In the early nineteenth century, many “second sons” of slave-holding families (who would not inherit the family plantations) moved west into the Mexican state of Texas, where land was plentiful and well suited for many of the same cash crops as were grown in other parts of the American South. Although these settlers were at first welcomed by the Mexican government, when the country abolished slavery in 1829, they instigated an independence movement that quickly escalated into a war. In 1836, after the Battle of San Jacinto, Mexico recognized Texas as an independent republic; yet tensions remained between the two nations over the disputed territory between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande, some 150 miles to the south.
When the United States agreed to the annexation of Texas in 1845, it also adopted the Rio Grande as the border, leading to a break in diplomatic relations with Mexico and, eventually, to Democratic President James K. Polk’s request for a war declaration in 1847 (Document A). Polk asserted that the Mexican army had attacked on American soil; skeptical Whigs, including the freshman congressman from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, questioned the veracity of Polk’s claim (Document B). Lincoln and his political compatriots accused Polk of illegitimately escalating a conflict over disputed territory for the sole purpose of extending slave territory. Indeed, Lincoln presented a series of resolutions on the floor of Congress, challenging Polk to identify the very spot where the alleged Mexican attack had occurred and to prove that it was, in fact, on America soil. The “spot resolutions,” as they became known, showcase Lincoln’s famous wit, but with a degree of acerbity that ultimately proved fatal to Lincoln’s career in the House, as Democrats charged him with being unpatriotic, unsupportive of the Army, and even disloyal.
Lincoln’s senior colleague, Henry Clay, also opposed the war publically, but since his son fought and died in the battle of Vera Cruz, the Democratic press regularly portrayed Clay as two-faced and his opposition as insincere and politically motivated. In one political cartoon with this trope (Document D), Clay’s anti-war audience (to the right) includes Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, who compares the position of anti-war Whigs with that of the New England Federalists who organized the Hartford Convention (see Chapter 9). This trope was taken up by at least one member of Congress in a speech haranguing his fellow legislators for their faithlessness to the war effort they had voted to commence only a short time before (Document E).
Not all opposition to the war was politically motivated, however: many Northern religious leaders, some of whom were pacifists on principle and some of whom were ardent anti-slavery advocates, freely denounced the war as an act of imperialism and a blatant attempt to increase the territory available to Southern slaveholders (Document C). Interestingly, Ulysses S. Grant’s account of the mindset of the troops on the ground in Texas during the conflict supports the latter interpretation (although it is worth noting that the date of Grant’s memoir is significantly after the fact; see Document F).
Documents in this chapter are available separately by following the hyperlinks below:
A. What, exactly, does James K. Polk accuse Mexico of doing in his request for a declaration of war? Why do you think Abraham Lincoln was skeptical of these claims? Would the war seem more or less just depending upon the answers to the questions posed in the spot resolutions? Having once voted to authorize a declaration of war, are congressmen morally obligated, as Andrew Kennedy suggests, to see the thing through to the end, even if they come to see the war as unjust? Was the war with Mexico a legitimate war to protect American territory, or an illegitimate attempt to use federal power to protect and promote the expansion of slavery? Does Ulysses S. Grant’s account seem trustworthy as a reflection of the mindset of the troops on their mission at the time, or does it seem like an example of revisionist history, given his later experiences in the Civil War?
B. How might we connect the anti-war arguments presented here to the abolitionists’ denunciations of armed resistance (Chapter 14)?
C. In what ways do the arguments for and against the Mexican-American War compare with the arguments for and against the Spanish-American War (see Volume 2, Chapter 20)?
A. President James K. Polk, “Special Message to Congress on Mexican Relations,” May 11, 1846
The existing state of the relations between the United States and Mexico renders it proper that I should bring the subject to the consideration of Congress. In my message at the commencement of your present session, the state of these relations, the causes which led to the suspension of diplomatic intercourse between the two countries in March, 1845, and the long-continued and unredressed wrongs and injuries committed by the Mexican Government on citizens of the United States in their persons and property were briefly set forth.
As the facts and opinions which were then laid before you were carefully considered, I cannot better express my present convictions of the condition of affairs up to that time than by referring you to that communication.
The strong desire to establish peace with Mexico on liberal and honorable terms, and the readiness of this Government to regulate and adjust our boundary and other causes of difference with that power on such fair and equitable principles as would lead to permanent relations of the most friendly nature, induced me in September last to seek the reopening of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Every measure adopted on our part had for its object the furtherance of these desired results. In communicating to Congress a succinct statement of the injuries which we had suffered from Mexico, and which have been accumulating during a period of more than twenty years, every expression that could tend to inflame the people of Mexico or defeat or delay a pacific result was carefully avoided. An envoy of the United States repaired to Mexico with full powers to adjust every existing difference. But though present on the Mexican soil by agreement between the two Governments, invested with full powers, and bearing evidence of the most friendly dispositions, his mission has been unavailing. The Mexican Government not only refused to receive him or listen to his propositions, but after a long-continued series of menaces have at last invaded our territory and shed the blood of our fellow-citizens on our own soil. . . .
In my message at the commencement of the present session I informed you that upon the earnest appeal both of the Congress and convention of Texas I had ordered an efficient military force to take a position “between the Nueces and the Del Norte.” This had become necessary to meet a threatened invasion of Texas by the Mexican forces, for which extensive military preparations had been made. The invasion was threatened solely because Texas had determined, in accordance with a solemn resolution of the Congress of the United States, to annex herself to our Union, and under these circumstances it was plainly our duty to extend our protection over her citizens and soil.
This force was concentrated at Corpus Christi, and remained there until after I had received such information from Mexico as rendered it probable, if not certain, that the Mexican Government would refuse to receive our envoy.
Meantime Texas, by the final action of our Congress, had become an integral part of our Union. The Congress of Texas, by its act of December 19, 1836, had declared the Rio del Norte to be the boundary of that Republic. . . . This river, which is the southwestern boundary of the State of Texas, is an exposed frontier. From this quarter invasion was threatened; upon it and in its immediate vicinity, in the judgment of high military experience, are the proper stations for the protecting forces of the Government. In addition to this important consideration, several others occurred to induce this movement. Among these are the facilities afforded by the ports at Brazos Santiago and the mouth of the Del Norte for the reception of supplies by sea, the stronger and more healthful military positions, the convenience for obtaining a ready and a more abundant supply of provisions, water, fuel, and forage, and the advantages which are afforded by the Del Norte in forwarding supplies to such posts as may be established in the interior and upon the Indian frontier.
The movement of the troops to the Del Norte was made by the commanding general under positive instructions to abstain from all aggressive acts toward Mexico or Mexican citizens and to regard the relations between that Republic and the United States as peaceful unless she should declare war or commit acts of hostility indicative of a state of war. He was specially directed to protect private property and respect personal rights. . . .
The grievous wrongs perpetrated by Mexico upon our citizens throughout a long period of years remain unredressed, and solemn treaties pledging her public faith for this redress have been disregarded. A government either unable or unwilling to enforce the execution of such treaties fails to perform one of its plainest duties.
Our commerce with Mexico has been almost annihilated. It was formerly highly beneficial to both nations, but our merchants have been deterred from prosecuting it by the system of outrage and extortion which the Mexican authorities have pursued against them, whilst their appeals through their own Government for indemnity have been made in vain. Our forbearance has gone to such an extreme as to be mistaken in its character. Had we acted with vigor in repelling the insults and redressing the injuries inflicted by Mexico at the commencement, we should doubtless have escaped all the difficulties in which we are now involved.
Instead of this, however, we have been exerting our best efforts to propitiate her good will. Upon the pretext that Texas, a nation as independent as herself, thought proper to unite its destinies with our own she has affected to believe that we have severed her rightful territory, and in official proclamations and manifestoes has repeatedly threatened to make war upon us for the purpose of reconquering Texas. In the meantime, we have tried every effort at reconciliation. The cup of forbearance had been exhausted even before the recent information from the frontier of the Del Norte. But now, after reiterated menaces, Mexico has passed the boundary of the United States, has invaded our territory and shed American blood upon the American soil. She has proclaimed that hostilities have commenced, and that the two nations are now at war.
As war exists, and, notwithstanding all our efforts to avoid it, exists by the act of Mexico herself, we are called upon by every consideration of duty and patriotism to vindicate with decision the honor, the rights, and the interests of our country.
Anticipating the possibility of a crisis like that which has arrived, instructions were given in August last, “as a precautionary measure” against invasion or threatened invasion, authorizing General Taylor, if the emergency required, to accept volunteers, not from Texas only, but from the States of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and corresponding letters were addressed to the respective governors of those States. These instructions were repeated, and in January last, soon after the incorporation of “Texas into our Union of States,” General Taylor was further “authorized by the President to make a requisition upon the executive of that State for such of its militia force as may be needed to repel invasion or to secure the country against apprehended invasion.” On the 2d day of March he was again reminded, “in the event of the approach of any considerable Mexican force, promptly and efficiently to use the authority with which he was clothed to call to him such auxiliary force as he might need.” War actually existing and our territory having been invaded, General Taylor, pursuant to authority vested in him by my direction, has called on the governor of Texas for four regiments of State troops, two to be mounted and two to serve on foot, and on the governor of Louisiana for four regiments of infantry to be sent to him as soon as practicable.
In further vindication of our rights and defense of our territory, I invoke the prompt action of Congress to recognize the existence of the war, and to place at the disposition of the Executive the means of prosecuting the war with vigor, and thus hastening the restoration of peace. To this end I recommend that authority should be given to call into the public service a large body of volunteers to serve for not less than six or twelve months unless sooner discharged. A volunteer force is beyond question more efficient than any other description of citizen soldiers, and it is not to be doubted that a number far beyond that required would readily rush to the field upon the call of their country. I further recommend that a liberal provision be made for sustaining our entire military force and furnishing it with supplies and munitions of war.
The most energetic and prompt measures and the immediate appearance in arms of a large and overpowering force are recommended to Congress as the most certain and efficient means of bringing the existing collision with Mexico to a speedy and successful termination.
In making these recommendations I deem it proper to declare that it is my anxious desire not only to terminate hostilities speedily, but to bring all matters in dispute between this Government and Mexico to an early and amicable adjustment; and in this view I shall be prepared to renew negotiations whenever Mexico shall be ready to receive propositions or to make propositions of her own. . . .
B. Representative Abraham Lincoln, Spot Resolutions, December 22, 1847
Mr. LINCOLN moved the following preamble and resolutions, which were read and laid over under the rule:
Whereas the President of the United States, in his message of May 11, 1846, has declared that “the Mexican Government not only refused to receive him, [the envoy of the United States,] or listen to his propositions, but after a long-continued series of menaces, have at last invaded our territory and shed the blood of our fellow-citizens on our own soil.”
And again, in his message of December 8, 1846, that “we had ample cause of war against Mexico long before the breaking out of hostilities; but even then we forbore to take redress into our own hands until Mexico herself became the aggressor, by invading our soil in hostile array and shedding the blood of our citizens.”
And yet again, in his message of December 7, 1847, that the Mexican Government refused even to hear the terms of adjustment which he [our minister of peace] was authorized to propose, and finally, under wholly unjustifiable pretexts, involved the two countries in war, by invading the territory of the State of Texas, striking the first blow, and shedding the blood of our citizens on our own soil.” And whereas this House is desirous to obtain a full knowledge of all the facts which go to establish whether the particular spot on which the blood of our citizens was so shed was or was not at that time our own soil: Therefore, Resolved by the House of Representatives, That the President of the United States be respectfully requested to inform this House –
1st. Whether the spot on which the blood of our citizens was shed, as in his messages declared, was or was not within the territory of Spain, at least after the treaty of 1819 until the Mexican revolution.
2d. Whether that spot is or is not within the territory which was wrested from Spain by the revolutionary Government of Mexico.
3d. Whether that spot is or is not within a settlement of people, which settlement has existed ever since long before the Texas revolution, and until its inhabitants fled before the approach of the United States army.
4th. Whether that settlement is or is not isolated from any and all other settlements by the Gulf and the Rio Grande on the south and west, and by wide uninhabited regions on the north and east.
5th. Whether the people of that settlement, or a majority of them, or any of them, have ever submitted themselves to the government or laws of Texas or of the United States, by consent or by compulsion, either by accepting office, or voting at elections, or paying tax, or serving on juries, or having process served upon them, or in any other way.
6th. Whether the people of that settlement did or did not flee from the approach of the United States army, leaving unprotected their homes and their growing crops, before the blood was shed, as in the messages stated; and whether the first blood, so shed, was or was not shed within the enclosure of one of the people who had thus fled from it.
7th. Whether our citizens, whose blood was shed, as in his messages declared, were or were not, at that time, armed officers and soldiers, sent into that settlement by the military orders of the President, through the Secretary of War.
8th. Whether the military force of the United States was or was not so sent into that settlement after Gen. Taylor had more than once intimated to the War Department that, in his opinion, no such movement was necessary to the defence or protection of Texas.
C. Thomas N. Lord, Cause, Character and Consequences of the War with Mexico, 1847
I am aware that the subject I have chosen is intimately connected with the politics of parties. But the subject is not political merely. It has its moral and religious aspects. Its political bearings I leave in the hands of politicians. Its moral and religious aspects come within the province of the ministers of the gospel, and it is in reference to these that I shall speak at this time, confining myself to the cause, character and consequences of the present war.
What then has been the procuring cause of the war in which this nation is now engaged? The same which involved the people of Israel in war. The procuring cause of their calamity was their choosing new gods. They forsook the Lord God of their fathers, and served other gods. They bowed down to idols, and provoked the Lord to anger, and he suffered them to fall into the hands of the spoilers, that spoiled them.
The history of events which have transpired in reference to the war we are waging, shows most conclusively, that it is reckless disregard to God’s authority, the spirit of daring impiety which has brought us to our present position. If, as a nation, we had heeded the teachings of the Bible, if those who fill our most important public stations, and direct out great national interests, had regarded God’s law, we should have been saved from the curse of war, “the abomination which maketh desolate.”
We have a system of iniquity among us as hateful to god, as unreasonable, cruel, and destructive, as any system of idolatry and heathenism which ever existed. I mean American Slavery. This is the Moloch which our national government have long worshipped, and the demon to which is sacrificed the peace, prosperity, and purity of the nation. This monster of deformity and cruelty has so much beauty and benevolence in the eyes of many politicians, that they cannot endure the expression of a sentiment against it.—Those who will not bow down and worship it, must be cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace of political reprobation, heated seven times hotter than usual. Every northern statesman who has dared to open his mouth against the iniquitous policy of slavery has been brow beaten, and insulted. Hideous as the monster slavery has become in the eyes of Christianity, cruel as are the sacrifices it demands, wide spread as are the scenes of desolation it has caused, powerful as has been its influence to corrupt and destroy our fair inheritance, yet it received the patronage of the general government, and is nourished as the child of promise. Whenever a decision is to be made between slavery and freedom, that decision proves that the sympathy of the government is with slavery, and that its energies are employed to sustain and extend it.
It is the “evil genius” of slavery that has led us into war with Mexico. Had it not been for the “peculiar institution,” and a fixed determination of the government to strengthen and perpetuate it, we should have remained in the enjoyment of peace, and all the waste of property, and profusion of blood, and sacrifice of life which have occurred, would have been prevented. Why was Texas annexed to this Union? The interests of slavery demand it. And what has the annexation of Texas to do with our war with Mexico? It was the fatal step which led to this war. These are stubborn facts which wily politicians in vain attempt to gainsay or resist. It is already acknowledged by some of the chief actors in the scene, that taking Texas as we did, is the real cause of our war; and that the South desired the war, and has enlisted its energies in its prosecution, for the sake of promoting the interests of slavery.
It was then that rapacious, devouring spirit of slavery that led to the present hostile movements against Mexico. The spirit of liberty could not have perpetrated the deeds of selfishness and injustice which have resulted in the present war. Slavery has done it, and it is a work worthy of itself, and in bringing about which, it has revealed its odious nature, and given its hateful character to the civilized world. It has shown itself in its violation of the constitution, in its reckless disregard of solemn treaties, in its readiness to trample upon the rights of others, and most of all in its bold defiance of the law of God. It has written its own disgraceful history, and stamped upon its forehead the mark of its abominations.
I am aware that many are slow to believe that the present war is owing to slavery, and is encouraged for the purpose of perpetuating it. We are told of wrongs which Mexico has done of us, of redress she has been slow to make. Yes, after slavery has obtained her main object, and placed things in a train to secure all the rest, as she hopes; after she has taken a whole province from Mexico, and sent an army of invaders to plant themselves a hundred miles upon her territory, and driven the inhabitants from their own land; then she raises a huge cry of the wrongs which Mexico has inflicted upon this country. These doings of slavery will not bear the light. There is the spirit which is not of God, that has directed this whole affair; and I tremble for my country, when I behold what slavery has done for it, and what my countrymen are willing to do for slavery. I am alarmed, when I reflect, that the devotion of this government to a system which bids defiance to the Almighty, and dethrones the noblest workmanship of his hands, has subjected us to the scourge of war. It is for such a system that we are spending millions of dollars, sacrificing thousands of lives, and dooming a multitude of souls to the perdition of hell. What a record are we making for the generations which shall come after us, when, in the light of truth, they shall see what American Slavery was in its nature and its effects. The fact that slavery is the real cause of the present war, and that the extent and perpetuity of this unchristian, and heaven-condemned institution were the objects for which the crusade was undertaken, makes it a terrible wicked enterprise. The cause of it is horrible, the motives which led to it detestable. . . .
With the gospel as my guide, I do not hesitate to call the present war wicked. On no principle of religion can it be justified. Reason about it as we may, it is not only a war with Mexico, it is a war with Jehovah, with the eternal principles of rectitude which He has established. It cannot be called a war of resistance. Mexico has not invaded our territory, attempted to lay waste our cities and villages, plunder our treasures, and destroy our lives. She has not committed depredations upon the province which has rebelled against her, and which we have received. This was, on our part, is anything else, but a war of resistance. We ourselves are the invaders, and Mexico is struggling to repel an invading army.
But we are told it is a war for redress. Mexico owes us, and does not seem inclined to make payment. Admit it, and does this justify America in sending an invading army into her territory, in desolating her cities, in destroying her inhabitants? When we consider the character and condition of Mexico, the withering influence of her religious system, the instability of her government, the disorder which pervades the instability of her government, the disorder which pervades all her public affairs, does she not deserve forbearance and compassion at the hands of this government? Has our treatment of her been Christian? Was it right for this government to undertake a crusade against her, for the purpose of revenge, and labor to make her confusion, worse confused, and increase the dregs in her bitter cup of misery? The right to do this, is the same that the South has to reduce millions of men to chattels; the same that England has to extend her iron hand of tyranny over India and China; the same that every high-way robber has to strip the defenseless traveler; “that is, in respect to god and intrinsic justice, no right at all.” I envy not the man, either his head or his heart, who attempts to justify this war on the principles of the gospel. I pronounce it wrong, wicked, because our grievances might have been peaceably adjusted, and because everything at stake was not of sufficient importance to compensate for the sacrifice of life, the increase of wickedness, the detriment to civil, literary and religious institutions it occasions, it must be plain that nothing short of “obvious necessity” can justify a nation in resorting to it.
I pronounce the war unrighteous because it is evidently aggressive, waged for the purpose of acquiring territory.—The object of the war is to force Mexico, to renounce her title to certain possessions which she claims. There has been a determination to acquire certain territory, without regard to right or wrong. The object of the war is to get it. The devouring “genius,” slavery, demands it, and means to have it. In reference to this whole affair with Mexico, the spirit of Southern injustice and oppression has goaded the government to desperation. It has changed the policy of the republic, and instigated to deeds which will bring down upon us the reproach of nations. Usually, when there has been a dispute about a territory, our government has manifested no disposition to over-reach and defraud. It has not rushed madly to arms, and involved the country in war. Contrast the conduct of Congress, when the question of the North Eastern Boundary and the Oregon Territory were being discussed, with its conduct in reference to Texas, and the war it has produced. Why the forbearance, and disposition to seek the things which make for peace in the former cases, and such rashness and readiness to rush to mortal combat in the latter? The simple reason is found in the fact that slavery was immediately interested in the latter case and not in the former. Slavery caused the war. The motive for which it was undertaken was to extend this system of abominations. The object which slavery means to accomplish, is to acquire empire and domination. To everything in her path, no matter how valuable or sacred, she says, bow, or be crushed beneath my iron hoof.
But let us remember that might does not make right. We may prosecute this war till we force the objects of our vengeance to sue for mercy. We may yet gain, what we term “splendid victories.” But all these things do not prove our cause righteous. The best soldiers, the most destructive weapons, the greatest success, are not always on the side of justice. The tribunal before which the moral character of every contest must be decided, is the tribunal of the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe. He is a God of truth, without iniquity, just and right is He. He sees the cause of the war we are waging, the motives which led to it and the objects it was designed to secure. If they meet his approval we have nothing to fear. If he condemn them, we have nothing to boast of in the past, nothing to hope for in the future.
D. Great Speech of Clay (Cartoon), 1847
See illustration on page 141.
E. Representative Andrew Kennedy, Speech on the Mexican War, December 16, 1846
What are we, who declared this war, now doing? Here we are in the second week of this short session, denouncing the President for causing an unholy, impious, and vindictive war, and cavilling and carping at the manner in which he has protected the Mexican people who have yielded to the resistless shock of our victorious arms. Oh, shame. The very ashes of our fathers cry out against us! Are we, indeed, so degenerated that we are afraid to meet the responsibility of our own acts, and meanly attempt to throw the responsibility on other shoulders?
There was a time, according to my reading, when a portion of this policy was pursued by those who preceded the gentleman’s school of politics. The Federalists, in 1812, opposed, denounced, and vilified the Government, and those who then administered it, in much the same terms as those used now. But what was their fate? The virtuous indignation of a patriotic people consigned them and their names to the eternal infamy which their conduct so justly merited. And yet their conduct was honorable when compared to the conduct of those who voted for, and now oppose, this war. They opposed the war, from its inception; they voted against its declaration; but you voted for this war—you yourselves voted to plunge your country into what you now call an unholy war: one of infamy, commenced, as you now aver, with a view to conquest. And now you turn round and oppose it, and strain every nerve to convince the world that your own country is wholly in the wrong. Suppose it were possible for you to succeed, what then? Why, you have disgraced your Government, and yourselves with it! Is this the employment of patriots? But do gentlemen believe what they say, in relation to the iniquity of this war? I submit that it is impossible for any well-informed man honestly to take that view of the subject. He must know better. The causes which produced this war, and the justice of our cause, have been so fully and powerfully set forth by the President in his annual message, that shall not be guilty of the egregious folly of trying to render it more plain. But I ask all those who have not read that document, and who entertain any doubt on this subject, to read it. The evidence is clear, powerful, and conclusive. This Government had borne outrages, indignities, and insults, from that Government, longer than she would have done from any other Government upon earth.
Had England or France, or any other respectable Government, treated us with half the indignity, outrage, and insult, manifested by Mexico, long since would the honor of the country have been vindicated. But Mexico was a feeble Government, distracted by internal factions and feuds; beside, it approximated, to some extent, to a republican form, and excited our sympathies. Hence it was that this Government bore with her outrages and insults until forbearance ceased to be a virtue. Mexico took advantage of this forbearance, and repeated her injuries, and, as if for the purpose of filling the cup of outrages to overflowing, she finally crossed our territorial lines, and attacked our armies and citizens upon our own soil. Thus was our Government driven to the wall. National dishonor or a prompt punishment of the offender was the only alternative.
But, I repeat, do the gentlemen on the opposite side doubt the justness of our cause? It is my candid opinion that they do not. The lameness of their assaults upon the President shows that they do not believe their own assertions. First, they complain that the President moved our army to the left bank of the Rio Grande contrary to law, and thereby brought on the war. A moment’s investigation will prove the absurdity of their position. It was not the President, but Congress, which made the Rio Grande our boundary line. By the annexation of Texas we bound the President to defend that as our territory. The State of Texas claimed the territory to that line. Under that claim we annexed her to the Union.
But as we were determined to give to Mexico no just cause of complaint against us, and as she claimed territory on this side of the Rio Grande, we stipulated with Texas that after annexation we should have the right to settle all questions of boundary with the Mexican Government. So soon as Texas was annexed, the President informed Mexico of this power, now resting in the United States, and of his willingness to settle the question by negotiation. She refused to negotiate, but declared she would settle it by the sword. In the meantime, this very Congress passed a law establishing a collection district between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande, and directed the President to appoint a custom-house officer to reside in that country. By this act, on our part, we said to the President, in the strongest possible language, “This is our country, and it is your duty to see that our jurisdiction is maintained over it.” The Mexican Government, in the meantime, was concentrating a strong force on the south bank of the Rio Grande, and constantly fulminating her threats of slaughter and reconquest even to the Sabine. What, in the name of all that is sacred, was the President to do but exactly what he did do—move our army to the extreme limit of our boundary, and there await the onslaught, if Mexico chose to make it? If he had done otherwise, he would have been justly censurable; and in that event I make no doubt that the very men who are now denouncing him for having defended our soil, would have clamored in this House for an impeachment against him for having suffered its pollution by the hostile tread of a foreign foe. Foiled at this point, the next complaint is, that the President has conquered a large portion of Mexico and established civil governments therein. Well, where does the shoe pinch here, gentlemen? Are you horrified at the success of the American arms? I verily believe that many of you would have been better pleased if the results of this war had been the defeat of our armies and a loss of American territory, and more especially if it had secured the defeat of the dominant party. Or are your feelings of humanity outraged that the President has restrained the stern mandate of the military law in favor of the civil? Did you desire him to stain his character with cruelty, which the emergencies of the army did not demand, that you might have more cause to denounce the action of your own Government? In this again you are disappointed. All this your actions authorized us to charge, but I will not believe you as unpatriotic as your conduct imports. The truth probably is, that the actions of your Government you would have heartily approved, if the same acts had been performed by a President of your own choice. But such is your rooted and settled hostility to democratic measures, that you are willing to hazard the cause of your country, in the hope that you may render a democratic President unpopular, and thereby secure your own elevation to power. If this be your object—and it is the most charitable one which I can impute to you—I submit it to the country whether your elevation may not cost more than your services may be worth.
Since the commencement of this war there has been, in and out of this House, many and pathetic appeals by those who oppose it to the sympathy of the moral and religious portion of our people against the horrors necessarily resulting from a state of war. I profess to be as much opposed to a useless and unnecessary war as the most devout Christian can be. I believe war should never be resorted to when honor can be preserved without it. And I now arraign before the bar of public opinion those selfsame men, as being the sole cause of this war. I hold them responsible for every drop of blood which has been, or will be, shed in this contest. Does any man in his senses believe that Mexico would have commenced this war, if she had not been induced to believe, by the course of the opponents of the Executive, that this Government would not be suffered to chastise them for their injustice and insolence? . . . . By this have you opened the veins and destroyed the lives of many of our bravest soldiers! And you will deceive them still further. Are they not now publishing in their papers that there is a probability of a revolution in the north of this Republic—that the New England States would secede from the Union—and other such nonsense? Will they ever treat with us whilst they believe this? And what is to be the result? Will you fulfil the hopes which your conduct has inspired? Never! You cannot, if you would, and you would not, if you could, make your Government recede. No, an honorable peace, with indemnity for the past and security for the future, or an utter annihilation of the Mexican Government, will be the end of this war. . . .
There was one allusion made by the gentleman from Tennessee, which rather horrified than surprised me. He, with something like a sneer, referred to what he seemed to hope would be the ultimate result of the acquisition of Mexican territory. He said the Northern Democrats would never suffer any other slave territory to exist in this, country, and that the Southern Democrats would not suffer any free States to exist west of Texas. And he seemed to gloat over the possible dissolution of the Union. Had this come from a northern Abolitionist, I could have accounted for and excused it. But coming from the quarter it did, it seemed like the patricide inviting the onslaught upon the devoted heads of his defenseless parents. . . . This was done avowedly for the purpose of securing, if possible, a bad feeling towards the President. And does the gentleman really think so poorly of our patriotism as to suppose that he could thereby induce us to quarrel with the President whilst he is engaged in the conduct of a foreign war? I feel myself under no obligation to defend the President in all his acts, nor does he need my defense. But if I had any little pique . . . I would wait until my country was extricated from this foreign war before I would wrangle with its Executive.
Such is the course duty points out to me, and I will follow it. And in conclusion, I say to the gentlemen on the other side, go on, if you choose, in this constant denunciation of your country’s cause; the end of it all will be, either you will render your constituents wholly mercenary and unpatriotic, which God in his mercy forefend; or, which is more likely, you will sink yourselves and your very names to that infamy which always overtakes those who are capable of sacrificing their country to self, and sinking the patriot into the partisan.
F. Ulysses S. Grant, Recollections of the War, 1885
There was no intimation given that the removal of the 3rd and 4th regiments of infantry to the western border of Louisiana was occasioned in any way by the prospective annexation of Texas, but it was generally understood that such was the case. Ostensibly, we were intended to prevent filibustering into Texas, but really as a menace to Mexico in case she appeared to contemplate war. Generally, the officers of the army were indifferent to whether the annexation was consummated or not; but not so all of them. For myself, I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire more territory.
Texas was originally a state belonging to the republic of Mexico. It extended from the Sabine River on the east to the Rio Grande on the west, and from the Gulf of Mexico on the south and east to the territory of the United States and New Mexico—another Mexican state at that time—on the north and west. An empire in territory, it had but a very sparse population, until settled by Americans who had received authority from Mexico to colonize. These colonists paid very little attention to the supreme government, and introduced slavery into the state almost from the start, though the constitution of Mexico did not, nor does it now, sanction that institution. Soon they set up an independent government of their own, and war existed, between Texas and Mexico, in name from that time until 1836, when active hostilities very nearly ceased upon the capture of Santa Anna, the Mexican President. Before long, however, the same people—who with permission of Mexico had colonized Texas, and afterwards set up slavery there, and then seceded as soon as they felt strong enough to do so—offered themselves and the State to the United States, and in 1845 their offer was accepted. The occupation, separation, and annexation were, from the inception of the movement to its final consummation, a conspiracy to acquire territory out of which slave states might be formed for the American Union.
Even if the annexation itself could be justified, the manner in which the subsequent war was forced upon Mexico cannot. The fact is, annexationists wanted more territory than they could possibly lay any claim to, as part of the new acquisition. Texas, as an independent State, never had exercised jurisdiction over the territory between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande. Mexico had never recognized the independence of Texas, and maintained that, even if independent, the State had no claim south of the Nueces. I am aware that a treaty, made by the Texans with Santa Anna while he was under duress, ceded all the territory between the Nueces and the Rio Grande; but he was a prisoner of war when the treaty was made, and his life was in jeopardy. . . .
In taking military possession of Texas after annexation, the army of occupation, under General Taylor, was directed to occupy the disputed territory. The army did not stop at the Nueces and offer to negotiate for a settlement of the boundary question, but went beyond, apparently in order to force Mexico to initiate war. It is to the credit of the American nation, however, that after conquering Mexico, and while practically holding the country in our possession, so that we could have retained the whole of it, or made any terms we chose, we paid a round sum for the additional territory taken; more than it was worth, or was likely to be, to Mexico. To us it was an empire and of incalculable value; but it might have been obtained by other means. The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican war. Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times. . . .