May 13, 1846: At President James K. Polk's urging, Congress approved a declaration of war against Mexico. The war would end in 1848 with the United States gaining 525,000 square miles of land, including what is now Texas, California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming.
But the war was highly controversial. It pitted President Polk in a political fight against two future presidents: Zachary Taylor and Abraham Lincoln. Polk, a Democrat, started the war by sending his top general — Taylor — and his troops to claim territory along the Rio Grande River. This was immediately denounced by Lincoln, then a leading member of Congress, who described the resulting war as unconstitutional, unnecessary, and expensive. While Taylor performed his military duty in Texas, Polk wrestled with Congressional opposition led by Lincoln in Washington. Lincoln wasn't opposed to the war itself, just that the U.S. lacked, in Lincoln's view, an exit strategy. Lincoln called President Polk "a bewildered, confounded, and miserably perplexed man." Although Polk's war was successful, he lost public support after two bloody years of fighting during which the U.S. lost 1,773 men and spent $100 million — a huge sum in those days.
May 13, 1954: President Dwight Eisenhower signed the St. Lawrence Seaway Bill, connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes.
Quote of the day
"With me it is exceptionally true that the presidency is no bed of roses." — James K. Polk
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