The Election of 1844

James Polk (170 electoral votes)
Henry Clay (105 electoral votes)

James K. Polk of Tennessee was the first “dark horse” party nominee, selected by the 1844 Democratic convention when former President Martin Van Buren’s candidacy was thwarted by a rule requiring a two-thirds majority.  Van Buren had alienated southerners by wavering on the admission of Texas to the union.  Polk promoted an expansionist program, seeking not only to consolidate the American hold on Texas (which had been annexed in the last days of the Tyler administration), but also to secure American territorial claims in the Oregon Territory and to acquire California from Mexico.  Henry Clay’s lukewarm stance toward expansion cost him his last, and best, chance to reach the presidency.  Polk’s policies led to war with Mexico, which resulted in the acquisition of California and the desert Southwest.  The Mexican cessions became the focus of the last stage in the controversy over slavery in the territories, culminating in the Civil War.

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