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that of Herrera, or to reliance on foreign intervention. The United States consul in the city of Mexico reported that, on the day when Slidell's letter of March 1 was received, Paredes paid several visits to the British minister.1 This statement, while to some extent discounted by Slidell, seemed to indicate that the minister of Great Britain was the confidential adviser of the Mexican government. Two days after Slidell was finally informed that he would not be received he requested his passports, and some ten days thereafter he sailed from Vera Cruz for New Orleans. The appeal to reason had failed, and now there remained only the appeal to arms.
Slidell ought to have been received, and he certainly would have been had not the Mexican government been so insecure in its tenure and so hampered by popular feeling. It was undoubtedly Polk's object in renewing the negotiations to obtain the peaceable cession of California, not for the sake of extending the area of slavery,2 but because of the great value of the acquisition, and to prevent Great Britain from obtaining a foothold there. He had the plan in view from the beginning of his administration; but he did not mean, as his political enemies and critics have so often charged, that it should be accomplished by unscrupulous aggression.3 He knew that Mexico owed to the United States a large sum which it had not the means to pay, and he hoped to secure a settlement in the form of a territorial indemnity.1 It was because of the excitement caused by the publication in Mexico of statements to that effect that Slidell was not received.2 But the reasons given by the Mexican government for its action were not good. It would have been better to meet the issue more frankly, and refuse to negotiate at all, than to try to exclude the question of the claims from the negotiations. The proposition that Slidell, in his letter of November 30, 1845, indicated his intention to make to the Mexican government, and which was tacitly agreed to by Polk, would have given to Mexico a chance to settle the claims and secure an adjustment by conceding only the Rio Grande boundary. This is sufficient proof that Polk had not determined to insist positively on having California.3
1 Slidell to Buchanan, March 18,1846, U. S. MS. Archives, State Dept. 2 Bourne, in Am. Hist. Review, V., 492.
» Schouler, United States, IV., 498.
After the refusal to receive Slidell, war might have been avoided still, but only by the exercise of greater forbearance than has usually characterized international relations in any part of the world or any age. The most valid criticism of Polk's aggressiveness in forcing the conflict rests on the weakness and disorganization of Mexico. But longer waiting in readiness for war would have been expensive, and there was little hope of obtaining any adjustment by the exercise of patience. Moreover, in the programme of such a president as Polk there was no place for delay: it was not in accord with either the spirit or the practice of his administration. CHAPTER XV
1 Cf. Reeves, in Am. Hist. Review, X., 310.
2 Ibid., 311.
»Cf. Polk, MS. Diary, May 13, 1846.
CONQUERING A PEACE
IT was only after Polk felt assured of the refusal to receive Slidell that he assumed an attitude so aggressive as clearly to challenge war; and from that time forward it seems to have been his desire to carry the struggle just far enough to bring Mexico to the point of conceding a territorial indemnity on the terms which he had intended to offer through Slidell. In accordance with this policy he suggested, while the question of Slidell's reception by the Paredes government was yet in suspense, that Slidell should be directed to go on board a United States vessel and wait for further instructions.1 The object of this plan was evidently to be able to resume negotiations, as soon as Mexico had felt the pressure sufficiently, without the delays incident to a correspondence between the two capitals. The same considerations influenced, at a later stage of the war, the appointment of Trist.2 To this method of pushing on the conflict, with the sword in one hand and the olive-branch in the other, Polk applied the peculiar designation of "conquering a peace."
1 Polk, MS. Diary, February 17, 1846.
1 Senate Docs., 30 Cong., 1 Sess., I., No. i, p. 39.
After the declaration of war by Congress, May 12, 1846, General Scott, the commander-in-chief of the United States army, was appointed to command directly the forces that were to operate against Mexico. According to a plan of operations which appears to have originated with President Polk himself, but which was concurred in by Secretary of War Marcy and by General Scott, New Mexico and California, which Polk intended to claim by way of indemnity, and Chihuahua, were to be occupied and held; the United States forces were to be pushed towards the heart of Mexico in order to force the Mexicans to terms; and the naval forces in the Gulf and the Pacific were assigned specific duties in connection with the general scheme.1
The plan was in keeping with the main purpose of the war, and was, on the whole, well adapted to insure success. The northern provinces were far distant from the city of Mexico; the hold of the central government upon them was but slight; and, even if its available forces had been sufficiently strong and effective to send the troops needed to resist invasion, the difficulties of transportation would have been hard to overcome. Of course, similar difficulties were experienced in throwing the United States troops into the interior of northern
1 Ripley, War with Mexico, I., 149; Polk, MS. Diary, May 14, 16, 1846.