President James Polk was the first dark horse candidate to win the presidency. He seemingly came out of nowhere, promised to serve only one term, and clearly stated four goals:
- Reduction in Tariffs
- Creation of an Independent Treasury
- A settlement of disputes with Great Britain over Oregon
- The acquisition of California
These were lofty goals to attain in four years, but he was a workaholic and surprisingly forceful with his opinion. He was never concerned about how he came across to others as long as the job was completed.
He accomplished each of the goals he set and even won a war with Mexico.
He kept his promise and did not seek another term. He returned home to Tennessee, where he died a month later. He had worked himself to death.
President James Polk: First Term
March 4, 1845: Polk delivers his inaugural address and addresses the dispute in the Oregon Territory and the annexation of Texas.
March 28, 1845: Mexico breaks off diplomatic relations with the United States and insists that the Texas border is not the Rio Grande River but the Nueces River.
June 15, 1845: Polk commands General Zachary Taylor to move his army "on or near" the Rio Grande to reinforce the United States claim.
June 16, 1845: Congress of Texas Republic votes unanimously to enter the Union.
October 17, 1845: Polk sends Thomas O. Larkin to encourage United States settlers in California to become a Territory of the United States or to form an independent nation under United States protection.
November 7, 1845: Mexico opens up negotiations about the Texan border. Polk used this opportunity to try and purchase Alta, California, and New Mexico territory. The Slidell Mission fails since Mexico will not see John Slidell or discuss anything other than the Texas border.
December 2, 1845: James Polk delivers his first annual message and defines the Polk Doctrine. Polk states that only the people of North America can determine their destiny and not a European nation. He declares that European colonization will no longer be tolerated in the Americas. This was a continuance of the Monroe Doctrine.
December 5, 1845: The United States and Britain begin talks on the border of the Oregon Territory. Talks stall as Polk wanted more than what the British were offering.
December 27, 1845: The phrase "Manifest Destiny" is used in the New York Morning News editorial written by John L. O'Sullivan. This phrase came to define the mindset of Americans during that time.
December 28, 1845: Texas is admitted into the Union
March 3 - May 9, 1846: John C. Fremont arrives in California to survey the land. He raises the American flag over his encampment in the Salinas Valley but quickly retreats when he is faced with a large number of Mexican forces.
March 24, 1846: General Zachary Taylor reaches the Rio Grande and sets up camp across from 5,700 Mexican troops.
April - June 1846: General Jose Castro, Mexican commander at Monterey, California, and Pio Pico, the Governor of Los Angeles, split over support for the new government in Mexico, which had come to power following a December revolution. When Pico declares his support for an independent California, Castro orders an armed force to proceed to Los Angeles.
April 23, 1846: Polk signs a congressional resolution stating that the United States will no longer abide by the previous agreement to control the Oregon Territory jointly. The slogan "54 40 or Fight!" became a war cry for Western expansionists.
April 24-26, 1846: The Mexican Army attacks a reconnoitering party of 63 American dragoons, killing 11 and wounding five while capturing the rest. General Zachary Taylor sends President Polk a message stating that war with Mexico has begun.
May 1 - 3, 1846: Mexico lays siege to Fort Texas on the north bank of the Rio Grande.
May 8, 1846: 2,300 Americans go to battle against 6,000 Mexican troops. The American artillery easily pushes them back.
May 9, 1846: General Zachary Taylor defeats the Mexican Army at the Battle of Rio De La Palma. His army of 1,700 men outmatched a Mexican force of 5,700 and earns him the nickname "Old Rough and Ready."
May 13, 1846: Congress declares war on Mexico and authorizes an army of 50,000 volunteers.
May 15, 1846: Colonel Stephen Kearney is ordered to take control of the New Mexico Territory. His order is later revised to invade California.
June 10 - July 5, 1846: American settlers attack General Castro's troops as they march toward Los Angeles. This became known as the Bear Flag Revolt. A second group then captures Sonoma and proclaims that California is independent of Mexico. John C. Fremont then arrives in Sonoma and is proclaimed the leader of the Republic of California.
June 15, 1846: Polk agrees to split the Oregon Territory at the 49th parallel. Polk is accused of settling for too little, but Congress ratifies the Oregon Treaty.
July 7 - 9, 1846: Warships led by Commodore John Sloat sail up the coast of California to Monterey. There, a military raises the American flag, claiming California for the United States. Sloat then orders the capture of Sonoma and San Francisco. The Bear Flag is replaced by the American Flag.
July 30, 1846: The Walker Tariff is passed. The tariff lowers tariffs and provides a base for further reductions in later years.
August 8, 1846: The Wilmot-Proviso is passed in the House. It is an Anti-Slavery piece of legislation that would forbid the growth of slavery from any new U.S. territory incorporated from California. The bill does not pass the Senate.
August 8, 1846: Polk signs a bill that establishes an Independent Treasury System.
August 13, 1846: California is annexed to the United States.
August 15, 1846: 4,000 Mexican troops leave New Mexico Territory without a fight. Stephen Kearney claims New Mexico Territory for the United States.
September 23 - 30, 1846: Mexicans temporarily drive the Americans out of various parts of Southern California.
September 25. 1846: Zachary Taylor defeats the Mexican forces at the Battle of Monterey. Taylor agrees to an eight-week ceasefire unless Mexico or the United States government disavows the treaty.
October 13, 1846: Polk disavows the treaty. General Taylor suspects the Democrats are trying to undermine him as there were already talks of him being the next Whig candidate.
December 25, 1846: The American troops under Alexander Doniphan defeat Mexican forces at the Battle of El Brazito.
December 26, 1846: Lowa is admitted into the Union.
January 3, 1846: With Polk's permission, 9,000 troops are transferred to the command of General Winfield Scott. Taylor is ordered to remain in Monterey to defend it against Mexican recapture.
January 10, 1846: Stephen Kearney takes Los Angeles again, thus ending the fighting in California. The remaining Mexican forces surrender to John C. Fremont.
January 22, 1846: A letter by Zachary Taylor criticizing Polk's decision to disavow the ceasefire is published in a New York newspaper.
February 15, 1847: Anti-slavery forces in the House once again pass a bill that would ban slavery in California.
February 21 - March 29, 1847: Winfield Scott begins the Vera Cruz expedition and will capture a Mexican fortress that was known as the strongest fortress in the western hemisphere. This would be the first large-scale amphibious military operation that took place on foreign soil and was a success.
February 22 - 23, 1847: General Zachary Taylor disobeys orders and defeats 15,000 poorly trained troops at the Battle of Buena Vista. He is reprimanded for his letter that was published and then requests to be relieved from duty. He returns to the United States as a national hero.
April 18 - September 8, 1847: General Winfield Scott strings together many impressive victories at the Battle of Cerro Gordo, the Battle of Contreras, the Battle of Churubusco, and the Battle of Molino Del Ray. Scott then sets his sights on Mexico City.
September 12 - 14, 1847: 100 brave young military students tried to stop General Winfield Scott's approach to Mexico City but failed. General Scott marches into Mexico City.
September 14 - October 12, 1847: The Mexican Army lays siege to a U.S. garrison at Puebla. The siege ends when Americans send reinforcements from Vera Cruz.
January 24, 1848: The California Gold Rush begins when gold is spotted in an American River.
February 2, 1848: After thoroughly dominating the Mexican Army, the terms are reached, and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is signed. Mexico cedes all lands north of the Rio Grande, including New Mexico and California.
May 22, 1848: Having completed all he set out to do, President Polk keeps his promise and does not seek a second term. Lewis Cass is nominated for the Democratic party and runs on a pro-expansionist platform, advocating the annexation of all of Mexico.
May 29, 1848: Wisconsin is admitted to the Union as the 30th state.
June 7, 1848: General Zachary Taylor is nominated as the presidential candidate for the Whig Party.
August 9, 1848: Anti-slavery Democrats, anti-slavery Whigs, and remnants of the Liberty Party form the Free Soil Party.
August 14, 1848: Polk signs into law a bill that begins the formation of Oregon as a territory.
November 7, 1848: Zachary Taylor wins the election of 1848. Taylor benefits from a split of votes between Lewis Cass and the Free Soil Party.
December 5, 1848: In his last annual message to Congress, James Polk announces that gold has been discovered in California. This would ignite the Gold Rush.
March 3, 1848: The Department of the Interior was created to unite various government agencies, such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Office of the Census.
March 5, 1848: Polk attends Taylor's inauguration and judges him as inferior. He retires to his home in Tennessee.
June 15, 1848: James Polk dies. He is one of the forgotten great presidents.