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  • Online publication date: December 2014

2 - Ideology, Revenue and Financial System


James K. Polk entered the White House determined to pass the Jacksonian financial agenda and to expand the nation's boundaries. He had devoted his career to furtherance of Jacksonian policies and refused to allow war, the threat of war or national divisions to detract from his mission. Besides the annexation of Texas, Polk set four major goals for his administration: settlement of the Oregon question, acquisition of California, passage of a revenue tariff and re-establishment of the Independent Treasury. By the late spring of 1846 the foreign agenda was well underway, thought not as Polk wished or expected. As unsatisfactory as many Americans found it, the division of the Oregon Territory along the 49th parallel did provide a clear title up to that point and allowed settlement to begin in earnest. Upon the outbreak of war with Mexico the administration took immediate steps to occupy California and New Mexico. Political opposition and the war itself, however, placed the domestic measures in doubt. Polk, watching fretfully from the White House, pressed the Democrats in Congress for action. ‘I considered the public good’, he subsequently informed Senator Dixon Lewis, ‘as well as my own power and the glory of my administration, depended in a great degree upon my success in carrying them through Congress’. At the beginning of the summer few indications were present that the first session of the Twenty-Ninth Congress would, according to historian Charles Sellers, ‘be the most remarkable congressional session of the nineteenth century’. The financial and monetary issues that racked the Jacksonian era were nearing settlement.

War financing introduced the one new element in the decade-long controversy over financial issues and the powers of the federal government. Otherwise, neither the administration's programme nor the political rhetoric offered anything different. Debates during the Jackson, Van Buren and Tyler presidencies had exhausted the ideas of supporters and opponents of tariff reform, the Independent Treasury, a warehousing system and the graduated sale of public land.