Final Paper: Picking up the pieces of the U.S.-Mexican War

Introduction  

The U.S.-Mexican War saw the rapid succession of territorial expansion second only to the Louisiana Purchase. The rise of the prominent tacticians and generals who would forge legendary careers with the outbreak of the Civil War, and once President James K. Polk called for war it created a controversy among Congressional members who viewed it as an opportunity to expand slavery westward. The biggest debate surrounding the war is what is left out of the established narrative, which labels it a glorious and justifiable war? For many years, historians such as Dr. Robert W. Johannsen a J. G. Randall Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Illinois, believed the decision to go to war with Mexico war was reluctantly taken by President Polk and his cabinet. Once word was received of the ambush of an American unit north of the Rio Grande in which several lives were lost. Gave the United States a reasonable excuse to call for a state of war. As a result whatever doubts remained were now removed when Polk sent his war message to Congress, and two days later both houses approved a war bill by overwhelming majorities.[1]  However, this paper seeks to use new scholarly works to argue that the U.S.-Mexican as an unpopular war, which created controversy among Congressional members and the public alike. In addition, to call for the the advancement of the field to view the war itself as a manufactured war created for the purpose of American imperialism. Resulting in the leaving out of California and Mexican narratives in the newly conquered lands west of Texas. Because it is important to have a complete perspective on the war, which encompasses all narrative, so that scholars and students alike can gain a better understanding as why the war was fought and its effect on the people already living in the lands the U.S. won.

Historiography

On May 11, 1846, President James K. Polk sent a special message to the Congress of the United States for a declaration of war against Mexico. Polk stated that on April 12, Mexican forces at the small border town of Matamoras under the command of General Pedro de Ampudia assumed a belligerent attitude and notified General Zachary Taylor to break up his camp within twenty-four hours and to retire beyond the Nueces River. If Taylor failed to comply with these demands and he would announced that arms, and arms alone, must decide the question. However, April 24 General Mariano Arista, who had succeeded to the command of the Mexican forces engaged with a large body of  Taylors troops, and after a short affair sixteen U.S. troops were killed and wounded while reaming men were surrounded and compelled to surrender.[2] As such, Polk argued for the vindication for the rights and defense of the United States for which Congress must recognize the existence of the war.  As such, he urged Congress to place the disposition of the Executive the means of prosecuting the war with vigor, and thus hastening the restoration of peace. As result of this, message Congress officially declared war on another nation for the second time in the history of the nation. Nevertheless, the actual decision to go to war provoked controversy among the congressional members and the public alike, which seems to have been swept under the rug, do the notion of history books empathizing America’s victory over Mexico and the observation that the majority of American don’t like controversy surrounding military operations like the Iraq War.

Several historians argue that even though the Mexican-American War caused a firestorm of controversy among Congressional party members who called into question was the  war necessary. Historians like Associate Professor Michael A. Morrison from the University of Michigan, argues that the Whig Party was committed to a program of controlled, peaceful expansion.  However, they became disturbed by Polk’s method of acquiring California and the borderlands of the Southwest. Arguing that the fruits of the war-land hunger, greed, and a widely dispersed population-promised to destroy the social and economic conditions necessary to a virtuous.[3] Whig opposition to the war focused on the geographic landscape and economic but the manipulation of and enslavement of others rooted in a classical tradition that stressed the interdependence of personal autonomy and republican government. This ideology pitted virtues of industry and independence against effects of luxury, and dependency. Believing agriculturalists were, by their nature and circumstances, less given headlong pursuit of private interests at the expense of the public Democrats looked to independent yeomen “as the great and perennial foundation of that Republican our free institutions.”[4] Morrison work is important because he provides the main opposition agonist the war, which is not mentioned in most history books.  As such, resulting enthusiasm of going to war questioned the morality that with victory the possibility of slavery expanded to the west became a reality something that the Whigs feared the most.

While other scholars like Assistant Professor of English at the University of South Carolina Lancaster Nicholas Lawrence, believes that this enthusiasm for the United States’ military action in Mexico saturated national discourse and political figures. At all levels of government, along with a virtual armada of newspaper writers and literary authors, responded, argue that even popular writers such to the war as a galvanizing moment. However, writers like Henry David Thoreau criticized the war as being “the work of comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as their tool.”[5] While publishers like the the United StatesMagazine and Democratic Review (the leading producer of literary materials for the Democratic Party) created an editorial entitled “The Peace Movement” in February 1842, two years before the the outbreak of the war clearly laid out the dangers of going to war. By arguing, “What moral right has anyone to oppose his country; to embarrass her operations, when actually engaged in war, if he holds to the right and expediency of ever fighting at all?”[6] What Lawrence argues is that the Review offered a token narrative position which few subscribed regardless of circumstance however it provided the the right of citizens to make meaningful distinctions between “offensive” and “defensive” wars. According to such logic, once Polk placed American troops on the Mexican ground, the time for debate was over.[7]                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Although not a true historian, Lawrence’s work empathizes the need to look at other sources to gain a better understanding of the disenfranchisement, which boiled over due to Congress’s decision to go to war had on both the American public and politicians alike. Which can be used to advance the field surrounding the war by emphasizing just how unpopular the war was and how the fear of expansion westward was seen as threat to the Union. Rather than the established narrative of seeing western expansion as positive succession of American progress. While political backlash, which Lawrence displays in his article surrounding Congress’s advisement of going to war, creates a parallel warning of what will happen once the United States decides to war that resonates today. Specifically, when he draws attention to how Vice President Al Gore drew a harsh critical connection between the U.S. occupation of Iraq in 2003, and the U.S.-Mexican War for which Gore stated:

“Abraham Lincoln’s experience in elective office consisted of eight years in his state legislature in Springfield, Illinois, and one term in Congress during which he showed the courage and wisdom to oppose the invasion of another country that was popular when it started but later condemned by history.”[8]

Like those who spoke out against the war with Mexico from the beginning, anti-supporters of Operation Iraqi Freedom during its early days would be the victims of a distorted view. However, Lawrence’s work displays how it is necessary to look at these early protests and objections to governmental decisions to advance the our understanding that even having a “reasonable excuses” for a war are is fondly welcomed by everybody in America.             Similarly, Associate Professor Dr. J. Javier Rodríguez form the University of North Texas, argues that:

“The war against Mexico stabilized racial narratives of national dichotomies but also intense counter-narratives wherein Mexico and Mexicans were either equivalent Americans defending their republic from invasion, or, in a further extension, and far more disturbing, agents of existential disturbance, standing against the very possibility of meaning itself.”[9]

As such, he points to one of the clearest examples of this kind of agonistic U.S.–Mexican War literature The Biglow Papers. Produced in by James Russell Lowell in 1848, The Biglow Papers are anti-war satire, which are fragmentary diverse pieces that ranged from anti-war critiques, to tongue-in-cheek pro-war rants by immoral politicians, to agonistic essays about language and knowledge. Lowell invents Parson Homer Wilbur who edits the poetry of the equally fictional Hosea Biglow, the titular Yankee farmer whose role in the text is not only to write poetry, but to also rewrite Birdofredum Sawin’s (a fictional Yankee U.S.–Mexican War volunteer) frontline letters into dialect verse.[10] Dr. Rodríguez, argues that these papers represent a silent side of the war, which give a deeper understanding on the various thoughts, feelings, and observations people had on the events surrounding the conflict between U.S. and Mexico rather than those who outwardly supported it. Much like Lawrence’s work empathizes the need to look at the disenfranchisement of both the politicians and the public to gain a better understanding of what the war represented to the individual or a group. Which are often over looking in the grand narrative of the war and its outcome. However, one must not only look at the public opinion to see the disagreement of the U.S. picking a fight with Mexico but to look at those who fought on the frontlines.

According to Dr. Paul Foos from University of North Carolina at Charlotte, what is missing from the grand narrative of the U.S.-Mexican War is the disenfranchise of the many men who volunteer to fight Polk’s war. He argues that the self-conception of soldiers and the differing standards of discipline marked the two branches (regular enlisted men and volunteer) as distinct. Regular army officers were notoriously quick to resort to the lash against miscreant soldiers. In the volunteer regiments solider as the bulwark of national policy, but the despised regulars were chief instrument of those same politicians on launching and prosecuting the Mexican War.[11] Even before the war started, Taylor’s regulars experienced extreme hardships and diseases. Dysentery and fever raged through the camp until one-sixth of the men were on sick report and half suffered from a degree on infirmity.[12] When war was officially declare many cities across the country where divided once the stance of recruitment in regards of the justification on going to war with Mexico. For example, in Ohio anti-war feelings ran high. To the point that an anti war partisan wrote scornfully of the mindless enthusiasm shown by the citizenry, with military parades, cannons booming from boats in the river, and even religious revival meeting held by persists of the God of war, in which excitement has been raised by song as well as speech.[13] While other places like down in New Orleans recruiting reflected political and social hierarchies and conflicts where several sectors of the population opposed the war, but their opposition was scattered and muted.[14] What is important about Dr. Foos’s book is that it calls for the continuation of look at the perceptive views of the individuals, which are not regularly mentioned in the grand narrative of war. By showing, the harsh condition soldiers experienced before and during the war and the anti-war sentiment that popped up in various cities across the Union. Foos expands the notion that war was not a galvanizing monument in which every citizen got behind but rather a war that many were dragged into unwillingly.

Primary Source

The reason why scholars today are urging for a better examination of sources to argue that the U.S.-Mexican War was an unpopular war among Congressional members and the public. Resides in the fact that upon looking at President James K. Polk’s diary one can gather why historians and other scholars now press for a change on how the war should be looked at now. Written between 1845 and 1849, the diary is essential to find out why Polk pushed for war, which caused a firestorm among congressional members and public alike. More importunity it puts in to play on how the war with Mexico should be examined due his ambitions of finishing the conquest of the continent. In which he emphases on gaining the remaining European holdings in the Pacific Northwest and any disputed land left after the Texas Revolution (1835-1836).        In his earliest dairy entry dated August 26, 1845, Secretary of State James Buchanan suggested to Polk that the United States assert and enforce their authority in the whole Oregon Territory and settle on a comprise between the border of the U.S. and Canada on the 49th parallel of the north latitude. However, when the British government refused the comprise Polk became infuriated that he was dined access to the Pacific and that rejection to him meant he would no longer give Britain peace. When Buchanan told Polk that if he were to carry out such intentions the U.S. would have war; to which Polk replied, “If we do have war it will not be our fault.”[15] This makes it clear that if Polk wanted any land he would resort to declaring war fortunately the subsequent the acquisition of the Oregon Territory was bloodless and was resolved with the signing of the Oregon Treaty in 1846. However, when Polk turned his attention to the southwest his wanting for land pulled the United States into an actual war.[16] Is this curial to understand why scholars today want to argue for the revaluation of the war self as unpopular war.

From his diary, we can see that Polk had established intentions on the possible acquisition of California seven months before war was officially declared against Mexico. During a cabinet meeting on Friday October 24, 1845, in which they discussed the dispute over the Oregon Territory, Polk recognized that California played a key role in the balance of power in the Pacific and argued that the United would not permit Britain or any other European monarchy to establish any new colony. Since he believed, the Monroe Doctrine gave him the justification to take California and its fine San Francisco Bay in addition to Oregon.[17] As such, he sent Lieutenant Archibald H. Gillespie of the Marine Corps on a secret mission to the American counsel in California Monterey where he was instructed to inform Thomas Larkin to persuade California to secede from Mexico but it did not work.[18]

On February 13, 1846, a man by the name of A. J. Atocha visited Polk on behalf of the exiled Mexican President Antonio López de Santa Anna who was in favor of establishing a new treaty which adjusted the boundary between the US and Mexico. Atocha stated that Santa Anna was willing to adjust the boundary in the way that the Del Norte would be the western Texas line and the Colorado of the West down through the San Francisco Bay to the sea will be the Mexican line for the price of thirty million dollars.[19] However, from the diary we learn that Polk never trusted Atocha and disregarded the offer. Instead, the only terms Polk would ever accept were his own when the relations between the U.S. and Mexico began to deteriorate by April due the establishment of the new government in Mexico by General Mariano Paredes who rejected Polk’s offering of a multimillion-dollar payment to negotiate a new treaty. In addition, to receiving word that Senator John Slidell of Louisiana was denied entering Mexico in which Polk called for Congressional legislation to be adopted to remedy the injuries and wrongs they had suffered.[20]

This diary entry alone opens the door on how scholars can see how Polk looked at this situation as an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. With the refusal of Mexico to negotiate and the rejection Senator Slidell, Polk wanted war in order to finally claim California for the U.S. and insert American authority firmly on the continent. However, this is where the debate gets murky in regards to Polk’s involvement in the actual start of the war. Did he purposely send troops down to the disputed borderlands to start the fighting or was it an actual attack by Mexican forces that lead to war? Although Polk never mentions having perpetuated any wrongdoing he does make it perfectly clear that the entire objective in going to war with Mexico was not for conquest however in actuality:

“It was clear that in making peace we would if practicable obtain California and such other portion of the Mexican territory as would be sufficient to indemnify our claimants on Mexico and defray the expense of the war which that power by her long continued wrongs and  injuries had forced us to wage.”[21]

This passage completely changes the perceptive of the war that is either missing in history books or in other scholarly articles how we should remember the war itself. Yes, some do argue it was a means of spreading slavery but this idea was never an issue because the passage of an appropriation bill on August 10, 1846, which prohibited slaveholding in the newly acquired territory and even Polk, recognized that slavery would not work in the new provinces.[22] More importantly, it was not fought for the retribution for the soldiers killed near the border but for the long awaited ability for Polk to claim the land he wanted. The land he felt was rightfully his in the name of American progress and expansion. Especially when Polk remarked that when it came time to make a treaty with Mexico he found that he could obtain a boundary from the mouth of the Rio Grande west to the Pacific by paying a few million more.[23]

Armed with Polk’s diary historians and other scholars can pick apart the narrative that Polk and his cabinet reluctantly declared war. Then establish a new narrative that supports the notion that war itself was manufactured for for the sole the purpose of American imperialism because Polk deemed it his right to do so. More importantly, historians and other scholars can use Polk’s dairy to argue for the need to look at repercussions of Polk’s desire for war. For example, Polk wanted to firmly insert American authority on the continent however, he never mentioned what will happen to the Califorino and Mexican residents already living in the lands he desired the most once the war began. Nor does he express concern for the thousand of American soldiers who fought in his war.

Expanding the Field

What missing in the grand narrative of the Mexican-American War is the lack of sources from the Mexican side of the conflict. Which sites up another debate as to if we are going to discuss or write about the Mexican-American should we include Mexican sources and narratives. In addition, to the personal accounts of the U.S. Amered Forces that fought the in campaigns . To which one should argue that yes, they are needed to tell the complete story of the war and break with older traditional narratives. That painted an empire in ruins that fed call for the conquest and assimilation of the region, which was under absolute control of the Apaches.[24]   Although there is thousand of websites and archives available on the web. One that can be extremely valuable in expanding the need to exclude Mexican, Californio, and U.S. Army  sources and narratives  is the Digital History: Using New Technologies to Enhance Teaching and Research. This website was designed and developed to support the teaching of American History in K-12 schools and colleges and is supported by the College of Education at the University of Houston. The site includes a U.S. history textbook; over 400 annotated documents from the Gilder Lehrman Collection, supplemented by primary sources on slavery, Asian American, Mexican American, and Native American history. In addition to having severally sources regarding U.S. political, social, and legal history.[25] With a simple click of a mouse, a student can easily find what he or she is looking for when it comes to the U.S.-Mexican War which can expand help expand their understanding of the importance of primary sources to tell the complete story of the war and break with older traditional narratives.                                                                          Historians like, Dr. Lisbeth Haas from the University of California, Santa Cruz, seeks to uncover the unexplored accounts of the Californios who have been largely forgotten form the war’s narrative. As such, she argues Californios fought wage a long campaign to create and protect their political autonomy in territorial affairs and would not allow either Mexico or the U.S. to erode their sovereignty without significant resistance. Even those who sympathized with the United States’ republican system and democratic ideals would express a strong sense of having been deceived by Americans whose race ideas were pervasively expressed against them during the war and occupation.[26] Californios’ tactics of resistance to U.S. occupation involved most of the resident population moving their cattle and other livestock from the coast. To enable American access to fresh meat, but leaving behind enough for the Californios who travel without supplies. While Califorinio wives hide troops at great risk to their families, pleaded for the lives of their loved ones, and prepared the ground for negotiations that would enable Califorinio citizenry to exercise their civil rights once the war was over.[27] These tactics enabled the outnumbered and overpowered Californio troops to hold positions for months while American forces prepared a counter attack. What is important about Dr. Hass’s work is that it stresses the importance of giving agency to individuals who represent the silent side of the war, which can give a deeper understanding on the various thoughts, feelings, and observations surrounding the conflict between U.S. and Mexico.

Speaking of the conflict, what also needs to be further expanded upon in regards of the U.S.-Mexican War is the notion that the war did not guarantee an immediate U.S. victory.  According to Dr. Irving W. Levison from the University of Texas of Rio Grande Valley, the conflict between the United States and Mexico was the first U.S. war in which military victory over the foe’s conventional army failed to produce the desired outcome.[28] Unlike Ulysses S. Grant who to mentioned in his memories that the war was a one sided affair that saw a stronger nation crushing a much weaker opponent.[29] Dr. Levison argues that in fact, the U.S. Army needed some degree of Mexican civilian acquiescence’s to survive the long march to Mexico City. He explains that General Winfield Scott instructed to his troops could succeed on their march, only if those civilians residing along his line agreed to supply provisions.  Consequently, he ordered his men to pay for all provisions they obtain. To which Mexican forces recognized the invaders depended upon the countryside r, Presidente Sustituto (Substitute President) Pedro Maria Anayasigned a decree calling for the establishment of a Light Corps to function as part of the National Guard, which would be to operate behind the U.S. Army.[30] The resulting harassment of Mexican force combined with the harsh condition soldiers experienced before and during the war to which Dr. Paul Foos in his book Levison attributes volunteers taking out their anger and frustration upon civilians.[31] This mistreatment in turn triggered Mexican forces in Mexico City to fight so fiercely that Scott threatened to burn down the entire city and allow U.S. troops to freely pillage if the firing did not cease.[32] Although U.S. forces ultimately prove victorious in the war Dr. Levison’s articles is important because it urges that the war was not a simple one-sided affair. Rather a long drawn out fight in which Mexican forces had to be driven from to house, square to square while they left their dead behind.[33] That only ended diplomatic intervention to helped speed up the process of signing a treaty. When the U.S. government offered to Mexico subbed revolts that erupted during its conflict with the U.S. Army.[34]

Once hostilities ceased on May 7, 1848 with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Polk finally gained the land he rightfully his in the name of American progress and expansion; but what would he do with it. If one looks at the establish narrative the conclusion of U.S.-Mexican War opened the door to western expansion to the Pacific. However, what is missing from the narrative is the complex history of life along the newly border and territories. Even though the treaty designated and established a new border between the U.S. and Mexico that will be religiously respected by both countries.[35]  According to Associate Professor of History Dr. Rachel St. John, what treaty did not motioned was how difficult it was for the commission to impose the boundary line and the sovereign authority it represented on the ground.[36] Despite the existence of customs regulations and tariffs commodities, animals, and people crossed the border freely through illegal means. Similarly to Dr. St. John assessment on the need to expand the narrative of U.S.-Mexican War to reflect lives in the borderlands. Dr. Samuel Truett establishes the notion that within this landscape of greed, gunfights, and bandits networks of corporate and state powers supported shadow pathways oriented around the local lives of Mexican smelter workers, Yaqui miners, Chinese farmers, U.S. colonist, and others. These human webs kept the borderlands in motion, even if states and corporations bent their collective will lashing the harsh and fugitive terrain to the managerial foundations of modern America.[37]

Conclusion 

In conclusion, new scholarly works argue that the U.S.-Mexican as an unpopular war, which created controversy among Congressional members and the public alike. However, beyond the need to establish the narrative that the war its self was not popular it is necessary to examine the individuals who are left on the on fringes. In order to gain a greater understanding  on the grand narrative of the war we must look voices of soldiers, citizens, and the renegades that inhabited the land that President Polk deemed rightfully his. In doing so can we effectively gauge the impact the war from coast to coast and the hidden sorties that dot the harsh landscape along the border.

 

Bibliography

Primary Sources

Conway, Chistopher, ed. The U.S.-Mexican War: A Binational Reader. Translated by Gustavo  Pellon. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2010.

Grant, Ulysses. Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant. Volume 1 New York, Charles L. Webster & Company, 1885.

Lookingbill, Brad, ed. American Military History: A Documentary Reader. Malden, Massachusetts: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

Polk, James and Allan Nevins. Polk: the Diary of a President, 1845-1849: Covering the Mexican War, the Acquisition of Oregon, and the Conquest of California and the Southwest New York: Longmans, Green and Co, 1968.

Secondary

Foos, Paul. A Short, Offhand, Killing Affair: Soldiers and Social Conflict During the Mexican-American War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

Haas, Lisbeth. “War in California, 1846-1848.” California History 76, no. 2/3 (1997): 331-355.

Johannsen, Robert Walter. To the Halls of the Montezumas: The Mexican War in the American Imagination. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Lawrence, Nicholas. ““This boa-constrictor appetite of swallowing states and provinces:” Anti- Imperialist Opposition to the U.S./Mexican War.” South Central Review 30, no. 1  (Spring, 2013): 55-82.

Levinson, Irving. “A New Paradigm for an Old Conflict: The Mexico-United States War.”Journal of Military History 73, no 2(2009): 393-416.

Morrison, Michael. “New Territory versus No Territory: The Whig Party and the Politics of Western Expansion, 1846-1848,” Western Historical Quarterly 23, no. 1 (1992).

Rodríguez, J. Javier. “The U.S.-Mexican War in James Russell Lowell’s the Bigelow Papers.” Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory 65, no. 3  (2007): 1-33.

Simmons, Edwin. “The Secret Mission Of Archibald Gillespie.” Marine Corps Association  Foundation. Last modified November 1968. Accessed December 1, 2016.    https://www.mca-marines.org/gazette/secret-mission-archibald-gillespie.

St. John, Rachel. Line in the Sand: A History of the Western U.S.-Mexico Border. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011

Truett, Samuel. Fugitive Landscapes: The Forgotten History of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands.  New Haven, CN: Yale University Press, 2006.

Unknown. “Digital History: Using New Technologies to Enhance Teaching and Research.” The College of Education at the University of Huston. Last modified 2016. Accessed October 2, 2016 tp://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu.

                [1] Robert Walter Johannsen, To the Halls of the Montezumas: The Mexican War in the American Imagination (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 8.

                [2] Brad Lookingbill, ed, American Military History: A Documentary Reader (Malden, Massachusetts: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 112-13.

                [3] Michael A. Morrison, “New Territory versus No Territory: The Whig Party and the Politics of Western Expansion, 1846-1848,” Western Historical Quarterly 23, no. 1 (February 1992): 28.

                [4] Michael A. Morrison, “New Territory versus No Territory,” 29-30.

                [5] Nicholas Lawrence, ““This boa-constrictor appetite of swallowing states and provinces:” Anti-Imperialist Opposition to the U.S./Mexican War,” South Central Review 30, no. 1 (2013): 55-56.

                [6] Nicholas Lawrence, ““This boa-constrictor appetite of swallowing states and provinces,” 60.

                [7] Ibid, 60.

                [8] Nicholas Lawrence, ““This boa-constrictor appetite of swallowing states and provinces:” Anti-Imperialist Opposition to the U.S./Mexican War,” South Central Review 30, no. 1 (2013): 75.

                [9] J. Javier Rodríguez, “The U.S.-Mexican War in James Russell Lowell’s the Bigelow Papers,” Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory, 63.3 (2007): 2.

                [10] J. Javier Rodríguez, “The U.S.-Mexican War in James Russell Lowell’s the Bigelow Papers,” 7.

                [11] Paul W. Foos, A Short, Offhand, Killing Affair: Soldiers and Social Conflict During the Mexican-American War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 13.

                [12] Paul W. Foos, A Short, Offhand, Killing Affair, 17-18

                [13] James Polk and Allan Nevins, Polk: the Diary of a President, 1845-1849: Covering the Mexican War, the Acquisition of Oregon, and the Conquest of California and the Southwest (New York: Longmans, Green and Co, 1968), 48.

                [14] James Polk and Allan Nevins, Polk, 52.

                [15] James Polk and Allan Nevins, Polk: the Diary of a President, 1845-1849: Covering the Mexican War, the Acquisition of Oregon, and the Conquest of California and the Southwest (New York: Longmans, Green and Co, 1968), 2-3.

                [16] James Polk and Allan Nevins, Polk, 116.

                [17] Ibid, 19.

                [18] Edwin H. Simmons,”The Secret Mission Of Archibald Gillespie,” Marine Corps Association Foundation, November 1968, accessed December 1, 2016, https://www.mca-marines.org/gazette/secret-mission-archibald-gillespie; James Polk and Allan Nevins, Polk: the Diary of a President, 1845-1849: Covering the Mexican War, the Acquisition of Oregon, and the Conquest of California and the Southwest (New York: Longmans, Green and Co, 1968), 22.

                [19] James Polk and Allan Nevins, Polk, 50-2.

                [20] Ibid, 70.

                [21] James Polk and Allan Nevins, Polk: the Diary of a President, 1845-1849: Covering the Mexican War, the Acquisition of Oregon, and the Conquest of California and the Southwest (New York: Longmans, Green and Co, 1968), 91.

                [22] James Polk and Allan Nevins, Polk, 138; 183.

                [23] Ibid, 121.

                [24] Samuel Truett, Fugitive Landscapes: The Forgotten History of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands (New Haven, CN: Yale University Press), 37.

                [25] Unknown, “Digital History: Using New Technologies to Enhance Teaching and Research.” The College of Education at the University of Huston, last modified 2016, accessed October 2, 2016 tp://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu.

                [26] Lisbeth Haas, “War in California, 1846-1848,” California History 76, no. 2/3 (1997): 336-337.

                [27] Lisbeth Haas, “War in California, 1846-1848,” 343.

                [28] Irving Levinson, “A New Paradigm for an Old Conflict: The Mexico-United States War, “Journal of Military History 73, no 2(April 2009): 393.

                [29] Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant, Volume 1 (New York, Charles L. Webster & Company, 1885), 54.

                [30] Irving Levinson, “A New Paradigm for an Old Conflict,” 400.

                [31] Ibid, 398-390.

                [32] Irving Levinson, “A New Paradigm for an Old Conflict: The Mexico-United States War,” Journal of Military History 73, no 2(2009): 408-409.

                [33] Chistopher Conway, ed. The U.S.-Mexican War: A Binational Reader (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing company: 2010), 100.

                [34]  Irving Levinson, “A New Paradigm for an Old Conflict: The Mexico-United States War,” 411.

                [35] Chistopher Conway, ed. The U.S.-Mexican War, 128.

                [36] Rachel St. John, Line in the Sand: A History of the Western U.S.-Mexico Border (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), 22.

                [37] Samuel Truett, Fugitive Landscapes: The Forgotten History of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands (New Haven, CN: Yale University Press), 103.

Polk’s Diary: Formal Primary Sources Analysis

Of all the major sources surrounding the controversial decision of the United Sates declaring and waging war on Mexico, the diary of President James K. Polk, tends to be under utilize by scholars when examining the cause of the U.S.-Mexican War.  Written between 1845 and 1849, the diary is essential to find out why Polk pushed for war, which caused a firestorm among congressional members and public alike. More importunity it puts in to play on how the war with Mexico should be remembered as the result of his ambitions of finishing the conquest of the continent, which sought to gain the remaining European holdings in the Pacific Northwest and any disputed land left after the Texas Revolution (1835-1836). Similar to how the  works we read for the class over this semester expanded our notion of not looking a the big events or subjects like the Civil War or slavery as one solid identity, but rather a multilayered network of connections that link people, places, and ideals to each other.

In his earliest dairy entry dated August 26, 1845, Secretary of State James Buchanan suggested to Polk that the United States assert and enforce their authority in the whole Oregon Territory and settle on a comprise between the border of the U.S. and Canada on the 49th parallel of the north latitude. However, when the British government refused the comprise Polk became infuriated that he was dined access to the Pacific and that rejection to him meant he would no longer give Britain peace. When Buchanan told Polk that if he were to carry out such intentions the U.S. would have war; to which Polk replied, “If we do have war it will not be our fault.”[1] This makes it clear that if Polk wanted any land he would resort to declaring war fortunately the subsequent the acquisition of the Oregon Territory was bloodless and was resolved with the signing of the Oregon Treaty in 1846. However, when Polk turned his attention to the southwest his wanting for land pulled the United States into an actual war.[2]

From his diary, we can see that Polk had established his intentions on the possible acquisition of California seven months before war was officially declared against Mexico. During a cabinet meeting on Friday October 24, 1845, in which they discussed the dispute over the Oregon Territory, Polk recognized that California played a key role in the balance of power in the Pacific and argued that the United would not permit Britain or any other European monarchy to establish any new colony. Since he believed, the Monroe Doctrine gave him the justification to take California and its fine San Francisco Bay in addition to Oregon.[3] As such, he sent Lieutenant Archibald H. Gillespie of the Marine Corps on a secret mission to the American counsel in California Monterey where he was instructed to inform Thomas Larkin to persuade California to secede from Mexico but it did not work.[4] On February 13, 1846, a man by the name of A. J. Atocha visited Polk on behalf of the exiled Mexican President Antonio López de Santa Anna who was in favor of establishing a new treaty which adjusted the boundary between the US and Mexico. Atocha stated that Santa Anna was willing to adjust the boundary in the way that the Del Norte would be the western Texas line and the Colorado of the West down through the San Francisco Bay to the sea will be the Mexican line for the price of thirty million dollars.[5] However, from the diary we learn that Polk never trusted Atocha and disregarded the offer. Instead, the only terms Polk would ever accept were his own when the relations between the U.S. and Mexico began to deteriorate by April due the establishment of the new government in Mexico by General Mariano Paredes who rejected Polk’s offering of a multimillion-dollar payment to negotiate a new treaty. In addition, to receiving word that Senator John Slidell of Louisiana was denied entering Mexico in which Polk called for Congressional legislation to be adopted to remedy the injuries and wrongs they had suffered.[6]

This diary entry alone opens the door on how scholars can see how Polk looked at this situation as an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. With the refusal of Mexico to negotiate and the rejection Senator Slidell, Polk wanted war in order to finally claim California for the U.S. and insert American authority firmly on the continent. However, this is where the debate gets murky in regards to Polk’s involvement in the actual start of the war. Did he purposely send troops down to the disputed boarder lands to start the fighting or was it an actual attack by Mexican forces that lead to war? Although Polk never mentions having perpetuated any wrongdoing he does make it perfectly clear that the entire objective in going to war with Mexico was not for conquest however in actuality:

“It was clear that in making peace we would if practicable obtain California and such other  portion of the Mexican territory as would be sufficient to indemnify our claimants on Mexico and defray the expense of the war which that power by her long continued wrongs and injuries had forced us to wage.”[7]

This passage completely changes the perceptive of the war that is either missing in history books or in other scholarly articles how we should remember the war itself. Yes, some do argue it was a means of spreading slavery but this idea was never an issue because the passage of an appropriation bill on August 10, 1846, which prohibited slaveholding in the newly acquired territory and even Polk, recognized that slavery would not work in the new provinces.[8] More importantly, it was not fought for the retribution for the soldiers killed near the border but for the long awaited ability for Polk to claim the land he wanted. The land he felt was rightfully his in the name of American progress and expansion. Especially when Polk remarked that when it came time to make a treaty with Mexico he found that he could obtain a boundary from the mouth of the Rio Grande west to the Pacific by paying a few million more.[9]

In conclusion, if one chooses to do any research or work on the U.S.-Mexican War they need to use Polk’s diary. It is an important tool to trace the foundation and the events that set into motion Polk’s desire to call for war, which surprisingly may not be entirely Mexico’s fault but rather by the impulsive actions of president that probably not too many Americans know today. As such, one can combine his diary with other scholarly works to break the traditional narrative of a justifiable war in which united the nation.  However, in the case of this project the diary will be used to seek how the war itself is remembered today. Nevertheless, if one chose to do so it is strongly recommended that other sources such as letters from Zachery Taylor, Archibald H. Gillespie, or John C. Frémont are need to get a better understanding of the orders Polk gave them since he does not go into detail is dairy. Especially Gillespie’s special mission to California, which Polk briefly mentions it since it was a secret mission.

 

                [1] James Polk and Allan Nevins, Polk: the Diary of a President, 1845-1849: Covering the Mexican War, the Acquisition of Oregon, and the Conquest of California and the Southwest (New York: Longmans, Green and Co, 1968), 2-3.

                [2] James Polk and Allan Nevins, Polk, 116.

                [3] James Polk and Allan Nevins, Polk: the Diary of a President, 1845-1849: Covering the Mexican War, the Acquisition of Oregon, and the Conquest of California and the Southwest (New York: Longmans, Green and Co, 1968), 19.

                [4] BGen Edwin H. Simmons, “The Secret Mission Of Archibald Gillespie,” Marine Corps Association Foundation, November 1968, accessed  December 1, 2016, https://www.mca-marines.org/gazette/secret-mission-archibald-gillespie; James Polk and Allan Nevins, Polk, 22.

                [5] Ibid, 50-2.

                [6] Ibid, 70.

                [7] James Polk and Allan Nevins, Polk: the Diary of a President, 1845-1849: Covering the Mexican War, the Acquisition of Oregon, and the Conquest of California and the Southwest (New York: Longmans, Green and Co, 1968), 91.

                [8] James Polk and Allan Nevins, Polk, 138, 183.

                [9] Ibid, 121.

Polished Paragraph Aka scholarly works survey part 2

On May 11, 1846, President James K. Polk sent a special message to the Congress of the United States for a declaration of war against Mexico. Polk stated that on April 12, Mexican forces at the small border town of Matamoras under the command of General Pedro de Ampudia assumed a belligerent attitude and notified General Zachary Taylor to break up his camp within twenty-four hours and to retire beyond the Nueces River. If Taylor failed to comply with these demands and he would announced that arms, and arms alone, must decide the question. However, April 24 General Mariano Arista, who had succeeded to the command of the Mexican forces engaged with a large body of  Taylors troops, and after a short affair sixteen U.S. troops were killed and wounded while reaming men were surrounded and compelled to surrender.[1] As such, Polk argued for the vindication for the rights and defense of the United States for which Congress must recognize the existence of the war, and to place at the disposition of the Executive the means of prosecuting the war with vigor, and thus hastening the restoration of peace. As result of this, message Congress officially declared war on another nation for the second time in the history of the nation. Nevertheless, the actual decision to go to war provoked controversy among the congressional members and the public alike, which seems to have been swept under the rug, do the notion of history books empathizing America’s victory over Mexico and the observation that the majority of American’s don’t like controversy surrounding military operations like the wars of Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

As such scholars today seek, argue that in order to  understand any war that the United States find itself fighting we need to present all aspects of how and why America deicide to take up arms against its supposed enemies, even if certain materials are not in favor of going to war or completely bash it. For example, J. Javier Rodríguez argues that the war against Mexico generated not just the stabilizing narratives of racial or national dichotomies but also intense counter-narratives wherein Mexico and Mexicans were either equivalent Americans defending their republic from invasion, or, in a further extension, and far more disturbing, agents of existential disturbance, standing against the very possibility of meaning itself. As such, he points to one of the clearest examples of this kind of agonistic US–Mexican War literature The Biglow Papers. [2] Produced in by James Russell Lowell in 1848, The Biglow Papers are anti-war satire, which are fragmentary diverse pieces that ranged from anti-war critiques, to tongue-in-cheek pro-war rants by immoral politicians, to agonistic essays about language and knowledge. Lowell invents Parson Homer Wilbur who edits the poetry of the equally fictional Hosea Biglow, the titular Yankee farmer whose role in the text is not only to write poetry, but to also rewrite Birdofredum Sawin’s (a fictional Yankee U.S.–Mexican War volunteer) frontline letters into dialect verse.[3] As such, these papers represent a silent side of the war, which give a deeper understanding on the various thoughts, feelings, and observations people had on the events surrounding the conflict between U.S. and Mexico rather than those who outwardly supported it.

However, one must not only look at the public opinion to see the disagreement of the U.S. picking a fight with Mexico but to look at those who fought on the frontlines. According to Dr. Paul what is missing from the grand narrative of the U.S.-Mexican War is the disenfranchise of the many men who volunteer to fight Polk’s war. He argues that the self-conception of soldiers and the differing standards of discipline marked the two branches (regular enlisted men and volunteer) as distinct. Regular army officers were notoriously quick to resort to the lash against miscreant soldiers. In the volunteer regiments solider as the bulwark of national policy, but the despised regulars were chief instrument of those same politicians on launching and prosecuting the Mexican War.[4] Even before the war started, Taylor’s regulars experienced extreme hardships and diseases. Dysentery and fever raged through the camp until one-sixth of the men were on sick report and half suffered from a degree on infirmity.[5] When war was officially declare many cities across the country where divided once the stance of recruitment in regards of the justification on going to war with Mexico. For example, in Ohio anti war feelings ran high. To the point that an anti war partisan wrote scornfully of the mindless enthusiasm shown by the citizenry, with military parades, cannons booming from boats in the river, and even religious revival meeting held by persists of the God of war, in which excitement has been raised by song as well as speech.[6] While other places like down in New Orleans recruiting reflected political and social hierarchies and conflicts where several sectors of the population opposed the war, but their opposition was scattered and muted.[7]

Armed with these scholarly works with addition to other I seek to track how scholars today argue for the need to present, display, and introduce various sources of discontent towards the U.S. conflict with Mexico in order for the public to gain a better understanding of the war itself. Because understanding why people criticized it can expand our understanding of how we remembered it.

                [1] Brad Lookingbill, ed, American Military History: A Documentary Reader (Malden, Massachusetts: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 112-13.

                [2] J. Javier Rodríguez, “The U.S.-Mexican War in James Russell Lowell’s the Bigelow Papers,” Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory, 63.3 (2007): 2.

                [3] J. Javier Rodríguez, “The U.S.-Mexican War in James Russell Lowell’s the Bigelow Papers,”7.

                [4] Paul W. Foos, A Short, Offhand, Killing Affair: Soldiers and Social Conflict During the Mexican-American War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 13.

                [5]  Paul W. Foos, A Short, Offhand, Killing Affair, 17-18.

                [6]  Ibid, 48.

                [7]  Ibid, 52.

Colonial Pathologies

The American acquisition of the Philippines is an event in American history that is largely forgotten, overlooked, or briefly mention in textbooks. Fortunately, Dr. Warwick Anderson form the University of Sydney seeks to not only establish why Americans sought take possession of the Philippines but what was the American intention after U.S. troops island hopped across the archipelago in the name of civilizing the Filipinos with the Krag. Armed with photos, personal counts( by physicians and U.S. troopers), and racist  Social Darwinist propaganda, Dr. Anderson seeks to chart the colonial development and deferral of what might be called biomedical citizenship and to suggest continuities between the late colonial civilizing process and international development projects. Which will all Anderson trace the genealogy development back to the medical mobilization of civic potential on the Philippines in the early twentieth century (pgs. 3-4).                                                                                                             

The strongest aspect of Dr. Andersons work is that it pulls no punches when comes to describing the mental attitude the Americans had toward the Filipinos. In practice, the term healthy native referred to a deceptive appearance not to any exemption from disease carriage, which usually implied a qualifier: apparently. As such, physicians did not hesitate to magnify the threatening microbial pathology that lurked within native bodies (pg. 94). Anderson argues that American physicians saw themselves as being doubly representatives for the  body and unlike Filipinos, they produced abstraction, by mouth and by hand, not waste or at least neither dangerous nor visible waste. White Americans talk, report, police, supervise, hunt, fish, and fight: but after reading the medical documents produced in the Philippines in the first decade of the century, one suspects they rarely went to the toilet. Americans bodies became abstracted from the filthy exuberance of the tropics, represented as truly civilized models for Filipinos. However, this American sublime demanded relentless self-discipline and in this sense, the disparagement and civilizing of Filipinos would be a labor of American repression (pg. 111). By including these instances of racial judgment  Dr. Anderson opens allows the reader to understand why many American textbooks shy away from showcasing not only the American acquisition of the Philippians but the brutality and disgusting reality happen during the Philippine War but the insertion of American ideals after the war. I would compare Anderson’s work to what Diana said about Scott Zesch’s The Chinatown War: Chinese Los Angeles and the Massacre of 1871, in a sense that what the Americans choose to do with the Philippines and its citizens was not out kindness and compassion for improving the public health of the Filipinos. Rather a choice they made because they wanted to make the Philippines into a place that they can call civilized because they felt it needed to be. As a result, the reader is left feeling sympathetic for these individuals who are forced to conform to American standards and the consequences that resonate from them which can be consider good or bad pending which perspective the reader chooses to look at. 

Nevertheless, the most controversial aspect of Dr. Anderson’s work is that he seems to argue that l the racial stereotypes, social Darwinist ideals, and conformity that the Americans placed on the Filipinos regarding their health seemed to advance public health in both the Philippines and the United States. For which he mentioned the influence of the colonial Philippines on the public health in the United States varied considerably. In general, the medical experiences of empire served to amplify pr channel existing features of domestic public health work to reshape or extend structures and policies already on place, rather than introducing wholly new procedures and goals. In particular, colonial experiences tended to focus more attention on the fault lines of race and force recognition of the need to intervene more vigorously to reform the personal and domestic hygiene of those on the margins of society to propel them into civic and medical trajectories (pg. 230). Although what he needs to clarify is that the advancement and improvements on public health on both sides of the Pacific was a gradual process in which was accomplished by improved methods and practices of doctors who gained a better understanding of biology in addition to advances in science. Because the he seems to jump around between different decades a lot, which can through the reader off if he or she is not familiar with the subject material.

Primary Sources Bibliography  

 

Conway, Christopher B. and Gustavo Pellon, eds. The U.S.-Mexican War: A Binational Reader. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co, 2010.

Drawing on a rich, interdisciplinary collection of U.S. and Mexican sources, this volume explores the conflict that redrew the boundaries of the North American continent in the 19th century. Among the many period texts included here are letters from U.S. and Mexican soldiers, governmental proclamations, songs, caricatures, poetry, and newspaper articles.

Lookingbill, Brad, ed. American Military History: A Documentary Reader. Malden, Massachusetts: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

The book presents a series of primary source documents relating to America’s armed forces from colonial period to the present. Of the sources in the book that are vital to the understanding of the U.S. Mexican War like President James K. Polk’s declaration of war and Whig Party disapproval of going to war with Mexico.

Polk, James, and Allan Nevins. Polk; the Diary of a President, 1845-1849: Covering the Mexican War, the Acquisition of Oregon, and the Conquest of California and the Southwest. New York: Longmans, Green and Co, 1968.

The diary kept by James K. Polk form 1864 to 1849, which covers such events as the Mexican War, the acquisition of Oregon, and the conquest of California and the Southwestern United Sates. Polk’s diary is very important when discussing why Polk called for war with Mexico and his motives on establishing American dominance across the continent.

Grant, Ulysses S. Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant,  Volume 1. New York, Charles L. Webster       & Company, 1885.

The personal memoirs of The 18th President of the United States Ulysses S. Grant who served during the U.S.-Mexican War who roused from the rank of Second Lieutenant of the 4th Infantry to First Lieutenant of the 4th Infantry during his deployments while on duty. Although considered one of the greatest American generals of all time he personally dislike the U.S.-Mexican War stated that annexation of Texas could be justified however the manner in which the subsequent was forced upon Mexico cannot. In addition, to mention that the war was a one sided affair that saw a stronger nation crushing a much weaker opponent.

The World the Civil War Made

When we think of the aftermath of the Civil War we tend to remember and fixate on the rebuilding of the South, the institution of Jim Crow, and the U.S. expand westward. However, the world in which the Civil War created is much more complicated and complex then we realize with relatively untold narratives that provide a greater understanding of what happened once the smoke had cleared of the battlefields and the dead mostly accounted for. As such the goal of The World The Civil War Made is to highlight and ask precisely how the the changes that rippled out from the Civil War did and did not echo in people’s lives and communities. They portray a federal government located in outpost, often beset and besieged able to enforce its policies in concentrated areas but hard pressed to extend its sovereignty thought the land. Using court documents, personal testimonies, newspaper articles, maps, and even tribe dissolution forms the authors within the book create the image of a nation defined by shared assumptions about democratic processes and peaceful governance; the essays within the book portray a place convulsed by violence and a government stymied by common people’s stubborn assertions of power and prerogative. In the end they seek to invite us to envision the enduring illiberal and chaotic qualities of life in the postwar U.S. as being imperfect in consolidating liberal nation, but as central to the American experience and as such seek to answer the question how the Civil War change the nation (pg. 3).

The greatest strength of most of the essays in the book which give the reader a better understanding of the world that Civil War are the ones centered around ethnic minorities and how they struggled with ownership of their identity and whether it be their property such as land or their physical body. Similarly to Pekka Hamalainen’s Comanche Empire, Dr. Stephanie M.H. Camp’s Closer to Freedom Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South, and Dr. Ari Kelman This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War which give agency to minority groups in their respected books. I also would agree with Mark that the book is more about “local resistance on the ground made it difficult to enforce Reconstruction protections due to the federal governments reach was overstressed” and as such, they took matters into their own hands. In chapter 2, Stacey Smith discussed how merchants and workers protested the unfair wages the received to the Govoner of California and stated that they were not coolies if by that word you mean bound men or slaves (pg. 63). While In chapter 3, Stephen Kantrowitz argued that when the Ho-Chunk Tribe of Wisconsin neither used the words “citizenship” and “civilization” they seem to have attached meanings and hopes to them quite different from those intended by policymakers nor did they seek assimilation into the US nor did they imagine they could fully escape it (pg. 99). In chapter 6, Kidada E. Williams displayed the bravery of African American taking the stand and testifying in courts down south in addition to how emancipation allowed many African Americans to assert new control over their lives through economic means and migration to the Western Territories (pg. 173). Finally, in chapter 10, Crystal N. Feimster traces the black women’s resistance to sexual violence whose crusade for sexual justice took many forms written protest to violent resistance in order to challenge the panoply laws, traditions, and ideas that reinforce white men’s sexual power (pg. 251).

The biggest complement I can give The World The Civil War Made is that it seeks to to tell the unknown stories that are needed to be heard in order for anyone to understand America after the war. For example before this reading, I never heard about Elly S. Parker. I thought C. Joseph Genetin-Pilawa did an amazing job bring to life a relatively unknown historical figure to hopefully a wider audience. As such, one can see the significance of Parker’s mission of having the government protect Native tribes form settlers to maintain their tribal sovereignty (pg. 190). While Barbra Krauthamer on the other display that yes, Native American did own slaves which is not really mentioned lot but she takes to one step further by showing how they ended the practice of slavery which I have never personally come cross in any history book. Since she states that black people in the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations waited longer that most before gaining their freedom and clear picture of their future but they still had plans and ideas about their lives as free people in the nations should look like (pg 232).

Polished Paragraph: Picking up the pieces of the U.S.-Mexican War

When it comes to presenting the Mexican-American War the biggest debate surrounding the war is what is left out of the established narrative, which labels it a glorious and justifiable war? For many years, historians such as Robert W. Johannsen, believed the decision to go to war with Mexico war was reluctantly taken by President Polk and his cabinet. Once word was received of the ambush of an American unit north of the Rio Grande in which several lives were lost a gave them a reasonable excuses enough to call for a state of war. As a result whatever doubts remained were now removed when Polk sent his war message to Congress, and two days later both houses approved a war bill by overwhelming majorities [1]. However, that is not what histories of today see the war.

Today several histories seek to argue that even though that the Mexican-American War was the second war Congress ever declared it caused a firestorm of controversy among Congressional party members who called into question was the the war really necessary. Historians like Michael A. Morrison argue that committed to a program of controlled, peaceful expansion, Whigs were especially disturbed by Polk’s method of acquiring California and the borderlands of the Southwest and the fruits of the war- land hunger, greed, and a widely dispersed population-promised to destroy the social and economic conditions necessary to a virtuous [2]. While other historians like Nicholas Lawrence, believes that the enthusiasm for the United States’ military action in Mexico saturated e national discourse and political figures at all levels of government, along with a virtual armada of newspaper writers and literary authors, responded, argue that even popular writers such to the war as a galvanizing moment. However, writers like Henry David Thoreau criticized the war as being “the work of comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as their tool [3].”

What is also missing in the grand narrative of the Mexican-American War is the lack of sources form the Mexican side of the conflict. Which sites up another debate as to if we are going to discuss or write about the Mexican-American should we include Mexican sources and narratives. To which one should argue that yes, they are needed to tell the complete story of the war and break with older traditional narratives. Fortunately, historians like Lisbeth Haas, who seeks to uncover the unexplored accounts of the Californios who have been largely forgotten form the war’s narrative. As such, she argues Californios had a long fought to create and protect their political autonomy in territorial affairs and would not allow either Mexico or the United States to erode their sovereignty without significant resistance. Even those who sympathized with the United States’ republican system and democratic ideals would express a strong sense of having been deceived by Americans whose race ideas were pervasively expressed against them during the war and occupation [4]. By combing all these new narratives with their sources can we gain an understanding as how we must accurately understand the Mexican-American War.

[1] Robert Walter Johannsen, To the Halls of the Montezumas: The Mexican War in the American Imagination (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 8.
[2] Michael A. Morrison, “New Territory versus No Territory: The Whig Party and the Politics of Western Expansion, 1846-1848,” Western Historical Quarterly 23, no. 1 (February 1992): 28.
[3] Nicholas Lawrence, ““This boa-constrictor appetite of swallowing states and provinces:” Anti-Imperialist Opposition to the U.S./Mexican War,” South Central Review 30, no. 1 (2013): 55-56.
[4] Lisbeth Haas, “War in California, 1846-1848,” California History 76, no. 2/3 (1997): 336-337.

A Misplaced Massacre

There are certain events in history that blur the lines of how we remember and represent them. Sometimes we remember them for being cornerstones and foundations of our national character and identity and as such, we think of them as pivotal movements in which we either came together as a nation to fight a common enemy like the attack on Pearl Harbor. While others, are seen as mistakes that shake our concepts of politics and government like the war in Vietnam. However, as we continue to move forward some events are forgotten and their significance is lessen to the point they lose their meaning or they are missed represented. Fortunately, Dr. Ari Kelman a McCabe Greer Professor of History at Penn State University seeks to uncover one of those forgotten events of American history the Sand Creek Massacre.    

Armed with personal accounts, maps, courtroom testimonies, newspaper articles, and federal laws Kelman recounts the events surrounding the Sand Creek Mass  acre by using a central narrative of the historic site’s creation as the book’s spine and flesh out that tale with flashbacks to the era of the massacre and various moments when people struggled over Sand Creek’s memory (pg. x-xi). As a result, Kelman describes how discrepancies in historical record can be ascribed to the so-called fog of war. Scenes of violence, especially mass violence are notorious for breeding unreliable and often irreconcilable testimony. The stories of Sand Creek with all their disagreements stem not only the havoc they experienced but also from the politics of memory surrounding the points, they dispute. In regards to what caused the bloodshed? Could it have been avoided? Who should be held accountable for what happened?, and was it a glorious victory or a horrendous massacre? Such questions still raised issues of racial identity and gender ideologies that structured an emerging multicultural society in the American West, their interplay of politics and violence on the American borderlands, and about the righteousness of the continental expansion and the bloody conflicts of both the Civil War and the Indian Wars that accorded by that process (pg. 8).                                                                                                                   

One he greatest strengths of Kelman work is that he acknowledges that historians need to drift comfortably between the humanities, the social sciences, and anthropologist who typically identify with the latter category, archeologist are social scientists who flirt with harder sciences. In addition, for a young subdiscipline like battlefield archeology, questions of scholarly taxonomy or methodological orientations became all more important. Meaning that to real uncover the meaning and truth of an event one wears many hats to better gain information to challenge and rewrite the established narrative of an event like the Sand Creek massacre. As such, historians become detectives who go into the archives to interview witnesses and possible suspects. Form those materials; they get the story down on paper. However, historians are often left conflicting stories and as such that when the anthropologist steps in to get the hard evidence. Only by combining the two disciplines is it possible to complete a more actuate picture of the past. Much like how archeologist  Doug Scott hoped that his data would be unimpeachable answering without any doubt at all the questions of where the massacre happened and perhaps hinting at how blood was shed (pg. 125).                                                                                                          

Another strength of Kelman’s work is much similar to the work of both Pekka Hamalainen’s Comanche Empire and Dr. Stephanie M.H. Camp’s  book Closer to Freedom Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South which give agency to minority groups. To which I will agree with Robert when he stated, “it was interesting that no matter who was involved in the research and search for the official site of the massacre, political, tribal, and cultural tensions still played an integral part in the creation of The Sand Creek Massacre National Park, and continue to this day in some way, shape or form.” Since it is Kelman’s main objective to showcase how the native tribes of the Cheyenne and Arapaho who rejected what they saw as a hollow offer of painless healing and quick reconciliation at the opening ceremony. Concerned that the memorial might be stalking horse for an older assimilationist project these skeptics instead portrayed the site as an emblem of self-determination. They understood that controlling the interpretative apparatus at a national public space offered them an opportunity to define insiders and outsiders. As such, they fought for years to steer the commemorative process to call the site the Sand Creek Massacre National Site. In doing so they believed that the memorial would help them preserve their cultural practices and securing their future through venerating the past (pgs. 5-6).   

Correspondingly, the story of memorializing Sand Creek suggests that history and memory are malleable, that even the land can change and that citizens of the United States are so various that they should not be expected to share a single tale of a common past. Sometimes their stories complement one another and sometimes they clash. Sometimes they intersect and other times they diverged. Depending on who tells it the story of Sand Creek for instance suggest that the Civil War midwifed in President Lincoln’s words, “a new birth of freedom,” but also that it delivered the Indian Wars; that it was a moment of national redemption for some Americans, but of dispossession and subjugation for others. While the National Park Service officials and the descendants will never concur on every element of Sand Creek’s interpretation, but they might agree that the historic site should challenge visitors to grapple with competing narratives of U.S. history to struggle with ironies embedded in the American past. As such, the massacre will no longer be misplaced in the landscape of national memory (pg. 279).

This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War

The dead, the dying and the living are all represented in Dr. Dew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, which covers how the Civil War changed the American perspective on just how devastating a war can be. From the killing of soldiers on the battlefields to the mass graves where they were buried, the Civil War took its toll on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line and left a nation sacred. From the book, one does get a sense of just how one goes out and counts the unprecedented number of bodies lying in the fields and streets. However, even with such a grim subject and successfully telling it in a sufficient manner, the book is not without its faults and does lack some strength to it.


The book is about the work of death during the American Civil War and how between 1861 and 1865 and into the decades that followed Americans undertook a kind of work that history has not adequately understood or recognized (pg. XIV). In the end Faust seeks to describe how Americans both during and after the war came to understand the costs of war through measuring the causalities that come from it. By Using personal accounts, photos, illustrations, and governmental documentation Faust tries to paint a picture on the effects of losing so many husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons in the most horrific ways that Americans have ever witness at the time. More importantly, she establishes the notion of killing was not simply justified but also required, even when such action demanded suspension of fundamental rules of war and humanity (pg. 47). Besides providing the methods to as to which both the Union and the Confederacy used in order to obtain victory and to ensure men would be killing, Faust focuses on the effects of the mass killing had on the home front both sides of the war. For example, upon hearing of the casualties of a battle, many families went to the battlefields in the hopes that they could find the remains of their family member so they could bring him/them back home (pg. 85). Faust describes just how death became fixated with everyday life. Some examples include families and soldiers alike, frantically waiting for reports from the battlefields in the hope of learning the fate of a family member or friend and attempting to cope upon learning the news and fate of a person some one cared for. While railroad companies made money hand over fist, by providing and offering transpiration for grieving families to have the remains of their lost loved ones shipped back home to be buried (pg. 91-2). Not only did the Civil War tore apart families it was also successful in creating religious doubt, leaving many questioning why would any god allow the war to happen? As a result, many Americans began to redefine their faiths in all loving and responsive deity, while some went as far as to rejecting their old beliefs (pg. 210).
Faust’s main ejective is that she wants the reader to know that even with the Civil War being over and those who fell in the line of duty are now buried, there is still the need to continue remembering the dead for their sacrifices. In addition, she calls for the preservation of our humanity to the point where we do not come face to face with the same type of death and destruction brought about by the Civil War (pg. 371).

Her greatest strength is the use of documentation and a variety of primary sources that help the reader come to an understanding on just how grim and horrific the Civil War was. Faust does her best to bring the war into focus on just how much effect it had on both sides of the conflict. From Confederate soldiers on the battlefield, who showed no remorse or mercy in killing black Union Troopers too President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address which explained the justification of the wars carnage (pg. 189). By presenting sources that are from the different social and racial classes of the period enables the reader to get a broader perspective on just, what the war meant and represented to them. To the newly freed slaves, it was a chance to fight for their humanity and for the further abolishment slavery (pg. 47-8). While other non-black soldiers on both sides saw the war, as a military adventure that called for heroism and glory for which they would be whiling to die for, however the war turned into a living hell that lasted for four years. Although her book is compelling, in the sense that she sheds light on just what affect death had on the American people both in the north and in the south during and after the war, she does tend to fall flat. I completely agree with Robert Huitrado when he mentioned how “Dr. Faust’s book, Republic of Suffering, is almost a perfect book. I mean, it won the Bancroft prize and was a Pulitzer finalist; not many writers can say that. If anything, I would say Republic is only lacking in a few areas: 1) the medical field, and 2) the Western theater of war. Let me take #2 first, Dr. Faust does mention the Western theater but only in passing.” Because she only seems to be focusing on the well-known battles that accrued on the Eastern-Theater of the war. Yes, she does mention William Tecumseh Sherman’s march but, it is only limited to his interactions with southern civilians. But the best way to get the complete bloody picture that the Civil War painted is to display and the many lives that were lost and disrupted is to inform the reader about the Western-Theater as well. She does however mention the number of dead created by the Battle of Shiloh but, only gives the bare minimum and does not provide substantial information on the lives lost in the battles of Vicksburg, Stones River, or even the Battle of Glorieta Pass in New Mexico, but gives information on the loss of civilian life when Union gunboats fired on Natchez (pg. 138). By spending a little more time on the Western-Theater would display not only how bloody the war got but, also show the reader just how far the war got to enable it to have such an effect on the American people both during and after the war.


What the book also lacks is the information on the different types of weapons used during the war to just how effective they were. In her defense, she does list the percentage of fatal, but the reader does not get a sense of what type. Were they muskets or rifles? She mentions that 95% of Union injuries were sustained by bullets, however she failed to mention that there is a difference between muskets that fired balls that bounced around inside the barrel and was very inaccurate once it left the barrel and a rifled gun that shot a bullet that was more accurate (pg. 41). Information, such as what was the average caliber of a round and how fast was it when it left the barrel, which can show the reader the amount of impact bullets and mini balls had on a soldier’s body to cause him to sustain an injury or case of death. By including more information on the variety on the types of weapons used and their effectiveness on the battlefield, the reader could gain a more comprehensive understanding on just how the battlefields became so deadly and the killing fields that the photos that she has in the book show.

Fugitive Landscapes

When we think  of the American Southwest during the turn of the century, we think of cowboys and Indians, desperados, cattle rustlers, and crusty old prospectors yelling “there be gold in deem hills.” We also conjure images of the harsh and unforgiving covered with saguaro cactuses and sun belch bones of the unlucky travelers who never made it to their destinations whether they are man or beast which are accompanied by abandoned buildings marking long forgotten spots of commerce and vice. However, beyond the desolate landscapes were gunfights, gambling, and profiteering accrued lays a hidden history that many never know as both the sands of the desert and time have covered. Fortunately, one scholar by the name of Dr.Samuel Truett a historian of U.S.-Mexico and continental North American borderlands, with associated interests in environmental history, histories of empires and indigenous peoples, and comparative histories of frontiers and borderlands in global context at the University of New Mexico Seeks to provide a window into the complex history of life and death in borderlands between the U.S. and Mexico.

In his book Fugitive Landscapes: The Forgotten History of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, Truett argues that most Americans have forgotten transitional histories not only because they have trusted maps of the nation, but also because they have succumbed to the siren song of the state. Much like their precursors they still see the borderlands as the land that time for forgot, palaces where bandits and outlaws have given way to new barbarians such as immigrant desperados and drug traffickers (pg. 15). As such, he suggests finding new ways of moving U.S. and Mexican history onto a larger American stage and giving dreamers today a sense of the contingency and messiness of transitional relations with the ultimate goal of enabling the reader to understand the best laid plans of states, entrepreneurs, and corporations repeatedly ran aground in fugitive landscapes of subaltern power (pgs. 6, 9). By using personal accounts, photos, physical and vernacular maps, and the addition of local advertisement and periodicals, Truett establishes the notion that within this landscape of greed, gunfights, and bandits networks of corporate and state powers supported equally powerful shadow pathways oriented around the local lives of Mexican smelter workers, Yaqui miners, Chinese farmers, U.S. colonist, and others. These human webs kept the borderlands in motion, even if states and corporations bent their collective will lashing the harsh and fugitive terrain to the managerial foundations of modern America (pg. 103). As such, I completely agree with Alyssa’s comment when she stated that Truett expertly provides a through historiographical outline of the borderlands into an intersection of economic development. As result the reader, gets a complex view of life in the borderlands in which for a time the actual border between the U.S. and Mexico was at one point unfenced and nature trumped artificial distinctions in which animals crossed borders and natural customs prevailed over artificial laws of the state (pg. 85). However, the upheaval caused by the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920) resulted in Americans to articulate the differences between Mexicans and Americans in which they imagined themselves as persisting frontier heroes held the against the barbaric Mexicans (pg. 176).

The strengthens of Truett’s book can be compare to Dian Nuygen’s comments in her post on Pekka Hämäläinen’s Comanche Empire in which he has the ability captured the fundamental nature of the Comanche Empire from its notable beginnings as a small tribe of hunter-gatherers to its portrayal as a potential threat to Europeans, Americans, and other Native societies alike made for a compelling read. So too does Truett tell a compelling story about the Apache and Yaquis tribes who dictated the terms of their relationship to the colonial world whose history is not known to many outside those who study Native American cultures. In addition, Truett’s shares some similarities to Dr. Stephanie M.H. Camp’s Closer to Freedom Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South, in which she argued that by doing simply things like being truant for work, going to parties, and making their own alcohol they proved they are their own masters. Truett’s argues that their mobility and resistance led pathways that resembled roads taken by Mexicans and Opatas but were harder for outsiders to pin down and used technology of development to resist capital and state power in another, which is often forgotten or never told in history books (pgs. 118-19). However, the most interesting thing about Truett’s book is the introduction and development of technology into the borderlands, which sought to transform the inhospitable environment to the valuable sites of industry, commerce, and household dwellings. However, by having these connections to the outside made possible to railroads, telegraphs, and telephones mining camps became towns and cities but in process of finding better way to harvest valuable minerals and metals they resulted in turmoil and mines running dry. This forced people whether they are Mexican, Americans, Chinese, or native tribes to leave for better pastures leaving behind communities that were forgotten by time.