United States presidential election, 1844

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John Tyler

James K. Polk

The United States presidential election of 1844 saw Democrat James Knox Polk defeat Whig Henry Clay in a close contest that turned on foreign policy, with Polk favoring the annexation of Texas and Clay opposed.

Democratic nominee James K. Polk ran on a platform that embraced American territorial expansionism, an idea soon to be called Manifest Destiny. At their convention, the Democrats called for the annexation of Texas and asserted that the United States had a “clear and unquestionable” claim to “the whole” of Oregon. By informally tying the Oregon boundary dispute to the more controversial Texas debate, the Democrats appealed to both Northern expansionists (who were more adamant about the Oregon boundary) and Southern expansionists (who were more focused on annexing Texas as a slave state). Polk went on to win a narrow victory over Whig candidate Henry Clay, in part because Clay had taken a stand against expansion, although economic issues were also of great importance. (The slogan "Fifty-four Forty or Fight!” is often incorrectly regarded as being part this president's election campaign rhetoric; it became a popular slogan in the months after the election, used by those proposing the most extreme solution to the Oregon boundary dispute).

This was the last presidential election to be held on different days in different states, as starting with the presidential election of 1848 all states held the election on the same date in November.


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