In looking back at my posts from the last year, I noticed a common theme. Most of my posts pertained to national parks in the western half of the United States. This should come as no surprise since many of the most exciting (i.e., grandest, most rugged, highest, lowest, prettiest, superlative-est) parks are located in that part of the country. However, it seemed unfair not to include some of the places identified by the National Park Service as historic sites, historic landmarks, national battlefields, and the like. Especially when you consider the fact that the majority of Americans don’t live particularly close to western wilderness areas but do live close to many of the historic sites in the eastern half of the country. As such, today’s topic (and location) is inspired by events that took place 167 years ago today.
The year is 1836, and Texas has just won its independence from Mexico. Well, a treaty was signed by the new republic and Mexico’s Santa Anna on May 14, 1836 (177 years ago tomorrow) that acknowledged Texas’ independence and set the border as the Rio Grande (aka: the Rio Bravo del Norte). And a second secret treaty was also signed which specified that Santa Anna would ensure Mexico’s recognition of Texas’ independence. Long story short, Texas acted as an independent republic from that time until 1845, even setting up Legations (a type of embassy) in London, Paris, and the District of Columbia. (The legation in London was located in Pickering Place next to Berry Brothers and Rudd [Cutty Sark scotch creator] and the Parisian Embassy was located in the building that is now the Hotel de Vendome.) Unfortunately, Mexico never acknowledged Texas’ independence and claimed that Santa Anna signed the Treaties of Velasco (Velasco is now part of Freeport, Texas) while being held captive. As such, Mexico claimed that the treaties were invalid.
Fast forward to 1845, and Texas is annexed by the United States in spite of the fact that Mexico has never officially acknowledged its independence. President Polk sent troops to the area and attempted to purchase California and New Mexico, as well as settle the Texas boundary issues.
“Hey Mexico, sorry that our negotiations failed, but I’m just letting you know that I’ll be sending troops to defend the Rio Grande, which I believe to be the new United States border.”
“Dios mio, United States. Haven’t I already made it clear that the Treaty of Velasco was invalid and that’s actually still Mexican territory? Now you’re gonna make me send my troops to the Nueces River, which is the true boundary. Plus, we need South Padre Island so we have somewhere to go on spring break each year.”
“Oh, Mexico, say it ain’t so. If you cross the Rio Grande, I must consider it an invasion and declare war on you. Plus, if you take South Padre Island, where will all of our young people go to get naked and drink illegally?”
And that’s more or less what happened. After escalating tensions and troop movements along the Texas border, President Polk asked Congress to declare war on Mexico, which it did on May 13, 1846, 167 years ago today.
So what does all this history have to do with the national parks? Well, the National Park Service has designated James K. Polk’s home, located in Columbia, Tennessee, as a National Historic Landmark.
The house was built by Polk’s father around 1816 and, aside from the White House, is our eleventh President’s only surviving residence. A Federal-style brick house, today it houses over 1000 pieces of Polk memorabilia. During Polk’s single term as President, he led the nation through the Mexican-American War and also negotiated the Oregon Territory’s border with Great Britain. A 2010 Siena Research Institute publication lists Polk as our 12th-greatest President.
IF YOU GO: The Polk House is a designated National Historic Landmark, but is not administered by the NPS. As such, fees outside of any National Parks pass apply. At the time of writing, adult admission was $7, seniors: $6, children: $4, under-six: Free, family rate: $20.
Author of Don’t Step on the Dirt and Grow Your Family Tree Online
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