H105, American History I (Prof. Konstantin Dierks)


John C. Calhoun, speech on Mexico (January 4, 1848).

Resolved, That to conquer Mexico and to hold it, either as a province or to incorporate it in the Union, would be inconsistent with the avowed object for which the war has been prosecuted; a departure from the settled policy of the Government; in conflict with its character and genius; and in the end, subversive of our free and popular institutions....

We have heard much of the reputation which our country has acquired by this war.  I acknowledge it to the full amount, as far as the military is concerned.  The army has done its duty nobly, and conferred high honors on the country, for which I sincerely thank them; but I apprehend that the reputation acquired does not go beyond this, and that in other respects we have lost instead of acquiring reputation by the war.  It would seem certain, from all publications from abroad, that the Government itself has not gained reputation in the eyes of the world, for justice, moderation, or wisdom.  Whether this be deserved or not, it is not for me to inquire at present.  I am now speaking merely of reputation; and in that view it appears that we have lost abroad, as much in civil and political reputation as we have acquired for our skill and valor in arms.  But much as I regard military glory -- as much as I rejoice to witness the display of that indomitable energy and courage which surmounts all difficulties -- I would be sorry indeed that our Government should lose any portion of that high character, for justice, moderation, and discretion, which distinguished it in the early stages of our history.

The next reason assigned is, that either holding Mexico as a province, or incorporating her into the Union, would be unprecedented by any example in our history.  We have conquered many of the neighboring tribes of Indians, but we have never thought of holding them in subjection, or of incorporating them into our Union.  They have been left as an independent people in the midst of us, or have been driven back into the forests.  Nor have we ever incorporated into the Union any but the Caucasian race.  To incorporate Mexico, would be the first departure of the kind; for more than half of its population are pure Indians, and by far the larger portion of the residue mixed blood.  I protest against the incorporation of such a people.  Ours is the Government of the white man.  The great misfortune of what was formerly Spanish America, is to be traced to the fatal error of placing the colored race on an equality with the white.  That error destroyed the social arrangement which formed the basis of their society.  This error we have wholly escaped; the Brazilians, formerly a province of Portugal, have escaped also, to a considerable extent, and they and we are the only people of this continent who have made revolutions without anarchy.  And yet, with this example before them, and our uniform practice, there are those among us who talk about erecting these Mexicans into territorial Governments, and placing them on an equality with the people of these States.  I utterly protest against the project.

....

We make a great mistake in supposing that all people are capable of self government.  Acting under that impression, many are anxious to force free Governments on all the people of this continent, and over the world, if they had the power.  It has been lately urged in a very respectable quarter, that it is the mission of this country to spread civil and religious liberty over all the globe, and especially over this continent -- even by force, if necessary.  It is a sad delusion.  None but a people advanced to a high state of moral and intellectual excellence are capable in a civilized condition, of forming and maintaining free Governments; and among those who are so far advanced, very few indeed have had the good fortune to form constitutions capable of endurance.  It is a remarkable fact in the political history of man, that there is scarcely an instance of a free constitutional Government, which has been the work exclusively of foresight and wisdom.  They have all been the result of a fortunate combination of circumstances.  It is a very difficult task to make a Constitution worthy of being called so.  This admirable federal Constitution of ours, is the result of such a combination.  It is superior to the wisdom of any or all of the men by whose agency it was made.  The force of circumstances, and not foresight or wisdom, induced them to adopted many of its wisest provisions.

But of the few nations, who have been so fortunate as to adopt a wise Constitution, still fewer have had the wisdom long to preserve them.  It is harder to preserve than to obtain liberty.  After years of prosperity, the tenure by which it is held, is but too often forgotten; and I fear, Senators, that such is the case with us.  There is no solicitude now about liberty.  It was not so in the early days of the Republic.  Then it was the first object of our solicitude.  The maxim then was, that “power is always stealing from the many to the few”; “the price of liberty is perpetual vigilance.”  Then no question of any magnitude came up, in which the first inquiry was not “is it constitutional” -- “is it consistent with our free, popular institutions” -- “how is it to affect our liberty.”  It is not so now.  Questions of the greatest magnitude are now discussed without reference or allusion to these vital considerations.  I have been often struck with the fact, that in the discussions of the great questions in which we are now engaged, relating to the origin and the conduct of this war, their effect on the free institutions and the liberty of the people have scarcely been alluded to, although their bearing in that respect is so direct and disastrous.  They would, in former days, have been the great and leading topics of discussion; and would, above all others, have had the most powerful effect in arousing the attention of the country.  But now, other topics occupy the attention of Congress and of the country -- military glory, extension of the empire, and the aggrandizement of the country.  To what is this great change to be attributed?  Is it because there has been a decay of the spirit of liberty among the people?  I think not.  I believe that it was never more ardent.  The true cause is, that we have ceased to remember the tenure by which liberty alone can be preserved.  We have had so many years of prosperity -- passed through so many difficulties and dangers without the loss of liberty -- that we begin to think that we hold it by right divine from heaven itself.  Under this impression, without thinking or reflecting, we plunge into war, contract heavy debts, increase vastly the patronage of the Executive, and indulge in every species of extravagance, without thinking that we expose our liberty to hazard.  It is a great and fatal mistake.  The day of retribution will come; and when it does, awful will be the reckoning, and heavy the responsibilities somewhere.