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When James K. Polk was elected president in 1844, the United States was locked in a bitter diplomatic struggle with Britain over the rich lands of the Oregon Territory. Texas, not yet part of the Union, was threatened by a more powerful Mexico. And the territories north and west of Texas – what would become California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and part of Colorado – belonged to Mexico. When Polk relinquished office four years later, the country had grown by more than a third as all these lands were added. The continental United States, as we know it today, was established – facing two oceans and positioned to dominate both. It was a time of tremendous clashing forces. A surging anti-slavery sentiment was at the center of the territorial fight. The struggle between a slave-owning South and an opposing North was leading inexorably to Civil War. In A Country of Vast Designs, Robert Merry examines Polk’s one-term presidency and the controversies of the era – a crucial epoch in U.S. history.
Robert W. Merry has been a Washington, D.C., journalist and publishing executive for thirty-five years, including a decade as a Wall Street Journal correspondent and a dozen years a President and Editor-in-Chief of Congressional Quarterly, Inc. He is also the author of the award-winning Sands of Empire: Missionary Zeal, American Foreign Policy, and the Hazards of Global Ambition and Taking On the World: Joseph and Stewart Alsop – Guardians of the American Century.
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Robert W. Merry
John Edward Hilboldt
Director, Lectures & Seminars