Polk interpreted this to mean a tricky was of trying to get America out of Mexico and was thus furious at the same. President James Polk thus instructed General Winfield Scott tyo lead an invasion into Mexico leading to the defeat of Sana Anna. In the year 1847 (Merry, 24). Polk also managed to capture the land of Puebla through the efforts of General Scott leading the Mexican army wounded despite the strong defense put up by Santa Anna. Polk was thus determined in meeting his ambitions and expectations' for the American people, something that he did expanding America at the time he was leaving office.


From the Above discussion, it is plausible to conclude that indeed the life and the leadership style of President John Polk were a great inspiration. Polk campaigned on the expansionist idea, something he achieved at the end of his tenure. Further, he was so much committed to his work and treated his cabinet as part of his family. He also led the army into a successful war in Mexico, and thus preserving the name and the integrity of the United States of America. He was thus committed to making America great.

Work Cited

Greenberg, Amy S. A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 US Invasion of Mexico.

Vintage, 2013.

Polk, James K. The Diary of James K. Polk During His Presidency. BIG BYTE BOOKS, 2015.

McCormick, James. Cengage Advantage: American Foreign Policy and Process. Nelson

Education, 2013.

Merry, Robert W. A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the

Conquest of the American Continent. Simon and Schuster, 2010.

Olson, James S., and Heather Olson Beal. The ethnic dimension in American history. John Wiley

& Sons, 2011.

Ray, James Lee. American Foreign Policy and Political Ambition. CQ Press, 2013.

Wills, Garry. James Madison: The American Presidents Series: The 4th President, 1809-1817.

Times Books, 2015.

June 26, 2023
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