Professor Saul Panski
April 22, 2013
To Justify War or Not to Justify War? That is the Question
On May 11, 1846, James K. Polk delivered his address to Congress requesting a Declaration of War on the Republic of Mexico. President Polk justified his war by saying in his message that Mexico had attacked American troops and invaded the United States. He also brought up the issue that initially brought about all of the tensions between the U.S. and Mexico, which was the Mexican government had not been cooperative in negotiations over the Texas boundary. Polk, as well as most of the rest of Americans at this time, saw the declaration of war as a legitimate and natural expression of America’s Manifest Destiny, which will be later explained. The question remains, however, was Polk’s declaration of war on Mexico really necessary, let alone justified? Was peace what he really wanted, or was his true intention just to acquire more land and expand the U.S. westward as fast as he could?
President Polk did appear to have taken several steps to try to avoid an armed conflict with Mexico. First, Polk tried to reopen diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Mexico by sending an envoy, Mr. John Slidell of Louisiana, invested with full powers to make adjustments to the current state of affairs between the two countries. He sent this envoy, seemingly, as evidence that he did not want war, but peace and harmonious engagements between the U.S. and Mexico from there on forth. At first, Mexico’s minister stated that they would be willing to receive an envoy form the U.S. under the condition that the U.S. would withdraw its naval forces from Vera Cruz. The minister said that its presence there seemed to be or could be interpreted as an “act of menace or coercion” while the results of their negotiations were still pending. In light of this arrangement, Polk had the naval forces fall back. However, upon Slidell’s arrival to Mexico, they refused to receive the envoy and no agreement was met at that time. This set the pace for the tensions and events that followed.
Throughout his address, Polk held strong to his claims that the U.S. was trying tirelessly to avoid war with Mexico and settle matters between them. Polk stated several times that because of Mexico’s refusal to address the issues that were presented, chiefly by not accepting the envoy, that Mexico was the aggressor in this matter. He supports this claim by reiterating that Mexico initiated the first act of aggression by going back on its statement of accepting an envoy to negotiate terms between the two countries. Also, Polk added the incident of how the Mexican forces at Matamoras, led by General Ampudia, started to get hostile. General Ampudia informed U.S. General, General Zachary Taylor that he needed to break up his camp within twenty four hours or face hostile actions. In this, Polk felt the U.S. was obligated to defend its people. The United States was, and still is, obligated to its land and people’s defense. Most of the tensions between the two countries began or got worse after Texas annexed itself into the union, which was a territory that Mexico still felt it held claim to. Polk ordered troops into the surrounding boundaries of this newly acquired territory because Mexican forces had begun to act belligerent and he wanted to make sure the citizens were protected should things go badly.
From all of the negative events that were taking place, Polk stated that the attempts at diplomatic negotiations and the fighting troops weren’t the only things to suffer from the tensions between the U.S. and Mexico. Polk suggests in his declaration that commerce between the two countries had been practically eradicated. He claims that the U.S. merchants were not willing to prosecute these injustices of being harassed because the Mexicans had implemented a system of extortion. Despite it appearing, from the events and aggressive acts from Mexico, that...