Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Why James K. Polk Mattered BIG TIME: As perhaps one of the most overlooked and/or underrated Presidents in American history, Polk presided over the admission of two vitally important states into the Union: Florida and Texas. Elected in 1844, he served when the idea of "Manifest Destiny" (white America's God-given right to conquer the West) hit a fever pitch. With members of Congress such as David Wilmot (Pro-Free Soil) and John C. Calhoun (Pro-Slavery) choosing sides over how westward expansion should proceed, Polk remarkably managed to maintain a pragmatic, down-the-middle approach. He (intentionally) provoked a war with Mexico in 1846 by stationing/quartering troops along the Rio Grande, which permitted Texas to consolidate its newly acquired statehood. And when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War in 1848, Polk had expanded U.S. territory by two-fifths (from Texas to what would eventually become California). Indeed, it would be another half-century before much of this territory achieved statehood, but Polk clearly left his mark.
Wednesday, July 1, 2015
On Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad: Born a slave in Dorchester County, Maryland, in 1822, not far from where famed African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass was born in 1818, Tubman had a rough childhood. Her mother "Rit" struggled to keep the family together, especially since she worked as a house servant on a large plantation while Harriet (and her brothers) frequently worked in the fields. Having been "hired out" to other plantation owners of numerous occasions, even after contracting the measles and suffering a serious head injury, Tubman vowed either to become free or die trying. Thus, on a September night in 1849, she embarked on a 90-mile journey northward along the Choptank River through Delaware and into Pennsylvania. The following year, Congress passed an infamous Fugitive Slave Law (as part of the 1850 Compromise), which allowed slave-owners to search for and forcibly retrieve their "runaway slaves" (stolen property) in any part of the country. Brushing aside the implicit danger of this new law to her freedom, Tubman sought to expand usage of the Underground Railroad (UR) for Southern slaves who wished to escape to the North. Although not literally an "Underground Railroad," the term referred to a network of safe houses or "stations" that harbored runaway slaves on their journey northward. In fact, slaves would often use the North Star as a navigational guide during their trips.