Curse of the Forbidden Fruit: Southern Opposition During the Mexican War Era, 1835-1850
Bell, Brett Richard
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This study examines southern opposition to the Mexican War. The story of such opposition is essential to a complete understanding of the Mexican War and the growing sectional conflict in the late antebellum period. It illustrates that much more opposition existed to the war in the South than is commonly thought. Nonetheless, southern war opponents failed to restrict the grand strategy of the Polk administration or shorten the length of the conflict. The main reason they failed in these goals stemmed from the inability of northern and southern opponents to work together to form and sustain a national antiwar movement. Southern war opponents firmly supported slavery and southern honor, and northern opponents did not, and this fissure doomed opposition in both sections. Almost all southerners committed themselves to defending slavery and southern honor - twin pillars which provided southerners with their very identities as free-American citizens - at all costs.The dissertation is organized thematically. The first chapter analyzes the important political and military events leading up to the American declaration of war against Mexico. I argue that many southerners opposed Texas annexation until 1844 as they thought it would unite the North against the South, thus endangering slavery and honor even in the southern states. The second and third chapters analyze southern opposition within the military. These chapters demonstrate that significant opposition existed in the ranks and offer southern honor as central to that opposition. The fourth and fifth chapters focus on southern reactions to the Wilmot Proviso - an attempt by northerners to prevent the spread of slavery to any territory acquired from Mexico as a result of the war. I conclude that the decisions made from 1835 to 1850 proved to be disastrous to the South. The Mexican War was a failure for all southerners, as not only did opponents fail to achieve their goals, but supporters also lost access to the West. While the vast majority of southerners hoped to create a secure environment for slavery and honor, by the end of this period they perceived themselves to be living in an insecure world with dangers on all sides.