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ADMINISTRATION OF POLK.
On the fourth of March, 1845, James K. Polk was inaugurated as president of the United States. A concourse of people seldom congregated in the city of Washington were present to witness the ceremony. The weather proved unfavorable. The morning was lowering; and before the procession reached the capitol it commenced raining, and continued wet during the day, marring the enjoyments, and defeating the expectations of many, also much of the intended exhibition and display.
The ceremony at the capitol was imposing. The occasion was one of those striking displays of our republican system which he must be a stoic indeed that could contemplate with indifference. The flagstaffs of the whigs, as well as those of their triumphant rivals, were decorated, as an acknowledgment that the chief of the nation was there, and must be recognised.
The inaugural procession moved about eleven o'clock, A. M., from the quarters of the president elect, at Coleman's hotel, to the capitol, under the direction of General M*Calla and his aids. In the procession were the military Washington, officers and soldiers of the revolution, the clergy, president elect and his predecessor, in an open carriage, President Tyler's cabinet, justices of the supreme court, diplomatic corps, members and exmembers of Congress, members of the Baltimore democratic national convention of 1844, officers of the army and navy, &c., democratic associations and clubs of the District of Columbia, and others from a distance, among whom was a detachment of the Empire club of the city of New York, citizens of states and territories, citizens of the District of Columbia, & c.
The senate convened at eleven o'clock, A. M. The oath being administered to Hon. George M. Dallas, vice-president elect, he delivered a brief address to the senators on taking his seat, after which the new senators were qualified. The justices of the supreme court, in gowns, and the diplomatic corps, twenty-nine in number, entered and took their seats; also General Scott, and other officers of the army
navy the president elect, Mr. Polk, attended by President Tyler and Senator
Woodbury, entered the senate-chamber, when a procession was formed to the platform on the east front of the capitol, from which the president delivered his inaugural address. Chief-Justice Taney, then administered to the president the oath of office, after which the president, quitting the capitol, drove rapidly, by an indirect route, to the president's house, where he received, during the afternoon, the congratulations of his fellow-citi
In the evening he and his lady attended the two inauguration balls which were given in the city.
The senate being in session, the president, on the fifth of March, made the following nominations for members of the cabinet, which were confirmed: James Buchanan, of Pennsylvania, secretary of state ; Robert J. Walker, of Mississippi, secretary of the treasury ; William L. Marcy, of New York, secretary of war; George Bancroft, of Massachusetts, secretary of the navy ; Cave Johnson, of Tennessee, postmaster-general; John Y. Mason, of Virginia, attorney-general.
The tone of the inaugural address of Mr. Polk, on the subjects of the annexation of Texas to the territory of the United States, and of the occupation of the whole of Oregon, both of which questions had been adopted as watchwords by the democratic party, which had been triumphant at the recent presidential election, showed that the new administration entered upon its duties at a critical period, in the foreign relations of the United States. On the one hand, the annexation of Texas threatened to involve the nation in hostilities with Mexico, as the constituted authorities of that republic, had declared that they should view the admission of Texas into the Union of the North American republic of states, as an act of hostility toward Mexico ; while, on the other hand, the claims of Great Britain to a large proportion of the Oregon territory, were not to be disregarded, without the danger of a rupture between that powerful kingdom and the United States.
With regard to the Texas question, resolutions for annexing that republic to the United States, had passed both houses of Congress (as we have stated on page 1427), and were approved by President Tyler, on the first of March, 1845, being one of the last acts of his administration. These resolutions of annexation had been objected to by Messrs. Benton and Bagby, senators of the democratic party, on the ground of its being indispensable to the accomplishment of annexation, that a treaty must be made with the government of Texas, as a foreign power, and that the treatymaking power, by the constitution, is vested in the president and senate, and not in Congress. At the suggestion of those two senators, an amendment was added to the resolutions from the house of representatives, giving a discretion to the president to adopt the latter method, of proceeding by treaty, if he thought proper, instead of the method of direct annexation contemplated by the resolutions from the house. It was understood that without that modification, the resolutions which passed the senate by a majority of two votes, would not have received the votes of those two senators, and consequently, the measure of annexation would not have been carried. How far the constitutional objections of senators Benton and Bagby were obviated by the amendment, seems to have depended entirely upon their faith in the president's selecting the course they deemed to be in accordance with the constitution.
It was believed by some of the friends of the president elect, that he would immediately proceed to negotiate a treaty with Texas, to consummate the act of annexation, and which on being submitted to the senate would be approved, and thus the constitutional objections of many would be obviated. But the action of President Tyler, in the short space of time allowed him after the passage of the Texas resolutions before retiring from the presidency, anticipated the necessity of any decision on the part of President Polk, and hurried the annexation of Texas to the United States without the formality of treaty. On the third of March, the last day of his term of office, President Tyler despatched a messenger to deliver to Mr. Donelson, chargé d'affaires to Texas, the joint resolutions of Congress for the admission of Texas into the Union, instructing the chargé to communicate to the Texan government, information, that he, as president of the United States, had made his election as to the alternative contained in the resolutions of Congress, looking to the admission of Texas into the Union — namely, that he had chosen the alternative of immediate annexation, as proposed by the original resolutions, instead of negotiating by treaty, as proposed by the amendment. The course of Mr. Tyler, in thus forestalling the action of the new president, was much censured by many of the friends of the incoming administration. The leading democratic journal at Washington, the Globe, remarked on this subject, that “to the chief magistrate chosen by the people with an especial eye to this question, alone, it is notorious the discretion confided in the act of Congress was intended to apply. It is clear that as Mr. Tyler began his presidential career in virtue of an accident, that he meant to take the benefit of the whole chapter of accidents, to blend himself with results having their origin in the counsels of Generals Jackson and Houston, and which his inauspicious management has so far marred in their progress."
The resolutions of Congress annexing Texas to the United States, and admitting that republic into the Union, were submitted by the president of Texas to a convention of delegates, called for the purpose of forming a state constitution, and were assented to by that body in behalf of the people of Texas, on the fourth of July, 1845, and thus Texas became part of the United States.
The convention of Texas having authorized and requested the president of the United States to occupy and establish posts without delay upon the frontier and exposed positions of that republic, and to introduce such forces as were deemed necessary for the defence of the territory and people of Texas, an "army of occupation" was despatched from the United States, under the command of General Taylor, and on the twenty-sixth of July, a body of United States troops landed from steam-vessels at Aransas bay, on which day the American flag was first planted in Texas, by authority, upon the south end of St. Joseph's island. This movement, with the
, measures of annexation agreed upon by the United States and Texas, were looked upon by the Mexican government as acts of hostility toward Mexico, and preparations were made by the republic for an appeal to arms.
In addition to the difficulties arising from the Texas question, there were other grounds of dispute between the United States and Mexico. In the wars between Spain and Mexico, caused by the attempts of the mothercountry to resubjugate her colonies in America, as well as in the civil wars which occasionally convulsed the Mexican nation, the authorities of the latter power resorted to the most illegal measures to replenish their coffers. The proximity of the United States, and the extent of their commerce in the gulf, exposed them to the depredations of a government generally controlled by military chieftains, and thus were the pacific relations between the two republics often interrupted. Vessels under the American flag were plundered, and the property of American merchants confiscated. Blockades were attempted to be enforced by one contending party against the other, during the civil wars which distracted the republic of Mexico, and consequently the commerce of other nations was seriously injured by seizures under regulations and enactments which often appeared to have been unjustly and arbitrarily established.
The government of the United States remonstrated against the illegal seizures of the property of their citizens. Promises of redress were postponed or evaded, until at length a treaty of amity, commerce, and navigation, was concluded between the two republics, in April, 1831. But this did not terminate the aggressions of Mexico upon American commerce, and further remonstrances on the part of the United States, and delay on the part of Mexico, took place, until a new negotiation was opened in 1839, and a commissioner appointed for the adjustment of claims of American citizens, which commissioners met in 1840. The amount of claims in the aggregate was over six millions of dollars, over two millions of which were admitted, and the remaining four millions were left undecided, when the commission expired in February, 1842.
By another convention, concluded in January, 1843, the sum acknowledged and awarded to the American claimants, was admitted, by the Mexican government, and for the accommodation of the latter, the payment was divided into twenty instalments, three of which, with the interest due on the thirtieth of April, 1839, were paid, but the remaining instalments, commencing with that payable in April, 1844, were still due by Mexico on the breaking out of hostilities. The convention of January, 1843, also made provision for another convention for the settlement of the remaining claims; in accordance with which, a third convention was signed at the city of Mexico, on the twentieth of November, 1843. This convention was ratified by the senate of the United States, with two amendments, which were considered just and reasonable. Although the subject was repeatedly urged upon the consideration of the Mexican government, she did not decide whether she would or would not accede to those amendments.
On the sixth of March, 1845, General Almonte, the Mexican minister to the United States, protested against the resolutions of Congress, providing for the annexation of Texas, and demanded his passports, which were granted ; and on the 2d of April, the American minister in Mexico was refused all intercourse with that government, upon the ground that the government of Mexico could not continue diplomatic relations with the United States, upon the presumption that such relations were reconcilable with the law of annexation. Herrera, the Mexican president, issued a proclamation on the 4th of June, 1845, declaring that the annexation of Texas in nowise destroyed the rights of Mexico, and that she would maintain them by force of arms. Two decrees of the Mexican Congress were affixed to this proclamation, providing for calling out all the armed forces of the nation.
Under these circumstances the diplomatic intercourse between the two republics was interrupted, and this state of things existed from the spring of 1845, until the commencement of actual hostilities in 1846.
The settlement of the northwestern boundary, between the United States and the territories of Great Britain, comprehending the claims of both powers to the Oregon territory, had long been a subject of negotia. tion. Three several unsuccessful attempts had been made to settle the questions in dispute between the two countries, by negotiation upon the principle of compromise. These negotiations took place at London, in the years 1818, 1824, and 1826 ; the first two under the administration of Mr. Monroe, and the last under that of Mr. Adams. By the convention of October, 1818, a system of joint occupancy of the Oregon territory, by American and British subjects was agreed upon, and the negotiation of 1826, resulted in the convention of August, 1827, by which it was agreed to continue the joint occupation for an indefinite period, and that it should be competent for either of the contracting parties, after the 20th of October, 1828, on giving due notice of twelve months to the other contracting party, to annul and abrogate the agreement of joint occupation.
Thus the Oregon question stood when President Polk came into power. Although, as he had declared previously to his election, he considered the American title good to the whole of Oregon, and that the British claims could not be maintained to any portion of that territory, he deemed it his duty to renew the propositions of compromise which had been made by
* Jenkins's History of the War with Mexico.