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The discovery of gold in California actually occurred a several weeks before the Mexicans officially sold the territory to the United States, although the news was not immediately disseminated. For Polk, the presence of gold represented a means to complete his geopolitical aims, as he could now populate the territory with Americans, ensuring its development and security. During his final State of the Union address in December, 1848 he confirmed the discovery of gold, giving official sanction to the Gold Rush, which caused California's non-Indian population to swell from less that 15,000 in 1848 to over 220,000 in 1852.

And California would prove an invaluable addition. The mineral wealth, unknown at the time of the war, would exceed one billion dollars, and California gold would help finance the Union victory over the Confederacy. American farmers soon developed and exploited the agricultural potential that the Californios had failed to tap, as California became a grain breadbasket in the 1870s and 1880s, and today still provides over a third of the nation's produce. San Francisco became a thriving international port and an American gateway to the Asia. San Diego remains one of the nation's largest naval bases, extending American military control deep into the Pacific Ocean. While many question the violent means by which Polk obtained the territory, there can be no doubt of the immense importance of the acquisition to the United States.

Could Polk have obtained California by means other than conquest? War had been brewing between the two countries since the Texas revolt, but it is unlikely any savvy Mexican leader would declare war on the more powerful United States, while Polk in 1846 deliberately provoked a war over California. Its possible, that through time and patience, diplomacy could have convinced cash strapped Mexico to sell its wayward province, although in 1846 Polk did not believe that he had the luxury of time, and diplomacy had been denied to him with Slidell's rejection. Ultimately, Polk's provocation of war was not dissimilar to Commodore ap Catesby Jones' occupation of Monterey-he feared losing control of California, and thus felt the urgent need to obtain it before anyone else could. He allowed himself to be persuaded by rumors of British intervention, yet also felt that California was too important to warrant skepticism of such rumors. In short, he believed that it was necessary and proper to fight a war in order to obtain that geopolitically important piece of territory. His logic does not embody the high moral rhetoric with which later American wars were fought ("To Liberate Cuba," [1898] "To Make the World Safe for Democracy"[1917]), rather it was based on amoral calculations, calculations that did indeed pay off. Fulfilling the goal of Manifest Destiny, Polk decisively proved the United States to be the preeminent power on the hemisphere, and laid the territorial ground work for the US to become a global superpower, poised to project its commercial and military might into both the world's oceans.


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