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Last Best Hope of Earth

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Foreign Policy

A Conspiracy Emerges

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James Polk.

Amidst the Mexican-American War, a conspiracy emerged involving President James Polk and the exiled leader of Mexico, Santa Anna. Not only would this conspiracy embolden Whigs but Democrats would also come down on President Polk for his actions.

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Dissent Between Two Presidents

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James Buchanan.

Leading up to President James Polk’s May 13, 1846 announcement of the Mexican-American War, tension arose between President Polk and the Secretary of State, James Buchanan.

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The Start of the Mexican-American War

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War News From Mexico. By: Richard Caton Woodville.

On the evening of April 24, 1846, Captain Seth Thornton and 68 American dragoons “went to confirm intelligence that a Mexican military force had crossed the Rio Grande” just miles away from where Brigadier General Zachary Taylor was camped. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 731.

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The Most Effective President

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Inauguration of James Polk. By: Granger.

James Polk, after winning the Election of 1844, set an agenda for what he hoped to accomplish during his presidency. Rather than elaborate on this agenda during his inaugural address, President Polk instead remained secretive. See Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 708.

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The Whigs’ Manifest Destiny

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William Ellery Channing. By: Henry Cheever Pratt.

The Whigs had their own approach to interpreting manifest destiny, and that approach mainly applied to shaping America’s foreign policy.

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The Annexation of Texas

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President John Tyler.

President John Tyler sought to achieve much success in foreign affairs during his presidency, and part of that success, he imagined, would be accomplished through expansion of the country. See Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 677. The annexation of the Republic of Texas to be the 28th state in the Union was to be his goal.

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The Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842

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Daniel Webster.

Daniel Webster, the Secretary of State under President John Tyler, brought a breadth of experience and dignity to the office, but he also brought “a different perspective on Anglo-American relations.” Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 672.

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The Monroe Doctrine

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James Monroe.

President James Monroe has been known for centuries as the architect of a fundamental foreign policy doctrine: the Monroe Doctrine.

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Setting the Stage for the War of 1812

Landscape Painting of Georgia.

In the early Republic, trading became a staple of the American economy, which affected American relations with other countries in drastic ways.

American merchants “brought home products from Canton, China, and ports in the Indian Ocean, including teas, coffee, chinaware, spices, and silks, before shipping them on to Europe . . . .” Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty, 623. America imported goods from Europe only to export them to “the West Indies, South America, and elsewhere.” Id. However, perhaps most surprisingly, between 1795 and 1805, “American trade with India was greater than that of all the European nations combined.” Id. citing Ted Widmer, Ark of the Liberties: America and the World (New York, 2008), 66.

Much of this trading arose out of the fact that America had not transformed into a purely industrial, manufacturing economy as much of Europe had during this time period. Rather, many Americans maintained their farming and picked up trading and other practices to make virtually all Americans participants in a massive national and international economic system. See Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty, 627. These changes had domestic political implications, with the Republicans satisfied with the economic system and the Federalists believing it was an underachieving system. Id.

The Republicans wanted to raise America’s status in the world, rather than solely focus on the state of the economy like the Federalists. Id. at 629. The Republicans wanted to create a system that prevented war from occurring and would also make America a recognized force to be reckoned with on the international stage. Id.

Republicans ultimately took actions that surprised other countries’ officials. For example, the Republicans replaced diplomatic missions with consuls who handled international trade. A Russian official commented that Americans were “singular,” and wanted “commercial ties without political ties,” which was widely considered an impossibility at the time. Id. at 632 citing Irving Brant, James Madison: The President, 1809-1812 (Indianapolis, 1956), 69.

These actions by the early Americans were largely intended to distinguish America as a player on the international stage. Perhaps out of a desire to show the world that America was not England and certainly was its own country who had its own policies, the Republicans underwent this course of action, much to the chagrin of the English and to some other government officials.

The Americans were eager to distinguish themselves and to build an economy that was sustainable. The ongoing war between Napoleonic France and England partially allowed America to use its resources to build its trade routes and grow its economy.

Some may look to these events as some of the earliest examples of American exceptionalism, which would perhaps be a keen observation. These early years of the Republic would ultimately set the stage for the War of 1812, but for the time being, Americans would have been content knowing that the economy was growing, trade was blossoming, and they were building the new country.

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