President Polk


American migration into the Oregon Territory really began after the War of 1812, when we were granted equal access.  At the time, we shared this territory with the British, Spanish and Russians.

As migration increased with reports of fertile land and the opening of the Oregon Trail, American interest in claiming this territory as part of Manifest Destiny grew.

The election of James K. Polk in 1844 inspired even more interest in acquiring this territory, as Polk embodied expansionist ideas.

The Oregon Trail opened in 1836, when Marcus Whitman and his wife (missionaries attempting to convert the Indians) proved wagons could travel into the territory.  It was a long and difficult journey, filled with many dangers.  But for those who were successful were rewarded with economic opportunity!  Caravans began to move across the Great Plains, as this method offered the best protection from potential Indian attacks, and also combatted the loneliness and other dangers of the journey.  People needed to carry all that they owned inside the wagons – check out the diagram below to see how they were packed.
Oregon Trail
By the 1840’s, it was just the U.S. and the British who held on to claims for this territory.  President Polk did not have much interest in waging war to remove the British from Oregon.  We had already fought enough – and fortunately they had little interest in waging war with us.  Polk  devised what essentially worked out to be a “bluff” to get the territory.
The American settlers were excited at the thought of having this territory for themselves.  These war hawks coined the phrase, “Fifty-Four, Forty or Fight”.  This was a reference to the line of latitude at the northern end of the Oregon Territory.
President Polk recited this desire to the British, who then counter-offered to draw a compromise line along the 49th parallel, which would be a simple extension of the northern boundary of the Louisiana Territory.
It seems that Polk had already decided that this was his real desire, and it made sense.  North of the 49th was not suitable for American farming.
By BLUFFING at war, he was able to gain the portion of the Oregon Territory he wanted without further un-pleasantries.  In 1846, our northern boundary was established.

Regrettably, establishing our southern boundary would prove much more difficult!