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Facts

Filibuster, Filibusters, Filibustering

This term is more commonly known today as an obstructionist tactic employed in legislative assemblies, especially the Senate. But in the nineteenth century, it had a very specific meaning: it referred to the act of Americans venturing into neighboring countries with which the United States was officially at peace. These so-called "adventurers" or "filibusters" were usually armed and intent upon an expedition that would expand U.S. territory by inciting insurrection against the current government. Filibusters were usually privately organized and run. They also created a number of awkward, tense, and embarrassing diplomatic situations for the countries involved. Americans mounted filibustering expeditions against Mexico (especially in Texas), Nicaragua, Cuba, and several other Central and South American countries. Some of these involved foreign citizens who sought to overthrow their home country's government.

Whigs, Whig, Whig Party

The Whig Party emerged in the 1830s in opposition to the Democratic policies of President Andrew Jackson. Many of these issues were concentrated in the broad realm of fiscal policy, a central concern for constituencies across the country (although the base of Whig strength lay in the Northeast, especially New England). Whigs also drew support from strong ties to nativist, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant citizens who feared increasing immigration from countries beyond England, where inhabitants were deemed racially inferior and susceptible to corruption or dependency because of their Catholic religion. Compared with Jackson's rabidly populist Democrats, the Whigs had an air of social and fiscal conservatism about them; they promoted social reforms such as temperance and—to some extent—abolitionism.

Locofocos, Locofoco

A radical faction of the Democratic Party, the Locofocos grew out of disbanded Working Men's parties in about fifteen states, including New York and Massachusetts. They stood for broad reforms, usually tied to the interests of labor, and were originally known as the Equal Rights Party until 1835, when infighting with another Democratic organization—the political machine of New York City's Tammany Hall—gave them the name "Locofocos." That was the term for the newly invented friction matches, which the party members used to light candles at their meeting when the Tammany Democrats turned off their gas lights.

Great Plains

A large section of grassland between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, north to Canada and south to Mexico.

Tariff, Tariffs

A duty, a.k.a. a tax that a government can assess on goods entering or exiting its national boundaries. Tariffs are typically employed to raise money for the government or to protect the country's own manufacturers, who have to compete with foreign producers. Oftentimes, they do both: collect revenue and provide protection for domestic industry. Yet this is a complicated matter, and increasing the complexity is the fact that tariffs are quite the political football, since they involve the national economy but also the diverse regional industries that politicians have to represent.

Tariff Of 1842, The 1842 Measure

A protectionist tariff that primarily benefited the industrial interests of the northeast. To protect against foreign competition, mainly from Europe, it approximately doubled taxes on imported items from 20 to 40%. As a result, international trade declined almost overnight, and some Democrats—especially those outside the northeast who were not concerned with industrial manufactures—feared that this trend would continue and that customs revenue would suffer as a result. Southerners tended to be much bigger fans of free trade (or the lowest tariff rates possible) because they were in the business of producing raw materials like cotton for domestic and international markets, and they highly valued foreign trade. Western farmers were somewhere in the middle between the North and South, and were primarily concerned with a range of factors concerning the grain market.Due at least in part to these regional influences, Polk actually wound up going back on his word when he signed the Walker Tariff of 1846 into law during his presidency. This measure, which was named after Polk's Secretary of the Treasury (Robert J. Walker, from Mississippi) was a reduction of the 1842 tariff for the purposes of generating revenue, and it was one of the lowest tariffs in national history. This trade stimulant actually helped smooth the way for negotiations with Britain over the Oregon boundary. It was not free trade per say, but it was what you might call "freer trade" than its predecessor.

Saint Patrick's Battalion, San Patricio's Batallion, San Patricio Rebellion

During the war, 200 to 500 American deserters joined up with the Mexican army and branded themselves the San Patricio rebellion. Some were Irishmen who shared their Catholic faith in common with the people of Mexico, but a study of a sample of 103 known Battalion members found that only two-fifths (40) of them were Irish-born. Twenty-two were born in the United States and fourteen were born in Germany. Though the religious connection may have been significant for many soldiers who felt castigated for their faith and their ethnicity back in the states, the Irish contingent in this rebellion may have been exaggerated at the time and in the historical storytelling because it provided a convenient scapegoat for what most Americans deemed "unworthy behavior."
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