Whitman discussion

U.S. and Mexico (NASA, International Space Sta...

U.S. and Mexico (NASA, International Space Station, 11/16/11) (Photo credit: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center)

History 17A – United States History (Spring 2007)

Whitman discussion

[ Students and professors, please read. ]


Whitman:  Walt Whitman wrote that Mexico must be soundly punished. What did Mexico do to persuade Whitman to demand that Mexico be “crushed?”

To be exact, Whitman demanded that Mexico be “thoroughly chastised.”  The exact quote is:  “Yes, Mexico must be thoroughly chastised! Let our arms now be carried with a spirit which shall teach the world that, while we are not forward for a quarrel, American knows how to crush, as well as expand!” — (Brooklyn Daily Eagle fragment, 11 May 1846 – Whitman was the editor, as found by using Google.com.)  The text does not say why Whitman felt this way, but perhaps we can guess that he felt as many (but not all) other Americans did – that it was our “manifest destiny” to push west, and Mexicans had no right to stop us.

Trying to get to the bottom of this, the following is an excerpt from:  http://www.lone-star.net/mall/texasinfo/mexicow.htm

“As with all major events, historical interpretations concerning the causes of the Mexican War vary. Simply stated, a dictatorial Centralist government in Mexico began the war because of the U.S. annexation (1845) of Texas, which Mexico continued to claim despite the establishment of the independent republic of Texas 10 years before. Some historians have argued, however, that the United States provoked the war by annexing Texas and, more deliberately, by stationing an army at the mouth of the Rio Grande. Another, related, interpretation maintains that the administration of U.S. President James K. Polk forced Mexico to war in order to seize California and the Southwest. A minority believes the war arose simply out of Mexico’s failure to pay claims for losses sustained by U.S. citizens during the Mexican War of Independence.

. . .

“By the time Slidell arrived in Mexico in December 1845, the Herrera government was under intense fire from the Centralists for its moderate foreign policies. The Centralist strategy was to appeal to Mexican national pride as a means of ousting Herrera. During August 1845 their leader, Mariano Parades y Arrillaga, began to demand an attack on the United States. When Slidell arrived, Herrera, in an effort to save his government, refused to meet with him. A few days later (December 14), Parades issued a revolutionary manifesto; he entered Mexico City at the head of an army on Jan. 2, 1846. Herrera fled, and Parades, who assumed the presidency on January 4, ordered Slidell out of Mexico.

“After the failure of the Slidell mission, Polk ordered Zachary Taylor to move his army to the mouth of the Rio Grande and to prepare to defend Texas from invasion. Taylor did so, arriving at the Rio Grande on Mar. 28, 1846. Abolitionists in the United States, who had opposed the annexation of Texas as a slave state, claimed that the move to the Rio Grande was a hostile and aggressive act by Polk to provoke a war with Mexico to add new slave territory to the United States.

“Whatever Polk’s precise intentions were, for the Centralists in Mexico the annexation of Texas had been sufficient cause for war; they saw no disputed boundary–Mexico owned all of Texas. Before Taylor had moved to the Rio Grande, Parades had begun mobilizing troops and had reiterated his intention of attacking. On April 4 the new dictator of Mexico ordered the attack on Taylor. When his commander at Matamoros delayed, Parades replaced him, issued a declaration of war (April 23), and reordered the attack.


On Apr. 25, 1846, Mexican troops crossed the Rio Grande and ambushed a detachment of American dragoons commanded by Capt. Seth B. Thornton. Taylor’s report of this ambush reached President Polk on the evening of May 9, a Saturday. On Monday, May 11, Polk presented his war message to Congress, and on Wednesday, May 13, over the vigorous opposition of the abolitionists, the U.S. Congress voted to declare war on Mexico. In the meantime two more Mexican attacks had been made across the Rio Grande at Palo Alto (May 8) and Resaca de la Palma (May 9), and both had been repulsed.”

The way Zinn wrote his chapter, he makes it sound like Whitman wrote that Mexico must be chastised after Congress acted on May 13 – but it is of interest that his quote occurred on May 11 (this is found by using Google.com).  It would be nice to have the quote in context.

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