Residents of much of the western United States can thank President James K. Polk for making them Americans. His belief in the country’s “Manifest Destiny” to expand from coast to coast was the driving force behind several of the accomplishments that rank him as one of our greatest presidents.
Considering the sweeping nature of his achievements, it is surprising that Polk is also one of our least-known presidents. Although he served just one 4-year term, he was an active leader during a very active time in the country’s history -- 1845 to 1849.
ELEGANT DESSERT PLATE FROM THE 1846 JAMES K. POLK OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE CHINA COLLECTION - MANUFACTURED BY EDOUARD D. HONORE', CHAMPROUX - PRISTINE EXAMPLE - PART OF THE RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX COLLECTION
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Within those four years, Polk added California, New Mexico, Texas and most of the Oregon Territory to the United States. He significantly reduced trade tariffs. He oversaw the opening of the U.S Naval Academy, started construction of the Washington Monument, and issued the first U.S. postage stamps. But it is the issues surrounding expansion that most define his presidential legacy.
James Polk brought plenty of political experience and acumen to his job as 11th President of the United States. Trained as a lawyer, he served in the Tennessee legislature, then moved on to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he worked closely with Andrew Jackson. He served as Speaker of the House from 1835 to 1839, but then returned to Tennessee to serve as Governor.
As the 1844 presidential election approached, Polk was considered the likely choice to run for Vice President on the Democratic ticket. But after multiple convention ballots, Polk won the presidential nomination instead. It turned out the country was in the mood for expansion, something Andrew Jackson had been proactively promoting. Both of the presumptive nominees – Democrat Martin Van Buren and Whig Henry Clay – were opposed to that plan, especially the prospective annexation of Texas. That opposition cost them their presidential ambitions.
Polk wanted the entire Oregon Territory for America. This land stretched from California’s northern border all the way to the southern border of Russian Alaska, at latitude 54’40’, and was owned jointly by the United States and Great Britain. At the time, there were more British subjects than Americans living in this territory, and Britain wasn’t inclined to give it up. However, neither country wanted a war, so the land was divided, extending the northern U.S. boundary in a straight line to the west.
ALL OF THE LAND OUTLINED IN RED WAS ACQUIRED DURING THE JAMES K. POLK PRESIDENTIAL TERM (1845-1849)
Polk’s annexation plans did not go as smoothly on the southern front. Texas had seceded from Mexico over the issue of slavery, which Mexico banned, and northern Americans didn’t want to add another pro-slavery state to the Union. Nonetheless, Polk attempted to purchase Texas, New Mexico, and California for $20 million, and when that was rebuffed, he sent troops commanded by Gen. Zachary Taylor to a section of Texas along the Rio Grande.
This set off a war and further inflamed both pro- and anti-slavery advocates within the United States. Ultimately, Polk prevailed, annexing the lands in question at a cost of $15 million.
Some historians say James K. Polk engaged in dangerous brinkmanship and involved the country in unnecessary, costly war. They suggest that annexation of the territory from California to Texas would have happened anyway. But no one disputes President Polk’s political boldness and unstinting hard work. Sadly, James K. Polk passed away from cholera only three months after leaving office.
World renowned collector Raleigh DeGeer Amyx has acquired a remarkable number of scarce or rare pieces of official White House China. Mr. Amyx’s passion for American historical artifacts has been his sole focus for nearly 40 years. Mr. Amyx's collection is the largest privately-owned collection of extremely high-quality, as well as the rarest, Official White House China and Presidential China in the world. If you would like to engage in a discussion with Mr. Amyx about White House China, please contact him through the button below.