Friday, January 01, 2010

"Make the Treaty, Sir!"

On December 4, 1847, Nicholas Trist was in Mexico City, consumed with indecision. Two weeks earlier he had received dispatches from Secretary of State James Buchanan canceling his diplomatic mission to Mexico and directing his return to Washington as soon as practicable. And yet Trist believed that, for the first time, a treaty was within reach. Santa Anna and the hard-line "Puros" had been ousted from power and moderates more inclined to accept reality and conclude an acceptable agreement with the United States had taken control. If the opportunity was missed, Trist feared, “events very likely could” (in the words of Robert W. Merry) “spin out of control to the severe detriment of both countries.” What should he do?

As Merry describes it, Trist reached his dramatic decision to defy President Polk and continue negotiations as a result of a meeting with James Freaner, a correspondent for the New Orleans Delta. Trist explained his dilemma to Freaner. The conclusion of the talk would seem to come straight out of a 1940s Hollywood melodrama:
Freaner practically leaped from his chair.

“Mr. Trist, make the Treaty,” he intoned. “Make the Treaty, Sir! It is now in your power to do your country a greater service than any living man can render her. . . . You are bound to do it. Instructions or no instructions, you are bound to do it. Your country, Sir, is entitled to this service from you. Do it, Sir!”

This burst of enthusiasm demolished Trist's indecision on the spot. “I will make the Treaty,” he replied with equal fervor.

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