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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

It is seldom that historical parallels are useful


The

independence of Texas had been in some sort recognized by Mexico, but the frontier within which that independence formally existed was left quite undefined, and the Texan view of it differed materially from the Mexican. The United States, by annexing Texas, had shouldered this dispute and virtually made it their own.

It is seldom that historical parallels are useful; they are never exact. But there are certain real points of likeness between the war waged by the United States against Mexico in the 'forties and the war waged by Great Britain against the Boer Republics between 1899 and 1902. In both cases it could be plausibly represented that the smaller and weaker Power was the actual aggressor. But in both cases there can be little doubt that it was the stronger Power which desired or at least complacently contemplated war. In both cases, too, the defenders of the war, when most sincere, tended to abandon their technical pleas and to take their stand upon the principle that the interests of humanity would best be served by the defeat of a "backward" people by a more "progressive" one. It is not here necessary to discuss the merits of such a plea. But it may be interesting to note the still closer parallel presented by the threefold division of the opposition in both cases. The Whig Party was divided in 1847, almost exactly as was the "Liberal" Party in 1899. There was, especially in New England, an ardent and sincere minority which was violently

opposed to the war and openly denounced it as an unjustifiable aggression. Its attitude has been made fairly familiar to English readers by the first series of Lowell's "Bigelow Papers." This minority corresponded roughly to those who in England were called "Pro-Boers." There was another section which warmly supported the war: it sought to outdo the Democrats in their patriotic enthusiasm, and to reap as much of the electoral harvest of the prevalent Jingoism as might be. Meanwhile, the body of the party took up an intermediate position, criticized the diplomacy of the President, maintained that with better management the war might have been avoided, but refused to oppose the war outright when once it had begun, and concurred in voting supplies for its prosecution.

The advocates of the war had, however, to face at its outset one powerful and unexpected defection, that of Calhoun. No man had been more eager than he for the annexation of Texas, but, Texas once annexed, he showed a marked desire to settle all outstanding questions with Mexico quickly and by a compromise on easy terms. He did all he could to avert war. When war actually came, he urged that even the military operations of the United States should be strictly defensive, that they should confine themselves to occupying the disputed territory and repelling attacks upon it, but should under no circumstances attempt a counter-invasion of Mexico. There can be little doubt that Calhoun's motive in proposing this curious method of conducting a war was, as usual, zeal for the interests of his section, and that he acted as he did because he foresaw the results of an extended war more correctly than did most Southerners. He had coveted Texas because Texas would strengthen the position of the South. Slavery already existed there, and no one doubted that if Texas came into the Union at all it must be as a Slave State. But it would be otherwise if great conquests were made at the expense of Mexico. Calhoun saw clearly that there would be a strong movement to exclude Slavery from such conquests, and, having regard to the numerical superiority of the North, he doubted the ability of his own section to obtain in the scramble that must follow the major part of the spoil.


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