Thomas J. Turner.

The war with Mexico. Speech of Hon. T. J. Turner, of Illinois, in the House of representatives, April 6, 1848 online

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Online LibraryThomas J. TurnerThe war with Mexico. Speech of Hon. T. J. Turner, of Illinois, in the House of representatives, April 6, 1848 → online text (page 1 of 2)
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The House beins in Committee of the Wliole on the
state of the Union, on the Resolution to print ten thousand
jxtra copies of the Coirespondeace bi^ween tlie War De-
partment and Generals Scott ancfTaylor, and between Mr.
Tiist and the Department of State-
Mr. TURNER said:

It is true, as the gentleman from Georgia [Mr.
Stephens] has just remarked, " our country is in a
peculiar condition," but this peculiarity does not
consist in the fact of there being two parties in the
country striving for the ascendency, with the view
of elevating their respective favorites to the Presi-
dency. The same thing has occurred every four
years since the election of our first President; but
it consists in the (act, that for the first time in our
history, we have found ourselves with a conquered
nation upon our hands. It is true that Mexico is,
in the broadest sense of the term, conquered. Her
armies are defeated and dispersed, her ports are in
the possession of our navy, her cities and castles
are garrisoned with our troops, her revenues are
at our control, and our fltTg is floating from the
spires of her capital, — and these all proclaim the
consummation of our conquest; and whether right
or wrong, the great fact exists, afid will forever
mark a period in our history, to which coming
generations will turn with pride and exultation, or
with shame and confusion.

Mr. Chairman, let us examine for a moment
what kind of record the Whig party has made of
these important events — events which will con-
tinue to have a mighty influence for weal or for woe
upon the future destiny of this country. Whether
the ahnexaiion of Texas was the mediate or im-
mediate cause of war, it is not my purpose to in-
quire; yet all must admit it was that event that
turned public attention to our aflTairs with Mexico.
In 1843-'44, when the subject of reannexing Texas
was before Congress and the country, the Whig
party took ground against that measure, and pro-
claimed from this Hall, from the other end of the
Cajiitol, and from almost every Whig printing
press in the country, that by amiexing Texas we
robbed Mexico; that the act would not only be
just cause for war on the part of Mexico, but that
we adopted a war then existing between that coun-
try and Texas. How much the speeches made
upon that occasion by the Whigs did to inspire
the Mexican people with confidence in their cause,
it is not for me to inquire; but certain it is, that
fnated^at the Congressional Globe Ollice.

from similar speeches they borrowed the idea of
the Nueces being the western boundary of Texas.
Now, granting that the Whig party honestly en-
tertained the views they expressed, it follows, as a
matter of course, that tlie war was occasioned and
commenced by the annexation of Texas, and con-
sequently by the act of Congress — that measure
being consummated by Congress, and not by the
President; and, least of all, by the present Chief
Magistrate, who found the "Lone Star" shining
brightly in our great constellation when he took hia
seat as President.

Time passed, and in May, 1846, the President
announced to Congress that a collision of arms
had occurred, and called upon that body for men
and money to avenge the wrongs sustained. Then
spoke the human heart of the country. Stirred by
the honest impulses of nature and of patriotism,
even the Whigs forgot for a moment their party
calculations, and ranged themselves on the side of
humanity and the country. Under these holy in-
fluences, they cast, with singular unanimity, a
vote that will shine as a bright star over the desert
of Federalism. I know Henry Clay said at Lex-
ington that you had voted a lie upon that occasion.
Believe him not. It is the only time you voted
the truth upon that subject. It was then that war
was declared upon our part. It was then, under
the solemnities of an oath, you voted with the
Democratic party that war existed by the act of
Mexico. But now your tune is changed. The
war is popular, and as there is another President
to be elected, the issues must be changed. Mr.
Polk's administration has risen to such colossal
strength, that the whole artillery of Federalism
must be brought to bear upon him and those who
have stood by him and the country in its hour of
trial; and therefore the same party and the same
men who last year voted that the war existed by
the act of Mexico, this year, under the same so-
lemnities of an oath, voted that the war was un-
necessarily and unconstitutionally brought on by
the President of the United States. Here, then,
we had three distinct and contradictory proposi-
tions put forth and maintained by the Whig party,
two of which must be false. But, Mr. Chairman,
what was the army of 1846, for which the Whig
party voted, raised for? Not to protect the fron-
tier of Texas, but to wage war upon Mexico,
and from that moment your Generals, Taylor and
Scott, have either dictated or sanctioned every ito-

c ^■

portant movement of the army, as will appear
from the correspondence which you called out and
now refuse to publish to the country.

Sir, we are either at war or we are not at war
with Mexico. If Congres? has not declared war,
then are we not at war, for there is no other power
given in the Constitution to declare war; and if
Congress has not declared it, then indeed is the
blood of the thousands slain in Mexico upon the
heads of the President ar)d his coadjutors — Gen-
erals Taylor and Scott, and the officers and men
of the army; ay, sir, and upon yours too, for you
voted to send them there, and furnished them with
arms, ammunition, and money to carry on the
war. I was struck with the poetical flight of the
gentleman from Georgia, [Mr. Stephens,] who a
few days since described, with so much force and
beauty, the scene in Genera! Taylor's camp, on
the night preceding the glorious battle of Buena
Vista. Sitting around the council-fires, he imagined
the Genius that presided over the birth of Wash-
ington to be hovering around, to guide and protect
that gallant little band. Did the gentleman reflect
at that moment that he had solemnly voted that
General Taylor and his brave army were prose-
cuting an unjust and unconstitutional war? Sir, I
have mistaken the character of theGeniusof Wash-
ington, if it would descend from the skies to pre-
side oyer the conclave of a band of robbers and
assassins, who, for the paltry pay they were draw-
ing from the Government, would, at the mere beck
and call of James K. Polk, invade a sister repub-
lic, and murder its inhabitants by their own fire-
sides and altars! You charge it upon the Presi-
dent: I charge it upon all alike who have aided in
the matter, if the war is, as you say, unholy, un-
just, unconstitutional, and unnecessary. But, sir,
r do not believe it is either. You declared that
defeat, disaster, and disgrace would follow in the
train of our army. How has that prophecy been
fulfilled.? Victory has followed victory, in such
rapid succession, that the visions of romance have
been more than realized, and nothing short of the
approving favor of Jehovah could ka've led to such

But, sir, while our country, as I before remarked ,
is in a peculiar condition, there are some circum-
stances attending this war that are not so peculiar.
In the war of the Revolution, when the patriots of
that age were pouring out iheir life-blood to estab- i
lish the independence of the country, there was a j
large party among them who were constantly pre- j
dieting defeat and disaster— who denounced the I
war as unholy and wicked — whose hearts and sym-
pathies were with the enemy, and whose prayers
commenced with "God save the King!" and con-
cluded with an anathema against Washington and
the republican army. Those men were called To-
ries. In the war of 1812, which was forced upon
us by the aggressions of Great Britain, there was
a party in the United States which resolved that
"it was unbecoming a Christian people to rejoice
' over the success of our arms and the defeat of the
'enemy." They also resolved that that war " v/as 1
•founded in falsehood, declared without neces.sity,
• and its real object was extent of territory by un-
'just conquests, and to aid the late tyrant of Eu-
' rope in his views of aggrandizement." The pul-
pit and the press, wherever in the hands of that I
yif\rty, teemed with unmeasured abuse of the Presi- 1

dent and the party who sustained' the war. They
declared that the blood of all the slain would be
upon the heads of Madison and those who con-
tributed, either by their influence, their money, or
their lives, to carry on the war. Their politicians
declared that the treasury was bankrupt, and that
the country would not raise the raeans to prose-
cute the war. They held meetings to denounce
the war and its authors, and lit up the ever-memo-
rable blue lights along the Atlantic coast. That
party and those men were called Federalists. Now
that we are engaged in a war with Mexico, we
find airiong us a large party who have resolved
that this war was "unnecessarily and unconstitu-
tionally brought on by the President;" that its
real object was extent of territory by unjust con-
quest; and who declare that "the Mexicans are
in the right and we in the wrong;" that all our
actions have been guided and governed by the
devil; that "no duty can be more binding than to
refuse the means to prosecute the war;" that "the
war was begun in a perfidious and rascally attempt
at President-making;'^ that we had unrighteously
invaded Mexico, and that she was fighting for her
altars, her firesides, and her religion. In short, from
the pulpit, the press, the stump, and from the halls
of Congress, the voice of sympathy for Mexico,
and denunciation upon the President and those who
sustain the war, is heard from one end of this Re-
public to the other. This party and these men are
called Whigs. I shall not stop to inquire whether
there is any identity or connection between the
parties I have described; nor whether the univer-
sal sympathy of the Whig party with Mexico, and
their condemnation of the war and its authors,
have aided or comforted the enemy. I state the
facts, and will leave the country to draw its own
conclusions from them.

But, Mr. Chairman, the opposition to the pres-
ent war is to be found far back of the annexation
of Texas. It had its origin in the old Federal no-
tion of confining the limits of this Republic to the
original thirteen States. Failing to establish their
favorite system of government", they thought to
enslave the people by the power of incorporations.
The extension of our territory was unfavorable to
that scheme, and hence the desperate opposition
to the purchase of Louisiana, repeated at the pur-
chase of Florida and the annexation of Texas, and
again to be repeated upon the acquisition of Cali-
fornia and New Mexico.

The constitutional power of this Government to
annex foreign territory, either by treaty or con-
quest, has been denied by the leaders of the Federal
party ever since the propositions for the purchase
of Louisiana were submitted to Congress. I there-
fore propose to examine for a few moments the
provisions of the Constitution on that subject.
Article fourth, section third, of the Constitution
reads thus:

'• Now Slate.=: may be admitted by the Congrosa into this
Union ; but no new State stiall be formed or erected witliin
the jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed
by the junction of two or more Stales, or parts of States,
witliout tlie consent of the Legislatures ot' tlie States con-
cenied, as \vell as of the Congress."

Here, then, we have the power to admit new-
States clearly granted to Congress, with a restrict- '
ive clause in regard to two classes of The
first is, that under no circumstances shall a new
State be erected within the jurisdiction of any other

State. The second restriction is, that two or more
States or parts of States shall not be admitted into
the Union as a new State without the consent of
the Legislatures of the respective States out of
which the new one is formed.

Tiie wisdom of these restrictions became appa-
rent at an early period, when Vermont apjilied for
admission into the Union. But it is objected, that
this section of the Constitution contemplated only
the organization of new States out of the territory
northwest of the Ohio, which had previously been
ceded by Virginia in 1784. But, that the framers
of the Constitution had not that territory in view,
is proved by the fact, that by the very terms of the
cession, it was provided that the territory should
be divided and formed into new States. I will here
read an extract from the articles of cession of March,
1784 :

"Provided, That the territory so cetlod shall he laid out
and fortii(!(t into States contiiinin? a suituhle extent of ter-
ritory not less than one hundred nor more than one hun-
dred and fifty miles square, or as near thereto as circuni-
sttinces will admit; and that the States so formed shall be
distinct republican States, and ad:nltted mi^mbers of the
Fi-'doral Union — having; the same rights of sovereignty, free-
dom, and independence, as the other States."

But we are not left to mere conjecture as to
whether they had reference only to our domestic
territory when they framed the third article; for
the sixth article of that instrument provides as fol-

"All dfihts contracted and engagements entered into be-
fore the adoption of this Constitution shall be as valid against
the Unitftd States under this Constitution as under the Cuii-

Under the Confederation, a solemn "engage-
ment" had been entered into with Virginia, that
all the territory ceded by her should be formed
into States and admitted into the Union; and that
embraced all the domestic territory we had when
the Constitution, was adopted. What, then, did
the framers of the Constitution have in view when
they provided that "new States may be admitted
by the consent of Congress into this Union?" It
was clearly the purchase, the voluntary cession,
the discovery or conquest, of foreign territory; and
it is not surprising that the men who conceived the
sublime idea of a republican government, deriving
all its powers from the consent of the governed —
men who conceived and put in motion a system at
war with the spirit of all previously-established
governments, but iti perfect harmony with the
great truths of philosophy and Christianity — a
system alike admirable for the simplicity of its
operations, and the sublime results of its achiev-
ments — a system that has not only built up State
after State upon this continent, but has penetrated
the heart of Europe, and inspired the people of
France, of Italy, of Austria, and the Germanic |
States, to throw off the yoke of tyranny, and to I
demand the rights of freemen — a system that is I
destined to destroy thrones and kingcraft, and j
substitute republican governments throughout the i
civilized world, — I say it is not surprising that
those men should contemplate the extension of j
our empire beyond the territories of the orisinal
thirteen States. It is not surprising that they f )re-
saw and provided for the purchase of territory such
as Louisiana and Florida It is not surprising that
they foresaw and provided for a case like Texas,
where a brave little Republic, emulating our vir-

tues and our heroism, should ask to throw her-
self into the arms of her patron and her mother;
and least of all is it surprising that they should
foresee and provide for the extension of our bor-
ders by conquest — the very tetiure by which, with
the exception of the delegates from Pennsylvania,
they held their own property and homes.

Mr. Chairman, it may be answered that the In-
dian tribes that our fathers drove out, and whose
lands we now occupy, were savages, and unfit for
freedom and civilization. Well, sir, if that is a
reason why their country should be taken from
them, I have the highest Whig authority for say-
ing that " the people of New Mexico and Cali-
fornia are in a more savage and degraded state
than any of the Indian tribes: that the Chero-
kees, the Choctaws, the Pawnees, the Blackfeet,
the Snake, or the Flathead Indians, are much to
be preferred to the people of New Mexico." This
is the opinion of an influential "Whig. For my
own part, I am inclined to think the picture is over-
drawn; that the people of those provinces are not
so digraded. But 1 contend that the same argu-
ments now used against the acquisition of New
Mexico and California, could have been used with
equal force against the conquest and purchase of
all the territories we have derived from the Indians.
The land of New England, which has been called
the cradle of liberty, was it not conquered from
the Indian tribes? So with a large portion of the
South. Penn, indeed, purchased the large State
of Pennsylvania from the Indians, and since then
large tracts of territory have been frequently pur-
chased of them; but in the end, they have been
driven out at the point of the bayonet. It is now
said, " If we get any territory from Mexico, either
by treaty or otherwise, it will be wrung from her
against the consent of her people;" and it is prob-
ably true that the Mexican people would prefer
keep their territory; but is it not equally trueTI
the Indian tril)es would have preferred to keep
their territory? With what reluctance were they
made to leave nortliern Pennsylvania, and Ohio,
and Indiana, and Kentucky, and the South! I
witnessed myself the removal of the Pottawato-
mies, the Winnebagoes, and the Sioux, and how-
ever it may wound the pride of Mexico to yield
to US California and New Mexico, it will not wring
their hearts as it'did the hearts of those savages
when they turned their eyes for the last time upon
their council-fires and the graves of their fathers.
But the great law of necessity was upon them, as
it is now upon Mexico. And who that is not
governed by a sickly sentimentality, will for a mo-
ment question the wisdom and the goodness that
have directed and controlled those great events,
which have changed this country from the haunts
of savages to the homes of the most enlightened
freemen upon earth? And I regard it as no less
our right than our duty, to go on extending liberty
and law over the provinces now occupied by those
who are unable or unwilling to govern themselves.

And, Mr. Chairman, I hold, that asidefrom the
express grant of power to admit new States, the
right of conquest is incident to, and inseparable
from, the power to make war. No nation goes to
1 war with another without some real or imaginary
cause: it is either to resent an injury, or to recover
or protect a right. It is difficult to conceive of a
I case where the nation levying war could recover

prob- -
keep H

precisely the rights which had been invaded. To
illustrate more clearly: It would liave been diffi-
cult, ndy impossible, for the American people, in
case France had finally refused to pay the twenty
millions of francs which were due our country,
and which, for a time, threatened the peace of the
two countries, — I say it would have been impossi-
ble for our navy to have entered a French port and
taken from thence twenty millions of francs, and
have returned to their own country. If war had
ensued on that occasion, we would have been com-
pelled to the conquest of her merchant ships upon
the ocean, and having commenced war to recover
the right, necessity alone and the laws of war
would have compelled us to have prosecuted that
war. Not stopping with twenty millions of francs,
but twenty times twenty millions, if needs be,
would have been taken, until France should have
acknowledged the superiority of our arms, and
made a peace on honorable terms. So with Mex-
ico; she would not restore to us demands due our
citizens for roijberies she had committed upon
them, and she could not specifically rcstqjp the
livesof our citizens which she had wantonly taken;
and refusing, as she did, to make reparation for
the gross injuries we had received from her, she
literally drove us into war. Now, as I before said,
the specific things cannot be restored or conquered ;
and, therefore, we must seize upon the ]iroperty and
territory of Mexico, and compel hertodo usjustice.
And I must confess that to my mind conquest, in
some shape or other, is the only remedial clause in
the laws of war. It is by that right alone that we can
take and secure indemnity for the losses and inju-
ries we have sustained, and without that riglit war
is nothing more than national revenge. We have
applied that remedy. We have conquered, and
now hold absolutely under our control large prov-
inces of Mexican territory; and the question no
'lon-ger is, how much we shall take from Mexico,
but how much shall we give hack to her, provided
she will make peace. The territory and property
which we have taken from Mexico, is absolutely
ours, subject to our jurisdiction and control; pos-
session and sovereignty are alike in our hands,
and that extended over more country, probably,
than we are willing permanently to annex. But
so long as Mexico shall refuse peace, no one will^
question our ri^ht to hold on to our conquests; and
it is for the United States, and not Mexico, to
determine what portion shall be restored to that

But, Mr. Chairman, aside from those general
principles, what is the relation which now exists
between Mexico and the United States? Is it not
very similar to that of debtor and creditor ? Mex-
ico, with an eflVontery unparalleled in the inter-
course of nations, has stubbornly refused to carry
out her treaty stipulations with us, and growing
more insolent and haughty as our patience and for-
bearance were further extended towards her, she
literally compelled us to take up arms and fall back
upon the last resort of nations. The consequence
is, she is conquered; but she has exhausted her
means by internal broils and in the prosecution
of the war; she is therefore wholly unable to satisfy
our demands in any other way than by parting
with a portion of her territory. Now, how would
it be in the case of two individuals similarly situ-
ated? Would not the debtor's property be sold

to satisfy not only the original debt, but the cofit
of prosecution ? And the same sentimentality that
weeps over our taking Mexican territory, would
weep over the sale of an individual's property who
had obstinately lefused the payment of a just debt
until the creditor was compelled to collect his de-
mands by law.

Again, Mr. Chairman, I would inquire, what
evil has resulted from the incorporation of the ex-
tensive territories already annexed? And it does
appear to me that the system has been in practice
long enough to have brought forth some of the
bitter fruits that it was said to contain, and yet I
have failed to see the apfiroach either of evil or
danger; and unless the spread of Democratic prin-
ciples be regarded as such, I am disposed to be-
lieve it will be difficult for the Whigs themselves
to point out where the evil is; and I am led the
more strongly to this belief from the fact, that no
Whig on this floor has venturt d to assert that the
country has been injured by former annexations.
Will it be contended that no advantages have re-
sulted from annexation? Do the commerce of the
Mississippi, with its thousand tributaries, and the
wealth and resources of Louisiana, Mississippi, Mis-
souri, Arkansas, Florida, and Texas, add no thing to
the general stock of national wealth and power?
Have theachievementsof thebraveofficers and .sol-
diers from those States added no thing to our military
renown? Do the learning and ability of the Sen-
ators and Representatives in Congress from those
States add nothing to the character of our National
Legislature? And who, sir, would be willing to
see the territory embraced within those States^ to-
gether with the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mex-
ico, in the hands of Spain or of France? And yet
the same objections that are urged against further
acquisition existed with equal force against the ac-
quisition of any of the territory alluded to. If the
navigation of the Mississippi to the Gulf was ne-
cessary for an outlet to the trade of the upper
country, so is the bay of San Francisco necessary
for an inlet to the trade of the east. -And who is


Online LibraryThomas J. TurnerThe war with Mexico. Speech of Hon. T. J. Turner, of Illinois, in the House of representatives, April 6, 1848 → online text (page 1 of 2)