Robert W. Merry: A Country of Vast Designs

Recommended reading:
Staff Picks: James K. Polk & the Mexican War

The Library’s Presidential Series continues when Robert W. Merry discusses his new book about James K. Polk, one of the most controversial—and arguably one of America’s most successful single-term—presidents.

Polk was responsible for the second largest expansion of the nation’s territory, securing the Oregon Territory (about 285,000 square miles) which included Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. He then acquired an additional 525,000 square miles—including parts of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming as well as all of California, Nevada, and Utah—as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ending the Mexican-American War.

In A Country of Vast Designs, Merry casts Polk’s accomplishments against the issues of the day, including debates over slavery and expansion, the appropriate use of military force, federal power and states’ rights, civility in the public square, and the fundamental principles of American foreign policy.

Polls of history scholars conducted in recent decades generally place Polk in the top quarter of all American presidents; but much as he did during his presidency, he still generates a tremendous amount of controversy. Merry seeks to put to rest what he considers to be unfounded criticisms of Polk, including one that his expansionist tendencies were actually part of a conspiracy to extend slavery, and also draw attention to Polk’s many successes as president.

Merry has been a political reporter and publishing executive in Washington, D.C., for 35 years. He spent 12 years covering Congress, the White House, and national politics for the Wall Street Journal and recently ended 22 years as an executive at Congressional Quarterly, Inc., including the last dozen years as CEO.

Copies of A Country of Vast Designs will be available for sale, and the author will sign copies purchased during the event.


Robert W. Merry: A Country of Vast Designs

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