A Lesson from Mexico

It was probably the poet and philosopher George Santayana who first said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But how many Americans remember the Mexican War of 1846-1848?

I’ve been reading Bernard DeVoto’s The Year of Decision, 1846, and I offer the following excerpts:

Abraham Lincoln was running for Congress that year against Peter Cartwright, a famous evangelist. “Both respected the policy of that wayward summer: to say nothing about slavery, to avoid the war but to praise it when it could not be dodged, and to keep silent on all issues that either would have to face in Congress.”

But war came and the opposition party (the Whigs) “cried out, taking the ground that the Executive had usurped the war-making prerogative of the legislature . . . So perhaps it would be better to . . . .recognize the war, support it, and later blame the President. . . . It was a time-serving, myopic policy . . . The administration’s case, however, was on no higher intellectual level: in May we were making war to repel invasion, but by August we were making war . . . to overthrow a government whose despotism menaced free institutions.”

Zachary Taylor was the commanding officer. “He had . . . no nerves and nothing recognizable as intelligence. . . Add to this a dislike of military forms and procedures and a taste for old clothes and you have a predestinate candidate for the Presidency.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson suggested that: “The United States will conquer Mexico but it will be as the man who swallows arsenic which brings him down in turn. Mexico will poison us.”

When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

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