I Ended the Mexican War
Alexander Hamilton Stephens

My action in the next Congress controlled the course the Mexican War finally took. The Whig party, in the Congress beginning 4th March, 1845, and ending 4th March, 1847, was in a minority of about 70. This was the Congress that recognized the war as the act of Mexico - a shameful lie! The Whigs, after war began, were all at sea. Winthrop, Joe Ingersoll, and the like knew not what to do; they were timid and fearful. No one, they would say, can oppose the war; the fate of all who opposed the War of 1812 was before their eyes; Crittenden in the Senate was of the same mind. Now, at this stage of the case (when the War party, Cass at their head in the Senate, was ready to swallow all Mexico, and really intended to do it, I verily believe), I drew up and submitted to our old leaders in the House, especially Winthrop and Ingersoll, a resolution which should properly present the position of the Whigs on the war. I told them it was essential in elections for the next Congress, to go before the country on a well-defined policy, and that that policy must be a true and patriotic one or we would be utterly defeated. It was embraced, I thought, in the resolutions. Ingersoll and Winthrop, as well as every other to whom I submitted it, not even excepting my colleague, Mr. Toombs, disapproved the policy of offering it; it would put us before the people as opposed to the vindication of the rights and honour of the country. I knew there was no hope of getting it in to be acted on but upon a motion to suspend the rules for its introduction; a vote could be had on that question and in this way it could be got before the House. I determined to offer it anyway, and did. At first, several prominent, aspiring expediency Whigs dodged it, but when they saw that Cobb, of Georgia, a leading man on the other side, voted to suspend the rules for its introduction, they crawled out, like chickens that had been hiding in a bush from a hawk, and voted the same way. I finally got every, or nearly every, Whig vote in the House and a few Democrats, Cobb at the head. Cobb was an exceedingly quick and shrewd man; he saw the power in the resolution and foresaw its effect upon the public. The resolution became, as I intended it to be, the national Whig platform so far as the war was concerned. Upon it a majority was returned to the House in the face of a most brilliant war; and that majority by one vote arrested the war. It was all done on high and patriotic principles and on no base demagogical subterfuge.

The administration was greatly embarrassed by the change in the character of the House. Winthrop was Speaker, and the committees were all different from what they had been. Still, Mr. Polk attempted, by browbeating and charging us with disloyalty and with "giving aid and comfort to the enemy," to scare our weak-kneed into submission. Such treatment, I knew, had to be met with boldness and defiance. Hence, in February, 1848, while many Whigs were trembling in their shoes, the War party introduced for popular effect a resolution tendering the thanks of Congress to General Twiggs (I believe it was) for gallantry at Cerro Gordo. I joined in giving all the praise set forth to that brave officer and his men, but wished the resolution amended so as to read, "in a war unconstitutionally begun." When the time for offering the amendment came, Winthrop gave the floor to Ashmun, of Massachusetts, who offered it. A great sensation ensued. The War party was elated, they looked on triumph as certain; they did not think we would dare vote for it. Our weak-kneed trembled; many got up and walked out; I rallied all I could, presented an undaunted front, urged every one I could find to standup square to the truth. The vote at first was close; but when the hidden chickens under the brush in the outside alleys saw that their votes would carry it, enough came up and voted "Aye" to pass it.

The War men looked aghast! That vote of the House - that expression of condemnation by a majority of the impeaching branch of the Government - ended the war, broke its backbone. Polk saw what was coming. In a few days, Trist was dispatched to Mexico to make the best terms of peace he could. This is the real origin of the celebrated "Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo."


Recollections of Alexander H. Stephens, edited by Myrta Lockett Avary
Originally published in 1910 by Sunny South Publishing Company and Doubleday, Page & Company
Reprint by Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 1998, pages 19-21