President James K. Polk's Foreign & Domestic Policies

Instructor: Evan Thompson

Evan has taught high school History and has a bachelor's degree in history with a master's degree in teaching.

The Polk administration set four goals: reduce tariffs, re-establish the Independent Treasury System, obtain New Mexico and California from Mexico, and obtain some or all of Oregon Country. All were accomplished during his single term.

James K. Polk

Did you know there was a president who actually kept his promises? There was, and he did it in only one term. Who was it? James K. Polk. Polk was elected president in 1844, defeating Henry Clay by an electoral vote of 170-105. He promised to serve only one term. During that term, all four of his administration's goals were achieved.

Restored daguerreotype of James K. Polk
Restored daguerreotype of James K. Polk

Tariff Reduction

The first goal was to reduce the tariff, or tax, on imported goods. Polk believed that the tariff should be just high enough to pay for the operation of the federal government. In 1846, Congress passed, after a close vote, the Walker Tariff, which reduced the tariff rates from 32% to 25%.

Treasury Reform

The second goal, to re-establish the Independent Treasury System, was achieved when Congress passed the Independent Treasury Act in 1846. Prior to the act, federal government funds were held in private or state banks. After the act, funds were held in the Treasury building.

Oregon Country

The third goal, obtaining some or all of Oregon Country, was obtained in 1846 after long discussions with the British. The territory in question was bounded by the Continental Divide on the east, the latitude line of 42 degrees north (the 42nd parallel) on the south, the Pacific Ocean on the west, and the latitude line of 54 degrees, 40 minutes north (the 54-40 line) on the north. The British claimed Oregon, which they called the Columbia District, all the way to the 42nd parallel, which is the present-day northern border of California, Nevada, and Utah. The American claim was 54 degrees and 40 minutes north, and some were calling for a third war with the British to make sure it happened. After a long series of negotiations, war was avoided. The Oregon Treaty, signed in 1846, granted all of Vancouver Island to the British, and on the mainland, it set the boundary at the 49th parallel. That boundary still stands today as the large majority of the border between the United States and Canada.

Oregon Country
Oregon Country

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