Speech in United States House of Representatives: The War with Mexico, 12 January 18481

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The House being in Committee of the Whole, proceeded to the consideration of the Annual Message of the President of the United States, and the resolutions referring the same to various appropriate Committees.
MR. LINCOLN, of Illinois, addressed the Committee as follows:
Mr. Chairman:
Some, if not all, the gentlemen on the other side of the House,2 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.3 I admit that such a vote should not be given in mere party wantonness, and that the one given is justly censurable, if it have no other or better foundation. 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 removed, 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 approve 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. Some leading democrats, including Ex President Van Buren, have taken this same view, as I understand them; and I adhered to it, and acted upon it, until since I took my seat here; and I think I should still adhere to it, were it not that the President and his friends will not allow it to be so. Besides, the continual effort of the President to argue every silent vote given for supplies into an endorsement 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, only two in the Senate and fourteen in the House dissenting, had declared that “by the act of the Republic of Mexico a state of war exists between that Government and the United States;” when the same journals that informed him of this, also informed him that, when that declaration stood disconnected from the question of supplies, sixty-seven in the House, and not fourteen, merely, voted against it;4 besides this open attempt to prove, by telling the truth, what he could not prove by telling the whole truth, demanding of all who will not submit to be misrepresented, in justice to themselves, to speak out; besides all this, one of my colleagues, (Mr. Richardson,) at a very early day in the session, brought in a set of resolutions, expressly endorsing the
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original justice of the war on the part of the President.5 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 messages, 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. I propose now to give, concisely, the process of the examination I made, and how I reached the conclusion I did. The President, in his first message of May, 1846, declares that the soil was ours on which hostilities were commenced by Mexico; and he repeats that declaration, almost in the same language, in each successive annual message; thus showing that he esteems that point a highly essential one.6 In the importance of that point, I entirely agree with the President. To my judgment, it is the very point upon which he should be justified or condemned. In his message of December, 1846, it seems to have occurred to him, as is certainly true, that title, ownership to soil, or any thing else, is not a simple fact, but is a conclusion following one or more simple facts; and, that it was incumbent upon him to present the facts from which he concluded the soil was ours, on which the first blood of the war was shed.
Accordingly, a little below the middle of page twelve, in the message last referred to, he enters upon that task, forming an issue and introducing testimony, extending the whole to a little below the middle of page fourteen. Now, I propose to try to show that the whole of this—issue and evidence—is, from beginning to end, the sheerest deception. The issue, as he presents it, is in these words: “But there are those who, conceding all this to be true, assume the ground that the true western boundary of Texas is the Nueces, instead of the Rio Grande; and that, therefore, in marching our army to the east bank of the latter river, we passed the Texan line, and invaded the territory of Mexico.” 7 Now this issue is made up of two affirmatives and no negative. The main deception of it is, that it assumes as true that one river or the other is necessarily the boundary, and cheats the superficial thinker entirely out of the idea, that possibly the boundary is somewhere between the two, and not actually at either. A further deception is, that it will let in evidence which a true issue would exclude. A true issue, made by the President, would be about as follows: “I say the soil was ours on which the first blood was shed; there are those who say it was not.”

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I now proceed to examine the President’s evidence, as applicable to such an issue. When that evidence is analyzed, it is all included in the following propositions:
1. That the Rio Grande was the western boundary of Louisiana, as we purchased it of France in 1803.
2. That the republic of Texas always claimed the Rio Grande as her western boundary.
3. That, by various acts, she had claimed it on paper.
4. That Santa Anna, in his treaty with Texas, recognised the Rio Grande as her boundary.
5. That Texas before, and the United States after annexation, had exercised jurisdiction beyond the Nueces, between the two rivers.
6. That our Congress understood the boundary of Texas to extend beyond the Nueces.
Now for each of these in its turn:
His first item is, that the Rio Grande was the western boundary of Louisiana, as we purchased it of France in 1803; and, seeming to expect this to be disputed, he argues over the amount of nearly a page to prove it true; at the end of which he lets us know that, by the treaty of 1819, we sold to Spain the whole country, from the Rio Grande eastward to the Sabine. Now, admitting, for the present, that the Rio Grande was the boundary of Louisiana, what, under Heaven, had that to do with the present boundary between us and Mexico? How, Mr. Chairman, the line that once divided your land from mine can still be the boundary between us after I have sold my land to you, is, to me, beyond all comprehension. And how any man, with an honest purpose only of proving the truth, could ever have thought of introducing such a fact to prove such an issue, is equally incomprehensible. The outrage upon common right, of seizing as our own what we have once sold, merely because it was ours before we sold it, is only equalled by the outrage on common sense of any attempt to justify it. His next piece of evidence is, that “the republic of Texas always claimed this river (Rio Grande) as her western boundary.”8 That is not true, in fact. Texas has claimed it, but she has not always claimed it. There is, at least, one distinguished exception. Her State constitution, the republic’s most solemn and well considered act, that which may, without impropriety, be called her last will and testament, revoking all others, makes no such claim.9 But suppose she had always claimed it. Has not Mexico always claimed the contrary? So that there is but claim against claim, leaving nothing proved until we get back of the claims, and find which has the better foundation.
Though not in the order in which the President presents his evidence, I
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now consider that class of his statements which are, in substance, nothing more than that Texas has, by various acts of her convention and congress, claimed the Rio Grande as her boundary, on paper. I mean, here, what he says about the fixing of the Rio Grande as her boundary in her old constitution (not her State constitution) about forming congressional districts, counties, &c.[etc]10 Now all of this is but naked claim; and what I have already said about claims is strictly applicable to this. If I should claim your land by word of mouth, that certainly would not make it mine; and if I were to claim it by a deed which I had made myself, and with which you had had nothing to do, the claim would be quite the same in substance, or rather in utter nothingness.
I next consider the President’s statement that Santa Anna, in his treaty with Texas, recognised the Rio Grande as the western boundary of Texas. Besides, the position so often taken that Santa Anna, while a prisoner of war—a captive—could not bind Mexico by a treaty, which I deem conclusive; besides this, I wish to say something in relation to this treaty, so called by the President, with Santa Anna. If any man would like to be amused by a sight of that little thing, which the President calls by that big name, he can have it by turning to Niles’ Register, volume 50, page 336. And if any one should suppose that Niles’ Register is a curious repository of so mighty a document as a solemn treaty between nations, I can only say that I learned, to a tolerable degree of certainty, by inquiry at the State Department, that the President himself never saw it any where else. By the way, I believe I should not err if I were to declare that, during the first ten years of the existence of that document, it was never, by any body, called a treaty; that it was never so called till the President, in his extremity, attempted, by so calling it, to wring something from it in justification of himself in connexion with the Mexican war. It has none of the distinguishing features of a treaty. It does not call itself a treaty. Santa Anna does not therein assume to bind Mexico; he assumes only to act as the president, commander-in-chief of the Mexican army and navy; stipulates that the then present hostilities should cease, and that he would not himself take up arms, nor influence the Mexican people to take up arms, against Texas during the existence of the war of independence. He did not recognise the independence of Texas; he did not assume to put an end to the war, but clearly indicated his expectation of its continuance; he did not say one word about boundary, and most probably never thought of it. It is stipulated therein that the Mexican forces should evacuate the territory of Texas, passing to the other side of the Rio Grande; and in another article it is stipulated that, to prevent collisions between the armies, the Texan army should not approach
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nearer than within five leagues—of what is not said—but clearly, from the object stated, it is of the Rio Grande. Now, if this is a treaty recognising the Rio Grande as the boundary of Texas, it contains the singular feature of stipulating that Texas shall not go within five leagues of her own boundary.11
Next comes the evidence of Texas before annexation, and the United States afterwards, exercising jurisdiction beyond the Nueces, and between the two rivers. This actual exercise of jurisdiction is the very class or quality of evidence we want. It is excellent so far as it goes, but does it go far enough? He tells us it went beyond the Nueces, but he does not tell us it went to the Rio Grande. He tells us jurisdiction was exercised between the two rivers, but he does not tell us it was exercised over all the territory between them. Some simple minded people think it is possible to cross one river and go beyond it, without going all the way to the next; that jurisdiction may be exercised between two rivers without covering all the country between them. I know a man, not very unlike myself, who exercises jurisdiction over a piece of land between the Wabash and the Mississippi; and yet so far is this from being all there is between those rivers, that it is just one hundred and fifty-two feet long by fifty wide, and no part of it much within a hundred miles of either. He has a neighbor between him and the Mississippi—that is, just across the street, in that direction—whom, I am sure, he could neither persuade nor force to give up his habitation; but which, nevertheless, he could certainly annex, if it were to be done, by merely standing on his own side of the street and claiming it, or even sitting down and writing a deed for it.
But next, the President tells us, the Congress of the United States understood the State of Texas they admitted into the Union to extend beyond the Nueces. Well, I suppose they did—I certainly so understand it—but how far beyond? The Congress did not understand it to extend clear to the Rio Grande, is quite certain by the fact of their joint resolutions for admission expressly leaving all questions of boundary to future adjustment. And it may be added, that Texas herself is proved to have had the same understanding of it that our Congress had, by the fact of the exact conformity of her new constitution to those resolutions.12
I am now through the whole of the President’s evidence; and it is a singular fact, that if any one should declare the President sent the army into the midst of a settlement of Mexican people, who had never submitted, by consent or by force, to the authority of Texas or of the United States, and that there, and thereby, the first blood of the war was shed, there is not one word in all the President has said which would either admit or deny the declaration. In this strange omission chiefly consists the deception
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of the President’s evidence; an omission which, it does seem to me, could scarcely have occurred but by design. My way of living leads me to be about the courts of justice; and there I have sometimes seen a good lawyer, struggling for his client’s neck, in a desperate case, employing every artifice to work round, befog, and cover up with many words, some position pressed upon him by the prosecution, which he dared not admit, and yet could not deny. Party bias may help to make it appear so; but, with all the allowance I can make for such bias, it still does appear to me, that just such, and from just such necessity, is the President’s struggle in this case.
Some time after my colleague (Mr. Richardson) introduced the resolutions I have mentioned, I introduced a preamble, resolution, and interrogatories, intended to draw the President out, if possible, on this hitherto untrodden ground. To show their relevancy, I propose to state my understanding of the true rule for ascertaining the boundary between Texas and Mexico. It is, that wherever Texas was exercising jurisdiction was hers; and wherever Mexico was exercising jurisdiction was hers; and that whatever separated the actual exercise of jurisdiction of the one from that of the other, was the true boundary between them. If, as is probably true, Texas was exercising jurisdiction along the western bank of the Nueces, and Mexico was exercising it along the eastern bank of the Rio Grande, then neither river was the boundary, but the uninhabited country between the two was. The extent of our territory in that region depended, not on any treaty-fixed boundary, (for no treaty had attempted it,) but on revolution. Any people any where, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, a most sacred right—a right which, we hope and believe, is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can may revolutionize, and make their own of so much of the territory as they inhabit. More than this, a majority of any portion of such people may revolutionize, putting down a minority, intermingled with, or near about them, who may oppose their movements. Such minority was precisely the case of the tories of our own revolution. It is a quality of revolutions not to go by old lines, or old laws; but to break up both, and make new ones. As to the country now in question, we bought it of France in 1803, and sold it to Spain in 1819, according to the President’s statement. After this, all Mexico, including Texas, revolutionized against Spain; and still later, Texas revolutionized against Mexico.13 In my view, just so far as she carried her revolution, by obtaining the actual, willing or unwilling, submission of the people, so far the country was hers, and no farther.
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Now, sir, for the purpose of obtaining the very best evidence, as to whether Texas had actually carried her revolution to the place where the hostilities of the present war commenced, let the President answer the interrogatories I proposed, as before mentioned, or some other similar ones. Let him answer fully, fairly, and candidly. Let him answer with facts, and not with arguments. Let him remember he sits where Washington sat; and, so remembering, let him answer as Washington would answer. As a nation should not, and the Almighty will not, be evaded, so let him attempt no evasion, no equivocation. And if, so answering, he can show that the soil was ours where the first blood of the war was shed—that it was not within an inhabited country, or, if within such, that the inhabitants had submitted themselves to the civil authority of Texas, or of the United States, and that the same is true of the site of Fort Brown—then I am with him for his justification. In that case, I shall be most happy to reverse the vote I gave the other day. I have a selfish motive for desiring that the President may do this; I expect to give some votes, in connection with the war, which, without his so doing, will be of doubtful propriety, in my own judgment, but which will be free from the doubt, if he does so. But if he can not, or will not do this—if, on any pretence, or no pretence, he shall refuse or omit it—then I shall be fully convinced, of what I more than suspect already, that he is deeply conscious of being in the wrong; that he feels the blood of this war, like the blood of Abel, is crying to Heaven against him;14 that he ordered General Taylor into the midst of a peaceful Mexican settlement purposely to bring on a war, that, originally having some strong motive—what, I will not stop now to give my opinion concerning—to involve the two countries in a war, and, trusting to escape scrutiny by fixing the public gaze upon the exceeding brightness of military glory—that attractive rainbow, that rises in showers of blood—that serpent’s eye, that charms to destroy—he plunged into it, and has swept on and on, till, disappointed in his calculation of the ease with which Mexico might be subdued, he now finds himself he knows not where. How like the half insane mumbling of a fever dream is the whole war part of the late message! At one time telling us that Mexico has nothing whatever that we can get but territory; at another, showing us how we can support the war by levying contributions on Mexico. At one time urging the national honor, the security of the future, the prevention of foreign interference, and even the good of Mexico herself, as among the objects of the war; at another, telling us that, “to reject indemnity by refusing to accept a cession of territory, would be to abandon all our just demands, and to wage the war, bearing all its expenses, without a purpose or definite object.” So, then,
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[t]he national honor, security of the future, and everything but territorial indemnity, may be considered the no-purposes and indefinite objects of the war! But, having it now settled that territorial indemnity is the only object, we are urged to seize, by legislation here, all that he was content to take a few months ago, and the whole province of Lower California to boot, and to still carry on the war—to take all we are fighting for, and still fight on. Again, the President is resolved, under all circumstances, to have full territorial indemnity for the expenses of the war; but he forgets to tell us how we are to get the excess after those expenses shall have surpassed the value of the whole of the Mexican territory. So, again, he insists that the separate national existence of Mexico shall be maintained; but he does not tell us how this can be done after we shall have taken all her territory. Lest the questions I here suggest be considered speculative merely, let me be indulged a moment in trying to show they are not. The war has gone on some twenty months; for the expenses of which, together with an inconsiderable old score, the President now claims about one-half of the Mexican territory, and that by far the better half, so far as concerns our ability to make anything out of it. It is comparatively uninhabited; so that we could establish land offices in it, and raise some money in that way. But the other half is already inhabited, as I understand it, tolerably densely for the nature of the country; and all its lands, or all that are valuable, already appropriated as private property. How, then, are we to make anything out of these lands with this incumbrance on them, or how remove the incumbrance? I suppose no one will say we should kill the people, or drive them out, or make slaves of them, or even confiscate their property? How, then, can we make much out of this part of the territory? If the prosecution of the war has, in expenses, already equalled the better half of the country, how long its future prosecution will be in equalling the less valuable half is not a speculative, but a practical question, pressing closely upon us; and yet it is a question which the President seems to never have thought of. As to the mode of terminating the war, and securing peace, the President is equally wandering and indefinite. First, it is to be done by a more vigorous prosecution of the war in the vital parts of the enemy’s country; and, after apparently talking himself tired on this point, the President drops down into a half despairing tone, and tells us that, “with a people distracted and divided by contending factions, and a government subject to constant changes, by successive revolutions, the continued success of our arms may fail to obtain a satisfactory peace.” Then he suggest the propriety of wheedling the Mexican people to desert the counsels of their own leaders, and, trusting in our protection, to set up a government from which we can secure a
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satisfactory peace; telling us that “this may become the only mode of obtaining such a peace.” But soon he falls into doubt of this too, and then drops back on to the already half-abandoned ground of “more vigorous prosecution.” All this shows that the President is in no wise satisfied with his own positions. First, he takes up one, and, in attempting to argue us into it, he argues himself out of it; then seizes another, and goes through the same process; and then, confused at being able to think of nothing new, he snatches up the old one again, which he has some time before cast off. His mind, tasked beyond its power, is running hither and thither, like some tortured creature on a burning surface, finding no position on which it can settle down, and be at ease.15
Again, it is a singular omission in this message that it nowhere intimates when the President expects the war to terminate. At its beginning Gen. Scott was, by this same President, driven into disfavor, if not disgrace, for intimating that peace could not be conquered in less than three or four months.16
But now, at the end of about twenty months, during which time our arms have given us the most splendid successes—every department, and every part, land and water, officers and privates, regulars and volunteers, doing all that men could do, and hundreds of things which it had ever before been thought men could not do; after all this, this same President gives us a long message without showing us that, as to the end, he has himself even an imaginary conception. As I have before said, he knows not where he is. He is a bewildered, confounded, and miserably perplexed man. God grant he may be able to show there is not something about his conscience more painful than all his mental perplexity!

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[ enclosure ]
Articles of an agreement entered into between his Excellency David C. Burnet, president of the republic of Texas, of the one part, and his Excellency General Santa Ana, president-general-in-chief of the Mexican army, of the other part.
Article 1st. General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana agrees that he will not take up arms, nor will he exercise his influence to cause them to be taken up, against the people of Texas, during the present war of independence.
Article 2d. All hostilities between the Mexican and Texan troops will cease immediately, both by land and water.
Article 3d. The Mexican troops will evacuate the territory of Texas, passing to the other side of the Rio Grande del Norte.
Article 4th. The Mexican army, in its retreat, shall not take the property of any person without his consent and just indemnification, using only such articles as may be necessary for its subsistence, in cases when the owner may not be present, and remitting to the commander of the army of Texas, or to the commissioners to be appointed for the adjustment of such matters, an account of the value of the property consumed, the place where taken, and the name of the owner, if it can be ascertained.
Article 5th. That all private property, including cattle, horses, negro slaves, or indentured persons of whatever denomination, that may have been captured by any portion of the Mexican army, or may have taken refuge in the said army, since the commencement of the late invasion, shall be restored to the commander of the Texan army, or to such other persons as may be appointed by the Government of Texas to receive them.
Article 6th. The troops of both armies will refrain from coming into contact with each other; and to this end the commander of the army of Texas will be careful not to approach within a shorter distance than five leagues.
Article 7th. The Mexican army shall not make any other delay, on its march, than that which is necessary to take up their hospitals, baggage, &c., and to cross the rivers; any delay not necessary to these purposes, to be considered an infraction of this agreement.
Article 8th. By an express to be immediately dispatched, this agreement shall be sent to General Vincente Filisola, and to General T. J. Rusk, commander of the Texan army, in order that they may be apprised of its
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stipulation; and to this end they will exchange engagements to comply with the same.
Article 9th. That all Texan prisoners now in the possession of the Mexican army, or its authorities, be forthwith released, and furnished with free passports to return to their homes; in consideration of which, a corresponding number of Mexican prisoners, rank and file, now in possession of the Government of Texas, shall be immediately released—the remainder of the Mexican prisoners that continue in the possession of the Government of Texas to be treated with due humanity; any extraordinary comforts that may be furnished them to be at the charge of the Government of Mexico.
Article 1oth. General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana will be sent to Vera Cruz, as soon as it shall be deemed proper.
The contracting parties sign this instrument for the above mentioned purposes, in duplicate, at the port of Velasco, this 14th day of May, 1836.
DAVID G. BURNET, President.JAS. COLLINGSWORTH, Secretary of State.ANTONIO LOPEZ DE SANTA ANA.B. HARDIMAN, Secretary of the Treasury.P. W. GRAYSON, Attorney General.
[ enclosure ]
Abraham Lincoln
Preamble and Resolution referred to in the Speech.18
Mr. Lincoln moved the following preamble and resolutions, which were read and laid over under the rule:
Whereas the President of the United States, in his message of May 11, 1846, has declared that “the Mexican Government not only refused to receive him, (the envoy of the United States,) or listen to his propositions, but, after a long-continued series of menaces, have at last invaded our territory and shed the blood of our fellow-citizens on our own soil.”19
And again, in his message of December 8, 1846, that “we had ample cause of war against Mexico long before the breaking out of hostilities; but even then we forebore to take redress into our own hands, until Mexico herself became the aggressor, by invading our soil in hostile array and shedding the blood of our citizens.”20
And yet again, in his message of December 7, 1847, that “the Mexican Government refused even to hear the terms of adjustment which he (our minister of peace) was authorized to propose, and finally, under wholly unjustifiable pretexts, involved the two countries in war, by invading the
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territory of the State of Texas, striking the first blow, and shedding the blood of our citizens on our own soil
And whereas this House is desirous to obtain a full knowledge of all the facts which go to establish whether the particular spot on which the blood of our citizens was so shed was or was not at that time our own soil: Therefore,
Resolved by the House of Representatives, That the President of the United States be respectfully requested to inform this House—
1st. Whether the spot on which the blood of our citizens was shed, as in his message declared, was or was not within the territory of Spain, at least after the treaty of 1819, until the Mexican revolution.
2d. Whether that spot is or is not within the territory which was wrested from Spain by the revolutionary Government of Mexico.
3d. Whether that spot is or is not within a settlement of people, which settlement has existed ever since long before the Texas revolution, and until its inhabitants fled before the approach of the United States army.
4th. Whether that settlement is or is not isolated from any and all other settlements by the Gulf and the Rio Grande on the south and west, and by wide uninhabited regions on the north and east.
5th. Whether the people of that settlement, or a majority of them, or any of them, have ever submitted themselves to the government or laws of Texas or of the United States, by consent or by compulsion, either by accepting office, or voting at elections, or paying tax, or serving on juries, or having process served upon them, or in any other way.
6th. Whether the people of that settlement did or did not flee from the approach of the United States army, leaving unprotected their homes and their growing crops, before the blood was shed, as in the messages stated; and whether the first blood, so shed, was or was not shed within the enclosure of one of the people who had thus fled from it.
7th. Whether our citizens, whose blood was shed, as in his messages declared, were or were not, at that time, armed officers and soldiers, sent into that settlement by the military order of the President, through the Secretary of War.
8th. Whether the miliary force of the United States was or was not so sent into that settlement after General Taylor had more than once intimated to the War Department that, in his opinion, no such movement was necessary to the defence or protection of Texas.
1Abraham Lincoln delivered this speech on the floor of the House of Representatives on January 12, 1848. Lincoln’s handwritten manuscript plus emendations, which were presumably inserted in the printer’s proof, is the source for this pamphlet version and an identical version published in the Appendix of the Congressional Globe. A report of the speech as delivered appears in the Congressional Globe and the Illinois Journal. This pamphlet version, the version in the Appendix of the Congressional Globe, and the report in the Illinois Journal date the speech Wednesday, January 14. The Congressional Globe has Lincoln delivering the speech on Wednesday, January 12, and the House Journal has Wednesday as January 12. A calendar for 1848 confirms that January 12 was on Wednesday.
Illinois Journal (Springfield), 10 February 1848, 1:4-6; Cong. Globe, 30th Cong., 1st Sess., 154-56 (1848); Cong. Globe, 30th Cong., 1st Sess., Appendix, 93-95 (1848); U.S. House Journal. 1848. 30th Cong., 1st sess., 219, Calendar for the Year 1848 (United States), accessed 29 May 2020, https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/?year=1848&country=1.
2Representatives from the Democratic Party.
3The vote Lincoln refers to was on George Ashmun’s amendment to a resolution expressing thanks to General Zachary Taylor and his troops. On January 3, 1848, Representative John W. Houston introduced a joint resolution of thanks to General Taylor and his soldiers. Representative Robert C. Schenck moved that the resolution be referred to the Committee on Military Affairs. Representative Thomas J. Henley moved to amend Schenck’s motion by adding the following: “with instructions to insert in the said resolution the following: 'engaged as they were, in defending the rights and honor of the country.’” Ashmun proposed to amend these instructions by adding at the end the following: “in a war unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun by the President of the United States." The House adopted Ashmun’s amendment either by a vote of 82 yeas to 81 nays or 85 yeas to 81 nays, with Lincoln voting yea. (The House Journal and the Congressional Globe differ on the vote tabulation.) There is no evidence that the House resumed consideration of this joint resolution or its amendments. On February 7, 1848, the House passed a joint resolution of thanks to Taylor without Ashmun’s or Henley’s amendments by a vote of 181 yeas to one nay, with Lincoln voting yea. The Senate adopted the joint resolution with amendments on February 16, and the House concurred in the Senate amendments on May 4. President James K. Polk approved the resolution in final form on May 9.
U.S. House Journal. 1848. 30th Cong., 1st sess., 183-85, 365-66, 765, 773, 782; U.S. Senate Journal. 1848. 30th Cong., 1st sess., 178-79; Cong. Globe, 30th Cong., 1st Sess., 95, 320 (1848).
4President Polk quoted from the preamble to an act promulgated on May 13, 1846, to prosecute the war with Mexico.
Lincoln compares the vote on the preamble alone versus the preamble when attached to the act of May 13, 1846. On May 11, 1846, the House amended the bill by striking out the first section and adding a new first section that included this preamble. The House adopted this amendment by a vote of 123 yeas to 67 nays.
When Democrats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate included this preamble in the bill raising troops and supplies to conduct the war, the Whigs faced a dilemma. Knowing the fate of the Federalist Party for opposing the War of 1812, most congressional Whigs recognized that it was essential for their political survival to appropriate men and material to carry the war to a successful conclusion, but bristled at the idea of exonerating Polk for his culpability for instigating the conflict. In the end, only fourteen of seventy-seven Whigs in the House and two of twenty-four in the Senate voted against the act of May 13, 1846.
“An Act providing for the Prosecution of the Existing War Between the United States and the Republic of Mexico,” 13 May 1846, Statutes at Large of the United States 9 (1862):9-10; U.S. House Journal. 1846. 29th Cong., 1st sess., 792-93; Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 233.
5On December 20, 1847, William A. Richardson proposed three resolutions justifying the war as “just and necessary,” and “prosecuted with the sole purpose of vindicating our national rights and honor,” and insisting that the United States “had no alternative,” in the face of repeated rejections of overture for peace, “but the most vigorous prosecution of the war, in such manner, consistent with the law of nations, as will make the enemy feel all its calamities and burthens.”
U.S. House Journal. 1847. 30th Cong., 1st sess., 131-32; Cong. Globe, 30th Cong., 1st Sess., 59 (1847).
6On May 11, 1846, President Polk delivered a message to Congress recommending war against Mexico. His first and second annual messages were given on December 8, 1846 and December 7, 1847, respectively.
James K. Polk to the Senate and House of Representatives, 11 May 1846, U.S. House Journal. 1846. 29th Cong., 1st sess., 784-89; James K. Polk to the Senate and House of Representatives, 8 December 1846, U.S. House Journal. 29th Cong., 2nd sess., 11-42; James K. Polk to the Senate and House of Representatives, 7 December 1847, U.S. House Journal. 1848. 30th Cong., 1st sess., 19-51.
7Lincoln’s source for Polk’s quotation has not been identified. It comes from Polk’s Annual Message of December 1846.
James K. Polk to the Senate and House of Representatives, 8 December 1846, U.S. House Journal. 29th Cong., 2nd sess., 21.
8James K. Polk to the Senate and House of Representatives, 8 December 1846, U.S. House Journal. 29th Cong., 2nd sess., 22.
9Drafted by a constitutional convention in July and August 1845 and accepted by the United States on December 29, 1845, upon the admission of Texas as a state, the Texas Constitution of 1845 did not specify the boundaries of the state.
John Sayles, The Constitutions of the State of Texas, 4th ed. (St. Louis: Gilbert, 1893), 185-222; Annie Middleton, "The Texas Convention of 1845," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 25 (July 1921), 26-62; “Joint Resolution for Annexing Texas to the United States,” 1 March 1845, Statutes at Large of the United States 5 (1856):797; “Joint Resolution for the Admission of the State of Texas into the Union,” 29 December 1845, Statutes at Large of the United States 9 (1862):108.
10Lincoln references the Constitution of the Republic of Texas, 1836. Sections six and seven of the schedule created congressional and senatorial districts.
John Sayles, The Constitutions of the State of Texas, 167.
11Santa Anna’s treaty with Texas was part of the aftermath of the Texas Revolution of 1836. On April 21, 1836, Texas forces routed Santa Anna and his army at the Battle of San Jacinto, and on April 22, the Texans took Santa Anna prisoner. On May 14, Santa Anna signed two treaties, one public and one private, which together became known as the Treaty of Velasco. In the public treaty, Santa Anna agreed to end hostilities, and in the private and confidential agreement he agreed to work to persuade the Mexican government to accept Texan independence. In exchange for these treaties, the Texans agreed to free Santa Anna and allow him to return to Mexico. The Mexican Government, however, repudiated the public agreement, arguing that it was invalid because Santa Anna was a prisoner when it was concluded.
Will Fowler, Santa Anna of Mexico (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007), 171-73, 175, 176, 177-81.
12“Joint Resolution for Annexing Texas to the United States,” 1 March 1845, Statutes at Large of the United States 5 (1856):797; “Joint Resolution for the Admission of the State of Texas into the Union,” 29 December 1845, Statutes at Large of the United States 9 (1862):108.
13Mexico declared its independence from Spain on February 24, 1821. Texas rebelled against Mexico in 1835, gaining its independence after the Battle of San Jacinto. Mexico, however, refused to recognize Texas’ independence, and Republic of Texas and Mexico clashed several times in the 1840s.
Timothy J. Henderson, A Glorious Defeat: Mexico and Its War with the United States (New York: Hill and Wang, 2007), 21; James L. Hale, Passionate Nation: The Epic History of Texas (New York: Free Press, 2006), 197-215.
14Allusion to the Biblical story of Cain and Abel.
Genesis 4:1-11.
15All the quotations and allusions in this paragraph are from President’s Polk’s annual message of December 7, 1847.
James K. Polk to the Senate and House of Representatives, 7 December 1847, U.S. House Journal. 1848. 30th Cong., 1st sess., 23, 32.
16President Polk and General Winfield Scott had a contentious and tenuous relationship from the beginning of Polk’s administration. A protégé of Andrew Jackson, Polk shared his mentor’s distrust of the army officer corps, seeking it as a bastion of Whiggery. Scott’s feud with Jackson, which stretched back to the War of 1812 and intensified during Jackson’s presidency, pushed Scott into the Whig camp, and his presidential ambitions further increased Polk’s suspicions of his senior general. Nevertheless, on May 13, 1846, the day he signed the declaration of war, Polk asked Scott to command the army in Mexico. Scott accepted the assignment, but Polk immediately became unhappy with Scott’s plan for equipping, training, and transporting 20,000 volunteers to the front, which he believed could not be accomplished until September 1846. Needing a quick victory in a controversial war, Polk felt that at best Scott was dragging his feet or at worst was sabotaging the war effort for political purposes. For his part, Scott believed that Polk was set on discrediting him and the army in the eyes of the public by advocating action before preparations were complete. The conflict came to a head when Scott wrote numerous inflammatory letters, which Polk used as a pretext to remove him from command. Scott remained in Washington, DC, while Zachary Taylor led the U.S. forces in Northern Mexico.
Reprimanded and consigned to administrative duties, Scott was unfazed, and he began drawing up an ambitious strategy to end the war by capturing Mexico City by way of Veracruz. By November 1846, it had become clear that Taylor’s offensive in Northern Mexico would not be decisive, and Polk recalled Scott to execute his plan. Scott launched the invasion in February 1847, and captured Mexico City in September 1847. Scott became embroiled, however, in a conflict with subordinate officers Gideon Pillow, an old friend of President Polk, and William J. Worth, resulting in Scott having both arrested. Polk and Secretary of War William L. Marcy backed Pillow and Worth, and Polk used this as a pretext to relieve Scott from command. On January 3, 1848, Polk recalled Scott from Mexico and ten days later Secretary Marcy replaced him with General William O. Butler. On January 31 and April 17, Lincoln voted for resolutions calling upon President Polk to explain Scott’s removal from command.
U.S. House Journal. 1848. 30th Cong., 1st sess., 331, 689-90; Walter R. Borneman, Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America (New York: Random House, 2008), 293, 295-96, 298; Allan Peskin, Winfield Scott and the Profession of Arms (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2003), 132-43; Matthew Moten, Presidents and their Generals: An American History of Command in War (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014), 98-99, 105-8, 112-14; “Scott, Winfield (1786-1866),” Webster’s American Military Biographies (Springfield, MA: G. & C. Merriam, 1978), 372.
17Lincoln transcribed the public portion of the Treaty of Velasco for inclusion in this version of his address and the version in the Appendix of the Congressional Globe. Neither Lincoln’s handwritten version of the speech nor the reports of the speech as delivered include this transcription.
Internal evidence from both the handwritten and printed versions of Lincoln’s speech suggests that he copied this treaty from Niles’ Weekly Register. Except for some minor differences in punctuation, Lincoln duplicates the version of the treaty from Niles’ Weekly Register, including transcribing the letter “C” instead of the letter “G” as David G. Burnet’s middle initial. The original handwritten treaty is housed at the Texas State Archives and Library Commission.
Illinois Journal (Springfield), 10 February 1848, 1:4-6; Cong. Globe, 30th Cong., 1st Sess., 154-56 (1848); Cong. Globe, 30th Cong., 1st Sess., Appendix, 95 (1848); Niles’ Weekly Register (Baltimore, MD), 50, 16 July 1836, 336:1; “The Treaty of Velasco (public),” 14 May 1836, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Austin, Texas., https://www.tsl.texas.gov/treasures/republic/velasco-public-1.html.
18This version of Lincoln’s “spot” resolutions corresponds exactly with the version appearing in the Congressional Globe. It is included in this version of address and the version in the Appendix of the Congressional Globe. Neither Lincoln’s handwritten version of the speech nor the reports of the speech as delivered include this preamble and resolutions.
Illinois Journal (Springfield), 10 February 1848, 1:4-6; Cong. Globe, 30th Cong., 1st Sess., 64, 154-56 (1847-48); Cong. Globe, 30th Cong., 1st Sess., Appendix, 95 (1848).
19James K. Polk to the Senate and House of Representatives, 11 May 1846, U.S. House Journal. 1846. 29th Cong., 1st sess., 785.
20James K. Polk to the Senate and House of Representatives, 8 December 1846, U.S. House Journal. 29th Cong., 2nd sess., 18.
21James K. Polk to the Senate and House of Representatives, 7 December 1847, U.S. House Journal. 1848. 30th Cong., 1st sess., 21.

Printed Document, 14 page(s), Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, IL).