tv Amy Greenberg on A Wicked War CSPAN June 7, 2015 8:00am-8:36am EDT
[captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2014] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> the heavy storm love to read oh damage-- left a trail to damage ships. you have emerges move don't want to -- the heavy moved out once again. if and when drama prisoners boarded coast guard transport -- in england, prisoners boarded coast guard transport, prisoners return westward -- ships returned westward with a different cargo.
men beaten and captured at normandy. ♪ >> history bookshelf features popular american history authors and errors every weekend at this time. author amy greenberg talks about how public opinion changed during the mixes best mexican-american war and the antiwar movement. she also discusses one of the war is largely forgotten and the historical significance. abraham lincoln presidential library hosted the event in 2012 . amy greenberg: i want to thank
everybody who has been so nice to me at the abraham lincoln museum. i saw the exhibit which is a fantastic show. the relationship between warez and lincoln is so encouraging. what i want to talk to you about is my most recent book "a wicked war." the title is taken from grant. he looks back on his career but one thing that grant spent time thinking and talking about late in his life was his role in the us-mexico rolwar of 1846.
he says at the time do not think there was a more wicked war. i had not been a moral courage to resign. grant was a young lieutenant. i found was a very moving quote which is why i took it for my title. the fact of the matter is that grant was not alone. one thing i talked about in this book and i will talk about tonight is the evolution of the american public during the mexican-american war from being really enthusiastic and in favor of invading mexico and largely turning against the war. i see the us-mexico war as the moment of the first u.s. antiwar movement coming into being. the was antiwar sentiment during the revolution and the war of 1812 but that was limited. what you see in the
us-mexico war is consensus across the. citizens and soldiers and officers and politicians decided that a war that was being successfully waged was wrong. this is an interesting moment in american history and it takes place in a war that people do not know about. the us-mexico war, people do not write about it a lot. it does not have a big plays in the historical imagination of americans. there are a number tha -- bnig -- big place in the historical imagination of americans. there are a number of reasons. it is often conflated with the war for texas independence. we argue about the land that
came from mexico was what caused sectionalism to heat up and that is true. you can look at the war as the moment in which civil war him inevitable or you can look at it on its own terms. what i was interested in doing when i wrote this book was to show the impact of the war on individuals and families. the us-mexico war have the highest mortality rate of any american war, 15% of soldiers from the united states died. 78,000 troops served in mexico. it was a war that had a big impact on people at home. i wanted to run a narrative that explored how people in the united states and also in mexico, kobe war impacted them -- how the war impacted them.
abraham lincoln who gave his first political speech, a speech that was widely documented and discussed in newspapers, his first major speech in congress is about the us-mexico war condemning the war. lincoln's first stance on the national stage is against the us-mexico war. another person i talk about is drawn to.-- john jay hardin. for a period of time he was the leading whig. it is only his death in the us-mexico war that some of argued makes lincoln's path forward possible because he was under the shadow of john hardin before it happened. his family is fascinating america deeply affected by the us-mexico war -- and they are deeply affected by the us-mexico war.
let me tell you a little about the war because i am assuming like most people you do not know much about it. the invasion began when president james k. polk said troops into a disputed region with the intention of starting a war. polk wanted war. he was set on declaring war. the day he found out mexicans across the rio grand and killed 14 soldiers, polk i fully went to his cabinet and said i think we should declare war against mexico and his cabinet said we really cannot declare war because the mexicans have not done anything. we sent 4000 american troops into land mexicans think of errors and we are waiting for something to happen and they haven't. polk finds out the next day that an incident had happened the week before. news travels slow. he went to congress and said
that mexico has passed the boundary of the united states and should blood on american soil. not too fine a point on it, this was a lie and everybody knew it was a lie. the whig party, everybody knew that the land where the soldiers had been sent that always been considered mexican rather than texan lands. a lot of congressmen, both wings and democrats, right privately to each other-- write privately to each other that the idea that it is american soil is dubious public fact is that everybody lines up in favor of the declaration of war. you can't really call it a declaration of war because polk says it is our going on.
whigs are afraid of looking unpatriotic soul of 14 members of congress vote in favor of declaring war and that is how the war starts. the war lasts about 20 months total and only about six months actual fighting. the war was not short enough for the american people. it was marked by a number of stunning military successes by the united states such as the battle of one of vista or 5000 american soldiers defeated an army under santa ana of 20,000. the ratio at one of vista is astounding -- buena vista is astounding. the mexican troops outnumbered of the american troops in most engagements and yet the americans won every major battle
except one. there were three theaters of the war and the first stage of the war, general zachary taylor secured mexico with key victories including this one at buena vista. the second theater of war, general stephen watts kearny traveled west through new mexico, conquering new mexico and all the way to california that happens around the same time. unfortunately, neither of these victories brings what polk wants which is peace and the securing of california and texas into the union. mexico refuses to surrender despite the victories of taylor and kearny so polk sends general winfield scott. the travels through central
mexico securing the capital in the fall of 1847. in the eyes of americans it was a foregone conclusion that their side would win. and when easily because most u.s. citizens are racist beliefs about mexican men, foremost among them that mexican men were too lazy and cowardly to fight stop in point of fact, it's a can troops fought very hard -- mexican troops fought very hard as you can see in this print. it is hard to find friends. == -- prints. mexico lost the battles of the military side of the war because they had vastly inferior weapons. the leadership was terrible. the government was in turmoil. they were broke. in various battles no money was making it to the army. and because hostile native
american tribes and so ravaged northern mexico that there was little will to resist among mexican residents in the northern part of mexico. now on the mexican side of the army was made up of conscripts who did not fight as hard as other troops but on the u.s. side most soldiers were volunteers, that is the interesting thing about the war. at the start of the war support for the war was so overwhelming particularly in the midwest that many more men volunteered to fight and could be taken in volunteer regiments so overwhelming enthusiasm for the war. the midwest provides the most troops fighting in mexico. a lot of people think it is the cell. it isn't. missouri and illinois are the states that provide the most troops. nonetheless, support was not universal at the beginning. here we have a campaign poster for henry clay who was the whig
nominee and his opponent in 1884 was james k. polk ran on the platform of annexing texas. clay opposes annexing texas in 1884 because as you can see the believes it will result in war with mexico. i love this poster, it was from a campaign appearance in indiana and if you look at the list of why you should support henry clay, the first couple are typical whig economic positions. the whigs are the party of economic development in the 1840's but when you get down to the fourth reason you can see are you for or against the annexation of texas? are you for or against the assumption of texan debt? are you for or against an unjust
and disgraceful war mexico? my favorite, are you for or against national perfidy. if you do not vote for henry clay you will bring disgrace on the country and we will be at war with mexico so a lot of people can see the writing on the wall. in new england at the start of the war, anti-slavery sentiment was widespread and also antiwar sentiment. pretty early on in the war the massachusetts house of representatives states that the war is immoral and they are going to oppose it. and a lot of new england intellectuals provide trenchant critiques of the war. ralph waldo emerson, henry david perot, all of these -- henry david thoreau. all of these people speak out. if the opposition have been limited to new england it would be interesting but not different than the war of 1812. what you see happen is that over
the course of the war new england stops being the only place where people protest and you see a national movement grow. there are essentially four main grounds. the first one that you can see on this poster is on the grounds of morality. though this was an unjust war that would render national -- that this was an unjust war that would bring national dishonor. in order to seem patriotic, evil had to "dissent from this unholy and unjust war and the murder of mexicans on their own soil. i can take no part now or hereafter." he was strong in his opinions but that was a kind of critique that you see certainly by march of 1847 when the united states bombarded the town of vear cruz
leading to the doves of civilians -- veracruz, leading to the deaths of civilians. the second critique was on the grounds of slavery. he was an abolitionist. it was not just abolitionist or people in new england who saw issues of slavery being important toa lot of people felt that if the united states did annex portions of mexico it would make slavery spread and in fact make the slave power stronger. again, it was not just people in new england that help us feel. consider for a moment is very popular print of the war. when you first look at it it is a neat image of the power of newspapers in the 1840's. it is called more news from mexico by a respected artist from the time. at first it looks like kind of
an image of people being enthusiastic about the war. they have just gotten news. in fact the us-mexico war was the first warmer journalists traveled and were embedded with troops. journalists traveled with troops and wrote back stories. this is the first war people are getting immediate accounts. look at the image are little more closely. i should tell you first of all that he was from baltimore. notice how the places slaves at the front and center of the image. i think what he is asking people to think about the implications of slavery by putting the slaves in the front of the image. if you look all the way to the edge of the image you can see a guy who was tossing a match into a barrel. it is suggesting what is mexico going to do but set off a firestorm? this is an image from baltimore about the war.
another major critique of the war had to do with what people saw as the impact of service in mexico on the american character. people argue that the mexican war was making the american character worse, that it was degrading american soldiers and turning them into the kind of people we really did not want them to be. this critique became especially strong after reports of very bad behavior by american troops made it into u.s. newspapers and that was about the middle of 1847. particularly in northern mexico, the volunteers behaved extremely badly. they murdered civilians in the streets, they raped mexican women. there were reports of entire villages being burned down. in general zachary taylor felt like he could not control the volunteers.
they were under the control of their own commanders from their own towns and none of them abided by the discipline that taylor expected and basically got from regulars in the army. here is one image of the massacre of 25 mexican civilians arkansas volunteers who were known as the racfkkensackers. this was painted by a soldier from illinois who claimed to see the massacre happened. he did not have to see it, it was reported across the united states. they were taking revenge on the people of mexico for the murder of one of their own. this sort of indiscriminately gathered up the bunch of mexicans and took them into a cave and killed them. this was a very widely reported incident but by no means was of exceptional. a couple of weeks after this happened there was another messick -- massacre that happened that was similar perpetuated by texans.
when the american people read about this in turn them against the war. the "st. louis republican" was a newspaper that when it heard about the massacre of a initially said that it was untrue so they denied it. once they had verification did actually wrote to all of the readers and said "let us no longer complain about mexican barbarity. poor as she is, no act of cruelty can excel the work of yesterday committed by our soldiery." running in an american paper. the fourth reason and perhaps the most important reason why the antiwar movement spreads and becomes a major force in america is basically racism. a lot of americans felt like association with mexicans would just corrupt american manhood it also have the potential of degrading the united states
altogether by watering down what americans believed to be their anglo-saxon blood through the incorporation of mexicans. south carolina's greatest order and intellectual, calhoun, a firm believer in the importance of slavery, was a very active opponent of the war with mexico because he felt that mexicans did not belong in the united states. he said "i protest against the incorporation of such a people. ours is the government of the white man er." calhoun was not alone. mexican land was desirable but having mexican people was against the will of the united states. it was not just intellectuals and midwestern farmers making the critique. one contribution that my book doesn't showing the role that soldiers played in the antiwar movement. -- does is show the role that
soldiers played in the antiwar movement. hardin from jacksonville was a former congressman and part of a very wealthy and procedures kentucky family. he was related to henry clay -- prestigious kentucky family. he was related to henry clay. hardin was the first man in illinois to volunteer to fight in the us-mexico war. in fact, he was volunteering to fight the war before it started. he was writing letters to stephen douglas. he already had military experience. he had fought in the black hawk war. he was in charge of taking mormons out of the state of illinois. it was a big military guy and political guide and he really wanted to fight mexico. he wrote letters to newspapers
saying this was the greatest possible opportunity to gain california for the united states and that is war is declared i will be at the front and in fact he was. hardin was very excited about the possibility of taking a lot of mexican territory. but when he gets to mexico his views change quickly and dramatically. when he first gets to mexico he writes in rapturous terms about potential silver mines the hazard about. he says that she has heard about. he says -- he has heard about. he says it will only take a little skill to make the minds available. the longer he spends in mexico the less elected. in early december of 1846, just a few months, he wrote his partner "there is not an acre in 500 here that a man in illinois would pay taxes on."
and the people of mexico were far worse. "i have never seen a drunken mexico. that is all i can say of them. three quarters of them are pr. -- peons. treachery is their characteristic." to another friend he wrote it week later that "the only difference between the peons of mexico and the slaves of the self is the color." "as to making them citizens of the united states it should not be thought of until we give every indian a vote." this is after three months in mexico. he told another friend "the lie was for annexing mexico to the event -- although i was for annexing mexico to the united
states before i came here i doubt that it is worth it." hi evolution from this expansionist was a rapid one but not uncommon. his views were held by many in the army. like i said it was midwesterners who initially showed enthusiasm but many of them decided that it was not such a great idea after all. the question the future of manifest destiny in the region and their commanders were no more enthusiastic. general taylor and scott for a quick and-- pushed for a quick end and questioned the value. of the national antiwar movement became particularly heated after winfield scott's troops captured mexico city. here is an image of scott entering mexico city and if you look at the lower left-hand you can see a peon picking up a rock
and preparing to throw it at american troops. this is an image that showed the extreme hostility of people in mexico city to have invested the occupied. initially, americans were extremely enthusiastic about conquering the capital but when they still refuse to come to terms what began was a really of bleak opposition -- occupation that ended up being terrible. when phil's troops were subjected to guerrilla warfare bipartisan -- when the field scott's troops -- winfield scott 's troops were subjected to guerrilla warfare by partisan troops. people begin to argue that the u.s. should do next all of mexico. if you have character -- the next all-- annex all of mexico.
if you have captured the capital city. returning party -- the turning point in the movement occurs two months after scott or mexico city on november 14, 1847 when henry clay is a major antiwar speech. clay had been out of the public spotlight after his disastrous defeat by james k. polk in the election, a debate which he never expected and frankly could not believe and a defeat that was likely caused by his opposition to the annexation of texas. unfortunately henry clay not only had to suffer through that debate but his namesake and favorite son like hardin volunteered to leave deftly
troops to mexico. he is killed at the battle of windows vista just like -- buena vista. he has to face his death in the war that you does not believe in him after his son's death he becomes very religious and decides to make a speech opposing the war. clay's speech which is usually important because reporters traveled over 100 miles to hear it and the telegraph means that it was reported around the country. caly's speech touched on all of the grounds -- clay's speech touched on all of the grounds i mentioned. he said that the u.s. has lost its sterling reputation abroad. he talks about american soldiers being disqualified by the wild spirit of adventure to returning to civil society. these says that slavery is a great evil and this might cause
the spread of slavery. he makes it clear that there are racial reasons to oppose the war. clay asks listeners does any considerate man believe that two populations so incongruous could be blended together? after this sort of rousing speech clay called for mass meetings around the country to end the war. and people actually took him up on it. i located over 30 meetings in support of clay's antiwar resolution from indiana to new jersey and louisville to maine. the geographic scope of people meeting together and saying that we need to leave mexico and end of the war is beyond the opposition of 18 call and constitutes the first grassroots antiwar movement in american history. i should tell you that what clay asked to have happen is for the united states to leave mexico
and not take any territory altogether. he wanted peace without any territory which of course did not happen. two days after the speech the congress convened. abraham lincoln heard clay's speech as he was visiting lexington. -- because he was visiting lexington. when he was there he got to hear henry clay speak. this was a tremendous thing for abraham lincoln. lincoln had idolized clay, calling him his ideal politician. having the opportunity to hear him speak must of been a huge thing for him. lincoln, when he was young carried around a book of clay's speeches. when he was a young legislat or in springfield he was the president of the clay club. this is lincoln's opportunity to meet the politician he respects
and admires the most and heard clay give the speech against the war. perhaps it is not surprising that when lincoln gets to washington, instead of talking about terrorists or economic issues -- tarrifs or the economic issues that motivated him, he gives a speech against the war. he basically gets up and calls the president a liar for claiming the american blood was shed on american soil. he lays out this list of reasons. his second national speech is a very dramatic attack on polk and attack on the war. the highlight of which being lincoln saying that he more than suspects that polk is deeply conscious of being in the wrong but he feels the blood in the war is crying to heaven against them. "he knows not where he is.
he is a be welded, -- bewildered confounded, and perplexed man." polk worked incredibly in support of the war and you can see how much she has aged. so lincoln adamantly attacks polk. most scholars who have looked at the spot resolutions say that the attacks were ignored. i found by looking at newspapers that this was not the case and in fact the spot resolution was widely reprinted across the united states. this is lincoln's first taste of national acclaim and attention. little did lincoln know what the president was confounded and here was why. in 1847 polk dispatched a diplomat to negotiate a treaty but once scott occupies mexico
city polk began thinking we should take more than the treaty stipulated. he wanted to see bob, california in the united states. he had expensive designs that were more than what he told nicholas to go see i -- to negotiate for. trist refused to come home. trist, along with scott, decided that making a peace treaty with mexico was the most important thing. the said he wanted to make a treaty that was not exacting to mexico. he wanted to save the mexicoan people from a dismemberment. he wrote the president and said i am not going to come home. he made the treaty of guadalupe hidalgo despite the fact that he wrote to his wife that i will
probably never worked in washington again. his career was over. polk was so angry with him that he withheld his pay. his family became incredibly poverty-stricken. it was not until after the civil war when ulysses grant was president that trist. another position, this was at the end of his life and he was given a not very demanding position in a post office in virginia. up until that point trist was broke and his family suffered. let me kind of wrap this up and tell you what i think the antiwar protests, the context for them. the top quote that i have their is a quote from-- there is a quote from polk. he said at this point you might be willing to accept california and baja and a passage paying
for them less than mr. trist was authorized. if you look at the map which i have turned on its side you can see various lines that demonstrate where people wanted to take. so this is the initial line that mexico offered in negotiation and if you look here this is what polk was hoping to take in january. what that would have brought was an additional one third of the country of mexico into the united states than what ended up happening. unfortunately, on february 19, the treaty of waterloo. although arrives in washington signed by trist