The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7

(3) That by various acts she had claimed it on paper.

(4) That Santa Anna in his treaty with Texas recognized the Rio
Grande as her boundary.

(5) That Texas before, and the United States after, annexation
had exercised jurisdiction beyond the Nueces–between the two

(6) That our Congress understood the boundary of Texas to extend
beyond the Nueces.

Now for each of these in its turn. His first item is that the
Rio Grande was the western boundary of Louisiana, as we purchased
it of France in 1803; and seeming to expect this to be disputed,
he argues over the amount of nearly a page to prove it true, at
the end of which he lets us know that by the treaty of 1803 we
sold to Spain the whole country from the Rio Grande eastward to
the Sabine. Now, admitting for the present that the Rio Grande
was the boundary of Louisiana, what under heaven had that to do
with the present boundary between us and Mexico? How, Mr.
Chairman, the line that once divided your land from mine can
still be the boundary between us after I have sold my land to you
is to me beyond all comprehension. And how any man, with an
honest purpose only of proving the truth, could ever have thought
of introducing such a fact to prove such an issue is equally
incomprehensible. His next piece of evidence is that “the
Republic of Texas always claimed this river [Rio Grande] as her
western boundary.” That is not true, in fact. Texas has claimed
it, but she has not always claimed it. There is at least one
distinguished exception. Her State constitution the republic’s
most solemn and well-considered act, that which may, without
impropriety, be called her last will and testament, revoking all
others-makes no such claim. But suppose she had always claimed
it. Has not Mexico always claimed the contrary? So that there
is but claim against claim, leaving nothing proved until we get
back of the claims and find which has the better foundation.
Though not in the order in which the President presents his
evidence, I now consider that class of his statements which are
in substance nothing more than that Texas has, by various acts of
her Convention and Congress, claimed the Rio Grande as her
boundary, on paper. I mean here what he says about the fixing of
the Rio Grande as her boundary in her old constitution (not her
State constitution), about forming Congressional districts,
counties, etc. Now all of this is but naked claim; and what I
have already said about claims is strictly applicable to this.
If I should claim your land by word of mouth, that certainly
would not make it mine; and if I were to claim it by a deed which
I had made myself, and with which you had had nothing to do, the
claim would be quite the same in substance–or rather, in utter
nothingness. I next consider the President’s statement that
Santa Anna in his treaty with Texas recognized the Rio Grande as
the western boundary of Texas. Besides the position so often
taken, that Santa Anna while a prisoner of war, a captive, could
not bind Mexico by a treaty, which I deem conclusive–besides
this, I wish to say something in relation to this treaty, so
called by the President, with Santa Anna. If any man would like
to be amused by a sight of that little thing which the President
calls by that big name, he can have it by turning to Niles’s
Register, vol. 1, p. 336. And if any one should suppose that
Niles’s Register is a curious repository of so mighty a document
as a solemn treaty between nations, I can only say that I learned
to a tolerable degree of certainty, by inquiry at the State
Department, that the President himself never saw it anywhere
else. By the way, I believe I should not err if I were to
declare that during the first ten years of the existence of that
document it was never by anybody called a treaty–that it was
never so called till the President, in his extremity, attempted
by so calling it to wring something from it in justification of
himself in connection with the Mexican War. It has none of the
distinguishing features of a treaty. It does not call itself a
treaty. Santa Anna does not therein assume to bind Mexico; he
assumes only to act as the President–Commander-in-Chief of the
Mexican army and navy; stipulates that the then present
hostilities should cease, and that he would not himself take up
arms, nor influence the Mexican people to take up arms, against
Texas during the existence of the war of independence. He did
not recognize the independence of Texas; he did not assume to put
an end to the war, but clearly indicated his expectation of its
continuance; he did not say one word about boundary, and, most
probably, never thought of it. It is stipulated therein that the
Mexican forces should evacuate the territory of Texas, passing to
the other side of the Rio Grande; and in another article it is
stipulated that, to prevent collisions between the armies, the
Texas army should not approach nearer than within five leagues–
of what is not said, but clearly, from the object stated, it is
of the Rio Grande. Now, if this is a treaty recognizing the Rio
Grande as the boundary of Texas, it contains the singular feature
of stipulating that Texas shall not go within five leagues of her
own boundary.

Next comes the evidence of Texas before annexation, and the
United States afterwards, exercising jurisdiction beyond the
Nueces and between the two rivers. This actual exercise of
jurisdiction is the very class or quality of evidence we want.
It is excellent so far as it goes; but does it go far enough? He
tells us it went beyond the Nueces, but he does not tell us it
went to the Rio Grande. He tells us jurisdiction was exercised
between the two rivers, but he does not tell us it was exercised
over all the territory between them. Some simple-minded people
think it is possible to cross one river and go beyond it without
going all the way to the next, that jurisdiction may be exercised
between two rivers without covering all the country between them.
I know a man, not very unlike myself, who exercises jurisdiction
over a piece of land between the Wabash and the Mississippi; and
yet so far is this from being all there is between those rivers
that it is just one hundred and fifty-two feet long by fifty feet
wide, and no part of it much within a hundred miles of either. He
has a neighbor between him and the Mississippi–that is, just
across the street, in that direction–whom I am sure he could
neither persuade nor force to give up his habitation; but which
nevertheless he could certainly annex, if it were to be done by
merely standing on his own side of the street and claiming it, or
even sitting down and writing a deed for it.

But next the President tells us the Congress of the United States
understood the State of Texas they admitted into the Union to
extend beyond the Nueces. Well, I suppose they did. I certainly
so understood it. But how far beyond? That Congress did not
understand it to extend clear to the Rio Grande is quite certain,
by the fact of their joint resolutions for admission expressly
leaving all questions of boundary to future adjustment. And it
may be added that Texas herself is proven to have had the same
understanding of it that our Congress had, by the fact of the
exact conformity of her new constitution to those resolutions.

I am now through the whole of the President’s evidence; and it is
a singular fact that if any one should declare the President sent
the army into the midst of a settlement of Mexican people who had
never submitted, by consent or by force, to the authority of
Texas or of the United States, and that there and thereby the
first blood of the war was shed, there is not one word in all the
which would either admit or deny the declaration. This strange
omission it does seem to me could not have occurred but by
design. My way of living leads me to be about the courts of
justice; and there I have sometimes seen a good lawyer,
struggling for his client’s neck in a desperate case, employing
every artifice to work round, befog, and cover up with many words
some point arising in the case which he dared not admit and yet
could not deny. Party bias may help to make it appear so, but
with all the allowance I can make for such bias, it still does
appear to me that just such, and from just such necessity, is the
President’s struggle in this case.

Sometime after my colleague [Mr. Richardson] introduced the
resolutions I have mentioned, I introduced a preamble,
resolution, and interrogations, intended to draw the President
out, if possible, on this hitherto untrodden ground. To show
their relevancy, I propose to state my understanding of the true
rule for ascertaining the boundary between Texas and Mexico. It
is that wherever Texas was exercising jurisdiction was hers; and
wherever Mexico was exercising jurisdiction was hers; and that
whatever separated the actual exercise of jurisdiction of the one
from that of the other was the true boundary between them. If,
as is probably true, Texas was exercising jurisdiction along the
western bank of the Nueces, and Mexico was exercising it along
the eastern bank of the Rio Grande, then neither river was the
boundary: but the uninhabited country between the two was. The
extent of our territory in that region depended not on any
treaty-fixed boundary (for no treaty had attempted it), but on
revolution. Any people anywhere being inclined and having the
power have the right to rise up and shake off the existing
government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a
most valuable, a most sacred right–a right which we hope and
believe is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to
cases in which the whole people of an existing government may
choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can may
revolutionize and make their own of so much of the territory as
they inhabit. More than this, a majority of any portion of such
people may revolutionize, putting down a minority, intermingled
with or near about them, who may oppose this movement. Such
minority was precisely the case of the Tories of our own
revolution. It is a quality of revolutions not to go by old
lines or old laws, but to break up both, and make new ones.

As to the country now in question, we bought it of France in
1803, and sold it to Spain in 1819, according to the President’s
statements. After this, all Mexico, including Texas,
revolutionized against Spain; and still later Texas
revolutionized against Mexico. In my view, just so far as she
carried her resolution by obtaining the actual, willing or
unwilling, submission of the people, so far the country was hers,
and no farther. Now, sir, for the purpose of obtaining the very
best evidence as to whether Texas had actually carried her
revolution to the place where the hostilities of the present war
commenced, let the President answer the interrogatories I
proposed, as before mentioned, or some other similar ones. Let
him answer fully, fairly, and candidly. Let him answer with facts
and not with arguments. Let him remember he sits where
Washington sat, and so remembering, let him answer as Washington
would answer. As a nation should not, and the Almighty will not,
be evaded, so let him attempt no evasion–no equivocation. And
if, so answering, he can show that the soil was ours where the
first blood of the war was shed,–that it was not within an
inhabited country, or, if within such, that the inhabitants had
submitted themselves to the civil authority of Texas or of the
United States, and that the same is true of the site of Fort
Brown, then I am with him for his justification. In that case I
shall be most happy to reverse the vote I gave the other day. I
have a selfish motive for desiring that the President may do this
–I expect to gain some votes, in connection with the war, which,
without his so doing, will be of doubtful propriety in my own
judgment, but which will be free from the doubt if he does so.
But if he can not or will not do this,–if on any pretence or no
pretence he shall refuse or omit it then I shall be fully
convinced of what I more than suspect already that he is deeply
conscious of being in the wrong; that he feels the blood of this
war, like the blood of Abel, is crying to heaven against him;
that originally having some strong motive–what, I will not stop
now to give my opinion concerning to involve the two countries in
a war, and trusting to escape scrutiny by fixing the public gaze
upon the exceeding brightness of military glory,–that attractive
rainbow that rises in showers of blood, that serpent’s eye that
charms to destroy,–he plunged into it, and was swept on and on
till, disappointed in his calculation of the ease with which
Mexico might be subdued, he now finds himself he knows not where.
How like the half insane mumbling of a fever dream is the whole
war part of his late message! At one time telling us that Mexico
has nothing whatever that we can get–but territory; at another
showing us how we can support the war by levying contributions on
Mexico. At one time urging the national honor, the security of
the future, the prevention of foreign interference, and even the
good of Mexico herself as among the objects of the war; at
another telling us that “to reject indemnity, by refusing to
accept a cession of territory, would be to abandon all our just
demands, and to wage the war, bearing all its expenses, without a
purpose or definite object.” So then this national honor,
security of the future, and everything but territorial indemnity
may be considered the no-purposes and indefinite objects of the
war! But, having it now settled that territorial indemnity is
the only object, we are urged to seize, by legislation here, all
that he was content to take a few months ago, and the whole
province of Lower California to boot, and to still carry on the
war to take all we are fighting for, and still fight on. Again,
the President is resolved under all circumstances to have full
territorial indemnity for the expenses of the war; but he forgets
to tell us how we are to get the excess after those expenses
shall have surpassed the value of the whole of the Mexican
territory. So again, he insists that the separate national
existence of Mexico shall be maintained; but he does not tell us
how this can be done, after we shall have taken all her
territory. Lest the questions I have suggested be considered
speculative merely, let me be indulged a moment in trying to show
they are not. The war has gone on some twenty months; for the
expenses of which, together with an inconsiderable old score, the
President now claims about one half of the Mexican territory, and
that by far the better half, so far as concerns our ability to
make anything out of it. It is comparatively uninhabited; so
that we could establish land-offices in it, and raise some money
in that way. But the other half is already inhabited, as I
understand it, tolerably densely for the nature of the country,
and all its lands, or all that are valuable, already appropriated
as private property. How then are we to make anything out of
these lands with this encumbrance on them? or how remove the
encumbrance? I suppose no one would say we should kill the
people, or drive them out, or make slaves of them, or confiscate
their property. How, then, can we make much out of this part of
the territory? If the prosecution of the war has in expenses
already equalled the better half of the country, how long its
future prosecution will be in equalling the less valuable half is
not a speculative, but a practical, question, pressing closely
upon us. And yet it is a question which the President seems
never to have thought of. As to the mode of terminating the war
and securing peace, the President is equally wandering and
indefinite. First, it is to be done by a more vigorous
prosecution of the war in the vital parts of the enemy’s country;
and after apparently talking himself tired on this point, the
President drops down into a half-despairing tone, and tells us
that “with a people distracted and divided by contending
factions, and a government subject to constant changes by
successive revolutions, the continued success of our arms may
fail to secure a satisfactory peace.” Then he suggests the
propriety of wheedling the Mexican people to desert the counsels
of their own leaders, and, trusting in our protestations, to set
up a government from which we can secure a satisfactory peace;
telling us that “this may become , the only mode of obtaining
such a peace.” But soon he falls into doubt of this too; and
then drops back on to the already half-abandoned ground of “more
vigorous prosecution.” All this shows that the President is in
nowise satisfied with his own positions. First he takes up one,
and in attempting to argue us into it he argues himself out of
it, then seizes another and goes through the same process, and
then, confused at being able to think of nothing new, he snatches
up the old one again, which he has some time before cast off.
His mind, taxed beyond its power, is running hither and thither,
like some tortured creature on a burning surface, finding no
position on which it can settle down and be at ease.

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