Tag Archives: Mexican War

From the halls of Montezuma

I had never fully understood what those words in the Marine Corps song really meant, until I read A Glorious Defeat: Mexico and Its War with the United States.

After a fitful start to the Mexican War, American soldiers ended up occupying Mexico City, in the heart of the country. Interestingly, the Mexican government, then re-located 100 miles north,  pondered their options. One idea was to arm the peasants and begin a guerilla war. However, the elites thought so little of that idea, that an idea to surrender the entire country for annexation by the U.S. carried more weight.

The war ended with California, most of Arizona and all of New Mexico going to the U.S., along with the southern border of Texas being settled in America’s favor. The war also served gave combat experience to the generals on both sides of the Civil War.

Harry Truman was the first American president to visit Mexico City since the occupation in 1847. He laid a wreath at the monument to Los Ninos Heroes, 6 teenage cadets who had died defending Chapultepec Castle. As one Mexican engineer said at the time, “One hundred years of misunderstanding and bitterness wiped out by one man in one minute. This is the best neighbor policy.”

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The intentional one-termer

In the early part of this project, I wondered what would happen if a presidential candidate campaigned on running for one term. What if they said, “Here’s what I will do in four years, and after that, I will step down.”

It seemed a reach. If a person is ambitious enough to do what it takes to get elected, then they would not easily be dissuaded from staying in office at least two terms. Sometimes four.

Then I read James K.  Polk’s bio. He said from the beginning his presidency would last only four years. His goals were:

  • Change the tariff
  • Settle the status of Oregon with England
  • Obtain California
  • Bring Texas into the Union

Ambitious goals even for a 2-termer. Three of the goals would easily double the size of the United States, and economic policy never pleases all of the regional interests.

Polk got a boost from predecessor John Tyler, who signed a bill saying that while he wasn’t admitting Texas into the Union, it was a decision that was the prerogative of the president to do so. Within weeks of taking office, Polk exercised that prerogative, without worrying about Constitutional authorization.

The dispute of the southern boundary of Texas triggered a war with Mexico, with the result of the U.S. taking California.

In the meantime, Polk was able to work out a deal on Oregon’s borders, settling for something less than 54°40′ or fight.

Unfortunately for Polk, he caught cholera during his victory lap, dying within 11 months of leaving office.

The intentional one-term platform worked in the 19th century. Given today’s media cycle, however, I don’t think it would. Once an intentional one-termer was elected, the horse race for the next president would begin.