« PreviousContinue »
THE PRESIDENT'S ME S S A G E —THE WAR,
As often as the President comes before the nation with a new manifesto in regard to the unhappy war, in which, by his own deliberate, unauthorized and criminal act, he has involved the country, no choice is left us, as the faithful conductors of a journal of American politics, but to follow him to this well-trodden field—to set up there, again and again, in the face of the American people and of the world, the lofty standard of historic truth, of international law, of real justice and honor, and of true national renown and glory, against the wretched perversions, the false glosses and miserable plausibilities in which this high functionary of the government habitually indulges, whenever he comes before the country to justify himself for the great Measure of Blood and Conquest by which he has undertaken to signalize his administration. If truth, as affecting the highest question of national concern, have not lost all value, it must be defended even against the mistakes or perversions of a President of the United States. Nay, this duty becomes doubly important and imperative in such a case, on account of the authority which attaches to his lofty position. And he must not be allowed to use his eminent station to indoctrinate the people of this country in any false principles, whether of the law of nations or the law of national justice and honor. He must not be allowed to seduce the American people from the allegiance which they owe to a higher law than any which the kings or rulers of this earth can impose or teach—the law of right and of duty—the law which has its sanction in the consciences of men, and its seat in the bosom of God.
Of course, we are not weak enough to expect anything less than that the President should continue, at every opportunity, to put forth all his own energies, and all the energies he can buy or borrow for the purpose, in defence of his original crime in plunging this country into an unnecessary
war. It is his fate also, in order to render his attempts at justification any way plausible, that he must take care to make all his subsequent conduct and acts as consistent as possible, in error and criminality, with his original offences. Beginning wrong, which he is resolved never to acknowledge, he must continue to go wrong, sinking deeper and deeper at every step, until he becomes involved in difficulties from which he is obliged to confess he sees no certain way of escape. Precisely as, on the one hand, the path of the just shines brighter and brighter to the perfect day, so, on the other, does that path in which the President has chosen to walk, darken, at every remove, into thicker and more palpable gloom. On this point, his recent Annual Message to Congress, when rightly understood, exhibits the most melancholy proof. Of course, it is passably ingenious, adroit and plausible. But it is not difficult to unravel and expose its plausibilities. And it is a bold document, because no other tone would suit, at all, the condition of desperate hazard to which he has been brought in the legitimate progress of the game he undertook to play. The most timid are known to become brave, when all retreat from danger is found to be cut off. In this instance, however, the bold tone of the Message is not sufficient to hide altogether that terrible conflict of secret emotions which, we doubt not, has been going on all the while in the heart and conscience of its author. The President undertook to make a little war. He has found it a great and terrible war. He ordered an army to invade the Mexican State of Tamaulipas, then in the undisputed and undisturbed occupation of its Mexican inhabitants; and he did this with the expectation and belief, that a military demonstration of this sort, perhaps with a single collision of arms, just sufficient to manifest our undoubted superiority in war, would be enough to bring Mexico to such compliance and concessions, as would enable him to illustrate his political rule by the acquisition of some portion of the coveted lands of that unhappy country. In this he was disappointed. Mr. Slidell, his envoy to that republic, writing from its capital, in the first month of his visit there, and mistaking in like manner the character of that people, strongly recommended to the President the virtue of “hostile demonstrations,” as necessary to quicken them to the proper labors of negotiation. To his surprise, no doubt, Mr. Polk found that Mexicans would fight when their homes and country were invaded. Still he believed they would be overawed by “hostile demonstrations” on a more formidable scale. As soon as it was known at Washington that a collision of arms had taken place, with disastrous results to a small body of our gallant dragoons, he recommended to Congress “the immediate appearance in arms of a large and overpowering force, as the most certain and efficient means of bringing the existing collision with Mexico to a speedy and successful termination.” He was promptly authorized to call fifty thousand volunteers into the field, and to employ the whole army and navy of the United States in the war. Thus the country was precipitated into the war so recklessly provoked and begun by the Executive. Battles were fought and victories won in unbroken succession, but peace was not obtained. And at the end of every ensuing engagement, successful in all things, except in bringing submission and peace, the President promised himself that the next battle and victory, and the next, and the next, would certainly issue in the wished-for triumph. They brought nothing but disappointment. More men were called for; blood was poured out like water; more battles and more glorious victories were achieved ; half a dozen States and Territories were overrun; still we had not “conquered a peace.” With every new success, which was only a new disappointment, the cry was raised—“The war must be more vigorously prosecuted.” It was prosecuted just so vigorously as to enable our gallant soldiers always to win desperate battles, against fearful odds, by the most incredible efforts, and the most awful sacrifice of life. Our army performed prodigies of valor, challenging, by their gallant deeds, the amazement and admiration of the
world. And so our victorious arms were carried up to the gates of the proud capital of the Mexican empire. And then there was a magnanimous pause, to receive the submission of the enemy. He was humbled, but he was not subdued. He would yield much, but he would not yield all. The President had imposed on himself the necessity of making his demands large, that they might seem to bear some proper proportion to the magnitude of the war. He had begun a little war, upon a despised enemy, who was to be terrified into submission, by “the appearance in arms of a large and overpowering force.” It had grown into a great war, that tasked the vast resources and the full energies of the nation to carry it on. The very policy, indeed, which proposed to strike terror into the heart of the enemy by a formidable show of force, created the necessity of making the war in fact a formidable one, from the moment it was found that the mere demonstration was a failure. And the prosecution of such a formidable war created, in its turn, a sort of necessity of bringing out results of corresponding magnitude, far beyond anything having reference merely to the original matters of difference between the two countries. When our victorious army stood before the gates of the enemy's capital, in the heart of his dominions, there was no longer a question about the original grounds of quarrel. They were yielded by Mexico. She agreed to give up her pretensions to Texas, which had been annexed to the United States, and which she had heretofore insisted on regarding as her own revolted province, in spite of its declared independence, and its political union with this country. And she agreed, also, to give us ample indemnity in territory, more than enough to cover the claims of our citizens upon her justice, which thus far she had failed to pay. These were the main original points of difference, and formed the only original subjects of complaint or demand we had to make against Mexico. They were now yielded—as they would have been yielded by negotiation, without any war at all, if only a little forbearance and a little wisdom had been exercised in regard to them. The whole country is aware of this, and can never be convinced to the contrary. And hence it was, that after having prosecuted
such a formidable, costly and desolating war, up to the walls of the Mexican capital, for no necessary causes of dispute whatever between Mexico and us, the President found or deemed it necessary to turn his back upon the false pretences he had constantly set up and insisted on, as inducing and justifying hostilities, and to make such demands for the dismemberment of the Mexican empire as, if yielded on her part, might gratify the pride and supposed rapacity of his countrymen, and win for the war an unjustifiable and dishonest popular approval. This, of course, put peace out of the question. Negotiations were broken off, because Mexico would not consent to the dismemberment proposed to her. An unnecessary war had led to the making of an iniquitous and exorbitant demand, to which Mexico would not submit. The conflict was resumed. More battles were fought; the best blood of the country flowed again like water; the capital of the enemy was entered, sword in hand, and Mexico is conquered Yes, Mexico is conquered, but she is not yet subdued, and we have not yet “conquered a peace.” Mexico is no nearer submission, now that her capital is in our hands, than the United States were, when, in the Revolution, the enemy had possession of New-York and Philadelphia. She is no nearer submission than Russia was, when Napoleon was in Moscow. And it is at this very point, that the difficulties and embarrassments of the President on account of this war, are become most formidable and inextricable. At the end of campaigns as completely successful, so far as military operations are concerned, as any that Alexander or Napoleon ever prosecuted, he finds himself in a state of most distressing perplexity. He can neither go forward nor retreat, with any prospect of satisfaction. The last field of glory in this war, was rea when the city of Mexico was taken. Henceforth, there can be no grand fighting, no glorious victories. What remains is a war of details, a defensive war against guerillas, and assassins, and the comito. A few minor cities and places may yet be assailed and taken; but there can be no grand forward movement. As a war of movement and of conquest, it is over. And as the President holds retreat to be impossible, so long as Mexico refuses to consent to the vol. 1. No. 1. NEW SERIES. 1*
terms he has prescribed for her dismemberment, and as there is not the slightest chance that Mexico will ever consent to anything of the sort, a state of embarrassment has arisen, which might well fill the Executive with distress and alarm. How he proposes to deal with the case, since he is forced to meet it in some way, we shall see in the progress of this article. Suffice it here to say, that he meets the case with a proposition as daring, reckless, and profligate, as any that ever characterized the proceedings of the most celebrated among the professed conquerers and spoilers of ancient or modern times; and so we shall demonstrate the fact to be, before we have done with the subject. Our readers must be made aware, if they are not so already, of the significant and important fact, now officially disclosed, that the war assumed an entirely new phase from the termination of the negotiations between Mr. Trist and the Mexican Commissioners. From that period, It becamr EXPLICITLY AND WITHOUT DISGUIs E, A was For THE CONQUEST AND DismemberMENT or Mexico. The general object had been plain enough to all shrewd observers from the beginning ; but it had been made as far as possible a covert object, and had been constantly, not to say impudently, disavowed. Up to that time, other objects of the war had been insisted on, and not without some show of reason, since war had been undertaken. There were the claims of our citizens, which must be secured in some satisfactory form. And, then, Mexico must be made to relinquish her pretensions to Texas, since that country was annexed to the United States. There was, finally, an unsettled question of boundary between Mexico and the State of Texas, which Mexico must be made to consent to negotiate about and settle, before we could make a definitive peace with her. These were the subjects of difference between the two countries at the breaking out of the war, and the only subjects of difference. Of course they formed, so far as had been avowed at any time, the objects, and the only objects, of the war on our part. Now we desire to ask, and to ask very emphatically, what remained of these objects of the war, after the conferences between the American and Mexican Commissioners before the walls of the Mexican capital? Looking steadily at these as the only subjects of difference between the two nations, and the only legitimate and avowed objects of the war on our part, what was Mr. Trist, as the Commissioner of the United States, authorized, or rather what should he have been authorized of right, to demand of the Mexican Government, in regard to them 2 His legitimate demands would have been— 1. Ample indemnity for the claims of American citizens on Mexico. 2. The cession, or renunciation, of all claims or pretensions on the part of Mexico, to the proper territory of the State of Texas.
3. An adjustment, on terms of reciprocal
fairness, of the boundary between the State of Texas and Mexico. Now these demands were virtually included in the plan of a Treaty furnished to Mr. Trist at Washington, and presented by him to the Mexican Commissioners. It is not necessary that we should state at this moment, what other and further demands were included in the same document. How, then, did Mexico treat these demands? What answer did she return through her Commissioners? Did she refuse all concessions on all or any of these subjects? The Mexican Commissioners presented a Counter-Project for a Treaty, which is referred to in the President's Message, as offering terms of a Treaty “wholly inadmissible.” We deeply regret to be obliged to say, that this highest official dignitary of the land speaks of this Counter-Project in a manner which is neither warranted by
common candor, nor by the clear facts of
the case. One thing at least is not denied in the President's statement of objections to the terms of this Counter-Project; and that is, that it includes a clear cession or renunciation of all claims or pretensions of the Mexican government, to the proper territory of Texas. This is done in the fourth article of the project, which is as follows:—
“The dividing line between the two Republics shall commence in the Gulf of Mexico, three leagues from land, opposite to the southern mouth of the Bay of Corpus Christi, running in a straight line from within the said Bay the mouth of the river Nucces; thence rough the middle of said river in all its course its source; from the source of the river Nueces shall be traced a straight line until it meets
the present frontier of New Mexico on the east-south-east side; then follow the present boundary of New Mexico on the east, north and west, until this last touches the 37th degree ; which will serve as a limit for both Republics from the point in which it touches the said frontier of West of New Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. The Government of Mexico promises not to found any new towns or establish colonies in the tract of land which remains between the river Nueces and the Bravo del Norte.”
The line here proposed as a boundary begins with yielding to the United States the State of Texas, just as it had stood as a State or Department of Mexico. It was the same State of Texas, having its southeastern boundary defined as here described, which had revolted from Mexico, and achieved its independence on the plains of San Jacinto. The line here stated does not, it is true, include any part of Conhuila, or of the State of Tamaulipas, neither of which ever revolted from Mexico, or ever manifested any desire to separate from the Mexican empire. But we repeat that this line yielded to the United States the proper State and territory of Texas. And let it be remembered that we are here referring to this matter, only as it affects the general question of Annexation, and the subject of difficulty and dispute between the countries on account of Annexation. It was this subject of Annexation—as distinct from any mere question of boundary—at which Mexico originally took offence. It was on this account that the Mexican minister in this country, Almonte, demanded his passports and withdrew from the country. It was on this account that Mexico refused to have any further diplomatic intercourse with Mr. Shannon, then our minister near the government of that republic. And it was on this account, and because Mr. Slidell had not come as a special commissioner charged with the particular duty of proposing terms of accommodation in reference to Annexation, that that functionary was not received by the Mexican government. It was this Annexation of Texas that Mexico said originally she should regard as a declaration of war against her, though she acted no further on this declaration than to break up all diplomatic relations with us, and to hold herself aloof as the offended party, who was to be conciliated by a proper advance on our part. Her rejection of our minister, and which was one subject of complaint by our government, though not perhaps set down distinctly as one cause of war, is referrible mainly to this subject of Annexation. Now what we mean to say is, that in their Counter-Project of a treaty, the Mexican Commissioners expressly yielded the whole matter of difference or dispute in regard to the general subject of the Annexation of Texas to the United States. Annexation was no longer a subject of complaint, and was no longer to stand in the way of peace and amity between the two countries. And thus we say, one of the original subjects of dispute, and no doubt the main cause leading to a collision of arms, was removed. If there had been no Annexation there would have been no war; there would have been no interruption of diplomatic and friendly relations; there would have been no rejection of our minister, and no marching of troops to the Rio Grande. “The existing war,” said the Mexican commissioners in their letter to Mr. Trist, accompanying their counterproject, “has been undertaken solely on account of the territory of the State of Texas, respecting which the North American republic presents as its title the Act of the said State by which it was annexed to the North American confederation, after having proclaimed its independence of Mexico.” And they add, after stating that Mexico consents “to the pretensions of the government of Washington to the territory of Texas,” that “the cause of the war has disappeared, and the war itself ought to cease, since there is no warrant for its continuance.” And undoubtedly they were right to this extent, that so far as this question of Annexation was a cause for the war, that cause did disapear from the moment Mexico had declared erself ready to yield the point, and the United States were no longer at liberty to prosecute the war on account of that question, or for any reason merely incident to it. This object of the war, then, if an object of the war at all, no longer remained after the conferences between the commissioners of the two countries, in September; and when the war was renewed, it was renewed for no object relating to the annexation of Texas to the United States.
The next object of the war, on our part, after it had once been commenced, was to obtain satisfaction, or indemnity, for the claims of our citizens on Mexico, on account of injuries and indignities to their persons and property. These claims were not the cause of the war; it was not undertaken for the redress of these injuries; but the war once begun, it was not to be expected that peace would be made, until these demands should be satisfactorily adjusted. Now we assert, in the face of the bald and bold statement to the contrary in the President's Message, that the Mexican Commissioners, in their counter-project, did offer an ample indemnity for these claims. It is not true, as the President affirms, that this plan “contained no provision for the payment by Mexico of the just claims of our citizens.” There was no offer of payment in money, nor was any such payment in money expected, or desired, by the Administration. But there was indemnity, and just that kind of indemnity after which the government has been looking from the beginning, namely, indemnity in territory. The whole statement in which the Message indulges on this point, is the most extraordinary, perhaps, that was ever uttered by a high public functionary, in the face of an intelligent country. We know of nothing to compare with it, except, indeed, some other statements of the like character in the same document, and in the President's previous Messages on the same general subject. It would be charitable to believe, if we could, that the President falls into these shocking errors of fact, from the agency and imposition of some unprincipled persons about him, and is to be excused on the ground of utter inattention, or else of absolute want of capacity. If this habit of gross perversion, or of careless statement, is to be indulged in, and tolerated, and if he is really to be held accountable for what appears under his hand, it will soon come to be understood, that a Message of the President of the United States to Congress, is no more to be relied on for its relation of facts, than the most worthless newspaper sheet in the land. The Message informs Congress and the country, that “the terms of a treaty proposed by the Mexican Commissioners, were wholly inadmissible,” among other reasons,