ACT ONE, PART I
NEW BIRTH OF FREEDOMDestiny Made Manifest
The Amendment Passes
ACT ONE: The Great Divide
The Amendment Passes
ACT ONE: The Great Divide
From “Westward Expansion: An American Story” by Harold Freeman
“The presidency of James K. Polk was defined by one question: should the United States expand north, or south? Judging Mexico to be the weaker power, and therefore, the easier victory, Polk set his sights on acquiring as much of Mexico as possible. The shift away from war over Oregon to war in Mexico was precipitated by not only persistent Mexican weakness in both Government and Army, but a rapid deterioration in relations between the two states over the American annexation of Texas.
The catalyst for Polk’s war of expansion came from a dispute over the Nueces strip. The Mexican government claimed that the southern border of Texas lay along the Nueces River. Texas, and by extension the United States government, insisted that the border lay along the Rio Grande River, and derived this claim from the Treaties of Velasco, which had established that river as the southern border, but the treaties had been repudiated by the Mexican Government. To intimidate Mexico, President Polk dispatched an army of 3,500 men, commanded by General Zachary Taylor, to occupy the territory in question. In reaction to this, Mexico was consumed by nationalist fervor. Despite having four different presidents in 1846, the people agreed that the government should resist American imperialism.
General Taylor refused Mexican demands to retreat north of the Nueces, prompting General Santa Anna to lead 2,000 cavalry troops in an attack on a 70-man American patrol group. Known as the Thornton Affair after Seth Thornton, the US commander, eleven US servicemen were killed in the US rout. Just a few days after the Thornton Affair, Mexican troops attacked the makeshift American camp built by Taylor, known as Fort Texas. The siege ended with the arrival of General Taylor himself, with 2,400 troops and a company of flying artillery . The day after the abortive Mexican siege, the two sides engaged in the brutal Battle of Resaca de la Palma, fought in a dry riverbed and characterized by vicious hand-to-hand combat. In the end, the US army dealt far more casualties than it sustained, and the Mexican Army was forced to withdraw. The Mexican-American War had begun.”
From “The Sectional Rift” by Xander J. Walsh
Published 2009 (Re-print of the 1999 edition)
“Little did the members of the House of Representatives know, but the debate over a two-million-dollar appropriations bill would spiral into a great sectional debate, and, ultimately, a war for the preservation of the union. Little did these men of the House, Democrat or Whig, northern or southern, know that in a decade’s time, some of them would help lead the Union to victory or that some would become members of a secessionist alliance of states. What the members of the House of Representatives did know was that they had just come from a hearty meal, with not a small number intoxicated, and that they had just two hours to vote on the bill providing $2 million to finance Polk’s annexation of land taken from Mexico in the inevitable American victory, before Congress adjourned for recess.
Polk and his allies had carefully planned this last session of Congress before recess – two hours exactly were provided for debate and voting, with no Representative permitted to speak for longer than ten minutes. No sooner had the session opened than Representative Hugh White, a Whig from New York, lambasted President Polk for his expansionist plans. After White’s speaking time elapsed, Robert C. Winthrop, a Whig from Massachusetts, criticized the President in a similar manner to White, and called for an amendment to prohibit slavery in the territories annexed from Mexico. After Winthrop, two speakers defended Polk’s actions from the criticism of the two Whig congressmen.
Then, David Wilmot, a freshman Democrat from Pennsylvania, was recognized by the Chair from among the many Congressmen clamoring to speak. Wilmot was, up until now, a faithful Democrat. When the other Pennsylvanian Congressmen voted against Polk’s tariffs, Wilmot supported them. Wilmot had voted in favor of the Texan annexation treaty, and in favor of recognizing the northern border of the Oregon Territory as the 49th parallel, even when many northerners were agitating for a more northern boundary. It was all the more surprising to the administration when Wilmot began his address by criticizing Polk for masking his bid to extend slave power into the recently acquired territory under the guise of Manifest Destiny. He was not necessarily opposed to slavery – he supported admitting Texas as a slave state, but Wilmot opposed extending slavery to territories where it did not yet exist.
While White and Winthrop had called for an amendment barring slavery from the newly acquired territories, Wilmot introduced such an amendment to the appropriations bill after he finished his criticism of Polk. The ‘Wilmot Proviso’, as it has come to be called, mandated, “that, as an express and fundamental condition to the acquisition of any territory from the Republic of Mexico… neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any part of said territory, except for crime, whereof the party shall first be duly convicted.” The introduction of Wilmot’s amendment caused a stir on the House floor, and word spread quickly of the amendment. Three members of Polk’s cabinet rushed to view the proceedings. Though the amendment had disturbed the President’s plan for a quick and quiet vote of approval, the House Chair stuck to the two-hour time limit, and when that time elapsed, the House commenced its vote.
William W. Wick, a Democrat representing Indiana, tried to compromise by introducing an amendment extending the 36 30’ line established by the Missouri compromise all the way to the Pacific, but this measure was defeated 89-54. Then, finally, the House voted on whether to include the Wilmot Proviso in the appropriations bill. The amendment was added to the bill by a vote of 80-64, with the votes cast along strictly sectional lines – almost all votes in favor came from northern congressmen, and almost all votes against the bill came from southern congressmen. With the Proviso included, southern representatives launched a bid to simply kill the bill rather than ban the introduction of slavery into the territories in question. Despite this, the appropriations bill was approved by a vote of 85-80, with the votes once again falling along the north-south sectional divide.
As the next day was a Sunday, the Senate did not convene to vote on the appropriations bill, amendment included, until August 10th, the day before Congress adjourned. The day of the Senate vote, leaders in the administration planned to remove the Wilmot Amendment from the appropriations bill, return the legislation to the House, where, pressed for time by the looming adjournment, the representatives would have no choice but to approve the appropriations bill, sans the amendment. However, the administration’s plan was thwarted by Senator John Davis, a Whig from Massachusetts and a strong supporter of the Wilmot Amendment. Davis planned to talk until the Senate had no choice but to vote on the appropriations bill with the amendment attached. Davis planned to speak long enough that there would be exactly eight minutes to vote. Interestingly, he almost miscalculated how long that would be because of a slow clock in the Senate chamber. Fortunately for the pro-amendment members of Congress, the clock was repaired overnight after a senator pointed out the discrepancy between the wall clock and his own pocket watch . On August 10th, Davis addressed the floor and spoke, as planned, until there were eight minutes left in the Senate session. The vote was called, and the fifty-eight senators filed up to cast their votes. Like in the House, votes were determined by the geographical location of the Senator’s state, rather than their party. Since the Senate was evenly divided north south, it came down to one Senator to pass the appropriations bill and amendment. Senator John Clayton was conflicted – while he felt that the spread of slavery should be arrested, he was also sensitive to the wants and demands of the South. Ultimately, Clayton cast his ballot in favor of the appropriations bill, and it passed, 30-28.
With the appropriations bill, Wilmot amendment included, passed by the Senate, it fell to President Polk to sign it into law. Here, however, Polk wavered. On the one hand, he had his desired two million dollars to compensate Mexico for annexing slightly over half of their territory, but he was angered that the institution of slavery would be barred from the new lands acquired. Further, he was pressured heavily to sign it – northerners to halt the spread of slavery, and imperialists to ensure the acquisition of the northern half of Mexico.As he told his cabinet, “if I refuse to sign the bill, I will forever earn the enmity of the abolitionists, the nation’s finances will suffer from a prolonged conflict in the unhospitable mountains and deserts of Mexico, and I will be charged with a failure to expand our nation to the Pacific. If I sign it, the southerners, and my own party, will all but disown me, but I will have accomplished my greatest goal in office: annexing what was once the north of the Mexican nation but is now the American south west. I suppose I shall have to sign it.” He had come to his decision, one that would change the course of history - he would sign the appropriations bill.
On August 12th, James Knox Polk signed the appropriations bill placed before him. He got his two million dollars, the northerners got their amendment, and the United States emerged with a newly divided political atmosphere, as the issue of slavery began to take center stage.”
From “Prelude to Tragedy” by Abraham Lincoln
Abridged Edition, Published 1967 (Original, 1876)
“With victory in Mexico assured, President Polk dispatched his Chief Negotiator, James Buchanan, to Mexico City. Polk initially wanted to invite Mexican delegates to America but was cautioned by Jefferson Davis that such a move would result in the delegates being shot immediately upon their return, and that any Mexican government that acquiesced to American demands would be quickly overthrown.
Buchanan’s goal was to obtain as much territory as possible from Mexico. He was able to get Mexican assent to the American annexation of Texas south to the Rio Grande, New Mexico, and Alta California. However, Buchanan knew that Polk wanted him to secure, at a minimum, the peninsula of Lower California. As this work does not concern the Mexican War itself, nor does it concern the minutiae of the negotiations, it will suffice that Buchanan successfully negotiated American annexation of the Baja California, as well as the northern halves of the states of Sonora and Chihuahua.
Though President Polk expressed his disappointment that the border was not pushed farther south to include the states of Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, and Tamaulipas, he decided that Buchanan’s Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo was satisfactory and submitted the treaty for Senatorial ratification. Several attempts were made to amend the treaty – Senator Jefferson Davis introduced an amendment that included Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, and Coahuila in the annexed territory, however this was defeated 44-11. On the other side, a Whig attempt to exclude California and New Mexico in the territories annexed failed 38-12 . Aside from modifications to Article IX, which changed the process by which Mexicans living in the annexed territories were granted citizenship, the treaty proceeded to be ratified as it was drafted by Buchanan on March 10th, by a vote of 38-14.”
From “The Sectional Crises” by Herman Glass
“The signing of the appropriations act, and with it, the Wilmot Proviso, may have resolved the future of the new territories of the Southwest, but caused additional problems for attempts to incorporate the Oregon Country into a unified territory. The proposal to establish Oregon as an incorporated territory, whose inhabitants were already generally opposed to slavery, was most unwelcome to the south. Desperate to maintain a semblance of balance between free state and slave state, southern politicians, led by the most prominent of the pro-slavery southerners, South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun, vowed to fight the incorporation of Oregon tooth and nail. As Representative Robert Rhett of South Carolina wrote to the new Senator of Alabama, William R. King, “the passage of that dangerous attachment, the ‘Wilmot Proviso’, has greatly set us back in our cause – and our cause is the preservation and extension of the careful, intricate equilibrium between the states with the institution of slavery, and those states without.”
The Oregon Bill to incorporate Oregon as a Federal territory threatened to create a new free state – something the south was loath to allow. The first attempt to pass an incorporation bill failed in the Senate, as a southern bloc, led by Calhoun and King, vociferously opposed its passage. In particular, the southern bloc objected to the bill’s allowance for Oregon becoming a free territory without attempting to even the score between free and slave.
The intransigence of the southerners’ is not to suggest that there was no sense of urgency in incorporating Oregon Country – the Whitman Massacre, where the Christian missionaries Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, along with eleven others, were killed by the Cayuse Indians, who accused them of poisoning 200 Cayuse, had just ocurred. The massacre precipitated the Cayuse War, in what is now southeastern Jefferson. Oregon was controlled by a provisional government, which promptly formed volunteer militias, known as the “Oregon Rifles”. Skirmishes took place along the Columbia River and the Columbia plateau, with the Oregon Rifles emerging the victor on the battlefield, but the Cayuse frequently stole rifles and cattle in raids. The Cayuse warriors also burned homesteads, mills, and missions as they fought the Oregonian Provisional Government, severely harming the territory’s economy, and exacerbating the divides and instability within the Provisional Government.
Despite the Cayuse War that was ravaging the settlements of the Columbia War, the Senate was unable to resolve the disputes surrounding the incorporation of the Oregon territory. Several compromises had been proposed – abrogating the Wilmot Proviso in favor of following the 36 30’ line to the Pacific, which was defeated by the northern factions, and holding a referendum in the territory, which was successfully stopped by the southern Senators, because, as John Calhoun declared, “we all know what the settlers of Oregon Country will determine – the prohibition of slavery. It matters not whether they choose to prohibit the institution by the ballot, or whether Congress decides to incorporate Oregon as free territory.” Ultimately, time ran out before the Senate could reach a decision – August 14th was the final day of Congressional sessions, and on that day, yet another attempt to incorporate Oregon, this one simply ignoring the slavery issue, was defeated, opposed by anti-slavery northerners and pro-slavery southerners, by a vote of 40-18. The matter of Oregon, governed by an increasingly fragile provisional government and beset by mounting debt and a wounded settler economy, would have to be settled in the next session of the 30th Congress .”
 The American term for Horse Artillery – light, mobile artillery. At the battle in question, the American artillery far outclassed the slow Mexican guns. (So far, all OTL background)
 The POD – OTL, the Senate clock was eight minutes slow.
 OTL, three Southern Whig Senators voted for the bill. Here, with no slavery permitted in the lands annexed, they vote against introducing new, free territory not included in the Treaty.
 OTL, Oregon was incorporated the day before recess. TTL, with a greater debate over slavery earlier, the issue is left for future Congresses and the Compromise of 1850.
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