| This Country of Ours|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|Stories from the history of the United States beginning with a full account of exploration and settlement and ending with the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. The 99 chapters are grouped under 7 headings: Stories of Explorers and Pioneers, Stories of Virginia, Stories of New England, Stories of the Middle and Southern Colonies, Stories of the French in America, Stories of the Struggle for Liberty, and Stories of the United States under the Constitution. Ages 10-14 |
POLK—HOW MUCH LAND WAS ADDED TO THE UNITED STATES
 IN 1845 Tyler's term expired and James Knox Polk became President.
He had been a long time in Congress, and had been Speaker of the
House for four years. Yet nobody had heard very much about him, and
nearly everyone was surprised when his party succeeded in electing
During Polk's term of office three states were admitted to the
Union. The first of these was the great State of Texas. After the
Louisiana Purchase the United States had claimed Texas as part of
Louisiana. But the Spaniards to whom all Mexico belonged disputed
their claim, and declared that Texas belonged to them. The dispute
went on until the United States bought Florida from Spain. Then in
part payment for Florida the Americans gave up all claim to Texas.
But really this agreement could matter little to Spain, for the
Mexicans were already in revolt, and in 1821 declared themselves
Meanwhile many Americans began to settle in Texas. The United States
Government began to feel sorry that they had given it up, and they
tried to buy it from the Mexicans. The Mexicans, however, refused
to sell it. But many men in the southern states became more and
more anxious to get Texas. Because they saw that if they did not
get some more territory free states would soon outnumber slave
states. For all the land south of the Missouri Compromise line had
been used up, the only part
 left being set aside as Indian Territory.
In the north on the other hand there was still land enough out of
which to carve four or five states.
All the Americans who had settled in Texas were slave holders. And
when Mexico abolished slavery Texas refused to do so. This refusal
of course brought trouble, and at length the Texans, declaring that
the government of Mexico was tyrannical, rose in rebellion against
Mexico, and declared themselves a republic.
But the Mexicans would not allow this great territory to revolt
without an effort to keep it. So they sent an army to fight the
Texans. The leader of the Mexican army was Santa Anna, the Mexican
President. The leader of the Texans was General Sam Houston.
Sam Houston was an adventurous American who a year or two before had
settled in Texas. He had had a varied life. He had been a soldier,
a lawyer, a Congressman, and finally Governor of a state. Then
he had suddenly thrown everything up, had gone to live among the
Indians, and was adopted into an Indian tribe.
While he was living with the Indians wild stories of his doings
were spread about. One story was that he meant to conquer Texas,
and make himself Emperor of that country. But Houston had really
no intention of founding a nation.
In the war with Texas the Mexicans were at first successful, and
the terrified people fled before them. But at the battle of San
Jacinto the Texans utterly defeated the Mexicans. The rout was
complete and the Mexicans fled in every direction, among them their
leader, Santa Anna.
Mounted on a splendid black horse he fled toward a bridge crossing
a river which flowed near. But when he reached the bridge he found
that the Texans had destroyed it. He was being hotly pursued by
the enemy. So
with-  out pausing a moment he spurred his horse into
the river, swam across, and to the surprise of his pursuers climbed
the steep cliff of the opposite side, and disappeared.
Darkness now fell and the Texans gave up the pursuit. But next morning
they set out again to scour the country in search of fugitives.
Meanwhile Santa Anna, having abandoned his horse and changed
his clothes in a forsaken cottage, was trying to make his way to
the Mexican border. Presently, however, one of the search parties
came upon a little man dressed in blue cotton coat and trousers,
a leather cap and red woollen slippers. He was a miserable looking
object, and when he saw the Texans approach he tried to hide himself
in the grass. He was soon found, however, and when the Texans asked
him who he was he said he was a private soldier.
The Texans then told him to follow them to the camp. And when
he said he could not walk he mounted on one of their horses, and,
riding behind a Texan, he was led into camp.
The Texans had no idea who they had captured until they reached
their camp. Then when the Mexican prisoners saw the queer little
figure they exclaimed, "The President! the President!" Only then
did the Texans discover what a great man they had captured.
Houston had been wounded in the battle, and was lying on a mattress
under the tree when Santa Anna was led before him.
"I am General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna," said the prisoner, "and
a prisoner of war at your disposal."
Houston looked at him in silence, and then signed him to sit down
on a box which stood near. And there under the spreading branches
of the tree a truce was arranged, and Santa Anna wrote letters to
his generals telling them to cease fighting.
The Texans wanted to hang Santa Anna for his cruelties
 during the
war, but Houston saved him from their wrath, and after he had signed
a treaty acknowledging the independence of Texas he was set free.
Texas now declared itself a republic, and of this new State General
Sam Houston—"Old Sam Jacinto," as he was affectionately
nicknamed—was chosen President. The flag chosen for the Republic was blue
with a single yellow star in the middle, and from this flag Texas
came to be called the Lone Star State.
The Texans had declared themselves a free and independent nation.
But as a republic Texas was very small, and the Texans had no
intention of remaining a lonely insignificant republic. What they
desired was to join the United States. And very soon they asked to
be admitted to the Union.
But Texas lay south of the Missouri Compromise line, and although
small for an independent republic it was huge for a state, and
might be cut up into three or four. Therefore the people in the
North were very much against Texas being admitted to the Union as
it would increase the strength of the slave states enormously. But
the Southerners were determined to have Texas, and at last in 1845
it was admitted as a slave state. The two last states which had
been added to the Union, that is, Florida and Texas, were both
slave states. But they were soon balanced by two free states, Iowa
Iowa is an Indian name meaning "Sleepy Ones." The state was called
after a tribe of Indians of that name who were there when the
Frenchmen first explored the country. It was the first free state
to be carved out of the Louisiana Purchase.
Wisconsin was part of the Northwest Territory and was the last part
of it to be organised as a state. Like many other states Wisconsin
takes its name from its chief river, which means "Gathering Waters."
There are many lead
 mines in Wisconsin and these had been worked
in a poor sort of way by the Indians, and when white people began
to work them there was trouble between them and the Redmen.
At different times Red Bird and Black Hawk rose against the
whites, but both were defeated. At length the disputes were settled
by treaties with the Indians and the land began to be peopled by
Wisconsin is often called the Badger State. It got this name not
because badgers are to be found there, but because the lead miners,
instead of building houses, used to dig out caves in the hillsides
and live in them summer and winter. From this they were nicknamed
Badgers, and the state became known as the Badger State.
Besides Texas, another great territory was added to the States at
this time, and another boundary dispute between British America
and the United States was settled.
For many years both Britain and the United States had claimed the
Oregon Territory. The Americans claimed it by right of Captain
Grey's discovery of the Columbia River, and also by right of the
exploration of Lewis and Clark. The British claimed it by right of
the discoveries of Sir Alexander Mackenzie, and also on the ground
that it had been occupied by Hudson's Bay Company.
Three times attempts had been made to settle the boundary, but each
time the attempts had failed. At length the two countries agreed
to occupy it jointly. This arrangement was to come to an end by
either country giving a year's notice.
President Polk's appetite for land was huge. He wanted the whole of
Oregon for the United States. So in 1846 the joint agreement came
to an end, and new efforts for final settlement began.
Many others were as eager as the President to have the whole
of Oregon, and "Fifty-four Forty or Fight" became
 a battle-cry.
Fifty-four Forty was the imaginary line or parallel of latitude on
the north of the disputed territory. So that the cry "Fifty-four
Forty or Fight" meant that these hotspurs demanded the whole of
Oregon or war with Great Britain.
On the other hand some people thought a ridiculous fuss was being
made over an utterly useless piece of land.
"What do we want with it?" they said. "What are we to do with it?
How could a bit of land five thousand miles away ever become part
of the United States? It is absurd!"
Steam, said someone, would make it possible. Railways would bring
Oregon near to the seat of government.
"Steam!" cried the objectors. "Railways across the Rocky Mountains!
The British on their side did not want the whole of Oregon, but
they wanted the land as far south as the Columbia River.
However in the end both sides gave way a little. It was agreed to
halve the country, and the parallel 49 was taken as the boundary.
Thus another large territory was added to the States and the northern
frontiers peacefully settled from east to west.
But Polk's land hunger was not yet satisfied. He had half of Oregon,
he had the whole of Texas, but he wanted more. He wanted California,
but California belonged to Mexico. He tried to buy it from Mexico,
but Mexico would not sell it. Polk, however, was determined to have
it. So determined was he that he made up his mind to fight for it,
if there was no other way of getting it.
It was easy to find an excuse for war. The boundaries of Texas were
very uncertain, and a tract of land lying east of the Rio Grande
River was claimed by both Texas and by Mexico. In 1846 Polk sent
an army to take possession of this land.
General Zachary Taylor was in command of this
expedi-  tion. And when
he arrived near the mouth of the Rio Grande and began to build a
fort the Mexicans were very angry. They sent him a message ordering
him to be gone in twenty-four hours.
Of course Taylor refused to go, and he began to blockade the river,
so as to stop trade with Mexico.
The Mexicans then made ready to fight, and next morning they attacked
and captured a scouting party of Americans.
When the news reached Washington there was great excitement.
"Mexico has passed the boundary of the United States," declared the
President, "has invaded our territory, and shed American blood on
"War exists," he said, "notwithstanding all our efforts to avoid
it, exists by the act of Mexico herself."
Some of the people, however, did not believe that Mexico was wholly
to blame for beginning the war. And a young Congressman named Abraham
Lincoln asked the President to state the exact spot on American
territory where American blood had been spilled. This was called
the "Spot resolution."
But in spite of any protest that was made war was declared, and
volunteers came pouring in from every side.
The war lasted for a year and a half, and from the first the
Mexicans had the worst of it. Throughout the whole war they never
won a battle. Besides General Taylor's army the Mexicans soon had
two more to fight. In the north General Kearney marched into New
Mexico and took possession of it in the name of the United States.
Then he marched into California and claimed that also. In the
south the Commander-in-Chief, General Scott, landed at Vera Cruz.
And after taking the town he marched triumphantly on, conquering
everything on his way till he reached Mexico City, and the war was
practically at an end.
 It was not, however, until February of the following year that the
treaty of peace was signed in Mexico and not till the 4th of July
was it proclaimed in Washington. By it a great tract of land was
given to the United States, stretching from the borders of Texas
to the shores of the Pacific and from the present northern border
of Mexico to Oregon.
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