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President Polk and Economic Legislation

Paul H. Bergeron
Presidential Studies Quarterly
Vol. 15, No. 4, Perspectives on the Presidency (Fall, 1985), pp. 782-795
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27550277
Page Count: 14
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
President Polk and Economic Legislation
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Abstract

In this essay, I examine domestic economic legislation during the Polk administration, a topic usually given short shrift because of the attention lavished upon the monumental questions of Texas annexation, Oregon negotiations, and the acquisition of California and New Mexico through the Mexican War. President Polk was strongly committed to two pieces of economic legislation: downward revision of the tariff; and the creation of a Constitutional or Independent Treasury. This essay discusses and examines how the President worked to achieve acceptance of both. The third major focus is upon the internal improvements legislation, bills vigorously opposed by the President. Although from time to time Congress mustered enough support to pass rivers and harbors bills, Polk fought back with threats and vetoes and eventually won this battle also. While there is no doubt that political power plays were a part of the story of how the President and the Congress interacted on matters such as the tariff, the Independent Treasury, and the internal improvements bills, there is likewise sufficient evidence to demonstrate that, from the President's vantage point, these matters also involved ideology and convictions about the federal government. The essay attempts to make the latter a genuine part of the considerations at stake between the President and at least some members of Congress. Polk rightfully deserves credit for molding and shaping domestic economic legislation. Whether agreeing or disagreeing with his position, one must concede that Polk was very effective — much as he was in the area of foreign relations. Apart from waging war, Polk wanted a very limited central government; his economic legislation clearly reflected his views.

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