Issues prior to war. In the lithograph of Corpus Christi, it is clear that the U.S. army is prepared for war one year before the outbreak of hostilities.
Divisions. The divisions over the war’s purpose are clear in the article about the Wilmot Proviso. After Polk asked Congress for $2 million to purchase peace with Mexico, David Wilmot, an anti-slavery Democrat from Pennsylvania, introduced an amendment, which passed the House but not the Senate. The Wilmot Proviso illustrates the divisions between those who supported Polk, whose position was that war was “necessary and proper” to defend the boundaries of Texas, versus those who believed it was “a war of conquest.” More importantly, it illustrates the division between those who did not want slavery extended into any western territories. This division is echoed in James Russell Lowell’s poem. He distrusts the “Southern fellers” who cry for war in the hope of bringing in “Californy” and potential new slave states. He also alludes to the free state versus slave state issue related to western expansion writing that if the slave states have their way, they will “make wite slaves o’ you.” Ultimately, he thinks that it would be best to split the states into two entities because that “has noways jined.” He believes, and thinks that “thousands” of others would support his belief, that the North and the South were never a real union. The unpopularity of the war is demonstrated in the recruitment poster for New Hampshire and its reflection of the nation's need for volunteers. In the hope of gaining volunteers, the poster attempted to cast the fight in terms familiar to most Americans of the period fighting a “half-civilized” enemy in the name of liberty, virtue, and bravery. In return for volunteering, a “handsome bounty” is offered. Political differences between the Whigs and the Democrats are mentioned in Zachary Taylor’s correspondence. He hopes that a compromise can be made in Congress between the two parties over the issue of slavery and that any hope to keep the union together will depend on “a union of a portion of Whig Democrat and native votes.” Divisions over whether or not the war was just are demonstrated in the excerpts from Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience. Thoreau begins by arguing that “government is best which governs least” and that government derives its power from the strength of the majority. He contends that people's first obligation is to do what they believe is right, not to follow the law dictated by the majority. When a government is unjust, people should refuse to follow the law. They are obligated not to participate in evils that include membership in an unjust institution such as the government that supports slavery and is involved in an unjust, aggressive war. The war was “the work of comparatively a few individuals” who used the government “as their tool;” indeed, “the people would not have consented to this measure.”
Consequences. Much that was predicted by Taylor’s correspondence occurs after the war. The divisions between slave and free states, South and North, continue to rage over the extension of slavery in the West. The new territory gained via the Mexican War will be a part of that ongoing conflict. Another consequence that will lead to ongoing social divisions in the nation can be seen in Persifor Smith’s letter. Racist attitudes toward the Mexicans are clear. Not only is their “whole moral character debased,” they are also “incapable of self government.” This is a foreshadowing of the ongoing social, political, and economic problems that will take place in the years ahead between Mexico and the United States.
Creative Extensions. 1. Before reading Chapter 13, ask students what they know about the era of Manifest Destiny. Write their responses in one column on the board and do not erase these for the remainder of this content unit. After reading the chapter, add a second column on the board and ask students to add new information they learned about the era of Manifest Destiny. Then, create a third column and add any unanswered questions your students may have about Manifest Destiny. For homework, ask students to investigate one or more of the unanswered questions. The next day, discuss their findings.
After reading Chapter 13, read students an account of the war with Mexico from the perspective of Mexico. Discuss other sources that contribute to a better knowledge of the goals, conflicts, and consequences of the war from the Mexican perspective. Then, compare and contrast these views with the perspective of the war offered in the textbook. For extra credit, challenge students to write a new section for the book in which both perspectives are included.
3. Stage a classroom debate on any one of the following: