Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on June 13, 1976 · Page 72
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June 13, 1976

Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 72

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Charleston, West Virginia
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Sunday, June 13, 1976
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Page 72
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James Knox Polk: South of the Border -- and West By Sid Moody Bugs. Heat. Boredom. Things, in fact were so dull in no-man's land along the Rio Grande that Gen. Zachary Taylor's troops decided to stage a play - Shakespeare's Othello. Only there weren't any women. So a young West Point officer was picked to play Desdemona. But the male lead was damned if he d nuzzle w i t h Lt. Ulysses Simpson Grant. Therefore, they sent all the way to New Orleans for an unmistakable actress. They'd have had to send all the way to Washington, D.C., to find out why they were there in the first place President James Knox Polk might have told them. He was escalating a non-war, even then an old American tradition. Polk had been elected in 1844 on a campaign to reannex Texas and reoccupy the Oregon Territory. Reannex because Polk and others insisted it was part of the original Louisiana Purchase, an 1819 treaty between Spain and the United States to the contrary notwithstanding. Reoccupy Oregon because Americans once had. Actually a few coastal settlements aside, Oregon had been solely occupied throughout by beaver and grizzlies and the men -of various nationalities who coveted their fur. It didn't much matter anyway. What Polk really wanted was California. . . Polk was proceeding cautiously because of opponents, foreign and domestic, and because he thought he could settle the matter with cash and a show of force instead ol blood. , , Texas had been in the smokehouse of American politics for some time, curing. Stephen Austin, a St Louis land speculator, had begun bringing in American settlers in the 1820's. More f o l l o w e d . Alarmed, Mexico prohibited further settlement in 1830. Then came the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836, where defeated, but still devious, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna agreed, at all but bayonet point to see what he could do about Texan independence. Since no one believed Santa Anna but at his peril the Texans went ahead and declared independence, and the Lone Star Republic was promptly recognized by the United States, Britain and France. . Texas wanted to pin the United States. Early on, John Qumcy Adams had tried to buy the territory for $1 million. Jackson upped it to $5 million. Mexico said no. The issue was not pressed further because of its domestic political ramifications. Neither North nor South wanted a showdown over admission of another slave state. Yet many Southerners, among them Jotm Calhoun, saw Texas as a safe haven for runaway slaves, particularly if ·2m CHARLESTON. W.VA. Mr.Polk proceeding to the While IIous. abolitionist Great Britain gained influence there. The Democratic convention in Baltimore in 1844 figured to nominate Martin Van Buren. But Van Buren had said annexation was divisive. Southern delegates vetoed him and, after smoking a forest of stogies nominated Polk, former Speaker of the House, governor of Tennessee and now America's first dark horse. He ran against the biggest Whig, Henry Clay, who had waffled on annexation and lost the crucial abolitionist vote in New York. Polk was president. There were all kinds of arguments to push Manifest Destiny along. Sen. Robert J. Walker of Mississippi tried to assure northerners by telling them that slaves would indeed go into Texas, but that once the cotton fields there were exhausted, they'd cross the border into Mexico and mingle with the half breeds, solving the whole problem. Young Hickory, as fellow Tennesseeans called Polk, was not concerned with slavery so much as he-was the British getting to San Francisco and Monterey before the Americans did. First he tried money, sending John Slidell to Mexico City to negotiate Bidding was to start at $15 million for Texas, New Mexico (which included Arizona) and California. President Joe Joaquin Herrera, who had succeeded Santa Anna. was not deaf to money. He knew his nation of 8,000.000 people was no match for the United States more than twice the size, even if Mexico's army of 30,000 men was four times America's. War was absurd But he had his honor. He had asked to negotiate with a commissioner not a fullfledged minister. Sidell said he was a minister. Herrera would not talk with him. His laureate was more than matched by leaders and generals of his countrymen who preferred a war they all knew Mexico would lose to the disgrace of annexation. But if Polk could somehow save Mexican sensitivities, he could save some lives. Instead. Polk ordered Taylor to move his 4,000 men, more than half the regular Army, into the disputed border country along the Rio Grande. Polk was escalating, hoping this would force negotiations, Taylor. "Old Rough and Ready." was not to fire unless fired on or war was declared. In early 1846, Taylor faced a Mexican army across the river, guns loaded, aimed but not yet fired. Polks's critics were to argue the President, 120 years before Tonkin Gulf, had already involved his nation in an undeclared war. Reinforcements came in from both sides. There were scattered killings On A p r i l 24, 1846, M a j . Gen. M a r i a n o Arista, a onetime resident of Cincinnati, took command of the Mexican army on the border. He informed Taylor war had begun. Taylor said this was unfortunate and hoped negotiations could continue in Mexico City. But at the capital, the belligerent Gen. Mariano Paredesy Arillaga had succeeded Herrera. The government miscalculated. It imagined America would stop short ot war because of British threats in Oregon or intervention in Texas. Or that the northern states would seceded. It was just that - imagi- To overcome considerable resistance to the war, Polk called a mousetrap play not unfamiliar more than a century later. He coupled the war declaration in the same measure appropriating funds for Taylor's army. Opponents had to go along with Polk or vote against aid for American boys along the Rio Grande. Polk got his war. He also, eventually, got iNey Mexico Arizona and California it cost $58 million for the war ib million paid Mexico and $64 million in veterans' pensions. Or 48. cents an acre for 529,017 square miles. Sidell had been secretly autnoi- ized to go to $40 million in the negotiations. The escalation on the border had also escalated the price. Next: Zachary Taylor. June 13. 1976. Sunday Cnzfttc-Mm

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