Why Does American History Remember the Slogan 54 40 or Fight?

The slogan “54 40 or Fight” is a phrase that has been etched into American history, particularly during the mid-19th century. It was a rallying cry for expansionists who wanted to annex the entire region that is now the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

This slogan has become synonymous with American expansionism and Manifest Destiny. In this article, we will take a closer look at why this slogan is remembered in American history.

The Origins of 54 40 or Fight

In the early 1800s, Americans began to move westward, settling in lands beyond the Mississippi River. As more and more settlers moved west, they began to look towards the unclaimed territories of Oregon and Washington. These territories were claimed by both Great Britain and America.

In 1818, Great Britain and America agreed to joint occupation of these territories. However, as more Americans continued to migrate to the area, tensions mounted between the two nations.

In 1844, James K. Polk ran for president on a platform of expansionism. He promised that he would fight for America’s claim to the entire Oregon territory up to latitude 54°40′N.

The Significance of 54°40′N

Latitude 54°40′N was the northernmost point of land that was being claimed by both Great Britain and America at that time. Polk’s promise to fight for this territory became known as “54 40 or Fight.” The slogan became popular among expansionists who believed that it was America’s destiny to expand across North America.

The Negotiations

Polk’s election victory in November 1844 put him in a position to make good on his promise. However, negotiations with Great Britain were complicated by other issues such as British claims in Texas and American concerns about British influence in Central America.

In the end, both sides agreed to a compromise. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 established the border between British North America (now Canada) and the United States at the 49th parallel, with Vancouver Island remaining under British control. This compromise was a significant achievement for both nations and helped to avoid a potential war.

The Legacy of 54 40 or Fight

Although Polk did not achieve his goal of claiming all of Oregon up to latitude 54°40′N, his slogan “54 40 or Fight” captured the imagination of Americans who believed in Manifest Destiny. The idea that it was America’s destiny to expand across North America became deeply ingrained in American culture.

The slogan has also become associated with American imperialism and aggressive expansionism. It is often used as an example of how American exceptionalism can lead to dangerous and destructive policies.


In conclusion, “54 40 or Fight” is a slogan that has become synonymous with American expansionism and Manifest Destiny. Although it did not result in the annexation of all of Oregon, it remains a powerful symbol of America’s westward expansion during the mid-19th century. It serves as a reminder that even well-intentioned policies can have unintended consequences, and that diplomacy and compromise are often necessary to avoid conflict.