Thursday, July 30, 2009

"I protest against such a Union as that!"

In his speech of January 4, 1848, South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun raised a number of arguments against continuation of the war against Mexico. The cost of subduing remaining resistance and occupying the country would be tremendous: Calhoun estimated that it would be $60 million, causing potentially catastrophic damage to the economy.

Calhoun also argued, as he had before (although I did not highlight the point), “that the more successfully this war is prosecuted the more certain will be the defeat of the object designed to be accomplished, whilst the objects disavowed will be accomplished.” This was because the destruction of all government in Mexico would make peace impossible: there would be no one left with whom to negotiate. Mexico, a fellow republic, would have been destroyed, leaving a military despotism by the United States in its place.
[Adopting the Polk administration’s proposed course] will lead to the blotting out of the nationality of Mexico, and the throwing of eight or nine millions of people without a government, on your hands. It will compel you, in all probability, to assume that government, for I think there will be very little prospect of your retiring. You must either hold the country as a province, or incorporate it into your Union. Shall we do either? That’s the question. Far from us be such an act, and for the reasons contained in the resolutions.

Calhoun’s proposed resolutions provided, first, that “to conquer Mexico and to hold it, either as a province or to incorporate it into the Union, would be inconsistent with the avowed object for which the war has been prosecuted.” Calhoun had already discussed this point at length. He turned therefore to the second proposition, that that conquest would be “a departure from the settled policy of the Government.” Calhoun contrasted the administration’s proposed course with the “settled policy” adopted concerning the Indians:
The next reason which my resolutions assign, is, that it is without example or precedent, either to hold Mexico as a province, or to incorporate her into our Union. No example of such a line of policy can be found. We have conquered many of the neighboring tribes of Indians, but we never thought of holding them in subjection – never of incorporating them into our Union. They have either been left as an independent people amongst us, or been driven into the forests.

This, in turn, served as an opening for Calhoun to address the issue that, I suspect, was at the heart of his objection to a wider Mexican war from the beginning: race. Calhoun feared that the incorporation of settled portions of Mexico would result in non-white Indians and “mixed tribes” becoming residents and citizens of the United States. “Ours,” Calhoun maintained, “is the government of a white race.” “[P]lacing these colored races on an equality with the white race” would be “fatal to our institutions”:
I know further, sir, that we have never dreamt of incorporating into our Union any but the Caucasian race – the free white race. To incorporate Mexico, would be the very first instance of the kind of incorporating an Indian race; for more than half of the Mexicans are Indians, and the other is composed chiefly of mixed tribes.

I protest against such a Union as that! Ours, sir, is the Government of a white race. The greatest misfortunes of Spanish America are to be traced to the fatal error of placing these colored races on an equality with the white race. That error destroyed the social arrangement which formed the basis of society. The Portuguese and ourselves have escaped – the Portuguese at least to some extent – and we are the only people on this continent which have made revolutions without being followed by anarchy. And yet it is professed and talked about to erect these Mexicans into a Territorial Government, and place them on an equality with the people of the United States. I protest utterly against such a project.

Sir, it is a remarkable fact, that in the whole history of man, as far as my knowledge extends, there is no instance whatever of any civilized colored races being found equal to the establishment of free popular government, although by far the largest portion of the human family is composed of these races. . . . Are we to overlook this fact? Are we to associate with ourselves as equals, companions, and fellow-citizens, the Indians and mixed race of Mexico? Sir, I should consider such a thing as fatal to our institutions.

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