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This Volume




The life of any American President, I feel confident, would not need to be specially commended to the attention of his countrymen,—and certainly not that of James K. Polk,--for whatever may be the opinions entertained in regard to the administration of which he was the head, it must be conceded that great and important measures were submitted to their consideration and action, and that interests of the deepest magnitude were confided to their hands.

Mr. Polk could not have said, with Augustus Cæsar, that he found the capital of the republic built of brick, and left it constructed of marble ; but he might have claimed that he found her territories bounded on the south by the Sabine and the 42d parallel, and her authority west of the Rocky Mountains existing only in name,--and when he transferred the government to other hands, New Mexico and California were annexed to her domain, and her flag floated in token of sovereignty on

the banks of the Rio Grande, on the shores of the Straits of Fuca, and in the bay of San Francisco.

How and in what manner these territorial acquisitions were made, is a question worthy of inquiry. Mr. Polk did not want for able defenders to vindicate the policy of his administration; nor did his conduct escape censure and criticism. By some, as in the pamphlet of the late Mr. Gallatin, one of the most important measures with which the late President was identified the war with Mexico was reviewed in a spirit of candor and frankness, yet, as I think, under the influence of erroneous impressions with regard to the facts upon which conclusions were based; and by others, as in the Review of Mr. Jay and the productions of those who have followed in his wakesed longo intervallowith pure and honest motives, but with dogmatic assumptions, and appeals to the passions and the sympathies, rather than with well-founded arguments.

It is not claimed for this volume, that it is entirely impartial. Entertaining his own views in all sincerity, the writer has not hesitated to express them; and this right he is quite willing should be exercised by those who differ from him in opinion.

It has not appeared to me to be advisable, to present a detailed history of the war in Mexico, for two reasons. In the first place, so much has been written on the sub

ject, that there is very little left to add to the accounts of the campaigns; and secondly, it would seem like claiming for Mr. Polk individually, the merit of transactions in which he had no direct participation, and therefore doing his memory a positive injustice.

Aside from all political considerations, there is something in the character of Mr. Polk, in his early struggles and in his triumphs, which is worthy of notice, and will challenge admiration. “There is nothing so interesting to me,” says Joanna Baillie, as to trace the course of a prosperous man through this varied world. First, he is seen like a little stream, wearing its shallow bed through the grass, circling and winding, and gleaning up its treasures from every twinkling rill as it passes; further on, the brown sand fences its margin, the dark rushes thicken on its side; further on still, the broad flags shake their green ranks, the willows bend their wide boughs o’er its course; and yonder, at last, the fair river appears, spreading his bright waves to the light."*

For a great portion of the materials from which this book has been prepared, I am indebted to the kindness of many friends, all of whom I could scarcely enumerate; but cach individually will please accept my sincere thanks.

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