BECK index

Polk and the US-Mexican War 1845-49

by Sanderson Beck

Polk, Texas & Manifest Destiny in 1845
Polk Begins War Against Mexico in 1846
US Conquest of California & New Mexico 1846-49
Polk’s War Against Mexico in 1847
Mexican Cession and the 1848 US Election

Polk, Texas & Manifest Destiny in 1845

US Depression, Van Buren & Tyler 1837-44
Slavery and Abolitionists 1817-44

Women Reforming America 1817-44
American Philosophy & Religion 1817-44

      In January 1845 the US Congress established Tuesday after the first Monday in November in years divisible by four as the day for US Presidential elections.
      Senator Benton of Missouri was the only Democrat in a slave state who opposed annexing Texas, and he proposed dividing Texas into two parts with and without slaves, but the Senate rejected this. Then he suggested that President Tyler send five commissioners to negotiate with the Texans. Tyler supported a joint resolution in Congress, and he confirmed the Monroe Doctrine that promised not to interfere in Europe as long as Europeans did not intervene in the western hemisphere. In mid-January the Whig Milton Brown of Tennessee proposed a resolution in the House to admit Texas as a state.
      On January 21 Rep. Joshua Giddings of Ohio warned that the US would have to assume the Texas debt of $50 million. He went on to say that adding more slaveholding congressmen would destroy representative government. He noted that the southern states already had 39 extra legislators because of the three-fifths compromise in the Constitution. He warned that the ensuing war with Mexico would fall on the North because the South would keep troops at home to prevent slave insurrections. Senator John Calhoun of South Carolina had claimed that slavery benefited the nation, but Giddings said that policy had “no humanity or morality.” He cited how many slaves died each year from the lash and overwork, and he concluded, “There is a Power above that will visit national sins and crimes with national judgments.”1 The House voted 120-98 to admit Texas on January 25.
      On January 31 Rep. Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois gave a speech in the House of Representatives on the expansion of the United States. He argued that Oregon is as important as Texas. He suggested they create a territory west from the Missouri he called Nebraska. Douglas believed that the oceans should be the boundaries of the US. Three days before his speech Asa Whitney had proposed a Pacific railroad, and Douglas supported this.
      Polk arrived in Washington in mid-February and urged the Congress to accept the annexation of Texas. Robert J. Walker of Mississippi offered an amendment in the Senate, and the Democrats passed the compromise 27-25 on February 27. The next day the House approved the amended resolution, and it was the first time that a resolution was used to avoid the constitutional necessity of a two-thirds vote for a treaty. President Tyler signed it on March 1, and that day he ordered Andrew Jackson’s adopted son Andrew Jackson Donelson in Houston City to negotiate Texas annexation on proslavery terms.
      On March 3 for the first time the US Congress garnered a two-thirds vote in both houses to overcome the President’s veto. They did so to block his order to pay for ships. On the same day Tyler signed an act to admit the slave state of Florida which had attained a population of 58,000.

      James Knox Polk was born on 2 November 1795 near Pineville, North Carolina, and his mother was probably descended from the Presbyterian founder John Knox. His family moved to Tennessee in 1806. In 1813 James enrolled in a Presbyterian Academy, and in January 1816 he transferred to the University of North Carolina and graduated in June 1818. Polk was chief clerk of the Tennessee Senate 1819-23. The Tennessee bar admitted him in June 1920, and he became a Mason in September. He was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1823 and helped Andrew Jackson get elected a US Senator. His career was aided by Jackson, and he became known as “Young Hickory.” He campaigned for Jackson in 1828, and in 1833 he opposed the US Bank.
      Polk was elected to the US House of Representatives in August 1825 and served there until 1839. He was chairman of the Ways and Means Committee 1833-35 and Speaker of the House 1835-39. Then Polk was elected Governor of Tennessee in 1839, but he lost the elections for governor in 1841 and 1843. He supported the annexation of Texas on 22 April 1844, won the Democratic nomination for President on May 29 and on June 12 pledged to serve only one term. In August his campaign biography began appearing, and the New York press called him “Young Hickory.” Polk was elected US President on November 5.
      On 4 March 1845 rain fell during the inaugural parade and address by President Polk. He claimed that Texas by the Louisiana Purchase had been a part of the United States but had been “unwisely ceded away” in the Florida treaty of 1819, and he asserted that re-annexation concerned only Texas and the United States. He also claimed, “Our title to the country of Oregon is clear and unquestionable,”2 though Britain occupied the northern portion.
      On March 6 Polk appointed Robert J. Walker to be Treasury Secretary, the conservative New Yorker William Marcy as Secretary of War, Cave Johnson of Tennessee the Postmaster General, and John Mason of Virginia the Attorney General. He made James Buchanan of Pennsylvania the Secretary of State but opposed his efforts to get protective tariffs for iron, coal, and other items. President Polk used his strong will to enact his policies and was not above using secrecy, deception, and mendacity. His closest confidants were his wife Sarah and the historian George Bancroft whom he made Navy Secretary. Bancroft reported that Polk’s four great measures he pursued were settling the Oregon issue with Britain, acquiring California, reducing the tariff to revenue only, and completing the Independent Treasury. Polk forced Francis Blair to sell the Washington Globe, and he selected Thomas Ritchie to edit the new administration newspaper, the Washington Union.
      The US Congress on 28 February 1845 had passed a resolution favoring the annexation of Texas; but on March 6 the Mexican minister General Juan Almonte in Washington called the United States annexation of Texas a most unjust act of aggression, and on the 28th he broke off diplomatic relations. The next day Texas President Anson Jones promised to delay annexation, but on May 5 he announced an election for delegates to a convention to consider the idea. They met on July 4 and appointed a committee. Their ordinance and constitution were passed and ratified on October 13. The United States admitted Texas as a state on December 29, and on 19 February 1846 Jones was replaced by the newly elected governor J. Pinckney Henderson.

      Polk sent William Parrott at the end of March 1845 to inform the Mexican government that the US had annexed Texas. Parrott, who had claims against the Mexican government for items sold, arrived in Mexico City on April 23. On that day General Mariano Paredes announced a defensive war. Polk also dispatched Archibald Yell, Charles Wickliffe, and Commodore Robert Stockton as special agents to Texas to assist Andrew Jackson Donelson who returned to Texas with them in May. In April the Navy Secretary Bancroft had ordered Commodore Stockton to take his naval squadron to Galveston, but President Jones of Texas stopped that. Stockton told Jones that he intended to recruit a force to seize Matamoros to secure the Rio Grande as the Texas border. Jones in April had called a special session of the Texas Congress and then a special convention to consider annexation; but before either met, they learned that Mexico had recognized the independence of Texas which he announced, proclaiming that the war with Mexico was over.
      Polk wrote to Andrew Jackson for support and asked him to write to Sam Houston, and Jackson urged his adopted son Donelson to be Chargé to Texas. After his first term as Texas President Sam Houston went to visit Andrew Jackson at his Hermitage near Nashville, but he arrived just minutes after Jackson died on 8 June 1845. On March 27 Andrew Jackson had written to another veteran that true virtue is “with the people, the great laboring and producing classes, that form the bone and sinew of our confederacy.”3
      On June 4 President José Joaquín de Herrera called the US annexation of Texas “a monstrous novelty,” and he affirmed their intention to defend Mexico’s claim to Texas. On June 15 Polk ordered General Zachary Taylor, who was called “Old Rough and Ready,” to cross the Sabine River into Texas. Taylor sent his cavalry overland to Corpus Christi at the mouth of the Nueces and his infantry by way of New Orleans on a steamer. War Secretary Marcy advised Taylor to get as close to the Rio Grande as was prudent. The Washington Union reported that if Mexicans refused to accept the Rio Grande as the Texas border, Americans would invade Mexico in order to take and keep California.
      On June 23 the Texas Congress voted unanimously to be annexed by the United States, and on July 4 at Austin a Texas convention accepted the annexation. They began working on a state constitution which the Texan voters would approve in October. Texas at that time had about 100,000 free persons and 38,000 slaves. On June 24 Navy Secretary Bancroft wrote to Commodore Sloat that if he learned that Mexico had declared war against the US, the Pacific Squadron should seize San Francisco and other California ports.
      The famous theory of “manifest destiny” attached to Polk’s administration was first expressed by John L. O’Sullivan in July 1845 in his United States Magazine and Democratic Review to claim that providence would allow the expanding population of Americans to take over a large portion of North America from coast to coast. He objected to other nations

thwarting our policy and hampering our power,
limiting our greatness and checking the fulfillment
of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent
allotted by Providence for the free development
of our yearly multiplying millions.

He concluded his editorial by predicting

the 250, or 300 million—and American millions—
destined to gather beneath the flutter of the stripes and stars,
in the fast hastening year of the Lord 1945!4

O’Sullivan used the term again on December 27 in the New York Morning News in regard to the border dispute with Britain over Oregon territory.
      US Consul Thomas Larkin in California sent a message that British businesses were financing Mexican troops who were advancing toward California, but it took three months to get to Washington. Polk sent Commodore Stockton to California and in May had ordered Pacific Squadron Commander John Sloat to be ready and conciliate California natives. Sloat was stationed at Mazatlán in November until he learned that Commodore David Connor had left Veracruz and sent ships to smaller ports.
      In August the Prussian minister Friedrich von Gerolt told the Polk administration that Mexico had sent 3,000 men to the Rio Grande, and another 10,000 were to follow. Polk ordered 10,000 muskets to be sent to Galveston for Texan volunteers. On August 6 Taylor changed the name of his force from the Army of Observation to the Army of Occupation. On the 12th he found that the Matamoros garrison actually had 500 men, and 1,000 reinforcements were coming. Major General Gaines sent two companies of artillery to Taylor, but his summons of four regiments of volunteers from Louisiana was canceled by Secretary Marcy who on August 23 allowed Taylor to ask for troops from the governors of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky. On the 26th Polk ordered Taylor to consider any movement of Mexican troops across the Rio Grande the beginning of hostilities. Three days later Polk’s cabinet approved an attack on Matamoros and the blockade or seizure of ports not in rebellion against Mexico if Mexico declared war or invaded Texas. Taylor had 4,000 soldiers there by the end of September. In the next few months one in eight of his soldiers would be suffering from diarrhea and dysentery because of poor sanitation in the camp.
      On March 23 and September 8 Col. Ethan Allen Hitchcock had written in his diary,

As for Texas, her original limit was the Nueces
and the hills ranging north from its sources,
and she has never conquered, possessed,
or exercised dominion west of the Nueces,
except that a small smuggling company at this place,
living here by Mexican sufferance,
if not under Mexican protection,
has chosen to call itself Texan.

I have said from the first
that the United States are the aggressors.
We have outraged the Mexican government and people
by an arrogance and presumption
that deserve to be punished.
For ten years we have been encroaching on Mexico
and insulting her.5

      On 10 October 1845 the United States Naval Academy had been established at Annapolis, Maryland. Missouri Senator Benton urged President Polk to enforce the Monroe Doctrine against any British or other European attempt to colonize California. After the end of the British Opium War with China in 1844, five Chinese ports had been opened to American commerce. On 11 October 1845 Polk learned that the British had advised Mexico to send troops to California, and he made Larkin a confidential agent. In a secret letter on the 17th Secretary of State Buchanan instructed Consul Larkin to counter foreign influence and promote annexation to the US. If California asserted its independence, then he was to encourage them. He wrote,

You should exert the greatest vigilance
in discovering and defeating any attempts
which may be made by Foreign Governments
to acquire a control over that Country.
In the contest between Mexico and California
we can take no part, unless the former
should commence hostilities against the United States;
but should California assert and maintain her independence,
we shall render her all the kind offices
in our power as a Sister Republic.
This Government has no ambitious aspirations to gratify
and no desire to extend our Federal system
over more Territory than we already possess,
unless by the free and spontaneous wish
of the Independent people of the adjoining Territories.6

      On November 10 Polk commissioned Louisiana Congressman John Slidell, who knew Spanish, to negotiate the purchase of California or New Mexico from Mexico. An international tribunal in 1842 had determined that the $6,291,605 debt the Mexican government claimed from Americans was really only $2,026,149. Mexico agreed to begin paying in 1843 but defaulted in 1844. Slidell reached Mexico City on December 8. He demanded the Rio Grande as a border and offered to buy New Mexico for $3 million and California for $25 million, and the US would pay the Americans’ debts to Mexico. However, President Herrera refused to meet with him because his appointment was not confirmed. During this crisis the Mexican war party took power on December 29 when the garrison defected to Major General Mariano Paredes who replaced the fleeing Herrera by proclaiming himself President two days later.
      In 1845 more than 5,000 people traveled in trains of about ten wagons on the Oregon trail to the Columbia River. John C. Frémont’s second expedition from May 1843 to August 1844 was an exploration that followed the Snake River and reached the Columbia River, turned south and struggled to survive in the High Sierras in the winter, and then passed through the San Joaquin Valley before returning through Utah. Frémont named the region between the Rocky Mountains and the High Sierras the “Great Basin.” He presented his second report in March 1845 to the Secretary of War who had printed 10,000 copies of the combined two reports. On June 1 Frémont began his third expedition from St. Louis to the Rocky Mountains, the Great Salt Lake, and on to Sutter’s New Helvetia estate by the Sacramento River in California on December 10. On November 6 a Washington Union editorial demanded all of Oregon.
      In his first annual address to Congress on December 2 Polk affirmed the Monroe Doctrine that would not “permit any European interference on the North American continent.” He also claimed Oregon and California for the United States. In 1845 and 1846 about 3,700 Americans went to Oregon, and in 1846 some 1,500 traveled west by the California trail. On December 9 Polk sent a special message to Congress that Texas had agreed to be a state, and on the 22nd the US Congress voted to admit Texas to the Union, and on the 31st they included the territory beyond the Nueces River within the US revenue system.
      Also in 1845 Louisiana held a convention to write a new constitution that abolished any property requirement for voting or holding an office, and Texas did the same.
      On March 31 the socialist Robert Owen had published his open letter “To the Capitalists and Men of Extensive Practical Experience in New York.” He accepted the Associationist idea of joint stock organizations to produce and distribute wealth and educate children. He wrote,

These establishments will enable the capitalists
and men of extensive practical experience
to solve without difficulty the great problem of the age,
that is, how to apply the enormous and ever growing
new scientific powers for producing wealth
beneficially for the entire population,
instead of allowing them to create enormous riches for the few
and to impoverish the many….
My great desire is, without regard to class, party, sect,
or present condition, permanently to benefit all.7

      On August 18 in Lexington, Kentucky the proslavery Committee of Sixty, whose secretary was Henry Clay’s son James, made threats to destroy the printing press of the abolitionist True American weekly run by Cassius M. Clay, a cousin of Henry Clay whom Cassius then denounced in public. Cassius had lost $40,000 by freeing slaves before he touted abolition. He armed himself to defend his press and was exiled to Cincinnati, but he moved his newspaper west to Louisville.
            On August 10 the US Congress founded in Washington DC the Smithsonian Institution. The inventor Rufus M. Porter began publishing Scientific American as a four-page weekly newspaper in 1845. Elias Howe got patents for his sewing machine, and John Deere made a plow with a steel moldboard. William H. Prescott had published his History of the Conquest of Mexico in December 1843, and his History of the Conquest of Peru would come out in 1847. The Knickerbocker Base Ball Club was organized in September 1845 and established rules for the game.

Polk Begins War Against Mexico in 1846

      On 2 January 1846 Mexico’s new President Mariano Paredes gave his inaugural address swearing he would defend Mexican territory up to the Sabine River. On the 12th Slidell’s report that Mexico refused to receive him reached Washington. The next day President Polk ordered General Zachary Taylor to move his forces across the Nueces River to the Rio Grande, but he did not receive the orders until February 3. Whig newspapers criticized this as aggression. The rancheros in Tamaulipas had already lost livestock to Texan rustlers to stock their ranches. A Mexican force confronted Taylor’s army at Arroyo Colorado but withdrew when Taylor refused to stop. On February 19 the Republic of Texas gave up its sovereignty and became a state in the United States with J. Pinckney Henderson as the first governor. Two days later Texans elected their first senators Thomas Jefferson Rusk and Sam Houston, who would serve for eleven and thirteen years.
      Mexico rejected Slidell’s proposals on March 12. On March 21 President Paredes issued a manifesto warning that war is a most grievous and serious evil, but peace must allow independence. General Taylor established a supply base at Port Isabel. On the 28th his army of 4,000 men reached the Rio Grande and began building Fort Texas which was garrisoned by 500 men and aimed its cannons at the town of Matamoros. Paredes sent Lt. Col. Rafael Téllez to Mazatlán to raise an army to defend California, but instead he started a federalist rebellion in support of Santa Anna.
      On April 2 Major General Pedro de Ampudia sent out an appeal to foreigners in the US army to desert, and on the 20th they offered 320 acres to each deserter who became a peaceful Mexican citizen. On April 12 Ampudia demanded that the Americans withdraw beyond the Nueces, but Taylor ordered the mouth of the Rio Grande blockaded, an act of war. The US Navy was also blockading Veracruz on the Gulf and Mazatlán on the Pacific coast. On April 23 President Paredes blamed the United States and announced a “defensive war” to stop US aggression. He sent General Mariano Arista who arrived the next day at Matamoros increasing their force to about 5,000 men, and he ordered General Anastasio Torrejón to cross the Rio Grande at La Palangana. Taylor sent Captain Seth Thornton there with 70 men, and on April 25 Torrejón’s army of 1,600 ambushed them, killing 11 Americans and capturing 26 including Thornton. The next day Taylor wrote to Washington that hostilities had begun, and he called for four regiments of volunteers from each of the governors of Texas and Louisiana. Major General Edmund Gaines and Governor Johnson of Louisiana got the legislature to approve $100,000 to equip four regiments.
      On May 1 Taylor left a small garrison at Fort Texas and returned the thirty miles to Port Isabel within the disputed territory. The next day Lt. Ulysses Grant arrived at Isabel, heard gunfire, and regretted he had enlisted. Arista’s army besieged Fort Texas on May 3 but left with 3,709 men to confront Taylor’s army of 2,288 at Palo Alto near modern Brownsville. In the battle on the 8th the Americans with much superior artillery and some rifles inflicted about five times as many casualties as they suffered, losing only 9 killed and 44 wounded with 2 missing. The next day the Mexican army retreated south to Resaca de la Palma where 1,700 Americans defeated 3,758 Mexicans again while losing 49 dead and 83 wounded compared to 154 Mexicans killed, 205 wounded, and 156 missing. As the Mexicans fled and swam across the Rio Grande, the Americans took a hundred prisoners and much ammunition. Arista suggested a prisoner exchange, and Taylor accepted. He relieved Fort Texas and renamed it Fort Brown after Major Jacob Brown who had been killed. On May 14 Commodore Conner announced a blockade of Veracruz, Alvarado, Tampico, and Matamoros. On the 18th the Americans crossed the Rio Grande and took over Matamoros as the Mexican army retreated with about a thousand women and children to Monterrey.
      Meanwhile Slidell arrived in Washington on May 8, and the next day Polk and his cabinet, except for Bancroft, agreed to send his war message to Congress. On that day arrived Taylor’s report of the battle on April 25. In his war message on May 11 Polk claimed that war existed “by the act of Mexico herself,” and he asked “Congress to recognize the existence of the war” and to approve $10 million for the troops and the enlistment of 50,000 more. In the debate the Whig Garret Davis said, “It is our own President who began this war. He has been carrying it on for months.”8 Senator Benton pointed out that Mexico had not declared war and that their President had only ordered defensive actions. The US House passed the amendment adding the preamble justifying the war to the bill 123-67 and the final bill 174-14 with 35 abstaining. J. Q. Adams and Joshua Giddings led the 14 Whigs who voted against the bill because southerners were trying to perpetuate slavery with an aggressive war. Giddings wrote a letter to the Ashtabula Sentinel arguing that the Mexican War was dissolving the Union.
      In the US Senate 18 Whigs and John Calhoun and the other South Carolina senator were opposing the war, but on May 12 the war bill passed 40-2 with Calhoun and two Whigs abstaining. Calhoun opposed the aggression and was concerned that slavery would not be extended in New Mexico and California and that Mexican people would reduce the power of white Americans. He also argued that it was unconstitutional without a declaration of war. Many Whigs backed the war because they were concerned their party would lose power as the Federalists had after opposing the War of 1812. President Polk proclaimed the war on May 13, rejecting Buchanan’s suggestion to state that the US had not gone to war to gain territory. Polk replied that the territory acquired would “defray the expenses of the war.” Navy Secretary Bancroft ordered Commodore Conner to blockade all the Mexican ports on the Gulf of Mexico.
      General Winfield Scott was the top officer in the US Army and accepted command of the war. Polk was not impressed by Scott in a strategy meeting, and on May 21 he criticized Scott for not promoting Captain Hutter. Two days later Scott wrote a complaining letter, and on the 25th Polk removed him from command. The strategy was to support Taylor and begin operations to seize California. They also decided to send a force of 2,000 men to Santa Fé and 4,000 to Chihuahua. The main army led by Scott would occupy the lower Rio Grande. On June 8 War Secretary Marcy informed Taylor that 20,000 reinforcements were on the way and that he was in command of operations in northern Mexico.
      The Whig Representative Robert Winthrop from Massachusetts on January 3 had made a speech opposing a resolution backed by western Democrats to give the one-year notice required to terminate the joint occupation of Oregon with the British. He opposed war for Oregon and argued that arbitration ought to be tried in order to maintain the peace. On January 5 the abolitionist Whig Guidings suggested that a war against the British over Oregon could unite northern Democrats for a war that could end slavery. This caused southerners like Calhoun to withdraw their support for annexing all of Oregon. A modified resolution was passed, and Polk signed it on April 28. Edward Everett as minister to Britain in 1845 had suggested extending the 49th parallel to the Pacific coast as the boundary in Oregon, but the British minister rejected that. Polk then demanded all of Oregon up to 54° 40' north latitude. On June 6 British minister Pakenham suggested to Secretary of State Buchanan the compromise at 49° to the coast. On the 15th both sides in Washington accepted it, and three days later the US Senate ratified it 41-14. Northerners were upset that Polk compromised on Oregon but not with Mexico.
      In response to the Mexican War 20,000 people attended a pro-war rally in Philadelphia, and a larger crowd gathered in New York City to sing, hear speeches, and see the black-faced minstrel G. W. Dixon. The New York Herald predicted the war would “lay the foundation of a new age, a new destiny” for the continent and Europe. The poet Walt Whitman wrote in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle that Mexico must be “thoroughly chastised.” Francis Blair read the Slidell documents and concluded that Polk was lying. Five daily newspapers in New York City agreed to share the expense of reporting the news of the Mexican War.
      The United States had 22 million people to Mexico’s 7 million and a much stronger economy as the Mexican government was spending 87% of its revenues paying for its debt. The Mexicans recently had been fighting more wars, but the Mexican war would prepare the US for its Civil War. The US Army had slaves and the Mexican Army servants. Free blacks could not enlist in the US Army, but they could join the US Navy. So far the US had only 120 miles of telegraph wire with none south of Richmond, but by June the telegraph was extended from Washington to Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. The New Orleans Picayune published war news that the pony express could get to Washington by the end of the war. During this war the United States developed a professional military, and efforts to close down the West Point military academy faded away; 523 West Point graduates would fight in the Mexican War.
      President Polk was concerned that his two best generals, Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott, were Whigs and that one of them might run for President. All the men he made generals were Democrats. Irish immigrants were about a quarter of the US Army. Mexico distributed pamphlets urging Catholics to desert and join their side, and they formed a St. Patrick’s Battalion called sanpatricios. Most of the 9,207 deserters did not take up arms against the US. The 8.3% desertion rate was the highest of any US foreign war. The US regular soldiers were generally well disciplined, but the volunteers often robbed and abused Mexican civilians.
      On June 23 Henry Clay wrote a letter to Horace Greeley arguing that the Mexican War would never had occurred if he had been elected in 1844, and he lamented that the war was occurring “between two neighboring republics.”
      Like the US Congress, the Mexican Congress did not declare war, each side claiming the other side had invaded the disputed territory. On July 9 President Paredes proclaimed a defensive war and asked the Church for a loan. Secret meetings with Col. Alexander Atocha, who was Spanish but an American citizen, had started in February and persuaded Polk to give Santa Anna safe passage in August from Cuba through the US blockade back to Mexico. Santa Anna promised to make a treaty with the US and cede territory for about $30 million. Polk had sent Slidell’s brother Alexander Mackenzie to negotiate with Santa Anna, and he met him in Havana on July 5. During that month and in August one in eight of the US soldiers in the main camp at Camargo died, mostly from dysentery. On August 4 Polk sent a confidential request asking the Senate to appropriate $2 million to purchase Mexican territory. Santa Anna left Havana on August 8 and arrived at Mexico City on September 14.
      Also in 1846 the Liberty Party helped form the New Hampshire Alliance of those opposing slavery who won the legislative elections in March and by June had elected John P. Hale as US Senator and the anti-slavery Whig Anthony Colby as governor.
      The two new senators from Texas enabled Walker’s tariff to be included in the Revenue Bill that Polk signed on July 30, and Walker’s report on the sub-treasury system was part of the Independent Treasury Act on August 6. Northwestern Democrats helped Whigs pass a bill to authorize $1,378,450 for improving rivers and harbors, but Polk vetoed it on August 3. That day he appointed the Jacksonian Democrat Robert Grier to the US Supreme Court. When Attorney General Mason went back to being Navy Secretary in October, Polk appointed Nathan Clifford to be attorney general.
      On August 8 Pennsylvania’s Democrat David Wilmot’s proviso to ban slavery in new Mexican land was offered as an amendment to a $2 million war bill; but it was defeated in the US Senate, and the appropriation was increased to $3 million. Yet ten northern states passed resolutions favoring the Wilmot proviso.
      The city of Monterrey had a garrison of 1,800 men, and General Ampudia’s army increased their forces to 7,303. General Taylor’s army of 6,220 men attacked Monterrey on September 21, and on the 24th Ampudia asked for terms. The Americans had 122 killed and 368 wounded while Mexicans had 367 casualties The American commissioners demanded surrender of the city, arms, and public property, but they allowed the Mexicans to keep their personal arms and agreed to an armistice for eight weeks. Polk learned of the armistice on October 11, and two days later he had War Secretary Marcy send a diplomatic letter to bring that to an end. Taylor received those instructions on November 2. The Americans would occupy Monterrey until June 1848.
      Brigadier General John Wool and his troops left San Antonio in late September, and they entered the town of Monclova on November 3 and occupied it for 20 days. That month Commodore Conner’s squadron had occupied the port of Tampico. Taylor’s army occupied Saltillo on November 16. Wool’s army marched to Parras by December 5 and joined Taylor’s army on the 21st at Agua Nueva near Saltillo. Polk used most of his annual message to Congress on December 8 to justify his war, and he even accused those of opposing it of giving “aid and comfort” to the enemy.

      In September 1846 at Albany, New York the American Home Missionary Society and the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions combined to form the American Missionary Association led by abolitionists, and they began the American Missionary magazine.
      Elias Howe in September got a patent for his lockstitch sewing machine, but he had to defend his patent legally until 1854 against Isaac Singer and others. In October the dentist William T. G. Morton, a Harvard medical student, used ether gas to perform surgery without pain at Massachusetts General Hospital.
      On November 8 the abolitionist Samuel May presented a sermon on “The Rights and Condition of Women” to his Syracuse congregation. He noted that more than half the people, the women, are not allowed to vote and influence many issues such as licensing the sale of intoxicating drinks, war, and slavery. He admitted that women have less physical strength but that this should not make them dependent mentally, morally, or socially. He considered family the most important institution. He observed that women are courted, flattered, and coaxed but are not respected by men or even by themselves as they should be. He admitted that men have too much power over women and often cruelly oppress them.
      On December 12 the Mallarino-Bidlack treaty granted the United States transit rights across the isthmus of Panama that was governed by New Granada, and in 1847 the US Congress would pass subsidies for mail and passengers to and from the Atlantic and Pacific sides of Panama. Finally on December 28 Iowa was admitted into the Union as a free state.
      Also in 1846 the historian Francis Parkman traveled with his friend Quincy Shaw to St. Louis in the spring and then on the American prairie for several months during which they met many Indians and shot buffalo. They hired the trapper Henry Chatillon, who was married to the daughter of the Oglala chief Bull Bear, and this enabled them to observe an impending Indian war of the Dakota people against the Snake tribe. They returned to Westport in early September and took a steamer from St. Louis. Parkman returned to Boston and moved to New York where he wrote the account of his adventures in The Oregon Trail which he began publishing with installments in 1847.
      Because of the potato blight in Ireland the number of Irish immigrants coming into the United States had increased from 75,000 in 1845 to 106,000 in 1846.
      Albert Barnes published his impartial Inquiry into the Scriptural Views of Slavery in Philadelphia, the same year that Matthew Estes of Columbus, Mississippi put out A Defence of Negro Slavery, as it Exists in the United States.

US Conquest of California & New Mexico 1846-49

      In 1845 Alta California included all of what became the US states of California, Nevada, and Utah with parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming. The territory had about 100,000 natives and some 14,000 Spaniards and Mexicans with only 680 foreigners who were mostly from the United States. On September 3 Mexico’s President Herrera appointed Pío Pico Governor of the Californias. He resided in Los Angeles and was inaugurated on 18 April 1846. In the north the Mexican commandant José Castro formed a military junta at Monterey, and on April 2 he recognized Paredes as interim president of Mexico. Pico considered this a declaration of war against the south, and he dismissed the threat of an invasion led by Frémont.
      Captain John C. Frémont was guided by mountain-man Kit Carson on his third western expedition which recruited 55 volunteers and 9 Delaware Indians in St. Louis in June 1845. They left Bent’s Fort by the Arkansas River on August 16, and in October they explored Utah Lake and the Great Salt Lake. They split into two groups and agreed to meet in California’s Central Valley. Frémont renamed Mary’s River after Humboldt. John Sutter had been given a land grant in exchange for becoming a Mexican citizen, and he became an agent for the Mexican government. When Frémont reached Sutter’s Fort on December 9, Sutter was away; but John Bidwell reluctantly provided supplies and a blacksmith. While the other group was delayed, Frémont’s men traveled and visited Yerba Buena (San Francisco), and he called the entrance to the bay the “Golden Gate.”
      On 27 January 1846 they reached Monterey where Consul Larkin advanced Frémont $1,800 for supplies. Frémont told José Castro that they were surveying for the benefit of science and commerce, and they moved in February to the San José mission area where they were reunited with the group led by William Walker. Frémont had said he was going to Oregon; but on the 22nd they headed south toward Monterey, and on March 5 Castro ordered the Norteamericanos to leave California. Frémont raised a US flag on Gavilan Peak near Monterey and wrote Larkin they would fight. After a wind blew the flag down on the 9th, he led his men north to the Sacramento valley and then toward Klamath Lake in the Oregon territory. On the way settlers persuaded Frémont to fight Indians who had attacked Americans. They raided a village near Reading’s Ranch and probably killed at least 175 or as many as a thousand. Carson called it “a perfect butchery,” and Frémont noted that it had the effect he intended.
      On April 17 a US warship brought Marine Lt. Archibald Gillespie to Monterey with secret instructions sent in October for the US Consul Larkin and Frémont, urging them to pursue annexation and keep the British out of California. Gillespie went north and on May 9 found Frémont exploring the Klamath Lake region. He gave him the secret instructions regarding California. Frémont realized that war with Mexico was inevitable, and he was willing to lead a revolution with only 800 Americans in California. After Klamath natives attacked their camp in the dark early on May 10, killing three explorers while losing only one brave, Frémont’s party got revenge killing Indians around Klamath Lake including 14 in one skirmish. Then on May 12 they headed south, and they camped at Sutter Buttes on the 30th. On June 3 Sutter started a campaign against the Indians and sent a message to Frémont.
      On June 8 William Ide received a message from Frémont that 250 armed Mexicans were approaching. Some settlers met with Frémont and urged him to lead a raid to capture a herd of horses from Mexican officers. When he declined, Ezekiel Merritt led the raid that on June 10 stole 170 horses and gave them to Frémont. The Bear Flag revolt in California began on the 14th when Merritt and Ide led 32 American settlers who captured the Sonoma pueblo, took arms from the presidio, and abducted the Mexican commandant Col. Mariano Valléjo from his home. Even though Valléjo was friendly to settlers and annexation by the United States, they detained him and three others for two months. That night Ide wrote a proclamation to the citizens of Sonoma claiming they were invited to California by a “republican government” but were oppressed by “military despotism.” He asked people to join them in a republican government. By the 17th the rebels had raised the Bear Flag and proclaimed the California Republic. That day General Castro appealed to fellow Californios to defend their independence. The settlers turned the 19 prisoners over to Frémont who took them to Sutter’s Fort on June 19. One week later Frémont led an army of 130 men to San Rafael.
      Governor Pío Pico made his way north to Santa Barbara and on June 23 learned of the Sonoma revolt. He proclaimed that Mexican national honor was wounded “by a gang of North American adventurers” with opposed customs, and he urged Mexicans to pursue the foe. He appealed to the south, but only about 15 men came from Los Angeles. On the 29th Pico wrote a letter to Consul Larkin, but he denied having any influence over the Americans.
      After celebrating US independence day, Frémont on July 5 took formal command of the insurgents as the California Battalion. Commodore Sloat and three US Navy ships took over Monterey on the 7th, and he and Consul Larkin proclaimed California part of the United States and replaced the Bear Flag with a US flag on the 11th. US Commodore Stockton arrived on the 15th and authorized the Battalion on July 23, making Frémont a Lt. Colonel. Volunteers signed a compact for an honorable revolution. Six days later Stockton replaced retiring Sloat and announced his intention to take over the southern towns. The Sonoma prisoners were released in August.
      Pico convoked the Assembly in Los Angeles on July 24. General Castro had difficulty raising 160 men, and on August 9 he met with his council of war and decided to leave California. Pico received his message the next day and told the Assembly he agreed with the need to depart, and they both left that night. Castro fled to Mexico, and Governor Pico took refuge in Baja California.
      Stockton and Frémont’s Battalion of about 160 men with 120 marines sailed to San Diego. Stockton then sailed to the Los Angeles pueblo of about 1,500 people, and Frémont’s forces met him there on August 13. On the 17th Stockton and Frémont’s men entered Los Angeles, and that day Stockton proclaimed himself governor of the California territory. A ship arrived at San Pedro with news of the Mexican War which was announced as Walter Colton and Robert Semple on the 15th had begun publishing The Californian weekly. Stockton had appointed Colton alcalde of Monterey on July 28, and he served promoting public works until 1849. On August 22 Stockton ordered the election of other alcaldes and municipal officers on September 15. On September 2 he appointed Frémont military commandant of the US territory of California with Gillespie supervising the south from Los Angeles, Lt. A. T. Maddox the central region, and Captain John Montgomery the north from San Francisco. He ordered Frémont to increase his battalion to 300 men to garrison towns, and Frémont left on the 11th for the Sacramento valley.
      Major Gillespie with a garrison of 50 men put Los Angeles under harsh martial law which on September 22 provoked about 250 Spanish-speaking Californios led by the rebellious Serbulo Varela. They were joined by Diego Sepúlveda, Ramon Carrillo, and others in a 2-day battle near Chino that ended when the Mexicans captured 24 militia on September 27. Gillespie capitulated and left. Mexicans made Captain José María Flores commandant general. The arrival of 300 men on the Savannah could not help Gillespie’s men take back the town on October 6. The Californios also took back Santa Barbara and San Diego, capturing Thomas Larkin. Flores had no public funds to support soldiers, and he faced disturbances. Francisco Rico led some and arrested Flores on December 3; but the Assembly investigated and released him two days later, and Rico was imprisoned.
      On October 14 Stockton and Frémont sailed on separate ships from San Francisco. Stockton arrived at San Pedro on the 23rd. Frémont went to Monterey to gather forces, and they did not leave Monterey until November 16. Moving south Frémont avoided meeting the Mexican army, and on Christmas Day his 428 men lost more than a hundred horses coming down the mountains in the rain to Santa Barbara. When Frémont reached the San Fernando Mission on 11 January 1847, he learned that US forces led by Stockton and General Kearney had regained Los Angeles.

      Col. Stephen W. Kearney at Fort Leavenworth had received news of the Mexican war on 26 May 1846, and on June 3 he was put in command of the Army of the West with 648 regulars and 1,000 volunteers from Missouri with 16 cannons, 1,556 wagons, 459 horses, 3,658 mules, and 14,904 cattle and oxen. In 1846 about one thousand Anglo-Americans lived in New Mexico which had a population of about 55,000 with 4,000 volunteers to defend against the invaders. On June 6 two companies of dragoons were sent to Bent’s Fort. By the end of the month Kearney and 1,500 soldiers were on the march with sixteen howitzers.
      A Mormon Battalion with 500 men and 70 women enlisted in the US Army on July 16 at Council Bluffs, and they arrived at Fort Leavenworth on August 1. The Second Missouri Regiment and a Mormon Battalion from Iowa reached Santa Fé in October, and most of the Mormons went on to California. In late January 1847 they arrived at San Diego where some re-enlisted to build that town.
      On August 15 Kearny’s Army of the West arrived at Santa Fé with a flag of truce. Governor Manuel Armijo negotiated for a few days with the diplomat James Magoffin and then disbanded the militia and fled to Chihuahua. Magoffin went to Chihuahua to try to do what he helped bring about in Santa Fé; but the Mexicans arrested him as a spy, and they accused Armijo of accepting a bribe. Magoffin was imprisoned until the war ended. He eventually went to Washington and filed a claim for $37,781 in April 1849, and the US Treasury eventually reimbursed him with $30,000 for his expenses.
      Kearney proclaimed himself military governor of the New Mexico Territory and began setting up a civilian government. He sent out detachments to show their strength to the Apaches, Navajos, and Utes. On September 22 he proclaimed a legal code protecting religion, persons, and property.
      Leaving General Alexander Doniphan in command of three companies on September 25 to garrison New Mexico, Kearney, promoted to Brigadier General, led one company to California guided by Kit Carson. On October 3 the Navahos attacked the village of Polvadera, and Kearney ordered citizens to aid the cavalry with arms. Doniphan negotiated a peace treaty with Utes on October 15, but Kearney ordered him to punish rampaging Navahos.
      Learning from Kit Carson on October 6 that California had become part of the US, Kearney sent back to Santa Fé all but 121 of his men. They were joined by 37 riflemen led by Gillespie, and on December 6-7 they fought 75 Mexicans led by Andrés Pico at San Pasqual Valley near San Diego. The 150 US troops defeated 75 Mexicans but suffered more casualties. Kearney was wounded, but Pico withdrew his forces. Historian Hubert Bancroft suggested that the battle was unnecessary. Carson reached Stockton who sent 180 reinforcements that helped disperse the Californios. The Army of the West reached San Diego on December 12. Doniphan’s army defeated a Mexican army at El Brazito near Las Cruces on December 25, and two days later they seized military weapons at El Paso.
      During the 1846-47 winter the wagon train led by George Donner took the Hastings Cutoff “shortcut” over the High Sierra mountains and were snowed in until they were rescued in February and March. Of the 87 persons in the party 22 men, 5 women, and 12 children died of disease, exposure, or hunger.
      Commodore Stockton provided marines that increased the US force to 500, and they defeated Pico’s Californios by the San Gabriel River near Los Angeles on 8 January 1847, the day Frémont reached San Fernando. On the 11th General Flores left for Sonora. The Californios surrendered to Frémont, and January 13 the treaty of Cahuenga ended the fighting in California. On the 16th both sides agreed to release all prisoners. On January 14 Stockton had appointed Frémont governor of the California territory, and on the 22nd in Los Angeles he proclaimed civilian rule. Frémont borrowed over $600,000 to supply his battalion.
      On 17 January 1847 Pueblos and Mexicans had attacked Taos in New Mexico and killed Governor Charles Bent and a few others, but Col. Sterling Price led a force that captured the insurgents in a church on February 4. Sixteen were tried for murder and treason, were convicted, and hanged. Eventually on June 26 War Secretary Marcy ruled they could not be guilty of treason, but by then only one had not been executed.
      Doniphan’s force of 940 with artillery defeated a Mexican army of 4,120 on February 28 at the Sacramento River pass 15 miles north of Chihuahua, which they then entered. On April 23 Doniphan received orders and marched his men 524 miles to Saltillo near Buena Vista.
      General Kearney left Los Angeles on January 18 and reached San Diego five days later. He boarded the Cyane ship at the end of the month and arrived at Monterey on February 8. Kearney replaced Stockton with Commodore Branford Shubrick and Frémont with General Richard Mason, and on March 1 they claimed military and civil authority in California. That day Kearney sent an order to Frémont to come to Yerba Buena (San Francisco) and discharge all volunteers. Frémont and two others rode horses from Los Angeles on the 22nd and reached Monterey on the 25th. Mason arrived on April 7 and requested Frémont’s records on the 12th. They quarreled, and Kearney prevented a duel. After Kearney left on May 31, Mason proclaimed himself governor and commander-in-chief. Kearney took Frémont with him east in July, and he arrested Frémont at Fort Leavenworth on August 22. Kearney charged Frémont with mutiny and insubordination, and a US Army court martial tried Frémont from November 2. On 31 January 1848 he summarized his conduct in California, ending with these words:

  My acts in California have all been with high motives,
and a desire for the public service.
My scientific labors did something to open California
to the knowledge of my countrymen;
its geography had been a sealed book.
My military operations were conquests without bloodshed;
my civil administration was for the public good.
I offer California, during my administration, for comparison
with the most tranquil portions of the United States;
I offer it in contrast to the condition
of New Mexico during the same time.
I prevented civil war against Governor Stockton,
by refusing to join Kearny against him;
I arrested civil war against myself,
by consenting to be deposed—offering at the same time
to resign my place of lieutenant colonel in the army.
  I have been brought as a prisoner
and a criminal from that country.
I could return to it after this trial is over,
without rank or guards,
and without molestation from the people,
except to be importuned for the money
which the government owes them.
  I am now ready to receive the sentence of the court.9

The court martial found him guilty and dismissed him from the US Army. On 16 February 1849 President Polk cancelled the mutiny charge, remitted the sentence, and reinstated his military office, but Frémont resigned.

Polk’s War Against Mexico in 1847

      In congressional elections in late 1846 and early 1847 the Whigs gained 38 seats to give them a 115-108 majority in the House, though Democrats picked up five seats in the Senate. On 2 January 1847 Secretary of State Buchanan and most of the cabinet opposed attacking Mexico City. Buchanan suggested defending California and New Mexico without taking any more territory. Polk said they were committed to taking Veracruz, and he would let the generals decide on the next step. On January 11 Whig Senator Tom Corwin of Ohio made a long speech condemning the Mexican War.
      General Zachary Taylor split his army and sent Major General John Quitman’s brigade to take over Victoria which they did on 29 December 1846. Taylor’s force reached Victoria on January 4. On the 3rd General Winfield Scott had sent a letter to Taylor; but Mexican guerrillas killed the courier, and Taylor got it on January 13. He replied with a letter criticizing the War Department. He moved his army back to Monterrey on January 24 and prepared to fight the Mexicans at Saltillo.
      On February 19 Senator Calhoun presented four resolutions on slavery without mentioning the word: that the “territories are the property of the States united,” that the US Congress has no right to “make any discrimination between the states,” that no law can deny citizens the right of “emigrating with their property to the territories of the United States,” and that the people “have the unconditional right to form and adopt the government which they may think best.”
      After Arkansas volunteers raided a ranch at Agua Nueva on Christmas Day robbing and raping, Mexicans killed one of the volunteers. Then the Arkansas cavalry took revenge for this by massacring 30 unarmed civilians in a cave in February. Archibald Yell commanded the Arkansas Rackensackers, and he refused to discipline the offending troops. Illinois volunteer Samuel Chamberlain witnessed the outcome and commemorated it with his painting, Rackensackers on the Rampage.
      On January 27 General Santa Anna had left his headquarters at San Luis Potosí and marched his 19,525-man army 300 miles to confront the American army. General Taylor had his army of about 4,650 men camped at Buena Vista on February 20, and that day Santa Anna arrived with his force of 15,142. Santa Anna demanded that Taylor surrender, but he refused. The Mexicans attacked the Americans on the 22nd, and they fought until dark. The next day the war’s biggest battle went on until evening when it rained. Captain William Tecumseh Sherman’s artillery prevented the Mexicans from overrunning the Americans. Taylor brought Mississippi volunteers led by Jefferson Davis from Saltillo to plug a breach. That night American reinforcements arrived. The United States had lost 272 killed and 372 wounded, but only 6 were missing. The Mexicans had suffered 594 dead and 1,039 wounded and had 1,854 missing. The next night they withdrew and began the march back to San Luis Potosí. Taylor led his army back to Monterrey. He tried to control the vengeance of his volunteers by warning people living in Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, and Coalhuila on March 22 that they could be fined for helping the guerrillas.
      In February 1847 the American Peace Society offered $500 for the best writing on the Mexican War, Christian principles, and enlightened statesmanship, and Abiel Abbot Livermore won with The War with Mexico Reviewed which was published in 1850. In the preface he wrote,

The conflict with Mexico was short,
and, measured on the scale of European warfare,
comparatively insignificant, but in its lessons it is instructive,
and in its effects on a forming national character powerful.
To draw good out of its evils,
is the aim of the American Peace Society,
and of the work which now goes forth under its auspices.
War, the great social wrong, like idolatry,
the great spiritual injury,
must fall in due time before the progress of the Gospel.
To doubt this result, seems to presume that
the Prince of Peace has come in vain,
and that finite creatures
can eventually frustrate the plan of the Infinite Creator.

      Concerned that Taylor was being advised by the Whig Senator Crittenden from Kentucky and may run for President, Polk appointed 60-year-old Winfield Scott the senior general for the invasion of Mexico from Veracruz. He wanted surfboats for the amphibious landing, and they ordered 141. They got 53 ships from Atlantic ports and 163 from Gulf ports. On March 9 General Winfield Scott with this armada directed the largest amphibious landing of 8,600 troops at Veracruz. The Americans besieged the port city of 15,000 people. The four-day bombardment by 6,700 projectiles killed about 180 with more than a thousand casualties, two-thirds of them civilians, and on the 29th his army took over the stronghold. The Americans also captured about 3,000 of the 3,360 Mexican soldiers. Only 13 Americans were killed, and 55 were wounded. Polk had ordered commandeering supplies to save money, but Scott purchased them. He reopened the port for trade and had US officials collect the usual tariffs. The yellow fever season began on April 9 with two deaths. Scott appointed Brigadier General William Worth as military governor. He put price limits on bread, meat, and milk to prevent hoarding and profiteering, and he closed the liquor stores until they were licensed. On April 10 Polk sent Nicholas Trist, who had been US Consul in Havana for nine years, to negotiate with Mexico.
      President Valentín Gómez Farías was governing in Mexico City and on January 10 had requisitioned 15 million pesos from the Catholic Church. A revolt broke out, and Santa Anna returned on March 21 to crush the rebellion and become President of Mexico again.
      Scott’s army marched toward Mexico City on the route taken by Cortez in 1519. They defeated Santa Anna’s forces again at Cerro Gordo on April 18 in a large battle; the American army of about 12,000 had 263 men killed while the Mexican force of 8,700 men had more than a thousand killed with 199 officers and 2,837 men captured. The US army fought several battles as they marched to Mexico City and took over Mexico’s second largest city of Puebla on May 15. Scott stayed there for six weeks while volunteers replaced those whose enlistments were over. Santa Anna in June offered peace for $1 million with a $10,000 down payment which Scott and diplomat Trist sent to him. President Polk toured northeastern states in the US from June 22 to July 7.
      On August 7 General Scott led 10,738 men from Puebla toward the capital Mexico City. On 19th and 20th they overcame a Mexican force of 7,000 led by General Gabriel Valencia at Contreras killing about 700, wounding 1,224, and capturing 843 men while suffering only 60 casualties. A truce allowed negotiations while Santa Anna improved his defenses and Scott acquired provisions. The Americans defeated Santa Anna’s force at Churubusco on August 20 but had 133 killed and 865 wounded while capturing 1,831 Mexicans. The US Army captured Irish San Patricios here and elsewhere, and in two court martials 70 were convicted of desertion and sentenced to death. Fifty were hanged; Scott pardoned 5, and 15 were sent to jail. Yet a hundred more US soldiers would desert to the Mexicans during the rest of the war.
      On August 23 General Scott agreed to an armistice, and four days later Trist began negotiating with the Mexican peace commissioners. On September 7 men led by North Mexican separatist General Antonio Canales raided Mier in Tamaulipas and stole goods worth about $25,500, but a force of dragoons and civilians killed 15 of the Mexicans and got back the property. The next day the Americans attacked the Molina del Rey flour mill that was being used to melt down church bells to make cannons. In this battle the Americans had 116 killed and 665 wounded while killing 269 Mexicans, wounding about 500, and taking 685 prisoners.
      After bombarding the Chapultepec fortress at Mexico City for two days, they surrendered on September 14, and two days later the remaining 6,500 Americans entered the city. Santa Anna resigned as President but still commanded the army. Scott ordered the city to contribute $150,000 including $20,000 for the sick and wounded, and $90,000 for blankets and shoes for the troops. He appointed a former Mississippi governor, Major General John Quitman as Governor, and the US Army would occupy the capital for nine months. They published two newspapers using English and Spanish. José Manuel de la Peña y Peña as Foreign Minister in 1845 had tried to prevent the war, and he became Acting President on October 7 and dismissed Santa Anna. General Gideon Pillow was Polk’s law partner and reported to the President, criticizing the Whig hero Scott who had him and Col. James Duncan court-martialed for publishing accounts of military operations in violation of his order. Captains Robert E. Lee and George McClellan praised Scott.

      In 1847 a census found there were 100,508 Anglo-Texans but only about 4,000 Mexicans in Texas. Governor J. Pinckney Henderson had been inaugurated in February 1846. In January 1847 he asserted a claim to four counties in New Mexico, and the legislature added a fifth in March.
      On March 5 the US Supreme Court in Jones v. Van Zandt had upheld 9-0 the legality of slavery again, but abolitionists such as Salmon Chase and others were allowed to present written arguments. Chase published a 108-page brief arguing that the federal government did not have the power to support slavery which contradicted the Declaration of Independence, and violated due process. Chase wrote,

No Legislature is omnipotent.
No Legislature can make right wrong; or wrong right.
No Legislature can make light, darkness; or darkness, light.
No Legislature can make men things; or things men.10

      On March 3 the US Congress had approved gas lights for the Capitol grounds. Samuel F. B. Morse started the Magnetic Telegraph Company on April 26. The American Medical Association led by Dr. Nathan Smith Davis was founded on May 1 in Washington. Brigham Young led the Mormons who finally arrived at the Great Salt Lake on July 24. New Hampshire became the first state to pass a law limiting work to a ten-hour day, and Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas made similar arguments.
      In US Congressional elections from March to November the Democrats lost to the Whigs ten seats in the South and four in the North. On November 13 Henry Clay in Lexington’s Market Square made a major speech opposing the war to a general meeting of Whigs that included the newly elected Congressman Abraham Lincoln, who greatly admired Clay. He castigated war for unhinging society, disturbing industry, and scattering disease and immorality, and he blamed Polk for lies, treachery, and “being unenlightened.” Clay offered resolutions including not taking any territory from Mexico outside of Texas.
      The 30th US Congress did not meet until December 6. Jefferson Davis of Mississippi had been appointed to fill a vacancy in the US Senate. The moderate Whig, Robert Winthrop of Massachusetts, was elected Speaker of the House. On the 7th President Polk sent them his annual message which was very long and mostly about the Mexican War. He reviewed his objectives in the war and suggested a peace treaty should include the territories of New Mexico and Alta California. On December 15 he vetoed an internal improvements bill for the Wisconsin Territory. On December 21 Col. George T. Wood was inaugurated as the second governor of Texas, and he served for two years.
      Abraham Lincoln in his first speech in the US House of Representatives on December 22 challenged Polk with eight resolutions to designate the exact spot where blood had been shed, beginning the war, whose territory it was, and whether it was necessary for the defense of Texas. Michigan Senator Lewis Cass in a letter on December 24 explained his policy for popular sovereignty in the territories, and he noted that Mexico had abolished slavery.
      Also in 1847 Germans paid Comanches $1,000 to survey the grant negotiated from Commissioner Henry Fisher. Dennis Hart Mahan’s useful Elementary Treatise on Advanced Guard, Outposts, and Detachment Service of Troops, first published in 1847, would be revised in 1862. Samuel Colt invented a revolver that could hold six bullets, and he began getting orders for them in January 1847. After he sold more than a thousand, he started Colt’s Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company in Hartford, Connecticut. Pennsylvania freed the last of its ex-slaves who had been indentured.

Mexican Cession and the 1848 US Election

      On 3 January 1848 the new majority of Whigs amended by a vote of 85-81 a resolution of gratitude to General Taylor to include the judgment that Polk had begun the Mexican War “unnecessarily and unconstitutionally,” but the Democrats in the Senate defeated the amendment. A Whig attempt to call off the war unilaterally failed 41-137. On the 4th Senator Calhoun spoke against continuing the occupation and annexation of central Mexico. Senators John Clayton of Delaware and Daniel Webster of Massachusetts also spoke against territorial expansion. The Whigs in the House refused to pass an excise tax and land sales, and they ignored his requests for more troops. They lowered his request to raise the ceiling for federal borrowing.
      On January 12 the Illinois Congressman Abraham Lincoln made a speech in which he said,

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,—a most sacred right—
a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world.
Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people
of an existing government, may choose to exercise it.
Any portion of such people that can, may revolutionize,
and make their own,
of so much of the territory as they inhabit.
More than this, a majority of any portion of such people
may revolutionize, putting down a minority, intermingled with,
or near about them, who may oppose their movement.11

      General Winfield Scott had arrested General Pillow, General Worth, and Col. Duncan; but on January 13 President Polk and War Secretary Marcy dismissed Scott and ordered him and his subordinates investigated, and they released Pillow, Worth, and Duncan. The Court of Inquiry met in Mexico City in April 13-22 and at Frederick, Maryland from June 5 to July 6. Scott and Trist refused to testify, and the Court concluded that operations had not been affected by a bribe and that payments were not proved.
      The experienced diplomat Nicholas Trist ignored his recall from Mexico City on 16 November 1847 so that he could negotiate the treaty he had worked out with advice from General Scott which provided an acceptable compromise. Soon after Trist threatened to end negotiation, the commissioners on February 2 signed the treaty at Guadalupe Hidalgo. The Mexican government ceded Texas, New Mexico, and Alta California to the United States which promised to pay Mexico $15 million and take responsibility for the $3.25 million that Mexico owed to Americans. On February 18 Scott resigned his command in Mexico. Polk dismissed Trist and refused to pay him for his service. Finally in 1870 the US Congress granted his back pay with interest.
      On February 21 John Quincy Adams collapsed in the House of Representatives, and he died two days later. Word of the Mexican treaty arrived on the 22nd, but the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee mourned and did not take up the Mexican War treaty until February 28. The next day in Mexico the generals on both sides signed an agreement to peacefully end the occupation, and General William Orlando Butler allowed Santa Anna to leave the country. On March 10 the US Senate ratified the Hidalgo treaty 38-14 with the opponents equally divided by party. Mexico held elections on April 2 as US troops were confined to their barracks. The Mexican Congress accepted the minor modifications to the treaty on May 25. Both sides ratified the treaty on May 30, and on that day the US Army began leaving Mexico. General Court-Martial prisoners were released on June 1, and the last US troops under General Worth left Mexico City on the 12th. When the last garrison left Veracruz on August 2, the occupation ended.
      The territory Mexico gave up included about 90,000 Hispanics and 175,000 members of Indian tribes. Texas restricted land ownership to whites, and New Mexico and Arizona did not become states until 1912. Many tribes in California had been better treated by the Franciscan missionaries than they would be by the American settlers.
      The Mexican war cost the United States 12,888 lives; of these only 1,721 were killed by fighting while 11,155 died from disease and other causes. The death rate of 110 per 1,000 is the highest in US history. Before the war the US Army had only 6,652 men; but in the war the US Army had 36,025 in the regular army plus 73,532 volunteers. The United States spent about $58 million on military operations and eventually $64 million more on pensions and benefits for veterans approved by Congress. In 1858 Congress would authorize half-pay pensions to veterans’ widows and to their orphan children. Mexico sold 529,017 square miles of territory, lost many more people, and had severe economic damage and social disorder.
      Ulysses S. Grant told a journalist in 1879, “I do not think there was ever a more wicked war than that waged by the United States on Mexico.”12 He wrote in his Memoirs,

I was bitterly opposed to the measure,
and to this day regard the war, which resulted,
as one of the most unjust ever waged
by a stronger against a weaker nation.13

Grant considered the US Civil War a punishment for this transgression.

      In February a state Democratic Convention passed the Alabama Resolutions proposed by William Yancey following the pattern of Calhoun defending slavery as a property right. The legislatures of Alabama, South Carolina, and Virginia made similar proclamations.
      On March 1 at Oneida, New York the family of John Humphrey Noyes started a cooperative community he called “Perfectionist.” Noyes had caused controversy because of his belief in polygamy in his Putney experiment in Connecticut, and many from the Putney community joined the Oneida group. His book, Bible Communism, explained his unusual theology that justified “complex marriage,” which was consensual between the men and women of the community that a committee approved. Children were raised communally. This Oneida community lasted until 1881.
      In an editorial in North Star on March 17 Frederick Douglass expressed his disapproval of the peace treaty he called “plunder” because the US was “robbing Mexico of the most important and most valuable part of her territory.” He suggested that Americans ask pardon from God for these crimes.
      John Jacob Astor died on March 29 at the age of 84. He was the first multi-millionaire in the United States, and he left behind an estate worth more than $20 million ($636 million in 2018). He marketed furs, then imports from China before investing in real estate in New York City.
      Horace Mann was elected in April to fill the House seat of the late J. Q. Adams, and he wrote his twelfth and last annual report for the Massachusetts Board of Education. Mann had founded the biweekly Common School Journal, established fifty common schools and the first three normal schools (colleges to train teachers) in America. He argued that equal education for all will help many to acquire more property, and he emphasized moral education as “a primal necessity of social existence.”
      On April 17 the abolitionists Captain Daniel Drayton and mate William Sayres took 78 slaves on the schooner Pearl from Washington, but the US Navy stopped them in Chesapeake Bay and brought them back. Drayton and Sayres were jailed, and the slaves were sold. The next day Giddings demanded that Congress investigate why the two were imprisoned as neither had been charged. After five days of debate the proposals were tabled.
      The Chicago Board of Trade was founded on April 24 and began trading agricultural products and futures.
      On April 29 President Polk presented the US Congress with an appeal for the US military to protect the white population of Yucatan against a native uprising. In May during the debate John Niles and Calhoun opposed intervention. Debate ended after Indians and Hispanics settled their dispute.
      The Democratic Party met again at Baltimore in May 22-25, and they nominated Michigan Senator Lewis Cass for President. He beat out Secretary of State Buchanan who had proposed extending the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific. For Vice President they chose Kentucky Major General William Butler who had replaced General Winfield Scott at the end of the Mexican War. Cass favored territorial expansion and advocated popular sovereignty to let settlers decide whether they wanted slavery or not; but this alienated abolitionists who formed the Free Soil Party that drew votes away from northern Whigs. On April 10 Henry Clay announced his candidacy for President and committed himself to opposing the extension of slavery.
      On April 22 Zachary Taylor wrote a letter to his brother-in-law and friend John Stadler Allison in which he answered questions on how he would act as President. First, Taylor said he was “a Whig but not ultra Whig.” Second, he would use the veto conservatively. Third, he believed the President should not control Congress on domestic policies such as the tariff, currency, or improvements. Fourth, in regard to Mexico he promised to be “forbearing & even magnanimous to our fallen foe.” People reacted favorably to this letter. Taylor owned about 150 slaves and believed the institution should be protected, but he opposed its extension.
      At the June convention in Philadelphia the Whigs gave the most votes to the southern war-hero Zachary Taylor as more likely to win than Clay who was second, and they nominated Taylor on the fourth ballot without a platform. Their choice for Vice President of the moderate Millard Fillmore from New York helped them win that state and the election. Fillmore had been chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and was the first elected New York Comptroller.
      The Quaker abolitionist Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who had persuaded New York to adopt the Married Women’s Property Act, organized a conference for women’s rights at Seneca, New York on July 19. About 300 women and 40 men approved the Declaration of Sentiments that proclaimed, “All men and women are created equal.”
      About 5,000 abolitionists had met on June 28 at Worcester, Massachusetts. They rejected both Taylor and Cass and planned to meet again in Buffalo on August 9. There the anti-slavery Free Soil Party nominated ex-President Martin Van Buren for President and Charles Francis Adams for Vice President. Antislavery Barnburners in June had nominated Van Buren at Utica, New York, and the new Free Soil Party accepted him in exchange for a platform opposing slavery. Their motto was “Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, and Free Men.”
      On August 14 the US Congress approved the Oregon Territory with the Wilmot provision banning slavery. Polk signed it because Oregon is north of the Missouri Compromise line.
      In October the Whigs won elections in several states, making William Johnston governor of Pennsylvania and Seabury Ford governor of Ohio.
      On November 7 for the first time the US Presidential elections took place on the same day. Only South Carolina did not select their electors by popular vote, and the voter turnout was 73%. The Whig candidates Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore defeated the Democrat Lewis Cass in the electoral college 163-127 and in the popular vote 47% to 42%. As a slave-holder Taylor won seven slave states, but he got most of his electoral votes from the northeast. Van Buren received only 10% of the votes and did not win a state, but he came in second in New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont. The Free Soil Party had divided the northern states, but the increase in anti-slavery sentiment meant that no more slave states would be admitted.
      In Polk’s last annual message to Congress on December 5 he told the public about the gold being discovered in California, and he recommended establishing a US Mint in San Francisco to monetize the bullion. Four days later they received gold worth nearly $4,000 from California’s military governor Richard Mason that was to be cast into medals honoring military heroes. Mason in August had written about how much gold ordinary men were finding. Gold from California in 1848 was worth $10 million, and the total would reach $220 million by 1851. Mostly young men would travel to California either by sailing around the Horn, which was best for transporting merchandise, or cross an isthmus or join a wagon train following the Platte and Humboldt rivers. Native Americans wanted to look for gold but were often put to work or even enslaved by miners. By the end of 1848 about 4,000 of these Indians were employed in the mines. In 1848 the average miner made $20 a day, but this would fall to $16 in 1849 and to $5 by 1852. California would become the first state to welcome immigrants from all over the world.
      Another potato blight in 1848 brought more Irish immigrants to Boston and New York. The Ireland’s famine also increased grain imports from America. Previously most immigrants from Ireland had been Protestant, but now they were 90% Catholic. Immigrants benefited the US economy because having been raised somewhere else they came to work. Yet in the big cities others sometimes resented the competition. Germany also suffered a potato blight and rioting in Berlin in April 1847 that brought more Protestants to America. In 1850 the census would count the foreign-born as 9.7% of the population, and this would increase in the next ten years. The number of Catholics in the United States in 1830 was about 600,000, and this increased to 3,500,000 in 1850.
      In 1848 every state east of the Mississippi except Florida had access to telegraph communication.
      Dentist Horace Wells in Hartford, Connecticut had used nitrous oxide to remove pain. In January 1848 he left his wife and son and moved to New York. He experimented with ether and chloroform and became addicted to the latter. On January 21 he threw sulfuric acid on two prostitutes and was arrested. He committed suicide three days later.
      In March the Pennsylvania legislature approved “An Act to Limit the Hours of Labor, and to Prevent the Employment, in Factories, of Children under Twelve Years of Age” that limited factory work to ten hours per day.
      On March 18 news reached New York of an uprising in Paris, and in April a “great demonstration” in New York City appealed especially to immigrants from Germany, France, and Italy. During the decade of the 1840s more than 1,700,000 people immigrated into the United States mostly from Ireland, Germany, and Scandinavia.
      In May at the Democratic convention the party accepted “sovereignty of the people” as part of their platform, and they congratulated the National Convention of the Republic of France. Southern Democrats led by John Calhoun were not so happy about European revolutions, especially after France emancipated the slaves in the French West Indies. Calhoun responded to the revolutions of 1848 in his Disquisition on Government that he completed in 1849. The Whig Party was also divided with the New York Tribune in favor of reform and the Washington National Intelligencer skeptical of “mob rule.”
      In April a mob favoring slavery attacked the offices of the abolitionist newspaper National Era in Washington.
      On May 3 a US Senate report made clear that the northern and eastern states had passed laws obstructing the arrest of fugitive slaves and that these were being adopted in the northwestern states. On May 29 Wisconsin was admitted as the 30th state; its population had increased from 30,945 in 1840 and would be 305,391 in 1850.
      In September 1848 the Academy of Natural Sciences was founded at Philadelphia with William Charles Redfield as their president.
      The poet James Russell Lowell published his satirical Biglow Papers that criticized the Mexican War. They had been presented as a series in the Boston Courier in 1846.
      The University of Mississippi began classes at Oxford with 80 students. In 1861 all but four of the 139 students would enlist in the Confederate Army.
      In early January 1849 Joshua Giddings proposed restricting and gradually abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia, and Abraham Lincoln wrote a similar bill that was debated and enraged many southerners. Senator Calhoun published his “Address of the Southern Delegates in Congress, to Their Constituents,” warning them that northerners and blacks may force them to emancipate their slaves, and this was signed by most of the southern Congressmen on January 22.
      On January 11 Henry Raymond using the telegraph had formed the Associated Press wire service in order to sell news about Boston to New York publishers. That month Amelia Bloomer began publishing The Lily to support temperance, women’s rights, and new women’s pants she called “bloomers.” In February the US Supreme Court settled the border dispute between Missouri and Iowa by accepting the Sullivan line at 45.57 north latitude proposed by Iowa. The US Congress extended revenue laws into California and New Mexico without giving them any government, but they did found the Interior Department. On March 3 Polk signed the bills incorporating the Minnesota Territory into the United States and establishing the Department of the Interior. Also on that day the US Congress approved the gold dollar and the $20 double eagle coin.
      During his four years President Polk appointed over 13,500 postmasters out of the total of 16,000. More than 10,000 had resigned, but he removed 1,600 surpassing Van Buren’s record of 1,368. He had become sole owner in 1838 of a plantation in northern Mississippi where he planned to retire. While President he purchased 19 slaves. Polk kept his promise not to run for re-election. After leaving Washington he traveled through the South and was infected by a cholera epidemic, and he died on June 15.

Notes

1. U.S. Congressional Globe, 28th Cong., 2d Sess., XIV, Appendix, 345.
2. Messages and Papers of the Presidents 1789-1908 ed. James D. Richardson, Volume IV, p. 381.
3. Correspondence of Andrew Jackson ed. John Spencer Bassett 6: 391 quoted in The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln by Sean Wilentz, p. 578.
4. “Annexation” in The Annals of America, Volume 7, p. 289, 292.
5. Voices of a People’s History of the United States ed. Howard Zinn, p. 155-156.
6. The Works of James Buchanan ed. John Basset Moore, Volume VI, p. 275.
7. The Annals of America, Volume 7, p. 293.
8. Congressional Globe, 29th Cong. 1st session, p. 794 quoted in What Hath God Wrought by Daniel Walker Howe, p. 742.
9. Readings in California History ed. N. Ray Gilmore and Gladys Gilmore, p. 111.
10. Quoted in Salmon P. Chase: A Biography by John Niven, p. 83.
11. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 1, p. 438.
12. Quoted in Around the World with General Grant by John Russell Young (Baltimore, 2002), p. 376.
13. Memoirs and Selected Letters by Ulysses S. Grant, p. 41.

Copyright © 2020 by Sanderson Beck

 

South America 1845-65
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Polk and the US-Mexican War 1845-49
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US of Pierce & Kansas Conflicts 1853-56
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Black Americans & Abolitionists 1845-65
United States & Buchanan 1857-59
United States Dividing 1860-61
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Preventing United States Civil War
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Bibliography

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