I am a Texan first, foremost and always and live with the conviction that most Texas brags are understatements. Texas was founded by men with a vision of a Southwestern empire that would have been comfortable stretching to the westward to the Pacific and going as far south as the country would support cattle and cotton. Unfortunately a closer examination of the historical record would show that these same men would have been in difficult straits to hold what they had won in 1836 and in no position to expand it.
A pro-Democrat cartoon forecasting the collapse of Whig opposition to the annexation of Texas. James K. Polk, the expansionist candidate, stands at right near a bridge spanning “Salt River.” He holds an American flag and hails Texans Stephen Austin (left) and Samuel Houston aboard a wheeled steamboat-like vessel “Texas.” Austin, waving the flag of the Lone Star Republic, cries, “All hail to James K. Polk, the frined [sic] of our Country!” The Texas boat has an eagle figurehead and a star on its prow. Below the bridge pandemonium reigns among the foes of annexation. Holding onto a rope attached to “Texas” above, they are dragged into Salt River. Led by Whig presidential nominee Henry Clay, they are (left to right) Theodore Frelinghuysen, Daniel Webster, Henry A. Wise, and an unidentified figure whose legs are tangled in the rope. Clay: “Curse the day that ever I got hold of this rope! this is a bad place to let go of it–But I must!” Frelinghuysen: “Oh evil day, that ever I got into the footsteps of my predecessor.” Webster: “If we let go, we are ruined, and if we hold on–Oh! crackee!” Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, straddling a barrel labeled “Abolition” in the river, shouts at Clay, “Avaunt! unholy man! I will not keep company with a blackleg!” referring to the candidate’s reputation as a gambler.
If James K. Polk had not been elected and agreed to the annexation of Texas and the pursued that acquisition with a defensive turned offensive war against Mexico that added the territory all the way to the Pacific it is highly likely that large portions of Texas would have been retaken by Mexico and history might have turned out considerably different. James K. Polk was, in many ways, the Ronald Reagan of his time. A westerner who did not harken to the eastern sensibilities he added more territory to the United States than Jefferson had done with the Louisiana Purchase. Although the pictorial essay accompanying this title does not parallel the book precisely it does give a sense of the consequences of the founding of the Republic of Texas and its ultimate importance to the development of the United States.
A comic scene anticipating a Whig victory in the upcoming presidential election. The date is 1845, after an election supposedly decided on the Texas question, the tariff issue, and Democratic identification with Jacksonian policies. The artist ridicules Democrat James K. Polk’s advocacy of the annexation of Texas as misguided aggression. In addition, the title’s use of the phrase “Going to Texas,” contemporary code for embezzling, may be a swipe at the political spoils system associated with the Democrats since the Jackson administration. Incumbent President John Tyler also comes under attack for corruption. The scene is outside the White House. On a “Loco Foco” donkey Polk and running-mate Dallas, heavily armed and equipped with military packs, are about to depart for Texas. Dallas holds a flag with skull-and-crossbones and the motto “Free Trade,” a symbol of antiprotectionism. Around the donkey’s neck is a feed barrel full of “Poke berries.” Before the donkey stands Andrew Jackson, offering his trademark hat and clay pipe, and crooning: I give thee all, I can no more, / Though poor the offering be, / My hat and Pipe are all the store, / That I can bring to thee! / A hat whose worn out nap reveals / A friendly tale full well, / And better far a heart that feels, / More than Hat and Pipe can tell! At this the donkey brays, “Eehaw!” and Polk bids Jackson, “Goodbye General! It is all day with us. I am a gone Sucker!” Dallas exclaims, “D–n Clay!” Behind the donkey stands John Tyler, with lowered head, reflecting, “It is very odd, that after all my treachery, and the unscrupulous efforts of office holders and political dependents, this is my reward! If I had not laid by enough for a rainy day, I should slope for Texas too!” On the ground nearby lies a sign reading: For Sale A lot of hickory Poles will be sold cheap to close the concern. enquire of Polk & Dallas.” From the steps of the White House Henry Clay waves and calls out, “A pleasant journey to you Gentlemen! may your shadows never be less!” Below the title is a narrative, purportedly excerpted from the Tyler administration organ the “Madisonian” of April 1845: All wept particularly when the old chieftain approached and holding his hat and pipe in one hand and the other placed on his heart, with tremulous accent interrupted occasionally with a cough, sang the above lines, an impromptu composed by himself to the well known tune of my heart and Lute, even the sagacious Tyler was subdued and sank into a fit of melancholy abstraction; the Donkey brayed encore.
Dream of empire; a human history of the Republic of Texas, 1836-1846 John Edward Weems, with Jane Weems New York, Simon and Schuster  Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. 377 p. illus. 24 cm. Bibliography: p. 355-359. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG
View of crowd with umbrellas, in front of platform on east portico of U.S. Capitol, where Chief Justice Roger B. Taney administers the oath of office to James K. Polk.
While most of the lithographs used to illustrate this post are critical of Polk, the Annexation of Texas, the war with Mexico and free trade you must remember that not only did Polk have the courage to go forward with the program he believed best for the nation but also that those in opposition to him controlled the archival record so balanced views are difficult to come by.
Here Clay is critical of James K. Polk’s public advocacy of the 54.40 parallel as the northern boundary of American territory in Oregon. The cartoon also alludes to widespread uncertainty as to the course the secretive Polk would actually pursue on the issue. The artist invokes the specter of an earlier Democratic president, Andrew Jackson, as the inspiration for what he considers Polk’s rash and autocratic handling of the dispute. Standing at the foot of Polk’s bed in a cloud of smoke is a devil, who, concealing himself behind the mask and hat of Andrew Jackson, commands the sleeping Polk, “Child of my adoption, on whom my mantle hath fallen, swear never to take your toe off that line should you deluge your country with seas of blood, produce a servile insurrection and dislocate every joint of this happy and prosperous union!!!” Polk, slumbering in a large canopied bed, has one toe on the 54.40 line of a map of Oregon which lies on floor. Also next to bed is a potted “Poke” weed (a pun on his name) and a table with his readings: “Art of War, Calvin’s Works, Practical Piety,” and “Life of Napoleon.” Polk answers the devil, “I do my venerated and lamented chieftain! I do, by the eternal!” (The vow “By the eternal” was a well-known Jacksonism.) At left, dressed in nightshirts, three cabinet members steal into the room. They are (left to right) George Bancroft, James Buchanan, and Robert J. Walker. Treasury Secretary Walker carries a “Tariff” document, no doubt the controversial and recently introduced tariff bill of which he was generally considered the architect, and comments, “It seems to me there’s the devil to pay with the president; yet behold his great toe, greater than any Pope’s fixed firmly on the line 54.40. Patriotic even in dreams!” Behind Walker Secretary of State Buchanan, holding a candle and a portfolio marked “Packenham Correspondence,” says, “There’s certainly a strong smell of brimstone in the room! Perhaps his excellency has been practising pyrotechnics previous to commencing his campaign.” The “Packenham Correspondence” refers to Buchanan’s July 1845 note to British ambassador Richard Pakenham, wherein the forty-ninth parallel was proposed as a compromise. Pakenham’s response, a rejection, touched off Polk’s pursuit (at least temporarily) of a more hard-line stance, claiming the 54.40 boundary. “I guess there’s a screw loose here! I wonder what Polk’s going to do!” muses Navy Secretary Bancroft.
An attack on James K. Polk’s attempts to undermine Winfield Scott’s military efforts and reputation through his handling of the Mexican War in April 1847. Shortly after Scott’s victory at Cerro Gordo, Polk dispatched State Department official Nicholas Trist to Mexico to negotiate peace with the Mexican government. The artist views the move, as did many contemporaries, as motivated by political concerns about the Whig general’s presidential ambitions. Scott, on a large hill at right, offers a steaming plate of soup to departing Mexican commander Santa Anna, who rides away on horseback. (For the soup allusion see “Distinguished Military Operations,” no. 1846-15). From a ravine behind Scott, Polk goads Trist as he aims a water hose at the general. The hose is fueled by a pump operated by two boys in the background. In the distance American troops engage the Mexicans on the hills near Cerro Gordo. In the upper left appears the dialogue: Scott: “General Santa Anna!! do stop and take ‘a hasty plate of soup?'” Santa Anna: “I thank you, Sir, your soup’s too hot-I must be off!” Polk: “Trist, take care & cool ‘old Hasty’s’ soup, before “our friend” meets him again.” Trist: “Your Excellency will pardon me, but I’ve tried in vain to cool ‘Old Hasty’s’ soup.” Polk: “Then put out ‘Old Hasty’s’ fire, or “that fatal soup will burn our fingers yet!” Trist: “Your excellency would do well to send ‘Old Hasty’ home and give “our friend” ‘Pillow’ for his Comfort.” The last reference was to Gen. Gideon J. Pillow, an incompetent but a favorite of Polk, whose antagonism toward Scott was public knowledge, particularly after Cerro Gordo.
A grim portrayal of violent goldfield life in California critical of the outgoing Polk administration. Mayhem erupts, as prospectors and thieves brawl over the gold being taken from the hills. In the center one man discharges a pistol in the face of miner carrying a large sack of gold. Behind them others fight with knives and fists. One desperate character accosts another, demanding “Bread! Bread! Damn you! Bread.” On the far right is a table where a buckskin-clad man is served by another man who exacts “A pinch of Gold for a drink.” On the left another man, kneeling on the ground, vomits. In the left background rises a mountain with several prospectors hard at work. In the center distance the Capitol and White House are visible. On the “High Road to California,” former President James K. Polk and his cabinet, armed with spades and pickaxes, hurry toward the goldfields. Polk, in the lead, says, “Off Boys to reap the reward of our four years labour.” The California territory was acquired from Mexico during Polk’s administration.