Wednesday, July 29, 2009

"Well, sir, what has been accomplished?"

Having discussed at great (some might say turgid) length John C. Calhoun’s position on and arguments concerning the war against Mexico in early 1847, I’d like to jump forward eleven months, to January 1848. By that point, of course, General Winfield Scott had completed his conquest of Mexico City, and the war was, for all practical purposes, over. The nature of the peace, however, remained to be determined.

On December 15, 1847, Calhoun had introduced resolutions concerning the war that reiterated the themes that he had struck (and which I have discussed) earlier:
Resolved, 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; a departure from the settled policy of the Government; in conflict with its character and genius; and in the end subversive of our free and popular institutions.

Resolved, that no line of policy in the further prosecution of the war should be adopted which may lead to consequences so disastrous.

On January 4, 1848, the Senate took up Calhoun’s resolutions for discussion, and Calhoun took the floor to explain and defend them. He began as follows:
In offering, Senators, these resolutions for your consideration, I have been governed by the reasons which induced me to oppose the war, and by the same considerations I have been ever since guided. In alluding to my opposition to the war, I do not intend to notice the reasons which governed me on that occasion, further than is necessary to explain my motives upon the present. I opposed the war then, not only because I considered it unnecessary, and that it might have been easily avoided; not only because I thought the President had no authority to order a portion of the territory in dispute and in possession of the Mexicans, to be occupied by our troops; not only because I believed the allegations upon which it was sanctioned by Congress, were unfounded in truth; but from high considerations of reason and policy, because I believed it would lead to great and serious evils to the country, and greatly endanger its free institutions.

Calhoun reminded his listeners that “at the last session, I suggested to the senate a defensive line” to “prevent the evil and danger with which, in my opinion, [the war] threatened the country and its institutions.” He was, he said, now offering his resolutions for the same purpose.

After reviewing the United States’ and General Scott’s unbroken string of military victories, Calhoun asserted that they had accomplished nothing:
Victory after victory has followed in succession, without a single reverse. . . . Well, sir, what has been accomplished? What has been done? Has the avowed object of the war been attained? Have we conquered peace? Have we obtained a treaty? Have we obtained any indemnity? No, sir; not a single object contemplated has been effected; and, what is worse, our difficulties are greater now than they were then, and the objects, forsooth, more difficult to reach than they were before the campaign commenced.

About the illustration:
An exultant view of Winfield Scott's second major victory in the Mexican War, at the Battle of Cerro Gordo, where Mexican commander Santa Anna beat an unceremonious retreat. In the mid-April victory Santa Anna's military chest with $11,000 in gold and his wooden leg fell into the hands of American troops. For an explanation of the "hasty plate of soup," see "Distinguished Military Operations" (no. 1846-15). The print also mocks Winfield Scott's well-known fastidiousness and taste for comfortable appointments and James K. Polk's handling of the Mexican War. In Clay's cartoon, Santa Anna rides off to the left, while the rest of his cavalry is seen in the distance routed by American troops. Scott sits in the Mexican's abandoned carriage, equipped with a lavish dinner service and two cocks, doffs his hat and invites the departing enemy to "stop and take a hasty plate of soup? It's some of your own cooking & very good I assure you!" Santa Anna replies, "No I thank you, General, I'm afraid of an attack from the rear! (Jesus Maria! this beats cock-fighting!)" An American trooper holds the reins of the carriage's team -- one horse and a braying ass with blinders-- and a fighting cock on a leash, saying, "I didn't think when I left New York that I should have taken Santa Anna's best fighting cock prisoner!" Another trooper kneels before the open military chest, while a third marvels at "Santa Anna's Cork leg!" In the lower right corner is a paper "Pass port for Santa Anna" signed by Polk, a reference to the President's allowing the exiled general to return to Mexico in hopes that he would terminate the war.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails