Sunday, July 30, 2017

Salmon P. Chase to James H. Smith,* Cincinnati, Ohio, May 8, 1849

May 8th [1849.]

My Dear Sir: On my return from Georgetown last Saturday I found on my table yours of the 3d. inst. I regretted overmuch that I did not see you when I was up, for I wished very much to talk with you on some of the topics embraced in your letter. — I thought I could discover, when in your town some amelioration of feeling on the part of those who have been so fierce in their denunciations of the repeal of the Black laws and Spalding told them plainly, I understand that they were taking different ground from that of the Democracy in other parts of the State. They would feel awkward, would they not, if they should wake up some morning and find themselves turned over to the Whigs. To avoid this they had better pause before they set themselves against the united decision and action of the Democratic members of the Legislature. — I thought I saw some indications that this view of matters was beginning to commend itself to them. For my part I care very little about their talk against me: I shall survive it, I think. I have long held as unreservedly as any of them the Democratic faith. If I have not acted with the Democratic party it has been because I was not willing to dishonor that faith by subordinating its claims to the demands of the Slave Power. Let the party honor its faith by steady hostility to oppression in every form and by inflexible allowance to its great cardinal doctrine of equal rights under all circumstances and it shall not want the best of my humble services. I rejoice in the multiplying indications that the old Democracy is casting off the bonds of the Slave Power, and will, ere long, occupy the lofty position of consistency with its own principles to which I have long desired to see it advance. May God speed the day of consummation. — You enquire as to my position in relation to the late war with Mexico, and I will answer your enquiry frankly, though I do not think that any differences as to the war ought to divide now the Friends of freedom; and surely, the Democracy, defeated by a combination of the opponents of the war with the special friends often of its successful generals, can have no interest in reviving or perpetuating these differences. I was never able to persuade myself that the claim of Texas to the Territory between the Neuces and the Rio Grande was any thing more than one of their bold pretensions by which the slaveholders have so often imposed on the acquiescent spirit of the North and extended their own dominion. I never believed therefore that the marching of our troops to the Rio Grande was a wise or rightful exercise of executive Authority. I have ever thought that had Mr. Benton or any Statesman of like character been at the head of affairs in 1845-6 the war would have been avoided. Of course I never justified the commencement of the war; but after the war was actually commenced & had recd. the sanction of congress, I did not think it my duty to persevere in opposition to it. I had friends and relations in the army for whom I felt & with whom I sympathized. The officers & men in the field were in the service of the country & entitled to the regard and support of the country they served. The range of my historical reading made me acquainted with no instance in which war had been waged with so much regard, on the whole, to the dictates of humanity and with so little injury to non combatants. There were some deplorable exceptions to this general observation, it is true, but they exceptions only, lamented and condemned as such in the army as out of it. I never, therefore opposed the vigorous prosecution of the war for that seemed to me the surest if not the only way to a permanent & beneficial peace. When our army had taken possession of Mexico it seemed to me that the true line of duty and policy for our Government was to maintain the ascendancy which had been acquired and by encouraging the establishment of a Mexican Government under our auspices and protection to prepare the way for the gradual incorporation into our American Union, and thus extend our Boundary to the Isthmus. I was not however, so anxious for the whole of Mexico as to be dissatisfied with the treaty of Peace which was actually made.

The immense acquisitions of Territory which that treaty secured to us, giving to us the command of the Pacific and the control in great measure of the commerce between the east & the west of the old world cannot be too highly valued. If secured for Freedom by timely effort now the settlement of these territories and their organization into States, under the auspices of the American Republic will probably attract other Mexican States into voluntary union1 with us and exert an influence upon the destinies of both hemispheres which can hardly be exaggerated. I am conscious that the foregoing statement of my views is rather crude & imperfect, but it will be sufficient to show that you have rightly judged as to my position. You may safely challenge the production of a single remark ever made by me against the prosecution of the war after it was commenced, or in derogation or disparagement of our officers & men or their just claims, or in opposition to the grant of any necessary supplies. I dont wish you to understand, however, that I join in any impeachment of those who conscientiously opposed the war from first to last. Among the opponents of the war were many doubtless who were governed mainly by party considerations: but others were men of the purest & most elevated character, who were controlled throughout by conscientious convictions of Christian duty, unmingled with any wish or purpose, factiously and unnecessarily to embarrass the Government. God forbid, that I should join in any cry against such men, because I find myself unable to agree with them. It is enough for me to hold and act upon my own opinions — not with absolute certainty that I am right, but honestly endeavoring to avoid error, without impeaching those who hold contrary views. Of course this rough letter is not for the public but simply for your own satisfaction.

Notwithstanding all the abuse heaped upon me, I have as yet kept out of the Newspapers, preferring to let my acts define my position in due season. I am very sorry to observe remark that you are embarrassed in maintaining your position by want of pecuniary means. My own resources by the heavy drafts made on them of late are completely exhausted, but we have friends in Brown County who are able & I trust willing to come promptly to your aid. You do the work & bear the brunt of the contest, and they should unhesitatingly furnish the munitions of war. I have taken the liberty of writing to my friend Mr. Coyne (?) on this subject. Was this wrong? If not, will you not speak to him yourself?

Let me hear from you soon, & meantime believe me
[Salmon P. Chase.]

* From letter book 6, pp. 172-173.

1 This idea bad been elaborated in the National Era for Aug. 19, 1847. ef. E. G. Bourne, “The Proposed Absorption of Mexico,”     Essays in Historical Criticism, p. 236.

SOURCE: Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1902, Vol. 2, p. 171-4

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