A condensed new study of the Mexican-American war portrays America’s terrible loss of innocence.
Waging war against an unoffending neighbor changed the tenor of American politics in the mid 19th century, created a new crop of military leaders and aroused a deep anti-government suspicion among American citizens, writes Greenberg (History and Women’s Studies/Penn St. Univ.; Manifest Destiny and American Territorial Expansion: A Brief History with Documents, 2011, etc.). The rebellion of Texas from Mexican rule created a clamor for annexation, taken up first by President John Tyler in advance of congressional approval. The author focuses mainly on five individuals whose destinies were intimately tied up in the war with Mexico. Former Speaker of the House Henry Clay was morally opposed to annexation and lost his bid for the presidency in 1844 to James Polk, who used the expansionist frenzy to win political advantage, becoming the key advocate of Texas and California annexation. In the wake of Clay’s eloquent speech in Lexington, Ky., in 1847, denouncing the aggressive war against Mexico, Illinois congressman and fervent Clay admirer Abraham Lincoln distinguished himself in Congress with his own stirring emotional condemnation of the president’s evasive tactics. Two other lesser-known figures appear prominently: Illinois patriot and Lincoln’s Whig Party rival John Hardin represented the typical zealous volunteer to the Mexican conflict, grown quickly disillusioned by the senseless violence, while State Department clerk Nicholas Trist was secretly dispatched to Mexico by Polk to make a treaty advantageous to the U.S.—though Trist harbored great ambivalence.
A well-rendered, muscular history of a war whose ramifications are still being carefully calibrated.