how to start a war -- 12/05/17

Today's selection -- from the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. In 1845, the U.S. annexed the Republic of Texas. Mexico considered the land at the southern edge of Texas, the land between the Rio Grande River and the Nueces River, to be Mexican territory, while the U.S. claimed this territory as its own. The U.S., under President James Polk, tried to purchase the land, but Mexico refused to sell. According to most historians, that refusal caused the U.S. to intentionally provoke Mexico into a war. Polk knew that if he proposed war to Congress, it would be rejected, but if Mexico fired first on U.S. troops, then Congress would be angered and would readily vote for war. So in 1846, U.S. troops were moved to the edge of the disputed territory with strict instructions from Polk not to fire first. The Mexican troops ignored the U.S. troops, so they increased the provocation by moving into the disputed territory. Mexican troops obliged by attacking -- killing 12 U.S. soldiers and capturing 52 others -- and Congress moved quickly to declare a war that the U.S. easily won. It was a war to which many Americans, including Abraham Lincoln, objected. But the reward for this war was far greater than just the disputed territory in Texas. It was the entire Southwest, including what is now the state of California -- one of the largest territorial expansions in U.S. history. Ulysses Grant, who fought in this Mexican-American War, described the provocation in his biography:

"A more efficient army for its number and armament, I do not believe ever fought a battle than the one commanded by General Taylor in his first two engagements on Mexican -- ­or Texan soil.

Mexico in 1824. Alta California is the
northwestern-most federal territory.

"The presence of United States troops on the edge of the disputed territory furthest from the Mexican settlements, was not sufficient to provoke hostilities. We were sent to provoke a fight, but it was essential that Mexico should commence it. It was very doubtful whether Congress would declare war; but if Mexico should attack our troops, the Executive could announce, 'Whereas, war exists by the acts of, etc.,' and prosecute the contest with vigor. Once initiated there were but few public men who would have the courage to oppose it. Experience proves that the man who obstructs a war in which his nation is engaged, no matter whether right or wrong, occupies no enviable place in life or history. Better for him, individually, to advocate 'war, pestilence, and famine,' than to act as obstructionist to a war already begun. The his­tory of the defeated rebel will be honorable hereafter, com­pared with that of the Northern man who aided him by conspiring against his government while protected by it. The most favorable posthumous history the stay-at-home traitor can hope for is -- oblivion.

Captain Charles A. May's squadron of the 2nd Dragoons slashes through the Mexican Army lines.
Resaca de la Palma, Texas, May 9, 1846

"Mexico showing no willingness to come to the Nueces to drive the invaders from her soil, it became necessary for the 'invaders' to approach to within a convenient distance to be struck. Accordingly, preparations were begun for moving the army to the Rio Grande, to a point near Matamoras. It was desirable to occupy a position near the largest centre of pop­ulation possible to reach, without absolutely invading terri­tory to which we set up no claim whatever."



Ulysses S. Grant


The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant


Belknap Press


Copyright 2017 by the Ulysses S. Grant Association


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