XI. THE MEXICAN WAR.
[An Era of Peace.]
An interval of over thirty years elapsed between our second war with Great Britain and the war with Mexico. Although this period was one of external, and, excepting the troubles which now and then arose with the Indians, of internal peace, its social and political aspects are very full of interest. Within its limits the first railway and the first telegraph-lines were laid in the United States, and the great Erie Canal was built. After three tranquil presidential terms, presided over by the sensible though not brilliant Monroe, and by the shrewd, scholarly, and positive younger Adams, a man succeeded to the Executive Chair whose course was destined to revolutionize parties, to carry party bitterness to a height of great violence, and to divert the political destinies of the country into new channels. Andrew Jackson was well fitted by his strong will and stubborn courage to do the dangerous work of his time.
Various considerations induced the State of South Carolina to defy the Union. The alleged ground of her quarrel was the high rates of the tariff imposed by Congress upon imports. This tariff she resolved to resist; hence a resolution was passed by a convention in South Carolina that after a certain date the tariff should be null and void within her limits. It was further resolved that if the United States attempted to enforce it, South Carolina should secede, and form an independent government. John C. Calhoun was, or was charged with being, the instigator of this movement. It was at once quelled, however, by the prompt action of President Jackson. He sent troops and war-ships to Charleston, under the command of General Scott; and "nullification" was overawed and defeated.
President Jackson also had the nerve to veto the bill creating a national bank; and when, after two terms of service, he retired, he gave up to the rule of his designated successor a nation of fifteen millions of people, solvent, prosperous, and apparently destined to a long career of peace and power. The four years of President Van Buren's term were not notable for great events, and are chiefly interesting as exhibiting the re-formation of parties, in which the lines between the Whigs and the Democrats became more defined and distinct. Van Buren was the leader of the Democrats, but was soon to lose that leadership by reason of his connection with the fast-growing anti-slavery cause. Henry Clay was the Whig chief; and continued to be so, despite the rivalry of Webster, down to the time of his death. [Causes of the Mexican War.]
It was during the term of President John Tyler, who succeeded to the chief magistracy after poor worn-out old General Harrison had exercised its functions for one brief month, that the events took their rise which ripened into the War with Mexico. The large territory of Texas, lying upon our extreme southwestern border, between Louisiana and Mexico, had revolted from the latter nation and set up an independent republic of its own. Texas had been largely colonized from the slave States, and General Sam Houston, formerly of Tennessee, was its President.
[Election of Polk.]
The republic sought admission to our Union in 1837, but the application was then refused. Seven years later, Mr. Tyler gave it a more hospitable reception. A treaty was framed, and at first rejected by the United States Senate. At last, in March, 1845, just as Mr. Tyler was retiring from office, a resolution was adopted by both houses of Congress annexing Texas, and this resolution was approved by the outgoing President. The presidential campaign in the autumn of 1844, between Henry Clay as the Whig and James K. Polk as the Democratic candidate, was fought mainly upon the issue of this annexation, and the election of Mr. Polk was looked upon as a confirmation of it by the people.
No sooner had the new President been inaugurated than what the Whig leaders had earnestly predicted came to pass. A dispute arose with Mexico as to the boundary between that country and Texas. Mexico claimed that this boundary was the river Nueces; Texas asserted it to be the Rio Grande. The matter was one of some importance, as the Nueces is a hundred miles northeastward from the Rio Grande, and that much of territory was therefore in dispute. The brief negotiations which ensued with a view to the settlement of this question, proved abortive. President Polk accordingly ordered General Zachary Taylor to occupy the disputed territory with a small body of troops. Taylor concentrated his men at Corpus Christi, near the frontier.
The Mexicans were equally prompt, and the first collisions occurred at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, near the Rio Grande. General Taylor repulsed the enemy with little difficulty and but small loss, and, crossing the Rio Grande, advanced upon and captured Matamoras. Thus far the hostilities had proceeded when a formal declaration of war was made against Mexico by the United States. Clay and the Whigs strenuously opposed this action; but the administration party bore down all opposition. Volunteers now flocked, especially from the Southern States, to Taylor's standard; and in a few weeks he found himself at the head of a resolute though not very well disciplined force of nearly eight thousand men. Monterey, a fortified town of considerable importance, was held by about nine thousand Mexican troops. General Taylor's objective point was the City of Mexico.