History of the War with Mexico - H. O. Ladd

Causes of the War

Texas and Europe—Desire for annexation—Debates in Congress—The needs and demands of the slave power—Political excitements—The country aroused—The extension of slavery.

A distinguished statesman has called the war with Mexico "a war of pretexts." For thirty years the United States had been at peace with all foreign nations. Indian wars had occasionally occupied the attention of the Government, but the country had increased with wonderful rapidity in population, commerce, and the development of its resources and industries. The virgin soil of the Western States was supplying the nations of Europe with bread, and receiving multitudes who were fleeing from despotism to comfortable homes in this free land. England and France were jealous of the Republic, so dangerous in its unexampled prosperity to monarchical institutions, arching rapidly to the front of the world's nations. These powers seemed to be specially interested in the independence of Texas as a barrier to the territorial increase of the United States. But the bonds of sympathy between Texas and the United States had been strengthened by the aid rendered in the struggle for the freedom achieved at San Jacinto. Their interests were identical. A large portion of the territory of Texas lay la the valley of the Mississippi. Its acquisition had been the subject of negotiation for twenty years. It was considered essential to the safety and welfare of the Union.

After ten years of independence Texas applied for admission to the 'United States. The resolutions providing for her annexation awakened hot debate in Congress and violent discussion all over the country. The measure excited as much opposition as it did favor. Into the debates entered the great question of African slavery in the Union. To annex Texas was sure to involve the United States in a war with Mexico. To advocate war for the sake of extending slavery and increasing the slave power of the Union was enough to excite the most bitter opposition from the Whig and the Free Soil parties in the Union. The strife for power between the advocates of freedom and of slavery was not yet, as it afterward became, a contest between the North and the South. The great and dominant Democratic Party of the whole Union upheld the slave institution of the South. The rapid extension of free territory in the new States of the West required a corresponding increase in the number of slaveholding States, to preserve the balance of power in Congress. Every State entered the Union with a Constitution excluding or adopting slavery.

Texas contained two hundred thousand square miles of undisputed territory, out of which, Senator Benton, of Missouri, said in Congress, nine slave States could be made, each equal to the State of Kentucky. This would give, he argued, a pre-dominant slave representation in the Government.

Here, then, we find great underlying cause of this war. It was the theme of discussions in public and private circles, in caucuses, conventions, legislatures, and Congress, and in the newspapers all over the land, and it "mixed politics with religion" in a manner most exasperating to the advocates of slavery. To accomplish the annexation of Texas, with its regal domain, its rich cotton and corn producing soil, its boundless cattle ranges and semi-tropical climate and fruits, was to add a new dominion—equal to the Old Roman Empire in Europe under the Caesars—to the South and its institutions, enlarge the area of slavery and perpetuate this distinctive feature of Southern life, which was the basis of Southern aristocracy, and should be the corner-stone of the future Southern Empire.

The rising anti-slavery sentiment of the North fanned the flames of sectional jealousy in discussion of this measure. This grand scheme for increase of the slave power united the Whig and Free Soil elements in the country in opposition to it. Daniel Webster, then in the prime of his power, led the Whig party in resistance to it. With great boldness and plainness it was argued in Congress as a pro-slavery measure. Mr. Holmes, of South Carolina, said in the House of Representatives, "The Southerner would be either a knave or a fool who would consent to divide Texas, if annexed, into two States, one slaveholding and one not." Mr. Merrick, of Maryland, said of the annexation, "The balance of power once restored, abolitionists would then let us alone, and the blighting agitation would die its natural death." Mr. Calhoun, in the Senate at the close of the war, maintained the right of slaveholders to carry and hold their slaves in all the free territory acquired by conquest from Mexico. Mr. Webster, in opposition, said, "I shall do nothing to interfere with the domestic institutions of the South, and the Government of the United States has no right to interfere therewith. But that is a very different thing from not interfering to prevent the extension of slavery by adding a large slave country to this. Texas is likely to be a slaveholding country, and I frankly avow my unwillingness to do anything that shall extend the slavery of the African race on this continent, or add another slave-holding State to the Union."

The newspapers everywhere stated clearly the issues of the measure. "The issue," said the New York Evening Post, in 1844, "is, whether this Government shall devote its whole energies to the perpetuation of slavery; whether all sister republics on this continent, which desire to abolish slavery, are to be dragooned by us into the support of this institution." "Slavery and the defence of slavery," said the New Hampshire Patriot, a Democratic journal, form the controlling considerations urged in favor of the treaty by those who have been engaged in its negotiations."

The potent cause and ruling motive, therefore, of the war with Mexico was the purpose to extend human slavery into free territory. This purpose gained strength with every success of the war. When, in arranging the preliminaries of a convention for the settlement of war claims, the Mexican commissioner entreated that the United States should be committed not to permit slavery in any part of the ceded territory, Commissioner Trish replied that be old not accept the terry on condition that slavery should be excluded, "not if its value were increased tenfold, and in addition to that covered a foot thick all over with pure gold,"