Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

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.

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 the Web here. Anyone wishing to support his activist efforts can do so by making a donation here. This piece first appeared at World Trust News.  

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Uri Avnery
The Peres Funeral Ruckus
Tom Clifford
Duterte’s Gambit: the Philippines’s Pivot to China
Reyes Mata III
Scaling Camelot’s Walls: an Essay Regarding Donald Trump
Raouf Halaby
Away from the Fray: From Election Frenzy to an Interlude in Paradise
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
David Yearsley
Trump and Hitchcock in the Age of Conspiracies
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”