November 22, 2009

NO ONE EMIGRATES TO MEXICO:

Into the West: a review of A COUNTRY OF VAST DESIGNS: James K. Polk, the Mexican War, and the Conquest of the American Continent By Robert W. Merry (Sean Wilentz, NY Times Book Review)

His triumphant record once led historians to call Polk’s presidency an impressive success. In the post-Vietnam era, however, he has come under heavy fire for his greatest feat — winning the war with Mexico and acquiring the territory that now comprises the states of California, Nevada and Utah, as well as parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming. Sometimes reviving the old arguments of Polk’s political foes, contemporary historians describe the war as a shameful act of imperialist plunder, ginned up by the president himself, with the not-so-hidden intention of spreading slavery into new lands. Inside the academy, Polk is not a nobody; he is a cunning champion of slaveholding Manifest Destiny.

Robert W. Merry’s book is a refreshing challenge to the new conventional wisdom. Polk, in Merry’s view, certainly was an ambitious expansionist, but in this he merely reflected the electorate’s passionate desire to push the country ever westward. Enlarging and then consolidating the United States as a transcontinental nation would, by the lights of Polk and his supporters, greatly enhance the wealth, power and legitimacy of what was still, in 1845, the lone democratic republic in a world ruled by monarchs, despots and aristocrats.



Posted by Orrin Judd at November 22, 2009 7:31 AM
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