Sometimes The Border Crosses You
“The cup of forbearance has been exhausted.”
- President James K. Polk, 1846
According the Washington Post, Texas Governor Rick Perry “reportedly plans to dispatch the Texas National Guard to the U.S. border with Mexico” to deal with “the continued surge of young immigrants, most of them from Central America, crossing the border.”
“If the federal government does not do its constitutional duty to secure the Southern border of the United States, the state of Texas will do it,” Perry explained.
Hmm… I smell a history lesson brewing.
This seems as good a time as any to provide a little context on the concepts we call “the Southern border of the United States” and “the state of Texas.”
When James K. Polk was elected in 1844, he had every intention of creating a pretext to stir Americans into action against Mexico. One of the issues of the 1844 election was the annexation or Texas — or “reannexation,” as Polk called it. Apparently, no one bothered to remind him that Texas was not part of the original Louisiana Purchase.
When Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, the territory of Texas (along with what are now New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, California, and part of Colorado) was Mexican territory. Fifteen years later, Texas claimed its independence as the Lone Star Republic. In Washington, it was viewed as U.S. property.
“Even before Polk’s inauguration, Congress adopted a joint resolution on his proposal to annex Texas,” explains historian Kenneth C. Davis. “When Mexico heard of this action in March 1845, it severed diplomatic relations with the United States.” Undeterred, Polk sent an ambassador, James Slidell, to negotiate a purchase of Texas and California. Slidell was rebuffed.
Polk took a new tack and ordered General Zachary Taylor to lead his troops all the way to the Rio Grande, thus testing the defined borders. “Mexico claimed that the boundary was the Nueces River, northeast of the Rio Grande, and considered the advance of Taylor’s troops an act of aggression,” says Davis.
Colonel Ethan Allen Hitchcock, commander of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, said of this move, “It looks as if the government sent a small force on purpose to bring on a war, so as to have a pretext for taking California and as much of this country as it chooses.”
The pretext arrived on cue when Polk ordered Taylor and his 3500-member “Army of observation” to cross the Rio Grande. Taylor’s quartermaster, Colonel Cross went missing, his body found eleven days later with his skull crushed. The day after Cross’ high-profile public funeral, a patrol of Taylor’s soldiers was attacked by Mexicans. Sixteen were killed.
Taylor sent a dispatch to Polk: “Hostilities may now be considered as commenced.”
Declaring “the cup of forbearance” to have been exhausted, Polk announced to Congress, “War exists.”
“An agreeable Democratic majority in the House and Senate quickly voted — with little dissent from the Whig opposition — to expand the army by an additional 50,000 men. America’s most naked war of territorial aggression was under way,” Davis explains.
A naked war of territorial aggression, of course, requires plenty of public funding. This reality offered author Henry David Thoreau an opportunity for a powerful example of civil disobedience. When Thoreau was asked by his local tax collector, Sam Staples, to pony up for the poll tax, he refused on moral grounds.
“What am I to do?” asked the flustered Staples. Thoreau’s reply sums it all up in one word: “Quit.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson later visited his friend in jail and asked, “Henry, what are you doing in there?” Again, Thoreau’s answer spoke volumes: “Waldo, the question is what are you doing out there?”
Unfortunately, few Americans followed Thoreau’s lead and in 1846 commenced what Ulysses S. Grant later called “one of the most unjust (wars) ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.”
Sadly, it was more than that. The Mexican-American War and its manufactured pretext created a template for illegal and immoral interventions by the Home of the Brave™ for the next 168 years — and counting.
Never forget, comrades: This is what we’re up against.
Mickey Z. is the author of 12 books, most recently Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on a couple of obscure websites called Facebook and Twitter. Anyone wishing to support his activist efforts can do so by making a donation here.