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The War With Mexico, Volume I (of 2) By Justin H. Smith Characters: 44914

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03



In 1843 our decisive difficulty with Mexico began to take shape. The annexation of Texas to the United States was on legal, moral and political grounds entirely legitimate. That republic had defied the arms of the mother-country for nine years. It was recognized as an independent nation by the leading commercial powers of the world; and no well-informed person, even in Mexico, dreamed that it would return to its former connection. To be sure, her pretensions were asserted in 1845 as loudly as ever; but she made them ridiculous by declaring that never, under any circumstances, would the independence of her rebellious daughter be conceded. Besides, Mexico had practically acquiesced in the recognition of Texas by our own and other governments; and, in view of this fact, as good a lawyer and statesman as Daniel Webster, though opposed to incorporating that country in the Union, held that our doing it gave Mexico no ground of complaint.[1]


Annexation was therefore permissible, and grave national interests of the United States appeared to demand the step. All northern Mexico, including California, seemed liable to secede, for the people of that whole region felt profoundly dissatisfied with the administration of their national affairs, and realized the urgent need of a strong and orderly government; there was reason to believe that Sam Houston, the President of Texas, thought of organizing under European auspices a southwestern empire, absorbing Oregon, and thus offsetting the United States; as A. J. Donelson, our minister in Texas at that period, wrote in 1848, "He was not mistaken. This he could have done"; and in that event we should have had a bold, ambitious rival in the rear. The anti-slavery agitation in the United States led many of our southern citizens to long for separation and a union with slaveholding Texas. The possibilities of Texan cotton production, stimulated by the English, who were eager to be independent of the American fields, were keenly dreaded. The logic of the situation seemed likely to render Texas not only a commercial and industrial competitor and a rancorous political enemy, but a source of dangerous complications with Mexico, England and France. Finally, the British, who possessed a powerful influence in her councils and in those of Mexico, were deliberately endeavoring to shape matters in such a way as to do very serious harm, it was believed, to the interests of the United States. Under such conditions no one could reasonably complain because we undertook, employing as means only argument and persuasion, to acquire that important and valuable territory, and ward off these apparently imminent dangers. Albert Gallatin, who opposed our taking the step, wrote later that it was "both expedient and natural, indeed ultimately unavoidable."[1]

No doubt it was quite natural that Mexico should take offence. To see a handful of poor farmers, nearly all of them foreigners by birth, rebel against their national government, appropriate a large portion of the nation's territory, rout its army, capture its President, establish a working political system, and gain recognition abroad, had been fearfully trying. To believe, not only on the authority of every Mexican leader but on that of many Europeans and some eminent Americans, that all this loss and chagrin were largely, if not wholly, due to the machinations of a neighbor, allied to Mexico by a treaty of amity and constantly professing friendship, was harder yet. And now to find those Texans, recently so eager to escape from all outside control, preparing as if by a preconcerted understanding to join that seemingly perfidious and aggressive nation, carrying their invaluable territories with them, and bringing its frontier to the very bank of the Rio Grande-this was certainly enough to make any citizen, ignorant of the natural steps by which it had really come about and quite unable to understand American ways, boil with rage. But the United States had labored to explain the affair to Mexico, and was not responsible for her blindness.

For a number of reasons Mexico had anticipated the final outcome of the Texan difficulties, and on August 23, 1843, Bocanegra, her secretary of relations, addressed our minister on the subject. The conduct of the United States regarding that province, he wrote, has "appeared to afford grounds for doubting the sincerity and frankness" of the American authorities, and therefore, while hoping that the republic founded by Washington may be saved "from stain and dishonor," we announce hereby, "that the Mexican Government will consider equivalent to a declaration of war against the Mexican Republic the passage of an act [by the American Congress] for the incorporation of Texas with the territory of the United States; the certainty of the fact being sufficient for the immediate proclamation of war." Such a note was of course decidedly offensive to the honor of this nation. Even Thompson felt compelled to be indignant.[2]

The following November Almonte, who then represented Mexico at Washington, informed our secretary of state that should Congress and the Executive decide upon annexation, he should consider his mission at an end. "My country," he stated, "is resolved to declare war as soon as it receives information of such an act." In reply, Upshur asserted rather sharply the right of the United States to regard Texas as an independent nation; but early in 1844 he talked the matter over with Almonte in a very frank and amicable way, and the Mexican minister concurred substantially in the annexation policy of our government. The next spring, however, he formally repeated the protests of August and November, 1843.[3]


Probably to gain time and if possible lead us on to acknowledge in some way the claim of Mexico, Almonte encouraged Calhoun, who had succeeded Upshur as the secretary of state, to believe that his government, looking upon Texas as lost, would accept a pecuniary consideration in order to minimize the misfortune; and about the middle of April, 1844, a "bearer of despatches" named Thompson left Washington with certain instructions from the secretary of state to B. E. Green, our chargé at Mexico. These directed him to inform the Mexican government that, while intending no disrespect and feeling an "anxious desire" to maintain friendly relations, the United States had been compelled by a regard for our own security to negotiate a treaty for the annexation of Texas without reaching a previous understanding with it, but had borne its attitude in mind, and was now ready to adjust all difficulties-particularly that of the boundary, which had purposely been left an open question-"on the most liberal and satisfactory terms."[4]

Thompson landed at Vera Cruz on May 14, and proceeded at once to call on President Santa Anna, then at one of his estates near the coast. He next went on to the capital, and in company with Green had a conference with the acting President, who was, of course, entirely under Santa Anna's control. No good results followed, however, and Calhoun's overture for an amicable adjustment of the Texan difficulty, which Green presented officially in a note, was rejected by the Cabinet. The United States, Bocanegra pretended in his reply, though it had injured and outraged Mexico by taking steps toward annexation, had now recognized her claim to the territory; and he not only refused to make any concession, but formally repeated the declaration of August 23. He then placed the Texas affair before the diplomatic corps at Mexico; an unsuccessful attempt was made to obtain from Bankhead, the British minister, some hint of aid against the United States; Almonte received orders to persist in his protests; the newspapers, taking their cue from a journal under the President's direct control, broke out into what Bankhead characterized as "the most violent strain of invective against the proposed annexation"; and Santa Anna himself, assuming the reins of government, called for 30,000 men and a large sum of money.[5]

It is thus clear that while our government positively and rightfully denied the claims of Mexico to any legal ownership of Texas, it showed-even to the extent of imprudence-a kindly regard for her feelings and a willingness to make her, under cover of adjusting the boundary, a substantial present; and it is equally clear that our overture, instead of being received in a friendly or even a candid manner, was twisted and misrepresented, and was used by Santa Anna not only to advance his personal interests, but even to feed the prevalent hostility against the United States and increase the danger of war. Of course Mexico had a perfect right to repulse our advances, but her method of procedure in the case was unjustifiable.

Meanwhile, from a variety of causes, among which the merits of the question had but a small place, the treaty of annexation failed in our Senate, and the Texans, who had given offence to England, France and especially Mexico by accepting the overture of our Executive, found themselves not only slighted by the United States but ferociously menaced by Santa Anna, and seemed likely, in their resentment and peril, to swing quite beyond our reach-presumably under the shield of England. To counteract this tendency somewhat and in a measure safeguard Texas against the dangers we had brought upon her, Calhoun sent a bold and even audacious despatch to the American representative at Mexico. The United States, he said, is responsible for the annexation treaty, and upon us, not upon Texas, the wrath of Mexico should be visited; moreover the matter of acquiring that territory, which it has long been our policy to do, is pending still, and for that reason, as well as on the score of humanity, we could not allow the question to be decided by fierce Mexican threats of brutal hostilities; Texas is to be treated as an independent power; but should annexation be consummated, the United States will be ready to settle most liberally all resulting difficulties.[6]

In October, 1844, our minister gave the substance of this despatch to the Mexican government; and soon the talented, energetic and audacious Rejón, the successor of Bocanegra, sent him in reply a long but not wearisome review of the Texas affair, that was absolutely a masterpiece in its class. Truths, managed so as to give a wrong impression, clever half-truths and flat falsehoods were skilfully combined, and at last the United States appeared to stand in the dock as a confessed perjurer and thief awaiting sentence. As for Calhoun's intervening now between Mexico and a handful of rebels, protested Rejón, that could not be tolerated, unless every nation that so chose might fill neighboring territory with its people, incite them to revolt, aid them to resist, and finally offer them annexation. Our minister, Shannon, who had been a useful Democratic stump-speaker in Ohio, blustered, blundered, threatened and undertook to argue, but only drew from Rejón a still more insulting letter, and still more embittered the feeling in both countries.[7]

At the beginning of March, 1845, our President signed the joint resolution of Congress which provided for the annexation of Texas. Almonte, the Mexican minister, at once protested, giving notice that his country would maintain the claim to her ancient province "at all times, by every means ... in her power"; and although James Buchanan, who now became secretary of state under Polk, replied in a conciliatory manner, Almonte broke off diplomatic relations and left our shores. At Mexico the news produced a tremendous commotion, heightened by the report from California that a revolution, decided by the American settlers, had occurred in that department. War at once and war to the knife! cried the press in concert; while the administration, in a note moderated by the British and French ministers yet sufficiently positive, severed official relations with Shannon, and insisted upon this policy even after receiving a conciliatory reply from him. By the action of Mexico there was, therefore, a complete rupture between the two countries.[8]


When it was learned, about the middle of July, that our terms of annexation had been accepted by Texas, passion burst forth again. The leash of Mexican eloquence and fury broke. "August Houses! President of the Republic!" cried El Amigo del Pueblo, "The hour of danger for the country has sounded and she has a right to look to you for salvation. Union and war!" Not merely Texas but all Mexico, the people were told, had been marked as its prey by American greed. In order to save itself before the public the administration, though at heart averse to hostilities, proposed to Congress a declaration of war. Money was asked from the Chambers, and full quotas of troops were summoned from the departments; and by the end of the month, as the agent of our government duly reported, the course of things pointed strongly toward hostilities. The archives of Vera Cruz were carried to the interior; new guns were mounted in the fortress there; steps were taken to raise a loan of fifteen millions; munitions and provisions were said to be going as rapidly as possible to Matamoros; and much was heard about the movements of troops. At the end of July the ministers of Mexico at London and Paris were notified that an appeal to arms would be made. August 8 the Mexican consulate at New Orleans closed; and a few days later our consul at Havana reported that his Mexican colleague had received an official notification of the existence of war.[9]

To be sure, no public declaration to that effect appeared, but there were good reasons for considering this fact unimportant. With Spanish-American subtlety the Mexicans discovered that the threat of August 23, 1843, repeated later, had rendered such an announcement unnecessary, and that it would be shrewder to hold that by annexing Texas we had declared war upon them, since they would then be free to attack or defer attacking us, as might seem expedient. Besides, it was argued, Texas was merely a rebellious province, and hence Mexico could make war there at will, without giving us an excuse for opening hostilities against her seaboard, and without enabling us to seize territory by the right of belligerency. Consequently, as large forces had been ordered to the north, a move across the Rio Grande at any hour seemed more than possible; and the official journal urged, that it should be effected at the earliest practicable moment, in order to prevent the United States from occupying the territory, and making ready there for hostilities.[10]


The American government, on the other hand, undertook to restore friendly relations. The official assurances of good-will given Almonte were supplemented by private representations conveyed to him through a mutual friend by a member of our Cabinet; and Polk took also a step of much greater importance. Before the end of March W. S. Parrott was appointed a confidential agent of our state department, and ordered to reach Mexico, which had long been his place of residence, by the quickest route. Try to convince the Mexican government, ran his instructions, that it is truly for the interest of that country, "to restore friendly relations between the two republics." If it is found willing, you may reveal your official character, and say that the United States will send a "Minister" on learning that he will be kindly received. The annexation of Texas cannot be undone; but "you are at liberty to state your confident belief that in regard to all unsettled questions, we are prepared to meet Mexico in a most liberal and friendly spirit."[11]

Thus commissioned, Parrott sought his post without delay, renewed his acquaintance with members of the Mexican Congress, invited them frequently to lunch or dinner, and talked, no doubt in the spirit of his instructions, with all such influential persons as he could reach. In particular, as he reported, he was "very precise in stating, that the Government of the United States could never recognize in Mexico the right to claim an indemnity for the annexation of Texas to the American Union; but that, in a treaty of limits, for the sake of peace and good neighborhood, the United States would, no doubt, be disposed, as had been officially stated, to meet Mexico, in a negotiation, upon the most friendly and liberal terms." No explanation could have been clearer.[12]

There were good reasons for anticipating a favorable result from this overture. President Herrera, connected by marriage with a leading American merchant at the capital, was an honest, reasonable and patriotic citizen; and, knowing that hostilities with the United States would at best involve many costly sacrifices, and would very likely throw California into our hands, he desired to escape by some method from his public action in favor of war. It was altogether possible, too, that a reverse on the field might upset his administration and injure his friends; and, since the movement that had placed him in power had cost money, his backers, in order to be repaid, felt anxious to curtail instead of increasing the military expenses. Moreover there was trouble with both England and France at this time; the more intelligent part of the nation, cooling a little, were beginning to perceive the advantages of a peaceful settlement with us; a chance could be seen that in the end such a policy, reducing the cost of government, would become popular; and finally it was realized that unless money to pay the troops were obtained from the United States, their fickle allegiance probably could not be retained. Accordingly on August 29, 1845, Parrott reported that in his opinion an envoy from this country would be heartily welcomed; almost at the same time Black, our consul at Mexico, and Dimond, our consul at Vera Cruz, expressed the same view; and private advices tended to confirm these opinions.[13]

Our own reasons for wishing to have diplomatic intercourse restored were almost equal in strength to Herrera's. Aside from the political and commercial interests that had always led us to seek the friendship of Mexico, we desired to collect the unpaid instalments of our awards, prosecute our claims, guard our citizens residing in that country, adjust the Texan difficulty, counteract prejudicial movements on the part of European states, and cultivate the good-will of the Central and South American peoples, who were sure to be influenced by the sentiments of their kindred next us. In particular, only two or three months later Guizot's idea of establishing a balance of power in this hemisphere was exciting alarm in Congress; and there is reason to believe that our Executive, already aware of it, desired the support of Mexico in opposing a design so un-American. Besides, Polk felt sure that European governments had an eye upon California, and a minister was needed at the Mexican capital to prevent, if possible, any bargaining on the subject.[14]

Even more important, there were signs that a monarchy headed by a European prince might be set up in Mexico, involving dangerous interference in our commercial and political relations with that country, sure to increase the gravity of a military contest, should one arise, and seriously attacking the "Monroe Doctrine." As early as 1838 our consul at Mexico reported that Alamán and the conservatives were laboring to establish a monarchy. In 1840 Estrada, one of the ablest and best of their statesmen, was denounced for openly advocating the change. Paredes, now at the head of the army, had favored it for years, and in 1841 had initiated a movement in that direction. In January, 1845, two agents of the Spanish government were said to be laboring in Mexico for the same cause, and the Memorial Histórico announced that Spain, France and England had formed an alliance to set up a new government there. At about the same time the Picayune stated that official documents relating to the monarchical scheme had been received at New Orleans; and early in March our diplomatic representative at London sounded a strong note of warning.[15]

To reinforce all these considerations, England and France felt deeply offended at our absorption of Texas; Polk, who believed "that no compromise [in the Oregon affair] to which Great Britain would accede, could pass the Senate," now regarded a peaceful adjustment of that controversy as impossible; and Mexico, though as a rule profoundly influenced by the policy of England, might any day take offence at some British move, and wish to approach the United States. For these reasons it was of great importance to have a diplomatic agent near her government ready to take advantage of any promising turn; and, finally, one can easily imagine that in Polk's opinion the reception of a United States minister would of itself, aside from what he might do, render it more difficult for Mexico to maintain her unfriendly attitude.[16]


Accordingly the letters of Parrott, Black and Dimond were promptly taken up by the American Cabinet, and after a thorough discussion of the subject it was unanimously agreed, although the rupture had been caused by Mexico, to reopen diplomatic relations with her; to keep this intention profoundly secret, lest European ministers at Washington should thwart our aims; to despatch as minister John Slidell of Louisiana, an agreeable man, able lawyer and excellent Spanish scholar-just the sort of person most likely to gain the ear of Mexico-and to pay as much as forty millions, if necessary, for a satisfactory boundary. The next day, however, Polk learned that Mexico had been taking warlike steps as late as August 21. It was therefore concluded, in order to make sure that our envoy would not be rejected, to wait a little for news, and meantime instruct Black to ascertain "officially" whether a "Minister" would be received. No further action on the part of the Mexican government appeared necessary to restore friendly intercourse, for previously, after the withdrawal of a legation, the broken thread had been mended by sending a new representative. Nothing less than such action would have answered our p

urpose, for only a diplomatic agent of the usual kind, residing near that government, could have handled the existing problems. In consequence exactly this, without qualification or ambiguity, was proposed.[17]

Just at this point a new factor appeared. The British, holding a great amount of Mexican bonds, enjoying a very profitable trade in that quarter, and not at all anxious to see us extend our territory by conquest, did not wish Mexico to challenge the United States; and early in October Bankhead expressed a desire to confer with Pe?a y Pe?a, her secretary of relations, concerning the situation. This offer was cordially accepted; and, at an interview between these gentlemen and the President, Herrera said that the "subjects" which an American envoy might bring up would be discussed "with every disposition to terminate them amicably." Moreover, after frequent conversations and a second formal interview, Pe?a thanked Bankhead most gratefully in writing for offering to use his influence with Pakenham, now the British minister at Washington, "for the purpose of amicably arranging the differences [las diferencias]" existing between the United States and Mexico, and intimated plainly that Herrera would listen to any "proposals" coming from the American government.[18]


To suppose that such men, discussing a matter of so much gravity, would not in the course of numerous conversations take up its most obvious and most important aspects would be absurd. These must have been considered, and Bankhead reported that not only the annexation of Texas but "the other points of difference, such as Limits and Indemnity," were to come up, and in particular he understood that whatever sum the United States might agree to pay would be "much reduced by claims arising out of the Convention [of 1839] ... and by others since created." Such was Polk's view. The questions of boundary compensation and claims compensation, he said, "naturally and inseparably blended"; and the former existed only as a consequence of annexation. To suppose after the United States and Mexico had so long and beautifully illustrated the scene on Keats's Greek vase-we forever pursuing and she forever eluding us-that we should hand over to her a large sum without first ascertaining and subtracting the just value of our claims, would have been ridiculous. Moreover our claims counted prominently among the "differences" existing between the two governments, and without a definite adjustment of them a complete settlement and restoration of harmony, such as this plan aimed expressly to accomplish, was impossible.[19]

At this point, however, Bankhead's agency ended, for another superseded it. On October 13, after having gone over the matter informally with Pe?a, Consul Black at the minister's request wrote a confidential letter to him, in which he quoted the following language from his instructions: Ascertain from the Mexican government whether it will receive "an envoy from the United States, intrusted with full power to adjust all the questions in dispute between the two governments"; if so, he will be "immediately" despatched. The secretary of relations now, if he had not already done so, laid this matter before the President, and on the fifteenth he replied thus: My government is "disposed to receive the representative [comisionado] of the United States who may come to this capital with full powers from his government to settle the present dispute [contienda] in a peaceful, reasonable and honorable manner"; but, in order to eliminate every sign of coercion, the American fleet must retire from Vera Cruz. This proposal was sanctioned by the Mexican Congress in a secret session.[20]

Now the American proposition contemplated "all the questions in dispute," while Pe?a said in reply, "the present dispute." But this was apparently an immaterial variation in phraseology, such as is customary with men of independent minds. In the first place, it is an axiom that a whole includes all of its parts, and the American claims were, as we have just observed, an essential feature of the dispute between the two countries. In the second place we know that Bankhead so understood the matter. In the third place this mere difference in phraseology certainly did not indicate with any clearness a rejection of the American proposal and the substitution of an essentially different one, and, if so intended, it involved an ambiguity for which Mexico was bound to pay the penalty. Fourthly, Black's note was the sequel to a confidential interview with Pe?a held expressly for a free comparison of ideas. Now the consul must have understood the unvarying refusal of the United States to recognize any Mexican claim to Texas, and therefore he could see that no envoy would be appointed by us to treat directly and exclusively regarding the annexation of that republic. His instructions, moreover, were perfectly distinct; and his understanding of these matters would have been corrected, had correction been required, by Parrott, with whom he was ordered to confer. If, then, it had appeared in his preliminary conversation with Pe?a that Mexico insisted upon rejecting the American overture and substituting an essentially different and essentially unacceptable proposition, he would have stopped at that point, and reported in substance that Polk's offer was declined. There would have been no occasion to address the note of October 13 to Pe?a. In other words the American offer was understood, and it was fairly and squarely met. Herrera's government desired earnestly, as Pe?a showed Bankhead, to bring about such a complete settlement as Polk had in mind, and to that end it accepted our overture.[21]

But there is another point worthy of notice. The word comisionado used by Pe?a-the past participle, employed here as a noun, of the verb "to commission"-has usually been translated "commissioner," and hence it has often been urged by American writers, that he did not agree to receive a minister. But by good fortune we have a definition of that word from a Mexican secretary of relations. "A comisionado," wrote Bocanegra, "is a person charged by any community, or private citizen to conduct any business," and this definition obviously included ministers. On comparing the documents we find minister, envoy, plenipotentiary and comisionado used as equivalents; and Pe?a called Slidell a comisionado after learning that he came as a resident minister. Besides, the title signified nothing substantial, for the parties agreed that our agent should have full powers to discuss the whole business in hand, and so it follows again that, for the purpose of settling all the points of difference existing between the two nations, Mexico agreed to receive an American minister. November 6 Polk heard as much through Commodore Conner, then off Vera Cruz; and three days later Parrott arrived with Pe?a's autograph note, which was similarly understood at the White House.[22]

For good reasons the President felt that no time could be wasted. It was a critical juncture. The controversy with England over the possession of Oregon had reached an acute stage, and our minister at London expressed the opinion that she was trying to make use of Mexico in connection with it. Our relations with Mexico had dragged long enough. If it is intended to do anything, a New York merchant had written some time since to the secretary of the navy, "no time should be lost in sending a person to Mexico, as you can scarcely conceive the feverish excitement in our mercantile community," due to the dread of privateers. Herrera's pacific administration was tottering; and our consul at Vera Cruz warned the state department to act promptly, since it might go down at any time. Paredes, the monarchist, was known to be plotting a revolution; and the London Times, then a journal of great importance, had pronounced emphatically for a Spanish throne in Mexico as a bulwark against the United States, and had said that it believed no European power would object. We had promised through Black that a minister would be despatched "immediately," if he would be received; and Pe?a not only had made no objection to this, but had shown impatience for his arrival. In anticipation of satisfactory news from our consul, Slidell had been ordered to Pensacola, and instructions for him drafted. By ten o'clock in the evening of November 10 these were ready; Polk signed his commission; and Lieutenant Lanier of the navy set out at once for Pensacola with the documents.[23]


"To counteract the influence of foreign Powers, exerted against the United States in Mexico, and to restore those ancient relations of peace and good will which formerly existed between the Governments and the citizens of the sister Republics, will be the principal objects of your mission," read Slidell's instructions; take up the subject of our claims "in a prudent and friendly spirit," and arrange through an adjustment of the Texas boundary to cast upon the United States the burden of paying them; "exert all your energies" to prevent the cession of California to England or France if it be contemplated, and, if you can do so without endangering the restoration of amicable relations with Mexico and the adjustment of the Texas boundary, endeavor to purchase at least the northern part of California, including San Francisco Bay, but at all events conciliate the good-will of the Mexicans, even should their vanity and resentment prove trying. Fully in sympathy with Buchanan's instructions, the minister proceeded to Vera Cruz as quickly as possible on a vessel of war, landed there by November 30, and, noting that his way had already been paved by the retirement of our fleet, set out at once for the capital.[24]

Unfortunately, though as prompt as possible, Polk had not been prompt enough. Herrera's administration, as we have learned, had now sunk to the lowest point in courage, efficiency, prestige and sense of responsibility. Every morning it looked for a revolution, and every night for a mutiny. Its one idea was to hold on until the assembling of Congress on the first of January, in the hope that something favorable might then occur; and it found this last resource threatened by its reasonable and pacific policy in regard to the United States. Earlier in the year it had been denounced for agreeing to recognize Texas on the condition of her abandoning all thoughts of joining the American Union, and now it was menaced for listening to Black and Buchanan. A call for war in the name of honor, territory and independence appeared to be a serviceable oriflamme for its political enemies. Fierce, unsparing cries of treason, ignominy and national ruin therefore assailed Herrera; and under these onslaughts the weak, timid, irresolute administration lost heart.[25]

On December 3 Pe?a saw Black at the palace and exclaimed, We hear an envoy has arrived from the United States; who can he be, and what has he come for? The consul replied that he supposed he must be the envoy that Mexico had agreed to receive. This ought not to be, answered Pe?a hastily; no envoy was expected before January; we are not prepared to receive him; the government desires he should not come to the capital or even disembark; "you know the opposition are calling us traitors, for entering into this arrangement with you;" his coming now might produce a fatal revolution. This interview showed that before anything was known regarding Slidell's quality, credentials or instructions, and purely on account of domestic politics, the government was anxious to break its agreement. So Pe?a admitted later, for he privately sent word to Slidell that under the circumstances it feared to compromise itself, and would have acted otherwise had it been free. So the matter was understood by Bankhead; and so it has been understood by fair-minded Mexican historians. It only remained to contrive a method of evasion.[26]

The method adopted was to ask the council of state-a quite unnecessary proceeding-whether it would be proper to receive Slidell. In so doing Pe?a expressed a decided opinion in the negative, advancing, besides arguments of no moment, the more serious objection that receiving a resident minister would imply the existence of friendly relations between the two countries, and would thus condone the annexation of Texas. Even this argument, however, possessed no real value, for, as Pe?a recognized, Slidell was explicitly commissioned to "restore" friendly relations, which indicated that such relations could not exist until after he should be received and after he should act; and, besides, Mexico could have received him with a declaration of reserve, safeguarding all her claims. Moreover this was evidently a point, if of any importance, which the secretary should have considered before making the agreement.[27]

To avoid this last difficulty, he alleged in his desperation that Black had proposed, and he accepted, the plan of sending merely an envoy ad hoc, a special envoy commissioned to settle with Mexico for the annexation of Texas. His assertion, however, is disproved by the circumstances and correspondence leading to Slidell's appointment; and a simple argument reinforces the facts. For the United States to offer amends for annexation would have been to deny its repeated protestations that annexation was perfectly proper; would have been to brand upon its own forehead the heinous charges drawn in vitriol by Rejón. Pe?a could see that no country possessing the eyesight of a mole and the courage of a mouse would so degrade itself. He knew, October 11, that on such a demand the negotiations would end before beginning; would end at once in his study with Black's bidding him a respectful good-night; and since Herrera desired the negotiations, he could not make such a proposition.[28]


Moreover the council of state, which was a permanent body of notables, brushed aside this contention of Pe?a's, and fell back "on the very nature of the affair and on the state of our relations (en la natureleza misma del negocio y en el estado de nuestras relaciones)." Assuming plainly that the United States desired to avoid war and restore friendly diplomatic and commercial intercourse, it declared that we had set a trap [lazo] for Mexico, and undertaken to introduce a regular minister under false pretences, as it were, in order to compel her to be amicable against her will. In furtherance of this design the promise of the Mexican administration cannot be urged, it protested, for the intention must have been merely to let the Texas affair be settled, as a preliminary to the restoration of cordial relations, and it would be an "unexampled humiliation" were Mexico to receive a regular American minister before being satisfied for the outrage and injury inflicted upon her. In other words, Mexico had promised to receive Slidell, but it did not comport with her interest and her dignity to fulfil the agreement. This decision ensured his rejection. December 20 he was officially notified of it, and in reply he wrote what seemed to him a spiritless note, explaining to Buchanan that under his instructions he did not wish to make war inevitable by closing the door finally to negotiations. This done, he withdrew as soon as an escort could be obtained to the city of Jalapa, situated not far from the coast on the Vera Cruz road, to await instructions.[29]

Daniel Webster, a lawyer of no mean abilities, formerly our secretary of state, and at the time when he spoke a resolute opponent of Polk, said, after mature consideration of the matter, that Mexico was "highly unjustifiable" in thus refusing to hear our minister; and the demand upon this nation to repudiate its protestations of honesty, and become the football of Mexican party politics, did seem a bit unreasonable. As for Polk, it was hard indeed to be charged with ruining by his awkward statesmanship the pacific administration of Herrera, when in fact the inherent weakness of that administration ruined his own hopes, and to be denounced in the United States for trying to force war upon Mexico, when the Mexicans denounced him for trying to force peace upon them.[30]

But Herrera's amiable inefficiency was near its doom. The aristocratic elements-Church, army and monarchists-drew together, and this action forced the Santannistas and the Federalists to overlook their own differences. Paredes, natural leader of the former combination, hated and feared the latter, for Santa Anna had worsted him in more than one clash, and the Federalists aimed not only to reform the Church and support republican institutions, but also to destroy the military order by establishing an effective militia system. Professing allegiance to the administration and extorting from its hopes and fears of him all the money that could be obtained, he disobeyed the orders to divide his army or march to the Texas frontier; and about the middle of December, seeing that the Federalists were likely to control the new Congress, he revolted. The relations of Mexico to the United States afforded a battle-cry helpful to the army and hurtful to Herrera's administration; and hence the President was accused of "seeking to avoid a necessary and glorious war" and of stooping to negotiate "the ignominious loss of national integrity" with an American envoy.[31]


Herrera fulminated against the traitorous general who was attacking his own country. Both houses of Congress fulminated. The city of Mexico and every department fulminated. But all this was merely eloquence. The officer despatched to require the immediate surrender of Paredes accepted a seat in his carriage. Most of the commanders appointed to defend the capital took their stations under pledges to the enemy. December 29, when Paredes arrived within about a dozen miles of Mexico, the garrison of the citadel, instigated by their chief officer, General Valencia, rose; nearly all the rest of the forces at the capital soon followed that example; and Herrera, giving up the Presidency without firing a gun, left the palace with the entire body of his loyal officers and officials, his mild face and his respectable side-whiskers-in one hired cab.[31]

The only danger of the revolutionary cause had been from treachery. Tornel and many of the officers were at work for Santa Anna, and Valencia, whom nobody would trust, was at work for himself. Paredes, resembling the one-eyed man among the blind, had a certain reputation for honesty; and these plotters, misled by his reiterated declarations that he would accept no office in the new government, thought him simple enough to be used and then thrown over. Valencia in particular, who was president of the council of state and therefore legally the successor of Herrera, felt already triumphant, put on regal style, and helped himself liberally to the public funds. But he and Tornel had enabled Paredes to make himself independent of them, and now found themselves dealing with a master instead of a dupe. The troops at Mexico sided with the majority of the army, and Paredes notified Valencia that he would shoot every one opposing him-"archbishop, general, magistrate, or anybody else." Then with military pomp, accompanied by officials whose signatures adorned the placards denouncing him, he took possession of Mexico, while the public, long since weary of the incidental music of revolutionary professions, looked on in silence.[31]

The classical farce of an electoral junta appointed by the victorious general was now enacted, and Paredes became temporary President. Apparently, however, he intended to use this ill-gotten power with integrity and force. He drew no salary except that of a general, avoided all display, and surrounded himself with men of the better class; and when a broker, who had fattened on corrupt dealings with the government, offered him a loan, he replied with blazing eyes, "I do not wish money, but I wish to prosecute the robbers of the Treasury." With equal firmness he took his promised attitude of hostility toward the United States. On the fourth of January he swore publicly to defend the integrity of the national territory; and this had reference to Texas-every foot of Texas to the Sabine-for such was the unqualified claim of Mexico.[31]

With a government based upon a pledge of war against us and swearing to carry out that pledge, it seemed as if the United States could have no amicable dealings; but our authorities were now accustomed to forbear, and all the reasons for desiring a restoration of diplomatic intercourse were still in force. Indeed, one of them had become pressingly urgent, for the European monarchical scheme appeared now to be unmistakable. Remain in Mexico, Buchanan therefore instructed Slidell, so as to take advantage of any opening for negotiations; if you deem it wise to do so, let Paredes know that his financial straits can be relieved by arranging matters with us; present another formal request for a hearing, and make "every honorable effort" in your power to avoid a rupture.[32]


Accordingly, on the first day of March, 1846, our minister addressed a letter to Castillo, the new minister of relations, summarizing the negotiations with Pe?a, placing clearly in view the alternatives of diplomacy or war as they had now been defined, and asking to be received. Again the council of state was consulted, and again this oracle pronounced for rejection. Castillo then tried to frame a reply to Slidell; but his note, drafted in opposition to his own ideas, proved so weak and halting that he laid it before the Spanish minister. In the view of this diplomat the best solution of the imbroglio seemed to be European arbitration, and therefore he probably thought it well to show the United States that we could reach no understanding with Mexico ourselves. It was also desirable to rally the nation round Paredes by assuming a bold, aggressive tone. And a fiery, offensive note, suited to these conditions, rejected the second American overture.[33]

Here stands an American minister, answered Slidell, "clothed with full power to settle all the questions in dispute between the two nations." Begone, said Mexico once more.[34]

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