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LEADING FACTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY
JAMES K. POLK (DEMOCRAT)
287. Polk's Administration (Eleventh President, One Term, 1845-1849); Dispute about Oregon. Congress had annexed Texas (§ 285), and when Mr. Polk 1 entered office the first question was, what should be done about Oregon. We claimed the whole country west of the Rocky Mountains, north of California (then a part of Mexico), to Alaska; that is, from parallel 42o to 54o 40'. Our claim rested on: (I) Captain Gray's discovery of the Columbia River (1792) (§ 216); (2) Lewis and Clark's exploration 1805-1806) (§ 216) (3) fur-trading posts begun by Astor (1811) (§ 216); (4) our treaty with England (1818), and with Spain (1819) (§ 238). (Map, p. 194.) But England disputed our claim to the country and wanted to keep it a wilderness in order to get supplies of furs there.
288. American Missionaries go to Oregon. Meanwhile American fur traders went out to Oregon, and Jason Lee went as missionary to the Indians and settled (1834) in the beautiful Willamette Valley.2 Next, Dr. Marcus Whitman went (1836) to the Walla Walla Valley to do the same work.2 He and his companion3 took their brides with them in a wagon. They were the first emigrants who opened up a passage on wheels to the Oregon Country, and their young wives were the first white women who crossed the Rocky Mountains to
1 James K. Polk was born in North Carolina, 1795; died, 1849. He emigrated with his father to Tennessee in 1806, and was elected governor of that state in 1839. In 1844 he was elected President by the Democrats (George It. Dallas of Pennsylvania, Vice President), over Henry Clay, the Whig candidate.
2 See Map of Oregon, opposite.
3 Rev. H. H. Spalding; he settled near Lewiston, Idaho.
HOW WE GOT OREGON
make homes in the far West. Two years later, quite a number of missionaries, with their families, went out by sea to help Jason Lee in his work. They were followed (1842) by more than a hundred settlers who traveled overland to take up farms.
289. Dr. Whitman's journey to the East; our Fourth Step in National Expansion; how we got Oregon; the Treaty. Later in the same year Dr. Whitman started for the East to get help for his mission. He also hoped to get some families to go out there. The distance was between three and four thousand miles, and the doctor's sufferings on the way were severe. He had to face winter storms in the mountains, the terrors of starvation and of attacks by Indians. But be kept on and in five months reached Boston.
In 1843 about a thousand "home builders" started from Missouri for the Willamette Valley. Many took their wives and children with them, also horses, wagons, and cattle. They meant to found a new state on the Pacific coast. Dr. Whitman joined this great emigration, acting as guide part of the time. On the arrival of the emigrants in Oregon,1 Dr. John McLoughlin, agent of the British Fur Company and founder of Oregon City, gave them abundant and indispensable help. These men, with those who followed, saved the larger part of the Oregon Country. By the time that Polk became President we had such a strong hold on it that the cry in 1846 was, "The British must go" -- "The whole of Oregon, or none" -- "Fifty-four forty, or fight!"2 But later in the same year (1846) the United States and Great
I On Oregon, see H. H. Bancroft's "Oregon," I, ch. 15; Blaine's" Congress," I, 55; Benton's "Thirty Years' View," II, 469; E. G. Bourne's "Historical Essays"; Lyman's "Oregon"; F. V. Holman's "McLoughlin "; and O'Hara's "Catholic History of Oregon!"
2 In other words, we insisted that the British must give up the entire country below 54o 40' or fight. Captain Gray's discovery of the Columbia River, Lewis and Clark's expedition, our settlements, and the Spanish treaty of 1819 gave us a better claim than the English had (§§ 216, 238).
LEADING FACTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY
Britain made a treaty by which they agreed to divide the country between them.1 It was our fourth step in national expansion (§§ 215, 238, 285). We took the portion between the boundary of upper Mexico (now California), or 42o, and the parallel of 49o north, including the Columbia River; the English took the remainder, from 49o to Alaska. (Map, p. 251.) Our part included what are now the states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and parts of Wyoming and Montana, -- a territory covering in all not far from 300,000 square miles. (Map, p. 332.)
290. The Mexican War; Battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. But though the Oregon Treaty settled the fact that we should not fight with Great Britain, yet we were soon at war with our next-door neighbor, the feeble republic of Mexico. Texas and Mexico got into a dispute over the western boundary of Texas (§ 285). Texas stoutly insisted that the line was at the Rio Grande River; Mexico denied this, and vehemently declared that it was on the Nueces River, about a hundred miles east of the Rio Grande. (Map, No. I, p. 253.)
The President commanded General Taylor to seize the strip of land between the rivers. To quote General Grant's words, our troops were sent there "to provoke a fight."2 Mexico was weak, but not cowardly. The Mexican government ordered Taylor to leave the eastern bank of the Rio Grande, where he held Fort Brown. He refused, and the Mexicans crossed the river (April 24, 1846), and shed the first blood.3 Soon after, General Taylor or "Old Rough and Ready," as his men called him -- gained the victory in the battle of Palo Alto (May 8, 1846); and the next day (May 9) that of Resaca de la Palma. The Mexicans retreated across the Rio Grande; Taylor followed them and took possession of a small town on Mexican soil.
1 The treaty of 1846 extended the Webster-Ashburton line (§ 283) through to the Pacific. The boundary is marked by mounds, heaps of stones, posts, and cast-iron pillars; the pillars are placed a mile apart.
2 See "Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant," 1, 68.
3 The blood was shed on territory claimed by Mexico; but the President's message stated that it had been spilt on "our own territory." Abraham Lincoln, then in Congress, demanded, in a series of resolutions, known as the "Spot" resolutions, to be informed where the exact "spot" of this bloodshed was, and whether it had not been provoked by a body of armed Americans sent there by order of our government.
THE, MEXICAN WAR
291. Congress declares War; Battles of Monterey and Buena Vista; Conquest of California and New Mexico. Congress now (May 13, 1846) declared war against Mexico, and thousands of
No. 1, THE MEXICAN WAR; No. II SCOTT'S MARCH TO THE CITY OF MEXICO
volunteers, mainly from the southern and southwestern states, enlisted to fight against her.
In the autumn (September 24, 1846) General Taylor attacked the Mexicans at Monterey, and took the town after a desperate battle of four days.1 Early the next year, Santa Anna, the Mexican
1 Read Hoffman's poem of "Monterey" in "Heroic Ballads" (Ginn and Company).
LEADING FACTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY
president and commander in chief, led a force of 20,000 men against Taylor, who had only about a fourth of that number. The battle was fought at Buena Vista, in the mountains (1847). We had the advantage of position, and after an all day's fight the Mexicans retreated. (Map, p. 253.)
This victory gave us possession of northeastern Mexico. General Taylor returned home in November (1847) and the fame of this battle made him President of the United States two years later. Meanwhile (1846), an American fleet with the help of Colonel Frémont had conquered California; and General Kearny had seized Santa Fe, and with it the territory now called New Mexico.
292. General Scott sent to Mexico; he takes Vera Cruz; Victory of Cerro Gordo. General Winfield Scott (§ 231) had now been ordered to Mexico with a second army. His plan was to land at Vera Cruz (Map, p. 253), and march directly on the city of Mexico, 200 miles distant. After nine days' fighting he took Vera Cruz and the strong fortress of San Juan de Ulua, which defended it by sea (spring of 1847). General Scott said that this important victory was due in great measure to the remarkable engineering skill of Captain Robert E. Lee of Virginia, who eighteen years later became commander in chief of all the Confederate armies in the Civil War. Then pushing forward, Scott fought a battle at the mountain pass of Cerro Gordo, driving the Mexicans before him. Late in the summer (1847) he crossed the last ridge of mountains, and saw the spires and towers of the capital of Mexico glittering in the sun. The city is situated in a valley. It was surrounded with fortifications, and could only be reached by a few narrow roads of stone built across the marshes. Scott had about 11,000 men to attack an army which numbered more than three to his one, while the city itself had a population of nearly 200,000.
293. Victories in the Vicinity of the City of Mexico; the City taken. With heavy loss to ourselves as well as to the enemy, we fought and won in a single day (1847) a succession of battles1 near the city, -- every one ending in victory to our arms. A few weeks
1 These were the battles of Contreras, San Antonio, and Churubusco.
THE ANNEXATION OF TEXAS
later we attacked and carried the fortified mill of Molino del Rey; five days later we took the castle of Chapultepec.
The next morning (September 14, 1847) Scott's little army, now numbering only 6000 men, entered the city of Mexico and hoisted the Stars and Stripes over the ancient palace, or so-called "Halls of the Montezumas."1 In the conquering army there was a young lieutenant from Ohio, whom we shall meet again-his name was Ulysses S. Grant.2
The fall of the city of Mexico practically ended the war, which had lasted less than two years. With the exception of our recent contest with Spain (1898), it was the only war recorded in American history in which all the victories were on one side; for our troops gained every battle, and gained it in every instance against a larger force.
294. Our Fifth Step in National Expansion; Cessions of Mexican Territory; Other Results of the War. By a treaty of peace (1848) we obtained the territory of California and New Mexico, with undisputed possession of Texas -- or in all, nearly a million of square miles.3 (Map, p. 332.) It was our fifth step in national expansion (§ 289).
A few years later (1853) we bought from Mexico a strip of land now included in southern Arizona and New Mexico, and known as the "Gadsden Purchase." (Map, p. 332.) The Mexican War educated many of the American officers who fought in it, or were connected with it (such men as Grant, Lee, Sherman, and "Stonewall" Jackson), for the battlefields of the Civil War.
1 The Montezumas (mon-te-zu'mas) were the rulers of Mexico at the time of the Spanish conquest by Cortez (see § 19). The palace, which we called the "Halls of the Montezumas," was built by the Spanish successors of Cortez.
2 General Grant says, in his "Personal Memoirs," I, 53, that he considered the Mexican War "one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation." The feeling against the war in New England found witty and able expression in Lowell's famous poems of the "Biglow Papers" (First Series).
3 We, however, paid Mexico $15,000,000 for the territory, besides assuming certain debts of hers, amounting to about $3,000,000 more. We had previously assumed the debt of Texas, of $7,500,000; so that the whole cost of the entire territory, exclusive of the expense of the war, was $25,500,000. This was thought to be an enormous outlay, and, as it had been incurred through the annexation of Texas, many people grumbled, and said that "Texas" was simply "Taxes," with the letters differently arranged. To-day the assessed valuation of Texas alone is much more than forty times greater than the cost of the whole Mexican land cession.