Teacher's Parlor

Lincoln, Patriotism and Protest
Document Packet #1
Lincoln and the Mexican War
by Jennifer Erbach

1. Speech in the United States House of Representatives:

MR. CHAIRMAN: Some if not all the gentlemen on the other side of the House who have addressed the committee within the last two days have spoken rather complainingly, if I have rightly understood them, of the vote given a week or ten days ago declaring that the war with Mexico was unnecessarily and unconstitutionally commenced by the President…I am one of those who joined in that vote; and I did so under my best impression of the truth of the case. How I got this impression, and how it may possibly be remedied, I will now try to show. When the war began, it was my opinion that all those who because of knowing too little, or because of knowing too much, could not conscientiously oppose the conduct of the President in the beginning of it should nevertheless, as good citizens and patriots, remain silent on that point, at least till the war should be ended…

…Besides the continual effort of the President to argue every silent vote given for supplies into an indorsement of the Justice and wisdom of his conduct; besides that singularly candid paragraph in his late message in which he tells us that Congress with great unanimity had declared that "by the act of the Republic of Mexico, a state of war exists between that Government and the United States,"…besides this open attempt to prove by telling the truth what he could not prove by telling the whole truth…besides all this, one of my colleagues [Mr. Richardson] at a very early day in the session brought in a set of resolutions expressly indorsing the original justice of the war on the part of the President. Upon these resolutions when they shall be put on their passage I shall be compelled to vote; so that I cannot be silent if I would. Seeing this, I went about preparing myself to give the vote understandingly when it should come. I carefully examined the President's message, to ascertain what he himself had said and proved upon the point. The result of this examination was to make the impression that, taking for true all the President states as facts, he falls far short of proving his justification; and that the President would have gone farther with his proof if it had not been for the small matter that the truth would not permit him. Under the impression thus made I gave the vote before mentioned.

Complete text of this speech is available on Lincoln/Net.

2. Letter from Abraham Lincoln to William H. Herndon

WASHINGTON, February 1, 1848

Dear William: Your letter of the 19th ultimo was received last night, and for which I am much obliged. The only thing in it that I wish to talk to you at once about is that because of my vote for Ashmun's amendment you fear that you and I disagree about the war. I regret this, not because of any fear we shall remain disagreed after you have read this letter, but because if you misunderstand I fear other good friends may also. That vote affirms that the war was unnecessarily and unconstitutionally commenced by the President; and I will stake my life that if you had been in my place you would have voted just as I did…

…This vote has nothing to do in determining my votes on the questions of supplies. I have always intended, and still intend, to vote supplies; perhaps not in the precise form recommended by the President, but in a better form for all purposes, except Locofoco [1] party purposes. It is in this particular you seem mistaken. The Locos are untiring in their efforts to make the impression that all who vote supplies or take part in the war do of necessity approve the President's conduct in the beginning of it; but the Whigs [2] have from the beginning made and kept the distinction between the two. In the very first act nearly all the Whigs voted against the preamble declaring that war existed by the act of Mexico; and yet nearly all of them voted for the supplies. As to the Whig men who have participated in the war, so far as they have spoken in my hearing, they do not hesitate to pronounce as unjust the President's conduct in the beginning of the war.

1. The slang term for the Democratic party

2. The party to which Lincoln and Herndon belonged.

Complete text of this letter is available on Lincoln/Net.

3. Excerpts from the Lincoln-Douglas debate at Ottawa, IL, 1858.

Douglas: "…In 1846, when Wilmot introduced his celebrated proviso, and the Abolition tornado swept over the country, Lincoln again turned up as a member of Congress from the Sangamon district. I was then in the Senate of the United States, and was glad to welcome my old friend and companion. Whilst in Congress, he distinguished himself by his opposition to the Mexican War, taking the side of the common enemy against his own country; and when he returned home he found that the indignation of the people followed him everywhere, and he was again submerged or obliged to retire into private life, forgotten by his former friends."

Lincoln: "…And so I think my friend, the judge, is equally at fault when he charges me at the time when I was in Congress of having opposed our soldiers who were fighting in the Mexican War. The judge did not make his charge very distinctly, but I tell you what he can prove, by referring to the record. You remember I was an Old Whig, and whenever the Democratic party tried to get me to vote that the war had been righteously begun by the President, I would not do it. But whenever they asked for any money, or land-warrants, or anything to pay the soldiers there, during all that time, I gave the same vote that Judge Douglas did. You can think as you please as to whether that was consistent. Such is the truth; and the judge has the right to make all he can out of it. But when he, by a general charge, conveys the idea that I withheld supplies from the soldiers who were fighting in the Mexican War, or did anything else to hinder the soldiers, he is, to say the least, grossly and altogether mistaken, as a consultation of the records will prove to him."

Complete text of the Ottawa debate available on Lincoln/Net.

4. Excerpts from the Lincoln-Douglas debate at Alton, IL, 1858

Douglas: There is something really refreshing in the thought that Mr. Lincoln is in favor of prosecuting one war vigorously. It is the first war I ever knew him to be in favor of prosecuting. It is the first war that I ever knew him to believe to be just or constitutional. When the Mexican war was being waged, and the American army was surrounded by the enemy in Mexico, he thought the war was unconstitutional, unnecessary, and unjust. He thought it was not commenced on the right spot.

When I made an incidental allusion of that kind in the joint discussion over at Charleston, some weeks ago, Lincoln, in replying, said that I, Douglas, had charged him with voting against supplies for the Mexican war, and then he reared up, full length, and swore that he never voted against the supplies, -- that it was a slander…he confessed that he voted that the war was wrong, that our country was in the wrong, and consequently that the Mexicans were in the right; but charged that I had slandered him by saying that he voted against the supplies. I never charged him with voting against the supplies in my life, because I knew that he was not in Congress when they were voted. The war was commenced on the 13th day of May, 1846, and on that day we appropriated in Congress ten millions of dollars and fifty thousand men to prosecute it. During the same session we voted more men and more money, and at the next session we voted more men and more money, so that by the time Mr. Lincoln entered Congress we had enough men and enough money to carry on the war, and had no occasion to vote for any more. When he got into the House, being opposed to the war, and not being able to stop the supplies, because they had all gone forward, all he could do was to…prove that the war was not begun on the right spot, and that it was unconstitutional, unnecessary and wrong. Remember, too, that this he did after the war had been begun. It is one thing to be opposed to the declaration of a war, another and very different thing to take sides with the enemy against your own country after the war has been commenced. Our army was in Mexico at the time, many battles had been fought; our citizens, who were defending the honor of their country's flag, were surrounded by the daggers, the guns, and the poison of the enemy. Then it was that Corwin [1] made his speech in which he declared that the American soldiers ought to be welcomed by the Mexicans with bloody hands and hospitable graves; then it was that Ashmun and Lincoln voted in the House of Representatives that the war was unconstitutional and unjust; and Ashmun's resolution, Corwin's speech, and Lincoln's vote were sent to Mexico and read at the head of the Mexican army, to prove to them that there was a Mexican party in the Congress of the United States who were doing all in their power to aid them. That a man who takes sides with the common enemy against his own country in time of war should rejoice in a war being made on me now, is very natural. And in my opinion, no other kind of a man would rejoice in it.

1. Thomas Corwin, a senator from Ohio

Complete text of the Alton debate available on Lincoln/Net.

5. Letter from William H. Wilson
New York, Oct 29th 1860

Dr Sir

Will you be kind enough to say if you did or did not while you were in congress vote against supplies to the american army while on the Battle fields of Mexico. The charge has been brought forward by your opponents and I have as often charged it to be a falsehood and although opposed to betting I as a last resort have agreed to back my opinion that such was not the fact. This I assure you is not to decide a Bet, for I am satisfied if you thought so you would not give me the information. I merley want to know from you that such is not the case -- I detest making lies out of whole cloth, and I beleve this is one Will you do me the favor, of a reply

& very much oblige
Respectfully I am
Wm H Wilson

From Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress.

6. Letter from William Honselman, 1860
Monticello October the 21st

Sir Mister lincoln I take this opertunity to ask you two questions and I hope that you will answer them satisfacktorly the first is this did you vote against sending provisions to the soldiers when they was im in mexico or did you prolong or was you the caus of having that time prolonged for the space of 3 months or not. the second is this did you refuse to vote A bill of thanks to the soldiers that fought in mexico did you say that you would not vote A bill of thanks to the soldiers without they would add this amendment to it. that it was an injust war.) this is all that I wish to ask at this time and I hope I hope that I will have the pleasure of reseiving an answer soon as I am undisided yet as an honest man I ask you for the fackts in this matter) I do not ask it for the purpose of making capitol out of it for I am no politician what ever it is for my own benafit that I ask tho you those questions

Adress To William Honselman
Monticello
Piatt Co
Ill
I remain yours truly

From Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress.

©Copyright 2002 Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project