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14. Why the Whole of Mexico was not Annexed



Polk's public papers on the Mexican War need to be supplemented by his unpublished diary, of which a transcript is available. In all American history we have few such revelations of the inside workings of war and diplomacy. But for Polk's resistance Mexico would probably have disappeared from the list of nations. - Bibliography: E. G. Bourne, The United States and Mexico, 1847-1848, in American Historical Review, April, 1900; also in American Historical Association, Report for 1899.


September 4 [1847]. SAID that I would be unwilling to pay the authorized to pay, in the settlement of a boundary by which it was sum which Mr. Trist had been contemplated that the United States would acquire New Mexico and the Californias; and that if Mexico continued obstinately to refuse to treat, I was decidedly in favor of insisting on more territory than the provinces named. I expressed the opinion further that as our expenses had been greatly enlarged by the obstinacy of Mexico, in refusing to negotiate, since Mr. Trist's instructions were prepared in April last, if a treaty had not been made when we next heard from Mexico, that his instructions should be modified. . . .

September 7.-The distinct question submitted was whether the amount which Mr. Trist had been authorized to pay for the cession of New Mexico and the Californias, and right of passage through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec should not be reduced, and whether we should not now demand more territory than we now did. All seemed to agree that the maximum sum to be paid for the cessions above described should be reduced. Mr. Buchanan suggested that this sum should be reduced from 30 to 15 millions, and that the cession of the right of passage through the Isthmus of lower, as well as upper California and New Mexico should be made a sine qua non. He suggested also that the line should run on the parallel of 31° or 31.° 30' of North Latitude from the Rio Grande to the Gulf of California, instead of on the parallel of 32° which Mr. Trist had been authorized to accept. Upon the question of acquiring more territory than this, there was some difference of opinion. The Secretary of the Treasury and the Attorney General were in favor of acquiring in addition the Department or state of Tamaulipas which includes the port of Tampico. The Postmaster General and the Secretary of the

Navy concurred with him. I expressed myself as being entirely agreed to reduce the sum to be paid from 30 to 15 millions and to modify the line as suggested by Mr. Buchanan. I declared myself as being in favor of acquiring the cession of the Department of Tamaulipas, if it should be found practicable. . . .

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November 9. Mr. Buchanan spoke to-day in an unsettled tone, and said I must take one of two courses in my next message: viz. to designate the part of Mexican territory which we intended to hold as an indemnity, or to occupy all Mexico by a largely increased force and subdue the country and promise protection to the inhabitants. He said he would express no opinion between these two plans; but after the despatches which were expected from the army were received he would do so. I remarked that I thought our policy had been settled upon sometime since, but as the subject was now brought up as one that was still open, I would read what I had written on the subject, and I did so. My views as thus reduced to writing were in substance that we would continue the prosecution of the war with an increased force, hold all the country we had conquered, or might conquer, and levy contributions upon the enemy to support the war, until a just peace was obtained, that we must have indemnity in territory, and that as a part indemnity, the Californias and New Mexico should under no circumstances be restored to Mexico, but that they should henceforward be considered a part of the United States and permanent territorial governments be established over them; and that if Mexico protracted the war additional territory must be acquired as further indemnity.

His change of opinion will not alter my views; I am fixed in my course, and I think all the Cabinet except Mr. Buchanan still concur with me, and he may yet do so. . . .

November 18. — I requested Mr. Buchanan to prepare a paragraph for the message to the effect that failing to obtain a peace, we should continue to occupy Mexico with our troops, and encourage and protect the friends of peace in Mexico to establish and maintain a republican government, able and willing to make peace.

In Mr. Buchanan's draft, he stated in that event that "we must fulfill that destiny which Providence may have in store for both countries.”

I thought this would be too indefinite and that it would be avoiding my constitutional responsibility. I preferred to state in substance that we should, in that event, take the measure of our indemnity into our own hands and dictate our own terms to Mexico. . .


November 23. - Mr. Buchanan still preferred his own draft, and so did Mr. Walker, the latter avowing as a reason that he was for taking the whole of Mexico, if necessary, and he thought the construction placed upon Mr. Buchanan's draft by a large majority of the people would be that it looked to that object.

I replied that I was not prepared to go to that extent, and furthermore, that I did not desire that anything I said in the message should be so obscure as to give rise to doubt or discussion as to what my true meaning was; that I had in my last message declared that I did not contemplate the conquest of Mexico, and that in another part of this paper I had said the same thing. . . .

February 21 [1848]. — I announced to the Cabinet that under all the circumstances of the case I would submit it to the Senate for ratification, with a recommendation to strike out the tenth article. I assigned my reasons for this decision. They were, briefly, that the treaty conformed on the main question of limits and boundary to the instructions given Mr. Trist in April last, and that though if the treaty was now to be made I should demand more territory, perhaps, to make the Sierra Madre the line, yet it was doubtful whether this could be ever obtained by the consent of Mexico. I looked to the consequences of its rejection. A majority of one branch of Congress is opposed to my Administration; they have falsely charged that the war was brought on and is continued. by me with a view to the conquest of Mexico, and if I were now to reject a treaty made upon my own terms, as authorized in April last, with the unanimous approbation of the Cabinet, the probability is that Congress would not grant either men or money to prosecute the war. Should this be the result, the army now in Mexico would be constantly wasting and diminishing in numbers, and I might at last be compelled to withdraw them, and then lose the two provinces of New Mexico and Upper California, which were ceded to the U. S. by this treaty. Should the opponents of my Administration succeed in carrying the next Presidential election, the great probability is that the country would lose all the advantages secured by this treaty. I adverted to the immense value of Upper California, and concluded by saying that if I were now to reject my own terms as offered in April last I did not see how it was possible for my Administration to be sustained. . . .

Transcript of Polk's Diary, prepared for George Bancroft, in the Lenox Library, New York.



15. The Doughface's Creed (1848)


The Mexican War opened the eyes of the North to southern intentions, and the opposition to the war found perhaps its most influential expression in Lowell's stinging satire under the name of "The Biglow Papers." Famous as poet, critic, and diplomatist, Lowell did his greatest service for his country when he wrote these verses in the Yankee dialect.- For Lowell, see E. E. Hale, Jr., James Russell Lowell, 124128. Bibliography as in No. 11 above.

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I go free-trade thru thick an' thin,
Because it kind o' rouses

The folks to vote, — an' keeps us in
Our quiet custom-houses.

I du believe it's wise an' good
To sen' out furrin missions,
Thet is, on sartin understood
An' orthydox conditions ;-
I mean nine thousan' dolls. per ann.,
Nine thousan' more fer outfit,
An' me to recommend a man
The place 'ould jest about fit.

I du believe in special ways
O' prayin' an' convartin';

The bread comes back in many days,
An' buttered, tu, fer sartin;
I mean in preyin' till one busts
On wut the party chooses,
An' in convartin' public trusts
To very privit uses.

I du believe hard coin the stuff
Fer 'lectioneers to spout on;
The people 's ollers soft enough

To make hard money out on;
Dear Uncle Sam pervides fer his,

An' gives a good-sized junk to all,

I don't care how hard money is,

Ez long ez mine 's paid punctooal.

I du believe with all my soul
In the gret Press's freedom,
To pint the people to the goal
An' in the traces lead 'em ;
Palsied the arm thet forges yokes

At my fat contracts squintin',
An' withered be the nose thet pokes
Inter the gov'ment printin'!

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