One hundred and seventy-four years ago, America’s 11th president sent John Slidell on a secret mission to Mexico, authorizing him to pay the Mexican government up to $25 million for their territories in New Mexico and California. When Mexico refused to consider the offer of President James K. Polk, he sent 4,000 troops to occupy land near the Rio Grande—a region Mexico claimed as its own.
Mexico responded by sending troops, and on April 25, 1846, an American patrol was attacked by Mexican cavalry. Polk loudly accused Mexico of shedding “American blood on American soil!” and congress immediately voted to declare war on Mexico.
Freshman congressman Abraham Lincoln argued that President Polk had goaded the Mexicans into a fight on Mexican soil, and that the war was “unnecessarily and unconstitutionally commenced by the president.” He labeled “Mr. Polk’s War” a shameless land grab, and introduced a series of resolutions demanding to know the location of the “spot of soil” where that first battle of the war took place.
Lincoln’s furious “Spot Resolutions” made his reputation as a politician, but damaged him with his with pro-war constituents. One Illinois newspaper even branded him “the Benedict Arnold of our district,” and his own Whig party did not allow him to be renominated at the end of his congressional term.
The Mexican–American War was the first American war to be covered by mass media, creating widespread public interest and support. Telegraphed reports of victory from the battlefield sparked wildfire excitement and kept Americans emotionally united when they read about those battles in the penny press.1. New York City celebrated the double-victory at Veracruz and Buena Vista with fireworks and a grand procession of 400,000 people.
The Mexican-American War had a higher rate of casualties than WWI or WWII. It was a nasty, brutal war, with diseases killing as many as did cannons, rifles, and swords.
In late 1847, President Polk sent a State Department clerk, Nicholas P. Trist, south of the border to negotiate a peace treaty with the Mexicans. The talks proceeded slowly, so Polk ordered Trist to end the talks and return home. But Trist, believing he was on the verge of a breakthrough, disobeyed the president’s order and sent home a 65-page letter defending his decision to continue his efforts toward peace.
Polk was furious. He said Trist was “destitute of honor or principle!” and tried to have him removed, but was unable to stop the negotiations in Mexico. Two months later, Trist finalized the miraculous Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo. In that treaty, Mexico relinquished all claims to Texas and awarded Trist all or part of the future states of California, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma and Kansas.
President Polk reluctantly accepted the deal, then fired Trist the moment he returned to the United States.
I share these things to cheer you up.
Did you think our current political climate meant that we had lost our way as a nation? Don’t worry even a little bit. A clear-eyed study of history reveals that no nation of people has ever lived up to its potential.
We are no more – and no less – screwed up than we have always been.
Roy H. Williams
1. Beginning in 1830, inexpensive newspapers became possible following the shift from hand-crafted to steam-powered printing. Famous for costing one cent while other newspapers cost around 6 cents, penny press papers made the news accessible to the masses.
Raise a glass with a Jewish friend and you will likely hear them say “L’chaim,” (luh–khah-yim) which simply means, “To Life.” The wizard likes that toast, so he buttered it and made it his own. – Indy Beagle