Compromise Was Not an Option in Polk’s ’54-40 or Fight!’ Era

As the debates of our day rage on, there is a severe danger that our nation may soon lose focus on what is truly important. The modern age has brought us wealth and prosperity, but what has happened to our country’s perspective? Have we sacrificed the ideals of America and of the great leaders who have guided its way for a moment of ease and empty safety? America’s future lies in understanding its past. Dark days will be ahead if we forget the words of our founding fathers. To that end, I ask you to remember these great words:

“Fifty-four forty or fight!”

These words are as true today as when they were spoken by President James K. Polk in 1844. They speak to greatness and moral vigor of the American people, an idealism that summed up the American experience. In 1844, the United States disputed with Great Britain over who owned the entirety of the Oregon Territory. The United States claimed the entire region, up to its northern border, latitude 54 degrees 40 minutes, hence the slogan.

And now, what has happened to that grand ideal? Well, look at a map. Northern Oregon is now known as “British” Columbia. To make matters worse, it is owned by, and how it hurts me to say this, Canada. Canada! How low has this nation fallen when the words of great men, like Polk, are forgotten? Historians say that the partition of the Oregon Territory in 1846 was a great compromise, but I say to them, “Nay!” There will be no compromise on such an important issue. How will you explain to your children that America’s future was sold, sold for the price of compromise? For shame.

There shall be no compromise. “Fifty-four forty or fight!” These words are part of our nation’s heritage and must not be forsaken. Even though they are over 150 years old, and we have no reason to quarrel with our Canadian neighbors, we must hold true to ideals. Of course, much has changed in the past century and a half. There are cars and planes now, we live packed in cities and not scattered in shacks in the woods, and Vancouver is basically America Light, but . I lost my point.

Ah yes. Just because these words are over a century old, it does not mean that they have lost their meaning. They are the statements of the men who built this country’s foundation. Moreover, we still have strong bonds of affection with these nation-builders. We are a diverse community, with cultural links all around the world. All – man, woman, Christian, Protestant, Muslim, black, white – have striven far in promoting equality and liberty.

The same is true for the founding fathers of Manifest Destiny. en like Polk, Horace Greeley and poor William Henry Harrison (he died 30 days after his inauguration as president – such is the lot of visionaries. For shame.) all share much with the Americans of today. They were enterprising, free-thinking . white men, who, for the most part, didn’t like Catholics, Jews, etc. and certainly didn’t think much of giving women any political power or economic freedom. And they weren’t much for racial minorities, either. A good number of them owned slaves, I think.


This comparison is over!

That aside, their ideas are still tenets of American society. Think, what is more American than threatening violence over seemingly negotiable issues (See also Spanish-American War, Bay of Pigs, Grenada 1983, Libya 1985.) You see, if we give up these steadfast and uncompromisable positions, what do we become? We become what we all deeply fear: we become reasonable beings, capable of solving problems and disputes in a civilized fashion. In other words, we become like those shifty Canadians who have stolen what should rightfully be called North Oregon. Should we be like them? Should we base our decisions on reason and what is correct for our current society?

Nay! If we want our country to achieve the glory it did in its greatest decade, the 1840s, we must unflaggingly pursue the words of men, long-dead, but long-remembered. Where have you gone James K. Polk? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Fifty-four forty or fight! These are not just words for the past; they are our country’s future. They are your children’s futures. Don’t let a lousy sesquicentennial get between you and the truth.

Slowly Losing My Mind appears every other Tuesday in The Hoya.

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