Mexican War Reading American Spirit



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Mexican War Reading
American Spirit

"Charles Sumner Assails the Texas Grab (1847)
Boston-bred and Harvard-polished Charles Sumner, soon to be a U.S. senator, was one of the most impressive orators of his day. Six feet four inches in height and blessed with a powerful voice, he could sway vast audiences. An earnest foe of war, he preached arbitration; an impassioned enemy of slavery, he demanded abolition; a devoted champion of race equality, he fought the Massachusetts law forbidding marriages between whites and blacks. In 1847, in the midst of the war with Mexico, the Massachusetts legislature adopted this document, which Sumner had prepared, blasting the annexation of Texas. Although he overplayed the slave conspiracy accusation, he made a number of telling points. Assuming that his facts are correct, how many genuine grievances did Mexico have against the United States?

The history of the annexation of Texas cannot be fully understood without reverting to the early settlement of that province by citizens of the United States.

Mexico, on achieving her independence of the Spanish Crown, by a general ordinance worthy of imitation by all Christian nations, had decreed the abolition of human slavery within her dominions, embracing the province of Texas. . . .

At this period, citizens of the United States had already begun to remove into Texas, hardly separated, as it was, by the River Sabine from the slaveholding state of Louisiana. The idea was early promulgated that this extensive province ought to become a part of the United States. Its annexation was distinctly agitated in the Southern and Western states in 1829; and it was urged on the ground of the strength and extension it would give to the "Slave Power," and the fresh market it would open for the sale of slaves.

The suggestion of this idea had an important effect. A current of emigration soon followed from the United States. Slaveholders crossed the Sabine with their slaves, in defiance of the Mexican ordinance of freedom. Restless spirits, discontented at home, or feeling the restraint of the narrow confines of our country, joined them; while their number was swollen by the rude and lawless of all parts of the land, who carried to Texas the love of license which had rendered a region of justice no longer a pleasant home to them. To such spirits, rebellion was natural.

It soon broke forth. At this period the whole [Texan] population, including women and children, did not amount to twenty thousand; and, among these, most of the older and wealthier inhabitants still favored peace. A Declaration of Independence, a farcical imitation of that of our fathers, was put forth, not by persons acting in a Congress or in a representative character, but by about ninety individuals--all, except two, from the United States--acting for themselves, and recommending a similar course to their fellow citizens. In a just cause the spectacle of this handful of adventurers, boldly challenging the power of Mexico, would excite our sympathy, perhaps our admiration. But successful rapacity, which seized broad and fertile lands while it opened new markets for slaves, excites no sentiment but that of abhorrence.

The work of rebellion sped. Citizens of the United States joined its fortunes, not singly, but in numbers, even in armed squadrons. Our newspapers excited the lust of territorial robbery in the public mind. Expeditions were openly equipped within our own borders. Advertisements for volunteers summoned the adventurous, as to patriotic labors. Military companies, with officers and standards, directed their steps to the revolted province.

During all this period the United States were at peace with Mexico. A proclamation from our government, forbidding these hostile preparations within our borders, is undeniable evidence of their existence, while truth compels us to record its impotence in upholding the sacred duties of neutrality between Mexico and the insurgents. . . .

The Texan flag waved over an army of American citizens. Of the six or eight hundred who won the [decisive] battle of San Jacinto, scattering the Mexican forces and capturing their general [Santa Anna], not more than fifty were citizens of Texas having grievances of their own to redress on that field.

The victory was followed by the recognition of the independence of Texas by the United States; while the new state took its place among the nations of the earth. . . .

Certainly our sister republic [Mexico] might feel aggrieved by this conduct. It might justly charge our citizens with disgraceful robbery, while, in seeking extension of slavery, they repudiated the great truths of American freedom.

Meanwhile Texas slept on her arms, constantly expecting new efforts from Mexico to regain her former power. The two combatants regarded each other as enemies. Mexico still asserted her right to the territory wrested from her, and refused to acknowledge its independence.

Texas turned for favor and succor to England. The government of the United States, fearing it might pass under the influence of this power, made overtures for its annexation to our country. This was finally accomplished by joint resolutions of Congress, in defiance of the Constitution [?], and in gross insensibility to the sacred obligations of amity with Mexico, imposed alike by treaty and by justice, "both strong against the deed." The Mexican minister regarded it as an act offensive to his country, and, demanding his passport, returned home.
Old South Leaflets (Boston, 1904), vol. 6, no. 132, pp. 2-4.

Documents Massachusetts Voices Condemnation (1847)
The killing or wounding of sixteen American soldiers on American (?) soil precipitated war with Mexico. But the abolitionists and the free-soil Whigs of the North, resenting an alleged grab for more slave territory, gradually increased their clamor for peace. The following mid-war resolution, drafted by the orator Charles Sumner and passed by the Massachusetts legislature in 1847, betrayed an ugly frame of mind. In what respects is this statement sound in describing the outbreak of war? In what respects is it unsound? In what respects does it verge on treason?

This was the state of things when . . . General Taylor was directed, by the President of the United States, to occupy the east bank of the Rio Grande, being the extreme western part of the territory claimed by Texas, the boundaries of which had been designated as an "open question," to be determined by "negotiation." General Taylor broke up his quarters at Corpus Christi on the 11th March, and, proceeding across this disputed territory, established his post, and erected a battery, directly opposite the Mexican city of Matamoros, and, under his directions, the mouth of the Rio Grande was blockaded, so as to cut off supplies from the Mexican army at Matamoros. . . .

These were acts of war, accomplished without bloodshed. But they were nevertheless acts of unquestioned hostility against Mexico. Blockade! and military occupation of a disputed territory! These were the arbiters of the "open question" of boundary. These were the substitutes for "negotiation."

It is not to be supposed that the Mexican army should quietly endure these aggressive measures, and regard with indifference cannon pointed at their position. . . . On the 26th of April a small body of American troops, under the command of Captain Thornton, encountered Mexican troops at a place twenty miles north of General Taylor's camp. Here was the first collision of arms. The report of this was hurried to Washington. Rumor, with a hundred tongues, exaggerated the danger of the American army under General Taylor, and produced an insensibility to the aggressive character of the movement. . . .

It was under the influence of this feeling that the untoward act of May 13th was pressed through Congress, by which it was declared that "war exists by the act of Mexico.". . . The passage of this act placed the whole country in hostile array against Mexico, and impressed upon every citizen of the United States the relation of enemy of every citizen of Mexico. This disastrous condition still continues. War is still waged; and our armies, after repeated victories achieved on Mexican soil, are still pursuing the path of conquest. . . .

Resolves. Concerning the Mexican War, and the Institution of Slavery.

Resolved, That the present war with Mexico has its primary origin in the unconstitutional annexation to the United States of the foreign state of Texas while the same was still at war with Mexico; that it was unconstitutionally commenced by the order of the President, to General Taylor, to take military possession of territory in dispute between the United States and Mexico, and in the occupation of Mexico; and that it is now waged ingloriously--by a powerful nation against a weak neighbor--unnecessarily and without just cause, at immense cost of treasure and life, for the dismemberment of Mexico, and for the conquest of a portion of her territory, from which slavery has already been excluded, with the triple object of extending slavery, of strengthening the "Slave Power," and of obtaining the control of the Free States, under the Constitution of the United States.

Resolved, That such a war of conquest, so hateful in its objects, so wanton, unjust, and unconstitutional in its origin and character, must be regarded as a war against freedom, against humanity, against justice, against the Union, against the Constitution, and against the Free States; and that a regard for the true interests and the highest honor of the country, not less than the impulses of Christian duty, should arouse all good citizens to join in efforts to arrest this gigantic crime, by withholding supplies, or other voluntary contributions, for its further prosecution; by calling for the withdrawal of our army within the established limits of the United States; and in every just way aiding the country to retreat from the disgraceful position of aggression which it now occupies towards a weak, distracted neighbor and sister republic.

Resolved, That our attention is directed anew to the wrong and "enormity" of slavery, and to the tyranny and usurpation of the "Slave Power," as displayed in the history of our country, particularly in the annexation of Texas and the present war with Mexico. . . .
Old South Leaflets (1904), vol. 6, no. 132, pp. 10-11, 30-31.
 
 

Democrats Hail a Glorious Achievement (1848)
A staunch pro-Polk newspaper, the Democratic Washington Daily Union, took sharp issue with its rival, the Whig Daily National Intelligencer. It hailed the outcome of the war as a magnificent triumph. What does it seem to regard as the greatest intangible gain? the greatest tangible gain? How would the treaty benefit both the security and the commerce of the United States?

It is true that the war has cost us millions of money, and, what is far more precious, the lives of some of our noblest citizens. But what great advantages has it not obtained for us? It has covered us with glory. It has extended our fame to the remotest corners of the earth. If the treaty be ratified, it will extend the area of freedom to the Southern Pacific.

The National Intelligencer, indeed, denies that it has "accomplished any one of the ostensible objects of the war." Yet surely nothing but the blindest party spirit could have made this extravagant assertion.

Have we not driven back the insolent enemy, who invaded Texas and shed the blood of our citizens upon our own soil? Have we not pursued him into the heart of his own country, seized all his strongholds upon the coast, and occupied his capital? Have we not subdued that vainglorious and arrogant spirit which has been productive of so many insults and so many aggressions? What has become of all those idle threats to drive us from Texas--of the silly boast of Santa Anna that he would gather his laurels upon the banks of the Sabine [River]!*

The London Times, in 1845, flattered the national vanity of the Mexicans with the hope that we should not be able to send men enough to encounter their troops. They were under the impression that our army dared not enter Mexico, or, if we made the attempt, that we should be driven back like chaff before the whirlwind. Their vanity deceived them; but their government flattered their arrogance and increased their infatuation.

Now they are tamed. Now they have consented to negotiate for peace, without requiring our ships to leave their coast and our troops to desert their territory. These changes in the popular sentiment have been produced by the brilliant achievements of Buena Vista and of Cerro Gordo, the capture of their castle and of their capital. Does anyone now believe that their spirit is not humbled, and that the sense of their own inferiority will not induce them to refrain from a repetition of the insults and aggressions which they had so repeatedly perpetrated upon us?

They will be stripped, too, of a large portion of their territory. They may be stripped of more, if they should wantonly insult us again. Will not the lessons they have learned operate as a "security for the future"? Will not the moral force we have gained, and the military genius we have exhibited, go beyond Mexico, and produce their impression upon the other nations of the earth?

With ample "indemnity for the past," then, and with such "security for the future"--with achievements in arms which any nation might envy--with an extension of territory to the Pacific, which gives us some of the finest harbors in the world (for one of which alone--the bay of San Francisco--Gen. Jackson was willing to give five millions of dollars)--with an immense commerce opening upon us with the richest nations of Asia--with every facility secured for our whalers in the Pacific, and with the other advantages which we will have secured--with all these, we can truly say that we have every reason to be proud of the war, and proud of the peace which it has obtained us.


*The southwestern border of Louisiana.
Washington Daily Union, March 16, 1848.

David Wilmot Appeals for Free Soil (1847)
While the Mexican War was still being fought, President Polk, his eye on California, asked Congress for $2 million with which to negotiate a peace. Representative David Wilmot of Pennsylvania proposed adding to the appropriation bill an amendment or proviso designed to bar slavery forever from any territory to be wrested from Mexico. Angry Southerners sprang to their feet; and the so-called Wilmot Proviso, though twice passing the House, was blocked in the Senate. But it became the cradle of the yet unborn Republican party, and it precipitated a debate that continued until silenced by the guns of civil war. In the following speech in Congress by Wilmot, what does he conceive the moral issue to be? How effectively does he meet the argument regarding "joint blood and treasure"? Could he properly be regarded as an abolitionist?

But, sir, the issue now presented is not whether slavery shall exist unmolested where it now is, but whether it shall be carried to new and distant regions, now free, where the footprint of a slave cannot be found. This, sir, is the issue. Upon it I take my stand, and from it I cannot be frightened or driven by idle charges of abolitionism.

I ask not that slavery be abolished. I demand that this government preserve the integrity of free territory against the aggressions of slavery--against its wrongful usurpations.

Sir, I was in favor of the annexation of Texas. . . . The Democracy [Democratic Party] of the North, almost to a man, went for annexation. Yes, sir, here was an empire larger than France given up to slavery. Shall further concessions be made by the North? Shall we give up free territory, the inheritance of free labor? Must we yield this also? Never, sir, never, until we ourselves are fit to be slaves. . . .

But, sir, we are told that the joint blood and treasure of the whole country being expended in this acquisition, therefore it should be divided, and slavery allowed to take its share. Sir, the South has her share already; the installment for slavery was paid in advance. We are fighting this war for Texas and for the South. I affirm it--every intelligent man knows it--Texas is the primary cause of this war. For this, sir, Northern treasure is being exhausted, and Northern blood poured upon the plains of Mexico. We are fighting this war cheerfully, not reluctantly--cheerfully fighting this war for Texas; and yet we seek not to change the character of her institutions. Slavery is there; there let it remain. . . .

Now, sir, we are told that California is ours, that New Mexico is ours--won by the valor of our arms. They are free. Shall they remain free? Shall these fair provinces be the inheritance and homes of the white labor of freemen or the black labor of slaves? This, sir, is the issue--this the question. The North has the right, and her representatives here have the power. . . .

But the South contend that, in their emigration to this free territory, they have the right to take and hold slaves, the same as other property. Unless the amendment I have offered be adopted, or other early legislation is had upon this subject, they will do so. Indeed, they unitedly, as one man, have declared their right and purpose so to do, and the work has already begun.

Slavery follows in the rear of our armies. Shall the war power of our government be exerted to produce such a result? Shall this government depart from its neutrality on this question, and lend its power and influence to plant slavery in these territories?

There is no question of abolition here, sir. Shall the South be permitted, by aggression, by invasion of the right, by subduing free territory and planting slavery upon it, to wrest these provinces from Northern freemen, and turn them to the accomplishment of their own sectional purposes and schemes?

This is the question. Men of the North, answer. Shall it be so? Shall we of the North submit to it? If we do, we are coward slaves, and deserve to have the manacles fastened upon our own limbs.


Congressional Globe, 29th Congress, 2d session, Appendix, p. 315 (February 8, 1847).

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