Friday October 31, 2014
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16-056 HD: Temptation of Mexico II

Friday Oct 31, 2014

Lead: One hundred and fifty years ago the Republic was facing its greatest crisis. This continuing series examines the American Civil War. It is "A House Divided."

Intro: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: In the 1840s America’s preeminent transcendentalist poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, wrote of the War that secured the largest increase in American territory since the Louisiana Purchase, “Mexico will poison us.” He was not alone in such a feeling. Even President James Knox Polk, who had unleashed the dogs of war and pushed the United States to the Pacific, soon recognized the dangerous passions he had allowed to run free. Suddenly, there was new land into which slavery must expand and from which slavery must be banned.

Polk declined to run for office because of health problems, and the Whig Party nominated and elected as President, Zachary Taylor, hero of the Mexican War and a Louisiana slave-holder. Recognizing, however, that sectional tensions would arise if California and New Mexico became territories and therefore, subjects of heated Congressional meddling, Taylor persuaded the two to apply directly for statehood which California did as a free state in 1849. New Mexico would later follow the same path. This apparent betrayal by Taylor, one of their own, incensed Southerners. The passions aroused by the availability of Mexican conquered and then purchased territory, seemed to be pushing the Republic closer to division.

Heated debate rang in newspapers North and South, and in the halls of Congress. The aging and tubercular Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina demanded that slaveholders have equal rights in the territories or the regions should separate and govern themselves in peace. Daniel Webster spoke eloquently for the preservation of the Union, “not at as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man, but as an American.”

Once again, the great compromiser, Henry Clay of Kentucky, offered a plan for reduced tensions, the Compromise of 1850. California would come in as a free state, Congress would refrain from interfering on the slavery question in former Mexican territory and there would be a federal law assisting the capture of runaway slaves. Oddly enough, this last confirmed Emerson’s prophesy, “Mexico will poison us.”

From Richmond Virginia, this is Dan Roberts.


Catton, Bruce. The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War. New York: American Heritage Publishing Company, 1960, 1988.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Edward W. Emerson and Waldo E. Forbes, eds. Boston: Houghton-Miflin, 1909-1914.

Holt, Michael F. The Political Crisis of the 1850s. New York: Norton, 1983.

Howe, Daniel Walker. The Political Culture of the American Whigs. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979,

Ingraham, Joseph Holt. The Southwest, by a Yankee. (New York, 1935).

McClelland, Peter D. and Richard J. Zeckhauser, Demographic Dimensions of the New Republic. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1982.

McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Merk, Frederick. Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History: A Reinterpretation. New York: Knopf Publishing, 1963.

Schroeder, John H. Mr. Polk’s War: American Opposition and Dissent. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1973.

Copyright 2014 by Dan Roberts Enterprises, Inc.


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