Abraham Lincoln to John M. Peck, 21 May 18481Washington, May 21– 1848–Rev[Reverend]: J. M. Peck.Dear Sir:
On last evening I received a copy of the Bellville Advocate, with the appearance of having been sent by a private hand; and, inasmuch as it contains your oration on the occasion of the celebrating2 of the battle of Buena Vista, and is mailed ^post marked^ at Rock-Spring, I can not doubt that it is to you, I am indebted for this, courtesy–3 I own that finding in the oration a laboured justification of the administration on the origin of the Mexican war, disappoints me– disappoints me, because it is the first effort of the kind I have known, made by one appearing to me to be, intelligent, right-minded, and impartial– It is this disappointment that prompts me to address you, briefly, on the subject– I do not propose any extended review– I do not quarrel with your brief exhibition of facts; I presume it is correct so far as it goes; but it is so brief, as to exclude some facts quite as material ^in my judgment,^ to a just conclusion, as any it includes– For instance, you say "Paredes came into power the last of December 1845, and from that moment, all hopes of avoiding war by negociation vanished." A little further on, refering to this, and other preceding statements, you say "All this transpired three months before Gen; Taylor marched across the desert of the Nueces"– These two statements are substantially correct; but a further fact, which you have not
<Page 2>stated, is, that the administration ordered Gen: Taylor to cross the desert of the Nueces, on the 13th of January 1846, and before the news of the overthrow of Herara by Paredes had reached Washington at all– You evidently intend it to be infered, that Gen: Taylor was sent across the desert, in consequence, among other things, of the fall of Herara and rise of Paredes; but I submit to you, whether the fact, which I bring to your notice, does not completely bar that inference?– And this fact is to be found in the same documents you seem to have used– ⋄and you evidently intend to have it infered that Gen: Taylor was sent across the desert, in consequence of the destruction of all hope of peace, in the overthrow of Herara by Paredes– Is not that the inference you intend? If so, the material fact you have excluded is, that Gen. Taylor was ordered to cross the desert on the 13th of January 1846, and before the news of Herara’s fall reached Washington- before the administration, which gave the order, had any knowledge that Herara had fallen– Does not this fact cut up your inference by the roots? Must you not find some other excuse for that order, or give up the case? All that part of the three months you speak of, which transpired after the 13th of January, was expended in the order's going from Washington to Gen: Taylor, in his preparations for the march, and in the actual march across the desert; and not in the president's waiting to hear the knell of peace, in the fall of Herara, or for any other object All this is to be found in the very documents you seem to have used–4⋄
One other thing: Although you say, at one point, "I shall briefly exhibit facts and leave each person to perceive the just application to the principles already laid down, to the case in hand" as you proceed, you break the pledge, and among other conclusions, state the following: ^you very soon get to making applications yourself—in one instance, as follows=^ "In view of all the facts, the conviction to my mind is irresistable, that the Government of the United States committed no aggression on Mexico"– Not in view of all the facts– There are facts which you have not brought into ^kept out of^ view– It is a fact, that the United States Army, in marching to the Rio Grande, marched into a peaceful Mexican settlement, and frightened the inhabitants away from their homes and their growing crops–
It is a fact, that Fort Brown, opposite Matamoras, was built ^by that army,^ within a Mexican cotton field, on which, at the time the army reached it, the ^a^ young cotton crop was ^growing^ about half a foot high, ^and^ which crop
was wholly destroyed, and the field itself greatly, and permanently injured, by ditches, embankments, and the like–
It is a fact, that when the Mexicans captured Capt Thornton and his command, they found them, on and captured them within another Mexican field–5
Now I wish to bring these facts to your notice, and to ascertain what is the result of your reflections upon them– If you deny that they are facts I think I can furnish proof that ^which^ shall convince you that you are mistaken.
If you admit that they are facts, then I shall be obliged for a reference to any law of language, law of states, law of nations, law of morals, or law of religion, ^—any law human or divine,^ in which an authority can be found for saying those facts constitute "no aggression"
Possibly you consider those acts too small for notice– Would you venture to so consider them, had they been committed by any nation on earth, against the humblest of our people? I know you would not– Then I ask, is the precept "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them"6 absolute?—of no force?—of no application?
I shall be pleased if you can find leisure to write me7Yours trulyA. Lincoln
1Abraham Lincoln wrote and signed the letter. Given the emendations and its inclusion in the Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress, it is possible this was a draft and not the version that was sent to Peck.
3In pursuance of a request made by citizens of St. Clair County, on April 23, Peck gave his oration on the Mexican War at a Baptist church in Belleville. It was printed in the Belleville Advocate on April 27, 1848.
Belleville Advocate (Illinois), 27 April 1848, 1:2-5, 2:1-4.
5Later known as the “Thornton Affair,” the first hostilities between American and Mexican forces took place on April 25, 1846, on the north bank of the Rio Grande.
“Thornton Affair,” Spencer C. Tucker, ed., Encyclopedia of the Mexican-American War (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2013), 1:653.
Autograph Letter Signed, 4 page(s), Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress (Washington, DC).