Documents for DBQ SET III: The Mexican-American War
Essay Question: Using your knowledge of the time period and your sources compare and contrast three arguments for President’s Polk’s decision to go to war against Mexico with three arguments against his decision for war.
Background: In 1844 James K Polk ran for President on the platform that he would bring Texas (then an independent republic but wishing for annexation to the United States) into the Union. To do so, however, risked war with Mexico. Indeed, within one year of Polk’s inauguration he asked Congress for a declaration of war. The Mexican-American War was then and remains controversial despite the territories brought into the U.S. as a result of it.
1. President Polk, 1846 justifies war with Mexico.
The grievous wrong perpetrated by Mexico upon our citizens throughout a long period of years remain undressed, and solemn [claims] treaties pledging her public faith for his redress have been disregarded. A government either unable or unwilling to inforce the execution of such treaties fails to perform one of its plainest duties.
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 manifestos 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 [Rio Grande] Del Norte. But now, after reintegrated menaces. Mexico has passed the boundary of the US, has invaded our territory, and shed American blood upon American soil. She has proclaimed the hostilities have commenced, and that the two nations are now at war.
2. John O’Sullivan, 1846, newspaper article proclaims the war is part of America’s Manifest Destiny (a term he coined).
Away, away with all these cobweb tissues of rights of discovery, exploration, settlement, contiguity, ect… The American claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federative self-government entrusted to us. It is a right such as that of the tree to the space of air and earth suitable for the full expansion of its principle and destiny of growth… it is in our future far more then in our past or in the past history of Spanish exploration or French colonial rights, that our True Title is to be found.
3. Miguel Barragan, 1835, Dispatch on Texas Colonists.
The view from Mexico is expressed in this work by a Mexican citizen.
For a long time the ungrateful Texas colonists have made fun of the national laws of Mexico; disregarding the fact that Mexico gave them a generous welcome and kept them close to our bosom; dispensing to them the same-and even more-benefits than to our sons.
Every time we have had internal agitation they have thought the Republic weak and impotent to control their excesses. These have multiplied intensely, producing insults again and again against the whole of our National Arms.
To the Texas colonists, the word MEXICAN is, and has been, an execrable (being inferior/less than) word. There has been no insult or violation that our countrymen have not suffered, including being jailed as “foreigners” in their own country.
All this has reached the point where the flag of rebellion has been raised; the Texans aspiring shamelessly to take over one of the most precious parts of our land. Accomplices to this wickedness are adventurers from the state of Louisiana who foment disturbances and give necessary support to the rebels. The civilized world will not delay in pronouncing the judgment they deserve for this infamous and detestable conduct. The Supreme Government knows its duties and knows how to execute them. The Government believes that not one Mexican worthy of his country will favor the treason of foreign rebels, but that if such a misfortunate exists, the power and duty of punishing him lies in your hands.
God and Liberty!
4. Charles DeMorse, 1846 Dispatch from Texas.
DeMorse, of course, had a point of view completely different from Barragan
At last we have a real “sure enough” war on hand: something to warm the blood and draw out the national enthusiasm. It seems that the “Magnanimous Mexican Nation” has at last come out of its chaparral of wordy diplomacy, treachery, meanness and bombast, and concluded for a little while, quickly with the though- an opportunity to pay off a little of the debt of vengeance which has been accumulating since the Massacre of the Alamo.
We trust that every man of our army, as he points his rifle and thrusts his, bayonet, will think of his countrymen martyred at the Alamo, Goliad, and at Mier, whose blood yet cries aloud from the ground for remembrance and vengeance, and taking a little closer aim or giving a little stronger thrust, will give his blow in his country’s cause and an additional “God Speed.”
5. Charles Sumner, 1846 U. S. Senator Resolution denouncing the war.
Sumner, a senator from Massachusetts, was one of the most strident critics of the war.
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….
6. Mexican general Mariana Arista 1846, Advice to the soldiers of the U.S. Army
It is to no purpose if they tell you, that the law for the annexation of Texas justifies your occupation of the Rio Bravo del Norte; for by this act they rob us of a great part of the Tamaulipas, Coahuila, and New Mexico; and it is barbarous to send us a handful of men on such an errand against a powerful and warlike nation. Besides, the most of you are Europeans, and we are the declared friends of a majority of the nations of Europe. The North Americans are ambitious, overbearing, and insolent as a nation, and they will only make use of you as vile tools to carry out their abominable plans of pillage and rapine.
If, in time of action, you wish to espouse our cause, throw away your arms and run to us, and will embrace you as true friends and Christians. It is not decent nor prudent to say more. But should any of you render important service to Mexico, you shall be accordingly considered and preferred.
7. John D. Sloat, 1846, Commander of Naval Forces in the Pacific, resolution declaring California part of the United States.
Sloat makes the case that Californians will be better off as part of the U.S.
The central government of Mexico having commenced hostilities against the United States of America, by invading its territory and attacking the troops of the United States stationed on the north side of the Rio Grande, and with a force of seven thousand men, under the command of General Arista, which army was totally destroyed and all their artillery, baggage, &c., captured on the 8th and 9th of May last, by a force of two thousand three hundred men, under the command of General Taylor, and the city of Matamoras taken and occupied by the forces of the United States; and the two nations being actually at war by this transaction, I shall hoist the standard of the United States at Monterey immediately, and shall carry it throughout California.
I declare to the inhabitants of California, that although I come in arms with a powerful force, I do not come among them as an enemy to California; on the contrary, I come as their best friend – as henceforward California will be a portion of the United States, and its peaceable inhabitants will enjoy the same rights and privileges they now enjoy; together with the privileges of choosing their own magistrates and other officers for the administration of justice among themselves, and the same protection will be extended to them as to any other State in the Union. They will also enjoy a permanent government under which life, property and the constitutional right and lawful security to worship the Creator in the way most congenial to each one’s sense of duty will be secured, which unfortunately the central government of Mexico cannot afford them, destroyed as her resources are by internal factions and corrupt officers, who create constant revolutions to promote their own interests and to oppress the people. Under the flag of the United States California will be free from all such troubles and expense, consequently the country will rapidly advance and improve both in agriculture and commerce; as of course the revenue laws will be the same in California as in all other parts of the United States, affording them all manufactures and produce of the United States, free of any duty, and all foreign goods at one quarter of the duty they now pay, a great increase in the value of real estate and the products of California may also be anticipated.