The Call to the Mexican War

“Polk thought with admirable realism about tariffs, the treasury, and the routine of domestic policy. He thought with. astonishing shrewdness about the necessary political maneuvers of government. But he thought badly about war. He was willing to make war on either England or Mexico, if he should have to in order to accomplish his purpose. But he believed that if there should be a war it could be won easily, probably without fighting, and certainly without great effort or expense. Deliberately carrying twin torches through a powder magazine from March 4, 1845, to May 13, 1846, he made no preparation for either war. He had no understanding of war, its needs, its patterns, or its results. The truth is that he did not understand any results except immediate ones. He did not know how to make war or how to lead a people who were making war.

He was not, however, behind his nation or his colleagues in public life. A generation had lived and died since the last war, and the generation of the first war had not been dead quite long enough. The generations in between had had the spread-eagle em-Jtions of the expanding nation without any need to refine them under the test of fact. What was thought to be the Spirit of ’76 blazed across the entire country when word came of Thornton’s capture. Under the headline “To Arms! To Arms!” A True Yankee Heart wrote in the National Intelligencer an epitome of a thousand editorials, all of which came down to “Young men . . . fly to the rescue of your country’s rights, and save her brave little band from a savage foe! … now, my friends, is the time for you to show the world that you are all chips of the old Revolutionary block, that you are made of the true Yankee stuff even to the backbone …. Come out,* young men, one and all, and you will stand in bold relief before the world.” They came out by the thousand, before there was any organization to receive them, more than any organization could receive …. It was ’76 all over again in the people’s thought. Hardly aware of it, they had been spoiling for a war; here it was and the Americans could lick the world. They were all Washington. · Greene, Morgan, barefoot Continentals staining the snow of Valley Forge with their blood, foreheads bandaged, banners tattered, tootling a fife in a heroic painting.”