United States and American History: 1844

About the history of the United States in 1844, the Polk campaign, biography of Cassius Clay, founding of Notre Dame and the first telegraph.


--Political cry, "Fifty-four Forty or Fight!" was adopted by supporters of Polk. The slogan sprang from the desire to claim western territory which had been jointly held by Spain, Russia, and England. In 1819, Spain indicated it wouldn't claim anything north of California; in 1824 Russia agreed to stay north of the 54deg 40' parallel. The U.S. and Great Britain had agreed to share rights within those 2 boundaries, since this land was earlier thought to be almost worthless. Both nations had the right to hunt and settle the territory until a later agreement could be reached.

--New York got a police department, but no uniforms.

--Cassius Marcellus Clay, the abolitionists' sometimes embarrassing ally, published his opinions on slavery. Clay had once been introduced to an audience of blacks in Philadelphia as, "Cassius Clay-Liberator, though he has a white skin he has a very black heart." Clay's constant companions were 2 pistols and a bowie knife which, along with his fists, he seemed to use regularly.

In 1845, Clay's enemies forced him to move his press from Lexington, Ky., to Cincinnati but Clay continued his publication there and in Louisville. Though Clay initially opposed the annexation of Texas on grounds that it might become a slave State, he later served as a captain in the Mexican War. During the 1860s Clay was minister to Russia and served in the Civil War as a major general of volunteers. At the age of 84, he married a 15-year-old girl who soon left him. It is said that while he was on his deathbed, he used his pistol to shoot flies off his bedroom wall.

--First private bathtub appeared in a New York hotel but a year later bathtubs were still prohibited in Boston except when prescribed by a physician.

Jan. 15 University of Notre Dame chartered.

Feb. 28 President Tyler, with a group of distinguished guests, boarded the steam frigate, U.S.S. Princeton, for an outing on the Potomac which was to demonstrate the ship and its tremendous gun, the Peacemaker. The gun could hurl a 212-lb, shot 3 mi.

Among those on board was Abel P. Upshur, Secretary of State, who had been secretly carrying on negotiations concerning the annexation of Texas. The gun misfired and exploded, killing Upshur and 7 others.

Apr. 12 Texas Annexation Treaty signed, providing for the admission of Texas as a State in 1845.

Apr. 27 Van Buren and Clay expressed opposition to the annexation of Texas until Mexican consent could be obtained.

May 3 Heavy fighting broke out when several thousand anti-Catholic "Native Americans" tried to hold a street meeting in the heavily Irish Kensington district of Philadelphia. On May 8, a primarily Protestant mob set fire to churches, houses, the schoolhouse, and the rectory in the Catholic neighborhood. Finally, the cavalry arrived, dispersed the mob, and declared martial law. On July 4, the final battle, complete with cannons on both sides, took place between the Nativists and the U.S. Army. The Army won. Total casualties in 2 months: 30 dead, 150 wounded, 220 families burned out.

May 24 First message ever sent by telegraph, the message going from Washington to Baltimore. Samuel Finley Breese Morse, inventor of the telegraph, was an artist and apparently a good one during his 1st 50 years of life. While working on his invention, he supported himself with income derived from teaching art students at New York University. They, along with his fellow professors and friends, thought him a bit deranged because of his preoccupation with the telegraphic system used in Europe to relay messages great distances.

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