NYTimes book review by Sean Wilentz,
Robert W. Merry’s book is a refreshing challenge to the new conventional wisdom. Polk, in Merry’s view, certainly was an ambitious expansionist, but in this he merely reflected the electorate’s passionate desire to push the country ever westward. Enlarging and then consolidating the United States as a transcontinental nation would, by the lights of Polk and his supporters, greatly enhance the wealth, power and legitimacy of what was still, in 1845, the lone democratic republic in a world ruled by monarchs, despots and aristocrats.
Mexico, far from being a passive, innocent victim of America’s lust for power and land, was ruled by a succession of corrupt, conservative, autocratic and truculent governments that administered a republic in name only, one that was distorted by centuries of domination by the Spanish crown and the Roman Catholic Church. Polk was not blameless, Merry writes, especially in owning up to his larger territorial ambitions, “but the critics of Polk’s war consistently ignore the role of Mexico in these momentous events.” And, Merry argues persuasively, the antiwar charges that Polk was a tool of the Slave Power were simply false.