James K. Polk was a one-term president who didn't rate highly enough with later generations to warrant the honor of having his visage grace any of our folding money. And yet, Polk added more to America in his four years in office than any president other than Jefferson. Polk successfully negotiated a diplomatic compromise with England that gained America the Oregon Territory (which became the states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho, plus parts of Montana and Wyoming), and he successfully led the country through the Mexican-American War, which resulted in the country's acquisition of the land that became California, Nevada, Utah, much of Arizona, and little bits of Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming. All this in four years — and he entered office with the stated intent of not running for a second term. How did Polk achieve so much in one term? Robert W. Merry chronicles the four-year whirlwind of activity that fulfilled America's Manifest Destiny in his new book, A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk and the Conquest of the American Continent. Merry discusses his book at 7 p.m. at St. Louis County Library Headquarters (1640 Lindbergh Boulevard, Frontenac; 314-994-3300 or www.slcl.org). Admission is free.
Mon., Nov. 16, 2009