Sunday, May 31, 2009

"James K. Polk" - They Might Be Giants, 1996 (geek rock)

In 1844, the Democrats were split
The three nominees for the presidential candidate
Were Martin Van Buren, a former president and an abolitionist
James Buchanan, a moderate
Louis Cass, a general and expansionist
From Nashville came a dark horse riding up
He was James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump

Austere, severe, he held few people dear
His oratory filled his foes with fear
The factions soon agreed
He's just the man we need
To bring about victory
Fulfill our manifest destiny
And annex the land the Mexicans command
And when the votes were cast the winner was
Mister James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump

In four short years he met his every goal
He seized the whole southwest from Mexico
Made sure the tariffs fell
And made the English sell the Oregon territory
He built an independent treasury
Having done all this he sought no second term
But precious few have mourned the passing of
Mister James K. Polk, our eleventh president
Young Hickory, Napoleon of the Stump

President James Knox Polk was the 11th President of the United States and the last of the Jacksonian legacy and the last strongest President to hold office before the Civil War. Yet despite his monstrous contributions to the country in his single term, he remains somewhat obscure and little discussed. This shouldn't be all that surprising, though, seeing as how he began his Presidential career in obscurity. He does, however, happen to be my favorite President.

He was the first "dark horse" President ever elected. The term "dark horse" is an old horse racing term used to describe a mount that just seems to appear from out of nowhere - no one knows who he is or anything about his career, and therefore it is difficult to forecast how he will perform. A race's "dark horse" is virtually unknown, making it difficult for gamblers to place give odds and bets on. The last of the Jacksonians, he shot out of the gate and upset Henry Clay by a nose. It was the issue of expansion that sealed the victory for Polk.

The clincher in this 1844 election was Manifest Destiny - the belief that the U.S. was destined, if not divinely ordained, to expand across the North American continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Henry Clay did not support this idea, and it cost him the election, although narrowly. In his four years as President, he did a great deal to expand the U.S., which proved to stimulate the country economically. Polk's Presidential administration did everything his campaign promised it would do, and he did it better than everyone expected him to.

Probably one of Polk's most famous contributions to America was his permanent acquisition of Oregon. It was certainly a lynch pin in his campaign. The people's feelings regarding the territory of Oregon ran so strong that adamant proponents and extremists were willing to go to war with Great Britain over it, as is evident by their slogan, "Fifty-four forty or fight!". "Fifty-four" refers to the latitude line that marked the boundary of Oregon - 54 degrees, 40 minutes (54* 40') north latitude. The Oregon Question arose as a result of competing ownerships of Britain and America. Both countries had big dreams for their claims on the Pacific Northwest. Polk never did fight for it, though. Neither country wanted an altercation over the area, and so Great Britain conceded to the U.S. and a shot was never fired.

As a result, the U.S. received permanent ownership of said territories, which eventually became the states of: Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. As a result of that, we can now offer the world: tasty potatoes and apples; grunge music and flannel shirts; a Tony award winning Shakespeare Festival; Appaloosa horses; The Simpsons (Matt Groening was born in Oregon); sportscaster Ahmad Rashad; Batman (Adam West - born in Washington); Microsoft, Windows, and home PCs in general (Bill Gates born in Washington); The Price Is Right (Bob Barker - Washington); Jimi Hendrix (born in - Washington); and an Olympic skier with a cute little name (Picabo Street - born in Idaho).

It was Polk's administration that concluded the Mexican-American War in 1848 (in conjunction with what President Tyler's administration had begun earlier), and as a result the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was signed and the United States acquired the territory of Texas. Of course, we're talking about Texas "back then". The territory of Texas "back then" consisted of what became the following states: Texas, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and parts of Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Wyoming, and Montana.

As a result of that, we are now the purveyors of: the Bonneville Salt Flats; half a google of country songs about the geography here; a place to put London Bridge; Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers; the subject for title of a U2 album (a Joshua Tree only grows in Arizona); John Denver; one half of "Dashmi" (Demi Moore born in New Mex.); The Flintstones, Yogi Bear, and most of the other cartoons on the Boomerang channel (creator William Hannah born in New Mexico); every Paris Hilton fiasco to hit the tabloids (great-grandfather Conrad Hilton born in New Mexico); Hollywood, the Silver Screen, and nearly every movie you've ever seen; "Sin City" (not the cartoon or the movie...the place); only about most of any professional ball teams that have ever held a national title; and beef, corn, wheat, and anything else that might be in your fridge (during the growing season, of course).

Polk also kept one more promise that he'd made during his campaign. He vowed that if he was elected, he would not run for a second term. That's too bad. He was one politician who actually kept his promises and one politician who arguably made the largest territorial and economic contribution to America, which resulted in an explosion of industries that put people to work and made the U.S. self sufficient and prosperous enough to be able to take care of less fortunate places. Of course, Polk's campaigns weren't the only ones to acquire new land for the U.S., but his incredibly large contribution made it possible for the U.S. to acquire land adjacent to his added territories. As a result of Polk's territorial acquisitions, the United States contains zones of nearly every Koeppen Climate classification. That means that the U.S. contains a sample of nearly every type of environment that the world has to offer. There is no other single country in the world that contains such diversity within its own borders - Mediterranean, humid sub-tropics, tropics, and tundra...from the mountains, to the prairie, to the oceans...white with foam...

"James K. Polk" - They Might Be Giants, 1996

~Information manifest from what I remember from 11th grade American History and places like these:

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