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THE WAR WITH MEXICO.
The following speech was delivered on the 26th of January, 1848, in support of a bill to raise an additional military force with a view to retain possession of the territory of Mexico, until she should consent to make peace on terms satisfactory to the United States. The resolutions of Mr. Calhoun, alluded to by Mr. Dix at the commencement of his speech, declared that, "to conquer Mexico, and to hold it either as a province or incorporate it into the Union, would be inconsistent with the avowed object for which war has been prosecuted; a departure from the settled policy of the government; in conflict with its character and genius; and in the end subversive of our free and popular institutions."
Mr. President: It was my wish to address the Senate on the resolutions offered by the Senator from South Carolina,1 and not on this bill. I should have preferred to do so, because I am always unwilling to delay action on any measure relating to the war, and because the resolutions afford a wider field for inquiry and discussion. But $s the debate has become general, and extended to almost every topic that can well be introduced under either, the force of the considerations by which I have been influenced has become so weakened, that I have not thought it necessary to defer longer what I wish to say.
Two leading questions divide and agitate the public mind in respect to the future conduct of the war with Mexico. The first of these questions is, Shall we withdraw our forces from the Mexican territory, and leave the subject of indemnity for injuries and the adjustment of a boundary between the two republics to future negotiation, relying on a magnanimous course of conduct on our part to produce a corresponding feeling on the part of Mexico? There are other propositions, subordinate to this, which may be
1 Mr. Calhoun.
considered as parts of the same general scheme of policy, — such as that of withdrawing from the Mexican capital and the interior districts, and assuming an exterior line of occupation. I shall apply to all these propositions the same arguments; and if I were to undertake to distinguish between them, I am not sure that I should make any difference in the force of the application. For, whether we withdraw from Mexico altogether, or take a defensive line which shall include all the territory we intend to hold permanently as indemnity, the consequences to result from it, so far as they affect the question of peace, would, it appears to me, be the same.
The second question is, Shall we retain the possession of the territory we have acquired until Mexico shall consent to make a treaty of peace which shall provide ample compensation for the wrongs of which we complain, and settle to our satisfaction the boundary in dispute?
Regarding these questions as involving the permanent welfare of the country, I have considered them with the greatest solicitude; and though never more profoundly impressed with a sense of the responsibility which belongs to the solution of problems of such magnitude and difficulty, my reflections have, nevertheless, led me to a clear and settled conviction as to the course which justice and policy seem to indicate and demand. The first question, in itself of the highest importance, has been answered affirmatively on this floor; and it derives additional interest from the fact, that it has also been answered in the affirmative by a statesman, now retired from the busy scenes of political life, who, from his talents, experience, and public services, justly commands the respect of his countrymen, and whose opinions on any subject are entitled to be weighed with candor and deliberation. I have endeavored to attribute to his opinions, and to those of others who coincide with him wholly or in part, all the importance which belongs to them, and to consider them with the deference due to the distinguished sources from which they emanate. I believe I have done so; and yet I have, after the fullest reflection, come to conclusions totally different from theirs. I believe it would be in the highest degree unjust to ourselves, possessing, as we do, well-founded claims on Mexico, to withdraw our forces from her territory altogether; and exceedingly unwise, as a matter of policy, looking to the future political relations of the two countries, to withdraw from it partially, and assume a line of defence, without a treaty of peace. On the contrary, I am in favor of retaining possession, for the present, of all we have acquired, not as a permanent conquest, but as the most effective means of bringing about, what all most earnestly desire, a restoration of peace; and I will, with the indulgence of the Senate, proceed to state, with as much brevity as the magnitude of the subject admits, my objections to the course suggested by the first question, and my reasons in favor of the course suggested by the other.
I desire, at the outset, to state this proposition, to the truth of which, I think, all will yield their assent: Ithat no policy which does not carry with it a reasonable assurance of healing the dissensions dividing the two countries, and of restoring, permanently, amicable relations between them, ought to receive our support. We may differ in opinion, and perhaps hopelessly, as to the measures best calculated to produce this result; but if it were possible for us to come to an agreement in respect to them, the propriety of their adoption could scarcely admit of controversy. This proposition being conceded, as I think it will be, it follows that, if the measure proposed — to withdraw our forces from Mexico — be not calculated to bring about a speedy and permanent peace, but, on the contrary, if it be rather calculated to open a field of domestic dissension, and possibly of external interference, in that distracted country, to be followed, in all probability, by a renewal of active hostilities with us, and under circumstances to make us feel severely the loss of the advantage which we have gained, and which it is proposed voluntarily to surrender, — then, it appears to me, it can present no claim to our favorable consideration. I shall endeavor to show, before I sit down, that the policy referred to is exposed to all these dangers and evils.
I do not propose to enter into an examination of the origin of the war. From the moment the collision took place between our forces and those of Mexico on the Rio Grande, I considered all hope of an accommodation, without a full trial of strength in the field, to be out of the question. I believed the peculiar character of the Mexicans would render any such hope illusive. Whether that collision was produced in any degree by our own mistakes, or whether the war itself was brought about by the manner in which Texas was annexed to the Union, are questions I do not propose to discuss now; and, if it were not too late, I would submit whether the discussion could serve any other purpose but to exhibit divided councils to our adversary, and to inspire him with the hope of obtaining more favorable terms of peace by protracting his resistance. No one can be less disposed than myself to abridge, in any degree, the legitimate boundaries of discussion. But I am not disposed to enter into such an investigation now. The urgent concern is to know, not how the war originated, not who is responsible for it, but in what manner it can be brought to a speedy and honorable termination, — whether, as some suppose, we ought to retire from the field, or whether, as appears to me, the only hope of an accommodation lies in a firm and determined maintenance of our position.
The probable consequences of an abandonment of the advantages we have gained may be better understood by seeing what those advantages are. I speak in a military point of view. While addressing the Senate in February last, on an army bill then under consideration, I had occasion to
state that the whole of northern Mexico, as far south as the mouth of the Rio Grande and the 26th parallel of latitude, was virtually in our possession, comprehending about two thirds of the territory of that republic, and about one tenth of its inhabitants. Our acquisitions have since been augmented by the reduction of Vera Cruz and the Castle of San Juan de Ulua; the capture of Jalapa, Perote, and Puebla; the surrender of the city of Mexico, and the occupation of the three States of Vera Cruz, Puebla, and Mexico, with nearly two millions and a half of souls. It is true, our forces have not overrun every portion of the territory of those States; but their chief towns have been reduced, the military forces which defended them captured or dispersed, their civil authorities superseded, their capital occupied, and the whole machinery of government within the conquered States virtually transferred to our hands. All this has been achieved with an army at no one period exceeding fifteen thousand men, and against forces from three to five times more numerous than those actually engaged on our side, in every conflict since the fall of Vera Cruz.
I had occasion, on presenting some army petitions a few weeks ago, to refer to the brilliant successes by which these acquisitions were made; and I will not trespass on the attention of the Senate by repeating what I said at that time.1 But I cannot forbear to say, that there is a moral
1 The reference alluded to is con- arms, until then unknown to the inhab
tained in the following extract: — itants of Mexico, was sufficient in itself
"I will not detain the Senate by en- to make his force, small as it was, irre
tering into any detailed review of these sistible. In the eyes of that simple
events with a view to enforce the ap- and superstitious people, he seemed
peal contained in the petition on the armed with superhuman power. Other
attention. I hope, however, I may be circumstances combined to facilitate
indulged in saying, in justice to those his success. The native tribes, by
who bore a part in them, that the first whom the country was possessed, were
conquest of Mexico cannot, as it ap- distinct communities, not always ac
pears to me, be compared with the knowledging the same head, and often
second, either as to the obstacles over- divided among themselves by impla
come, or as to the relative strength of cable hostility and resentments. Cortez,
the invaders. The triumphs of Cortez by his consummate prudence and art,
were achieved by policy, and by supe- turned these dissensions to his own ac
riority in discipline and in the imple- count; he lured the parties to them
nients of warfare. The use of fire- into his own service, and when he pre