John A. (John Adams) Dix.

Speeches and occasional addresses (Volume 1) online

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in order, to use the language of her diplomacy, " to give
force to their representations." She is essentially and emi-
nently a military power, unequalled on the sea and unsur-
passed on the land. Happily, the civilization, which distin-
guishes her at home, goes with her and obliterates some of
the bloody traces of her march to unlimited empire.

Much less has any unkind feeling dictated my reference
to France. Our relations with her have usually been of the
most friendly character. From the foundation of our gov-
ernment there has existed, on our side, a strong feeling of
sympathy in her prosperities and her misfortunes, wliicli no
temporary interruption of our friendship has been able to
eradicate. There is reason for this feeling : it would not


have been creditable to us as a people if it had proved a
transient sentiment. She stood forth at a critical period in
our contest for independence, and rendered us the most
essential service by her cooperation and aid. The swords of
Washington and Lafayette were unsheathed on the same battle-
fields. Our waters and our plains have been crimsoned with
the generous blood of France. The names of Rochambeau,
De Grasse, and D'Estaing are identified with our struggles
for freedom. They have become, in some degree, American,
and we give them to our children as names to be remem-
bered for the gallant deeds of those who bore them. It is
not surprising, under such circumstances, that in the survey
of the European system we should have been accustomed to
regard France as the power most likely, in the progress of
events, to become the rival of England on the ocean as she
has been on the land ; and with a large portion of our
people, if the wish has not been " parent," it has, at least,
been companion " to the thought." For this reason, the
declaration of M. Guizot was considered, independently of
all views of right, as peculiarly ungracious, and as a demon-
stration of feeling totally inconsistent with the ancient friend-
ship by which the two countries have been united. I have
never believed it to be in accordance with the sentiments of
the French people. And so strong has been my reliance on
their right judgment and feeling, that I confess I have
thought it not unlikely that an interposition in our affairs,
so completely at variance with amicable relations, which
ought to be held sacred, might be arrested by a more deci-
sive interposition at home against its authors.

I repeat, I have spoken in no spirit of unkindness either
towards Great Britain or France. I desire nothing but
friendship with them, — close, cordial, constant, mutually
beneficial friendship. I speak of them historically, as they
exist and exhibit themselves to the eyes of the civilized

Thus far, I have considered the probable consequences of


retiring trom Mexico, as they are likely to affect our political
relations with her, and possibly \vith other states. I now
turn, for a single moment only, to a different class of consid-
erations, — I mean considerations arising out of our claims
to indemnity for injuries. Although the war was not com-
menced to secure it, this is one of the avowed objects for
which it has been prosecuted. Shall we abandon the posi-
tion we have taken, and leave this object unaccomplished ?
Shall we not rather retain what we have acquired, until our
just claims are satisfied 1 To do otherwise would be to have
incurred an enormous expenditure of treasure and blood to
no purpose, — to have prosecuted the war till we had the
means of indemnifying ourselves in our own hands, and
then voluntarily to relinquish them. Such a course seems
to me utterlv irreconcilable either with justice to ourselves or
with sound policy. If I am not mistaken in the views I
have expressed, it would be an abandonment of indemnity
without getting rid of the war, on which we must now rely
to procure it. These considerations do not apply to the
policy suggested by the honorable Senator from South Caro-
lina. He proposes to take indemnity into our own hands, by
occupying a portion of northern or central Mexico, and hold-
ing it without a treaty. My remarks are only applicable to
the policy of withdrawing from Mexico altogether, and leav-
ing the adjustment of differences to future negotiations.

Having thus declared myself in favor of the occupation
of Mexico until she shall consent to make peace, I deem it
proper to say, in connection with this subject, that I have
been uniformly opposed, and that I am still opposed, to all
schemes of conquest for the acquisition of territory. In this
respect, I concur in what the Senator from South Carolina
has said, and for nearly the same reasons. I am opposed to
all such schemes, because they would be inconsistent with
the avowed objects of the war ; because they would be in-
compatible with justice and sound policy ; and because, if
successful, they would be utterly subversive of the funda-



mental principle of our political system, resting as it does
on a voluntary association of free and independent states.
I have been uniformly in favor of the most energetic meas-
ures in the prosecution of the war, because I believed them
most likely to bring it to a close. In carrying our arms to
the enemy's capital and occupying his territory, I can see
nothing inconsistent with the principles of justice or the
usages of civilized states. In the prosecution of a war
undertaken to procure a redress of injuries, the territories
or property of an enemy may be seized for the express pur-
pose of compelling him to do justice. More may be taken
than would constitute a fair indemnity for actual injuries,
provided it be done with the intention of restoring the sur-
plus when he shall consent to make peace on reasonable
terms. It is in this spirit, and with this intention, that my
cooperation has been given to the vigorous prosecution of
the war. We have a right to insist on a fair boundary ; we
may exact indemnity for injuries; we may demand indemni-
fication for the expenses of the war, if we please. But here
all right ceases ; and if, when this is conceded, we have
more on our hands, we are bound, on every principle of law
and good conscience, to make restitution. It is admitted on
all hands that 3Iexico is incapable of indemnifying us in
money. But she may do so by ceding to us territory which
is useless to her, which she has not the ability to defend, and
which may be useful to us. I have always been in favor of
acquiring territory on just terms. The acquisition of Cali-
fornia has always appeared to me very desirable, on account
of its ports on the Pacific. I have uniformly voted for
acquiring it, when the proposition has come before us. I
believe, on the first occasion, I was in a minority of ten or
eleven. My opinion is unchanged. Indeed, it is confirmed
by the fact, that California has, by our military operations,
become forever detached from Mexico. If it were to be
abandoned by us, its forty thousand inhabitants would un-
doubtedly establish an independent government for them-


selves, and they would maintain it, if undisturbed by foreign
interference. I take the actual condition of things as I find
it, and with an earnest desire to fulfil all the obligations it
devolves on us in a spirit of justice towards Mexico and
towards the people of California.

I concur, also, in what the honorable Senator from South
Carolina has said in relation to the influence of war on our
political institutions. No man can deplore it, under any cir-
cumstances, more than myself. Independently of the evils
which it always brings in its train, there are considerations
connected with our political organization and the nature of
our social progress, which render it doubly pernicious in its
tendencies. The final success of the experiment we are
making in free government may depend, in some degree, on
a steady maintenance of the spirit of peace, in which our
political system had its origin, and in which it has thus far
been administered. Great as is our capacity for war, our
whole scheme of government is averse to it. The greatest
possible economy in expenditure ; the least possible patron-
age in the hands of the Executive ; the smallest pecuniary
exactions from the people, consistent with our absolute
wants ; the absence of all demands on the public treasury
which call for unusual contributions of revenue or promote
excessive disbursements ; the exemption of the country from
all exigencies which devolve on the legislative and executive
departments of the government the exercise of extraordinary
powers ; — these are the conditions under which the ends of
our political organization are most likely to be fulfilled.
Sir, none of these conditions belong to a state of war. Ex-
travagant disbursements ; extraordinary contributions of
revenue, present or prospective, — present, in augmented
burdens of taxation, prospective, in the shape of loans and
anticipations of income, leading ultimately to taxation ; ex-
traordinary powers summarily, and sometimes arbitrarily
exercised ; — these are the inseparable companions of war ;
and they are inimical to the very genius of our social system.


There are considerations, which, in my judgment, render
a war with Mexico peculiarly unfortunate, and which justify
all tlie efforts we have made to bring it to an amicable ter-
mination. We are mutually engaged in carrying out on
this continent the experiment of free government, which in
all other ages has proved abortive. We are trying it under
eminently auspicious circumstances. We have no strong
governments around us, founded upon antagonist principles,
and adverse in their example and influence to the success of
ours. We are sustained by the faculty of popular repre-
sentation, which was unknown, or at least imperfectly
known, to the free states of antiquity, and by force of which
we have been enabled to carry out, on geographical areas of
indefinite extent, an organization which had previously been
deemed applicable only to communities of limited population
and territory. It is natural, under these circumstances, that
the friends of free government, wherever they are to be
found, should turn to us as the last hope of liberal institu-
tions. They look to us for examples of moderation and
forbearance in our intercourse with foreign nations, — espe-
cially those having forms of government analogous to our
own, — and for an exemption from the evil passions which
have embroiled the countries of the old world, and involved
them, century after century, with brief intermissions, in wars
of ambition and revenge. In asserting the superiority of
our own form of government, the strength of the argument
will be weakened, if we shall be found no more exempt than
those which are less popular, from strife and contention with
neighboring states. Regarding the success of our institu-
tions as affecting deeply the welfare of our race, and vindi-
cating the competency of mankind to self-government, I
have always esteemed it peculiarly unfortunate that any
cause of alienation should have existed of sufficient magni-
tude to induce the two principal republics of the western hem-
isphere to turn their arms against each other. The cause of
liberal government is injured, and far more deeply injured


than it has been by the dissension of the repubHcs in the
southern portion of the American continent.

These are considerations which it were well for us always
to keep in view : in peace, that we may not rush hastily
into war ; in war, that we may spare no honorable effort for
a restoration of peace.

There is yet another consideration of a kindred character.
While the monarchies of Europe are at peace with each
other, and social improvement is advancing, on the continent
at least, with unparalleled rapidity, almost the only wars now
waging among neighboring states are between us and
Mexico, and between some of the South American republics.
I desire, as much as any one can, to see these dissensions
composed, and to see these republican states resume the ful-
filment of their great mission among the nations, — the
maintenance of the principles of political liberty, and the
cultivation of the arts of civilization and peace.

In these views I concur with the Senator from South
Carolina. But here I am constrained to separate from him.
When we come to practical measures, our paths lie wide

It is for the very reasons I have just stated, that I cannot
assent to the policy he proposes. I believe it calculated to
prolong the war, not to terminate it ; to keep alive the spirit
of animosity which divides us frorfl Mexico, instead of re-
storing the friendly relations which ought to exist between us.
I am in favor, then, of standing as we are. And, sir, if
she shall refuse to make peace, if we must continue in the
occupation of her capital and three fourths of her territory,
it may be in the order of Providence that we shall, through
this very necessity, become the instruments of her political
and social regeneration. In the party conflicts which distract
her, the means may be found of consolidating her govern-
ment on a republican basis, of healing her dissensions, and
of uniting her to us in bonds of friendship by an exercise of
magnanimity and forbearance in the final adjustment of our


difficulties with her. I believe even now something of the
salutary influence of our presence in her capital and principal
seaports begins to be felt. The abolition of transit duties,
the reduction of the impost on foreign articles of necessity
and convenience, and a freer commerce among the Mexican
states, may, if continued, strike a fatal blow at the anti-
commercial system by which her people have been oppressed,
and the internal abuses by which her rulers have grown
rich, — a system of mal-administration not even equalled by
that which exists in old Spain. The higher improvement in
government, in the arts, and in civilization under all its
forms, which distinguishes our own people, may, by force of
actual contact, be communicated to the Mexicans, and lay
the foundation of an improved social order. Startling as
the reflection is, it is nevertheless true, that civilization, and
even Christianity, have sometimes been propagated by arms,
where they would otherwise have been hopelessly excluded.
Thus, the very passions which seem fitted only to desolate
human society, may, in the hands of Providence, become
the agents of its advancement. Let us, then, hope and trust
that the contest in which we are engaged with a neighboring
power, deplorable as we all consider it, may be an instru-
ment of social and political amelioration to our adversary.

The Senator from South Carolina has said, in his emphatic
language, that we are " tied to a corpse." It is a striking
figure, Mr, President, and partakes strongly of the boldness
in which the illustrations of that distingfuished Senator are
always conceived Mexico is, indeed, prostrate — almost
politically inanimate, if you please — under the oppressions
which have been heaped upon her, year after year, by un-
scrupulous rulers. But I should be sorry to believe her
beyond the power of resuscitation, even by human means.
I do not expect, as our contact with her becomes more inti-
mate, to see her, like the dead body touched by the bones
of the prophet, spring, at a single bound, to life and strength.
But I hope to see her — possibly through our instrumental-



ity — freed from the despotic sway of her mihtary rulers,
and rising, by sure degrees, to the national importance I
wish her to possess; — order and tranquillity first, next social
improvement and stable government, and at last an honor-
able rank among the nations of the earth. I contemplate
no direct interference with her government, no permanent
system of protection to be exercised over it, no alliance
with her beyond what may be necessary to secure to us the
objects of peace. But I do contemplate a treaty stipulating
for commercial arrangements, for protection and security to
our own citizens in their future intercourse with her, and no
withdrawal of our forces without it ; at least, until all chance
of obtaining one shall prove hopeless. If we were to retire
now, all commerce between her and us would cease and be
transferred to our rivals ; our frontier would be a line of war,
not a boundary between peaceful neighbors ; and unless the
tide of conquest should be poured back upon her, under the
provocations such a condition of our relations would almost
necessarily superinduce, no citizen of the United States
could be expected, for years to come, to plant his foot on
Mexican soil. War dissolves the political and commercial
relations of independent states, so far as they rest upon vol-
untary agreement. It is only by a treaty of peace that they
can be revived, or new relations be substituted for the old.

Mr. President, advocating as I do the occupation of Mex-
ico until she shall consent to make peace, it may be incum-
bent on me to state in what manner I think it can best be
maintained. And here I must say, I think the estimates of
the effective force in the field have been greatly overstated.
I propose no specific plan for adoption. I leave all practical
measures in the hands of those to whom they belong. I
only purpose to state what suggests itself to my mind as
advisable. I think we should find it most advantageous to
remain much as we are, excepting to occupy such ports on
the Pacific as our fleet may reduce and maintain as commer-
cial avenues to the interior. It may, however, become neces-


sary to occupy San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas, for tlie pro-
tection of the mining operations in those states, and the
agricultural districts near the city of Mexico, to command
supplies for the army. I should consider an army of twenty-
five thousand well-disciplined, effective men, the smallest
number adequate to the purpose of maintaining positions,
keeping open communications from the coast to the interior,
and dispersing the enemy's troops, if they shall be reem-
bodied ; but, in order to keep up such a force, we should
require a nominal organization of at least forty thousand
men, with full thirty thousand under pay. Without the
general staff", the twenty-five regiments of regulars now in
service, and the ten new regiments proposed by the bill, will
constitute such a force ; and when the latter shall be raised
and brought into the field, a portion of the volunteers may
be discharged, if it shall be found prudent to do so. Many
of the regiments are greatly reduced in numbers, and, as I
understand, are anxious to return home. I doubt now
whether there are more than twenty-five thousand effective
men in all Mexico, though the rolls show over forty thou-
sand.^ Some of the returns on which the Adjutant-Gener-
al's report is founded are of as early a date as August last.
It will be recollected that last summer, when there was great
anxiety in relation to General Scott, statements of the num-
ber of his troops were published here. They were founded
on the returns in the Adjutant-General's office ; and in his
official report of the battles before the city of Mexico, Gen-
eral Scott complained that his force had been greatly over-
stated. He said it had been " trebled " in these returns, if
I recollect rightly, and that the army had been " disgusted "
by the exaggeration. The returns of the army now should,
in like manner, be subjected to great deductions in order to
obtain the real effective force. If the ten regiments pro-
posed by the bill are authorized, months will be required to

1 General Cass, chairman of the opinion that they did not exceed twen-
Committee on Military Afiairs, here ty-four thousand,
said, the Adjutant-General was of


raise them ; they will not, probably, as the chairman of the
Committee on Military Affairs has stated, give many more
than seven thousand men, and in the mean time the army
will become constantly diminished by the casualties of ser-
vice. For these reasons, and for those given — so ably
given — some days since by my honorable friend from Mis-
sissippi,^ I support the bill. I support it for another reason,
which has governed me from the commencement of the war :
to place at the control of the Executive the men and means
deemed necessary to bring it to an honorable termination.

As hostilities are now suspended, the chief province of
the army will be to maintain internal tranquillity, support
the civil authorities in the execution of the laws, to free the
country from the robber and guerrilla bands by which it is
infested, and subserve the great ])urposes of government by
affording security to liberty, property, and life, — a security
the Mexicans have not often fully enjoyed. The very exer-
cise of these beneficent agencies will tend to disarm hostility
towards us with the thinking portion of the population. It
will place our armies in a most favorable contrast with hers,
which have been scourges, rather than protectors, to their own
countrymen. I would, if possible, have no more bloodshed.
I would make our armies the protectors, not the enemies,
of the Mexican people, and render them subservient to the
eradication of abuses, and to the institution of a better civil
administration, under Mexican magistrates, abstaining from
all interference with the frame of the government, and
changing in its action only what, by universal consent, re-
quires to be changed. If this course were to be adopted
and steadily pursued, I should earnestly hope its effect would
be, at no distant time, to make the capital, under our protec-
tion, the centre of an influence which would lead to the rees-
tablishment of the federative system on a durable basis, and
give to that distracted country the settled order which is
alone necessary to make her happy and prosperous.

1 Mr. Davis.


To abandon the city of Mexico would, I fear, put an end
to all these prospects and hopes. That city is the political,
as well as the financial, centre of the Republic. It is there
governments have been instituted and deposed, armies levied,
revenue systems devised and carried into execution. So
long as we hold it, and control the adjoining districts, I be-
lieve nothing but imprudence or mismanagement can raise
up a formidable opposition to us. If we abandon it, all the
resources of the country, which it commands, will again be
at the control of its rulers, to be employed against us in the
renewal of active hostilities. Before it was captured, ener-
getic movements seemed to me our true policy. Now that
it is in our undisputed possession, our leading object should
be to introduce better commercial and financial systems, and
let them work out, under our protection, their legitimate re-

Great qualities are necessary in him who is charged with
the execution of these delicate and responsible functions.
He should have prudence, self-control, a knowledge of civil
affairs, of the country, of the people and their character,
and, if possible, their language. Established institutions,
existing usages, sometimes prejudices even, must be re-
spected. Some of the most disastrous reverses which have
befallen armies of occupation have had their origin in viola-
tions of the prevailing customs and feelings of the people.
To avoid this fatal error, everything depends on the discre-
tion and wisdom of the directing authority.

It may be, that all reasonable expectations will be disap-
pointed ; that the hostility of Mexico will prove unappeas-
able ; that she will prefer the political disorganization which
now exists to an amicable arrangement with us. If so, cir-
cumstances must dictate the course to be pursued when this
conviction shall be forced on us. But, sir, let us not adopt
such a conclusion hastily. Let us rely on the influence of
more rational motives to give us peace.

And now, sir, I submit whether this course had not better


be pursued for a while, if I am right in supposing the tem-
porary occupation of Mexico, under discreet officers, may-
lead to a stable peace, rather than to withdraw our forces,
and leave the adjustment of difficulties to the uncertain
chance of a restoration of a responsible government, to be

Online LibraryJohn A. (John Adams) DixSpeeches and occasional addresses (Volume 1) → online text (page 21 of 40)