(Mexico, the United States and War – continued)

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The Mexico-US War Begins

The Herrera government described the annexation of Texas by the United States as a violation of its 1828 border treaty with the United States and as a violation of international law. Herrera's government spoke of Mexico's sovereignty and dignity. The regime portrayed Mexico's conflict with the United States as a conflict against Protestantism. Herrera turned for help to the Catholic Church, and a proposal was made in Mexico's congress to authorize the government to mortgage one-fourth of clerical property in order to raise four million pesos for defending the nation's territorial integrity.

Herrera was considered an honest man. He wanted to stir the country toward moderation and stable constitutional government, but he was disliked by conservatives and opposed by the liberals and their leader, Valentín Gómez Farías. A lack of unity between the liberals and the center provided opportunity for the conservatives. On January 2 1846, General Paredes entered Mexico City with an army and drove Herrera from office. Paredes called some other generals together with whom he formed a junta, and the junta selected him as the country's chief executive. The coup ended work in Congress on the proposal to mortgage clerical property.

In early February, 1846, President Polk ordered General Zachary Taylor and his army of around 3,000, encamped near Corpus Christi, to advance to the Rio Grande. Taylor waited for the rains to subside, and between March 11 and 27 he and his army marched the 160 miles to a place eventually called Brownsville, opposite the town of Matamoros on the other side of the Rio Grande. There they began building up a defensive position. The Paredes administration regime saw Taylor's advance to the Rio Grande as an invasion of Mexican territory. Paredes refused to see Polk's envoy, Slidell, and on March 17 Slidell asked for his passport so he could leave the country.

Paredes sent an army north to Matamoros, which put 5,000 men opposite Taylor's army, on the other side of the Rio Grande. On April 23 Paredes proclaimed that Mexico had begun a defensive war against the United States. On April 24 the Mexican commander at Matamoros, General Mariano Arista, had the courtesy to inform Taylor that hostilities had commenced, and on the 25th he sent 1,600 men on patrol across the river. Taylor that day sent a party of 60 mounted infantry (dragoons) on patrol. Taylor had failed to have scouts positioned to maintain an awareness of enemy positions, and Taylor's men rode into a trap. Sixteen of Taylor's men were killed or wounded before they could withdraw.

Taylor sent a message to Washington that blood had been spilled, that the war had begun. On April 28, the Mexicans attacked a patrol of Texas Rangers, with nine Texan-Anglos being killed or taken prisoner. On May 8, President Polk met with Slidell, back from Mexico City. On the 9th, Polk received the message about fighting from Taylor. On the 11th, Polk went before Congress to ask for a declaration of war in response to what he said was Mexico's initiation of hostilities. "American blood," he said, "had been spilled on American soil." On the 13th, the US Congress declared war, the Senate voting 40 to 2 in favor, the House voting 174 to14.

US citizens were alarmed, fearing that the men under General Taylor would be overwhelmed by Mexico's larger and more experienced military. Meanwhile on May 8, back in Texas, fighting between the armies of Taylor and Arista had broken out in earnest – on the Texas side of the Rio Grande. It was to some extent an artillery duel – artillery being the weapon with the greatest range. And Taylor's artillery was more effective. The Mexicans fought well in what became known as the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca del la Palma, two battles in two days, about five miles apart. The Mexicans withdrew to their side of the Rio Grande, with many killed as they crossed the river. The Mexicans lost approximately 320 killed and 700 wounded. Taylor's army lost 9 killed and 47 wounded.

Two weeks later, on May 23, news of the success of Taylor's men reached US citizens, and they were relieved and elated. Celebration spread from town to town. Young men overwhelmed US Army recruiters. Recruitment quotas were met and men turned away.

In the US, production for war materials began. The government was in good health financially. Debts that had been accumulated during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 had been paid off thanks to a rise in economic prosperity. With a good amount of revenue collection the government had a reasonable income. America's professional army had been small compared to that of some European powers, but eager volunteers were making it adequate in strength quickly enough. The US navy had been small compared to Britain's, but it was superior enough to Mexico's that it would dominate in the waters off Mexico. Mexico had a plan to blockade the coast of Texas, but that was not to be. The US was entering its war with Mexico with distinct advantages.

Meanwhile, on May 7, at Mexico's port of Mazatlán (on the Pacific coast), a force that was supposed to go to California, to protect it from the United States, rebelled against the Paredes regime. Liberals were involved in the rebellion, and they called for a return of Mexico's military hero, Santa Anna, who was still in Cuba. On May 20 the military commander at Guadalajara joined the rebellion against Paredes, and the liberals were organizing rebellion in the states of Guanajuato, Zacatecas, Durango and Puebla.

Opponents of War in the US

A minority in the United States were opposed to what they and Whig Party members called "Mr. Polk's War." There was talk of the war not being Christian. Whigs and northerners accused Polk and the South of wanting to win Mexican territory for the purpose of spreading and strengthening slavery. Polk refused to concede that slavery had anything to do with his going to war against Mexico or his support of expansion westward, and his accusers had no way of proving their conclusions about Polk's motives.

Those opposed to "Polk's War" complained that the war would dangerously extend the power of the presidency, endanger public morality and threaten the fabric of the nation. They spoke of the war contributing to patronage and corruption, and they spoke of the immorality of army life, the horrors and atrocities of battle and the waste of spending wealth on war that could be better spent for peaceful purposes.


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