America 1844: Religious Fervor, Westward Expansion, and the Presidential Election That Transformed the Nation
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The presidential election of 1844 was one of the two or three most momentous elections in American history. Had Henry Clay won instead of James K. Polk, we’d be living in a very different country today. Polk’s victory cemented the westward expansion that brought Texas, California, and Oregon into the union. It also took place amid religious turmoil that included anti-Mormon and anti-Catholic violence, and the “Great Disappointment,” in which thousands of followers of an obscure preacher named William Miller believed Christ would return to earth in October 1844.
Author and journalist John Bicknell details even more compelling, interwoven events that occurred during this momentous year: the murder of Joseph Smith, the religious fermentation of the Second Great Awakening, John C. Frémont’s exploration of the West, Charles Goodyear’s patenting of vulcanized rubber, the near-death of President John Tyler in a freak naval explosion, and much more. All of these elements illustrate the competing visions of the American future—Democrats versus Whigs, Mormons versus Millerites, nativists versus Catholics, those who risked the venture westward versus those who stayed safely behind—and how Polk’s election cemented the vision of a continental nation.
trust and believe, that you will fulfil it with a glory to yourself and permanent advantage to the Country.” Among the states voting on the fourth was Illinois, where the Mormon “brethren all concluded to vote for Polk and Dallas,” Nauvoo Chief of Police Hosea Stout reported. But the decision was a somber and joyless one. “It was with peculiar feelings that I went to the polls,” wrote Stout, whose thoughts that day were with “the man we had elected as the man of our choice for president of the
De Bruhl, Sword of San Jacinto, 302; Crapol, John Tyler, 198 Upshur had reason to believe … Peterson, Presidencies, 198–99; De Bruhl, Sword of San Jacinto, 302 “the only man in the country …” Peterson, Presidencies, 203–04; George McDuffie to Calhoun, March 1 and March 5, 1844, in Calhoun, Papers, vol. 17, 809, 815; Robert Barnwell Rhett to Calhoun, March 5, 1844, in Calhoun, Papers, vol. 17, 816 “whether it would meet with your approbation …” Theophilus Fisk to Polk, March 9, 1844, in Polk,
happened. On Tuesday the convention backed the two-thirds rule on a vote of 148–118. All thirteen delegates from Tennessee supported the rule. The ever-shifty James Buchanan, with the presidential gleam still in his eye, worked with Calhoun supporters to undermine Van Buren in Pennsylvania. It was, as the pro-Whig New York Tribune gleefully reported, a disaster for Van Buren, whose months of machinations in pursuit of the nomination “have all come to nought, and their house of cobs, which it has
Lewis Linn, to solidify US control over Oregon by making federal land grants. But it was far from the only reason. In some respects, the motivations of emigrants and Millerites coincided. The Panic of 1837 and the ensuing years-long depression were a spur to individuals inclined toward one or the other. Either the hard times were a sign of the end times, or they were a sign that it was time to set out for the territories. Broadly defined, overlanders were seeking opportunity—away from the more
antelope while Moses, armed with pistols and powder horn, took off to gather up their mounts. In no time he had a handle on both, but noticed that Murphy’s blanket was missing from his horse. Scouring the landscape, he saw no blanket. When he got back to where Murphy was carving up the antelope, he left the guns and the two of them went off again in search of the missing blanket. They recovered it, but when they returned to the spot where they’d left their game and guns, they found nothing. A