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Document 1

President James K. Polk: The War Began in the United


The existing state of the relations between the United States and Mexico renders it proper that I should bring the subject to the consideration of Congress . . . .  An envoy of the United States repaired to Mexico with full powers to adjust every existing difference. But though present on Mexican soil by agreement between the two Governments, invested with full powers, and bearing evidence of the most friendly dispositions, his mission has been unavailing. The Mexican Government not only refused to receive him or listen to his propositions, but after a long-continued series of menaces have at last invaded our territory and shed the blood of our fellow citizens on our own soil. . . . 

In my message at the commencement of the present session I informed you that upon the earnest appeal both of the Congress and convention of Texas I had ordered an efficient military force to take a position "between the Nueces and Del Norte." This had become necessary to meet a threatened invasion of Texas by the Mexican forces, for which extensive military preparations had been made. The invasion was threatened solely because Texas had determined, in accordance with a solemn resolution of the Congress of the United States, to annex herself to our Union, and under these circumstances it was plainly our duty to extend our protection over her citizens and soil . . . . 

Meantime Texas,m by the final act of our Congress, had become an integral part of our Union. The Congress of Texas, by its act of December 19, 1836, had declared the Rio del Norte to be the boundary of that Republic. Its jurisdiction had been extended and exercised beyond the Nueces. The country between that river and the Del Norte had been represented in the Congress and in the convention of Texas, and thus taken part in the act of annexation itself, and is now included within one of our Congressional districts. Our own Congress had, moreover, with great unanimity, by the act approved December 21, 1845, recognized the country beyond the Nueces as a part of our territory by including it within our own revenue system, and a revenue officer to reside within that district had been appointed by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. It became, therefore, of urgent necessity to provide for the defense of that portion of our country . . . .

But no open act of hostility was committed until the 24th of April. On that day General Arista, who had succeeded to the command of the Mexican forces, communicated to General Taylor that "he considered hostilities commenced and should prosecute them." A party of dragoons of 63 men and officers were on the same day dispatched from the American camp up the Rio del Norte, on its left bank, to ascertain whether the Mexican troops had crossed or were preparing to cross the river, "became engaged with a large body of these troops, and after a short affair, in which some 16 were killed and wounded, appear to have been surrounded and compelled to surrender."

Source: Polk, James K. "An Act for the Prosecution of the Existing War between the United States and the Republic of Mexico," May 11, 1846.

Neither Mexico nor the United States ever declared war.  On May 12 the House considered Polk's requests, including a proposed resolution "for the prosecution of the existing war," a levy of 50,000 volunteers, and $10 million. Polk's war message made what seemed an open-and-shut case.  His friends attached to it a "preamble" blaming Mexico for invading American soil. The Democratic leadership limited House debate to two hours and much of that was consumed by the reading of supporting documents. In fact, numerous Whigs had plenty of questions, which the president ignored or obscured. On what basis did Texas claim the Rio Grande boundary? What was Taylor doing way down on the river? Howe did the skirmish occur? Even Polk's loyalists questioned his cavalier use of executive power. Of what value was the constitutional power of Congress to declare war when it was presented with a fait accompli? But by combining the war resolution with an appropriation for the soldiers, Polk boxed in the opposition—no one could vote against the war without being accused of not supporting the troops. The bill passed, 174-14. Some members objected to the preamble, because it put them on record as agreeing with Polk's claims. Yet they did not dare refuse support the war. The fourteen who voted against it were all diehards—Whigs and abolitionists who abhorred slavery's extension. The other forty-eight Whigs voted "yea" to avoid being branded unpatriotic.

Because even members of Polk's party did not like being bulldozed and debate could not be cut short, the Senate took another day, much of it centered on who owned the Nueces strop. The "support the troops" argument prevailed, rolling over almost all the Whigs. The final vote was 40 yea (26 Democrats and 14 Whigs) to 2 nay (both Whigs), with three others not voting. Polk signed the bill on May 13 and issued a war proclamation.


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On December 22, 1847, Lincoln introduced the "Spot Resolutions," of which the second and third pages of Lincoln's handwritten copy are shown here. 

One of several congressional resolutions opposing the war, it was never acted upon by the full Congress.

Abraham Lincoln, elected a Whig congressman from Illinois in 1846, served only one term in large part because he opposed the war, the all-Mexico movement, and Polk himself, whose "mind," Lincoln told the House, "taxed beyond its power, is running hither and thither, like some tortured creature on a burning surface." On December 22, 1847, Lincoln introduced eight "spot resolutions" calling on Polk to answer them. Lincoln expanded the resolutions into his first major speech, which he gave on January 12, 1848.  Polk never responded.

Document 2

Abraham Lincoln: The "Spot" was beyond the U.S. borders.

Whereas the President of the United States, in his message of May 11, 1846, has declared that "the Mexican Government not only refused to receive him, [the envoy of the United States,] or listen to his propositions, but, after a long-continued series of menaces, has at last invaded our territory and shed the blood of our fellow citizens on our own soil:"

And again, in his message of December 8, 1846, that "we had ample cause of war against Mexico long before the breaking out of hostilities; but even then we forebore to take redress into our own hands until Mexico herself became the aggressor, by invading our soil in hostile array, and shedding the blood of our citizens:" And yet again, in his message of December 7, 1847, that "the Mexican Government refused even to hear the terms of adjustment which he [our minister of peace] was authorized to propose, and finally, under wholly unjustifiable pretexts, involved the two countries in war, by invading the territory of the State of Texas, striking the first blow, and shedding the blood of our citizens on our own soil." And whereas this House is desirous to obtain a full knowledge of all the facts which go to establish whether the particular spot on which the blood of our citizens was so shed was or was not at that time our own soil: Therefore, Resolved By the House of Representatives, That the President of the United States be respectfully requested to inform this House—

1st. Whether the spot on which the blood of our citizens was shed, as in his messages declared, was or was not within the territory of Spain, at least after the treat of 1819, until the Mexican revolution.

2d. Whether that spot is or is not within the territory which was wrested from Spain by the revolutionary Government of Mexico.

3d. Whether that spot is or is not within a settlement of people, which settlement has existed ever since long before the Texas revolution, and until its inhabitants fled before the approach of the United States army.

4th. Whether that settlement is or is not isolated from any and all other settlements by the Gulf and the Rio Grande on the south and west, and by wide uninhabited regions on the north and east. 

5th. Whether the people of that settlement, or a majority of them, or any of them, have ever submitted themselves to the government or laws of Texas or the United States, by consent or compulsion, either by accepting office, or voting at elections, or paying tax, or serving on juries, or having process served upon them, or in any other way. 

6th. Whether the people of that settlement did or did not flee from the approach of the United States army, leaving unprotected their homes and their growing crops, before the blood was shed within the enclosure of one of the people who had thus fled from it.

7th. Whether our citizens, whose blood was shed, as in his message declared, were or were not, at that time, armed officers and soldiers, sent into that settlement by the military order of the President, through the Secretary of War. 

8th. Whether the military force of the United States was or was not sent into that settlement after General Taylor had more than once intimated to the War Department that, in his opinion, no such movement was necessary to the defence or protection of Texas. 

Resolutions introduced into the House of Representatives Dec. 22, 1847.

Source: "The 'Spot' Was Beyond the U.S. Borders: Representative Abraham Lincoln," December 22, 1847. []

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