Abraham Lincoln on War with Mexico

When Abraham Lincoln was the freshman rep. from Illinois, he made a speech about the moral issues involved with the Mexican War. This was Lincoln’s first major speech in 1848. The United States was in the process of taking 500,000 square miles of land from Mexico (Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, California) and Lincoln was under the impression that this was imperialistic. He was against the Mexican War. Here were some of Lincoln’s points:

1. The war was unneccesarily  and unconstitionally started by President Polk.

2. The war was started by people who were working with bad and faulty intelligence and if had decent information, they would not conscientiously approve this war against the Mexicans. 

3. Polk claimed the Mexicans attacked us first on our soil. The United States actually attacked Mexico on Mexican soil. Lincoln says:

    I am now through the whole of the President’s evidence; and it is a singular fact, that if any one should declare the President sent the army into the midst of a settlement of Mexican people, who had never submited, by consent or by force, to the authority of Texas or of the United States, and that there, and thereby, the first blood of the war was shed, there is not one word in all the President has said, which would either admit or deny the declaration.

Lincoln’s argument for what constituted Texas and what constitutes Mexico is interesting, considering what happened in the 1860s. He argues that Texas should consist only of the piece of populated Texas that rebelled from Mexico since:

Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable,– most sacred right–a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world.

So the piece of Texas that was Mexico, but rebelled (partly because Mexico had anti-slavery laws, which were not enforced in Texas, and also forced the citizenry to be Roman Catholic, but mainly because they spoke English and not Spanish) had every right to do so. However, the part of Texas that was uninhabited by english speakers, did not rebel against Mexican rule, so it was still Mexican.

4. The War has gone on far too long – 20 months, when far less was expected.

The war has gone on some twenty months; for the expenses of which, together with an inconsiderable old score…

At it’s beginning, Genl. Scott was, by this same President, driven into disfavor, if not disgrace, for intimating that peace could not be conquered in less than three or four months.

5. The President has no idea how – after winning the war – how to keep the peace. Lincoln says:

But the other half is already inhabited, as I understand it, tolerably densely for the nature of the country; and all it’s lands, or all that are valuable, already appropriated as private property. How then are we to make any thing out of these lands with this encumbrance on them? or how, remove the encumbrance? I suppose no one will say we should kill the people, or drive them out, or make slaves of them, or even confiscate their property. How then can we make much out of this part of the teritory?

6. Polk is not thinking straight

His (President Polk’s) mind, tasked beyond it’s power, is running hither and thither, like some tortured creature, on a burning surface, finding no position, on which it can settle down, and be at ease.

Here is the speech

This speech is regarded as making some rich points – but having poor timing. The United States soon signed a peace treaty with Mexico, where the US agreed to pay Mexico 15 million dollars in exchange for Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Soon after, in 1849, gold was discovered in California – over 200 million dollars worth of gold.

Abraham Lincoln, maybe partly because of this speech, failed to keep his seat after his freshman term. He later became not a pacifist at all!

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Filed under America, Barack Obama, history, politics, War

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