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Polk’s Declaration of War with Mexico Essay

Many believe that James K. Polk’s declaration of War with Mexico was a justifiable action. On the contrary, a more sound argument can be made using Lincoln’s “Spot Resolutions” and Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience”; stating that Polk deliberately proclaimed war in order to expand United States’ territory and slavery. Abraham Lincoln used his “Spot Resolutions” to persuade the House of Representatives to present Polk with queries about the veracity of his statements, particularly in regard to the actual “spot” where blood was initially shed. Lincoln’s questions were never answered but his resolutions convinced much of the public that Polk was not being straightforward about his motives for war.

In fact, Polk had a draft written to Congress asking to declare war on Mexico prior to having gained knowledge of U.S. casualties. Polk’s original justifications for war include Mexico’s failure to pay U.S. damage claims and their refusal to meet with Slidell, yet later he stated that the war was a “defensive measure.” Other oppositions to the war came from those who defended civil liberties, most prominently from Henry David Thoreau. Through Thoreau’s eyes, the government was engaged in an unjust war with the sole objective to promote the westward expansion of slavery. As a protest, Thoreau refused to pay his poll tax to support an imperialistic war, resulting in a night in jail.

Thoreau condoned breaking the law if the law was perceived unethical. Thoreau believed that people have the duty to answer to a higher law than of our government, their own set of morals. Polk seemed to change his reasons for war depending on what the public hoped to hear, but he never wavered in his decision for the declaration of War on Mexico. This suggests that he was determined to reap the rewards from a war that he declared over the opposition from both the public and the legislature. The analysis of Lincoln’s “Spot Resolutions” infer that James K. Polk declared war to gain western lands, especially California, despite the repercussions of warfare. Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” also gives evidence that Polk orchestrated the War with Mexico to reach slavery out west.


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