Synopses & Reviews
When James K. Polk was elected president in 1844, the United States was locked in a bitter diplomatic struggle with Britain over the rich lands of the Oregon Territory, which included what is now Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Texas, not yet part of the Union, was threatened by a more powerful Mexico. And the territories north and west of Texas -- what would become California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and part of Colorado -- belonged to Mexico. When Polk relinquished office four years later, the country had grown by more than a third as all these lands were added. The continental United States, as we know it today, was established -- facing two oceans and positioned to dominate both. andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt; In a one-term presidency, Polk completed the story of America's Manifest Destiny -- extending its territory across the continent, from sea to sea, by threatening England and manufacturing a controversial and unpopular two-year war with Mexico that Abraham Lincoln, in Congress at the time, opposed as preemptive. andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt; Robert Merry tells this story through powerful debates and towering figures -- the outgoing President John Tyler and Polk's great mentor, Andrew Jackson; his defeated Whig opponent, Henry Clay; two famous generals, Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott; Secretary of State James Buchanan (who would precede Lincoln as president); Senate giants Thomas Hart Benton and Lewis Cass; Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun; and ex-president Martin Van Buren, like Polk a Jackson protand#233;gand#233; but now a Polk rival. andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt; This was a time of tremendous clashing forces. A surging antislavery sentiment was at the center of the territorial fight. The struggle between a slave-owning South and an opposing North was leading inexorably to Civil War. In a gripping narrative, Robert Merry illuminates a crucial epoch in U.S. history.
"Merry, president and editor-in-chief of Congressional Quarterly Inc., offers a wide-ranging, provocative analysis of the controversial presidency of James K. Polk. Using a broad spectrum of published and archival sources, Merry depicts Polk as an unabashed expansionist. His political career was devoted to extending American power across the continent. Polk saw the fulfillment of manifest destiny as transcending even the festering issue of slavery. Elected president in 1844, he pursued confrontational diplomacy with Britain, structured a war with Mexico and enlarged the U.S. by over a third, essentially to its present boundaries, in a single term of office. Polk's achievements were correspondingly controversial across the political spectrum. Merry uses congressional debates and newspaper quotations to depict the genesis of a fundamental, enduring debate on America's nature and role. Conceding Polk's 'personal lapses and his least impressive traits.' Merry makes a strong case that Polk's America embraced a sweeping vision of national destiny that he fulfilled. Merry's conclusion that history turns not on morality but on power, energy and will may be uncomfortable, but he successfully illustrates it. 16 pages of b&w photos; 1 map." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
“Robert Merry’s authoritative biography of James K. Polk. . . provides a compelling, perceptive portrait. . . Merry joins his skill at portraiture to thorough scholarship and a shrewd grasp of human nature.”
-The Wall Street Journal
“Filled with intricate stories of personal conflict, psychological gamesmanship, and unintended consequences. . . one of the most astute and informative historical accounts yet written about national politics, and especially Washington politics, during the decisive 1840s.”
--The New York Times Book Review
"Polk was our most underrated president. He made the United States into a continental nation. Bob Merry captures the controversial and the visionary aspects of his presidency in a colorful narrative populated by great characters such as Jackson, Clay, and Van Buren." andlt;bandgt; -- Walter Isaacson, author of andlt;iandgt;Einstein: His Life and Universeandlt;/iandgt;andlt;/bandgt;
“[Merry] brings a historian's perspective, a journalist's nose for the story and a novelist's eye to one of our country's most dramatic and defining moments. In strong, precise and elegant prose, Mr. Merry brings the key players of the day to life in terms of both personal characteristics and the causes they personified.”
"A crucial architect of modern America, James K. Polk deserves to be elevated out of the mists of history. In this engaging book, Robert Merry does just that, recapturing the passions and personalities of a forgotten era in American life." andlt;bandgt; -- Jon Meacham, author of andlt;iandgt;American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White Houseandlt;/iandgt;andlt;/bandgt;
"Bob Merry is a wonderful writer, lively and very clear-eyed, and he tells a fascinating chapter in American history. Long neglected, James K. Polk turns out to be a rich, memorable figure -- a war president whose will to conquest achieved the modern map of America." andlt;bandgt; -- Evan Thomas, author of andlt;iandgt;Sea of Thunderandlt;/iandgt;andlt;/bandgt;
"In Polk's single four-year term, the United States added western lands from New Mexico through Washington State. Robert Merry skillfully draws a comprehensive portrait of Polk's extraordinary successes in a time of bitter politics and explains why this intense leader remains underappreciated." andlt;bandgt; -- David O. Stewart, author of andlt;iandgt;Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacyandlt;/iandgt;andlt;/bandgt;
Merry examines how, in a one-term presidency, James K. Polk completed the story of America's Manifest Destiny by expanding its territory across the continent. b&w photographs.
About the Author
andlt;Bandgt;Robert Merry andlt;/Bandgt;is the editor of andlt;iandgt;The National Interestandlt;/iandgt;. He has been a Washington correspondent for andlt;i andgt;The Wall Street Journal andlt;/iandgt;and the executive editor of the andlt;iandgt;Congressional Quarterlyandlt;/iandgt;. He has written for andlt;iandgt;The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, The National Reviewandlt;/iandgt;, andlt;iandgt;The American Spectator, andlt;/iandgt;and andlt;iandgt;The National Interest. andlt;/iandgt;He has appeared in andlt;iandgt;Meet the Press, Face the Nation, Newsmakersandlt;/iandgt;, and many other programs. He lives in McLean, Virginia.