President Polk… President Polk. Who is to blame for the Mexican-American War? Is it the Mexican soldiers who “shed American blood on American soil?” I think not. It was your insatiable greed for new territory and your bending to the will of the uninformed ideal of American Exceptionalism that ultimately started the war.
First is the issue of manifest destiny, territory, and the whole idea of “West is best.” For whatever reason, you and a good portion of the American populace thought that it was America’s God given right to claim all the land on the continent “from sea to shining sea.” Looking back, it’s almost ridiculous and comical how some the crazies at the time would literally write how “America is the great nation of the world” and how any other government was “incompetent” and could be improved by being taken over by the United States. While you, Polk, may not have been the biggest hack of the bunch, you certainly were quite intent on expanding America’s influence at the expense of everyone else. It was this mindset, however misinformed, that primed yourself, Congress, and the American public for a totally unjustified war.
At the time, you were salivating over that nice chunk of land known as California. As per the norm, you felt America deserved it. At first, you simply tried to annoy the Mexican government into giving in. John Slidell was sent to offer up 25 million dollars for bargaining, but low and behold, Mexico’s government didn’t take kindly to the biggest jerk on the continent hassling them for territory. Then (Plot Twist) it turned out Britain also wanted to purchase the same chunk of territory, and we just can’t have that now, can we? So what do you do, President Polk? You provoke a war so you can take the territory from Mexico!
Now, let us shift our discussion to the issue of the border. Yeah, that border. We all know (yet you refused to acknowledge) that there was a bit of a misunderstanding as to where it actually was. Texas had declared its border to be the Rio Grande River while Mexico thought it should be the Nueces River. First, C’mon guys. This “disputed” territory was pretty insignificant. A diplomatic solution was the obvious answer, but never came to fruition…I wonder why.
In the end, you, President Polk, annoyed that Mexico would not sell you their land and frightened that Britain might establish a foothold in what was to be your country, moved American troops just North of the Rio Grande river — in the overlap between Texan and Mexican territory. You got what you asked for, Mexican troops who were simply defending their border fired upon your soldiers. You took this matter to Congress and subsequently, war was declared. You got what you wanted Polk, but you won’t be remembered well for it.
Pitted against a superior foe, Mexico quickly lost the war and handed over California and other territory in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. This itself is sickening, but your blunder does not end there Polk. With the sudden addition of new territory, the balance of free states to slave states would once against be shifted. California was also extraordinarily large, so which side got it would gain much congressional influence. Because this acquisition of territory was so rapid, Congress did not know what to do or how to compromise. Tension between the North and South increased drastically, and events that would ultimately lead to the Civil War were set in motion.
-American Pageant 11th Edition
-Mexican-American War document packet