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Mr. Polk’s War

Ok, I have since lost interest in writing about the Mexican American War. Basic facts about it: James K Polk forced Mexico’s hand into battle. Abraham Lincoln thought the war was unconstitutional. Ulysses S Grant thought it was one of the most unjust wars ever waged. Polk wanted the land north of the Rio Grande for the US, Mexico did not want to give it up without a bit of a battle. James K Polk lied about an earlier border skirmish to build support for a war with Mexico so the US could take over land all the way to the Pacific. 

Basically all you need to know is Polk wanted this land (currently New Mexico/California and such) and he incited a war on dubious grounds to achieve that goal. Right, lets move on. Looking for a new event to do a shallow recap of, so any suggestions welcome.

Mexican War of Independence

This post will be a relatively shallow dip into Mexican history, a primer on Mexico’s position before the Mexican-American War. The Mexican War of Independence is a truly significant event in North American history and I will not even come close to doing it justice, this is a brief synopsis of what happened in Mexico before the Mexican-American War. Right. So here goes:

Our dear friend Napoleon, the man responsible for the Louisiana Purchase and the Haitian Revolution can also be charged with inciting Mexico’s cry for independence in the early 19th century. Napoleon had occupied Spain, thereby casting  Spanish rule of the Americas into doubt, priming the political landscape for the fracture of Spain’s network of American colonies. Pre-Spanish capitulation to Napoleon, the burden of paying for battling him was mostly rung from the coffers of their colonies across the Atlantic,  angering Mexicans of all classes. The introduction of Napoleon’s brother as the new king of occupied Spain was the last straw, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla gave a thundering address advocating revolt from the front of his church in the small town of Dolores in Central Mexico. This speech is recreated every year from the National Palace balcony overlooking Plaza de la Constitución in Mexico City on September 15th around midnight, not only commemorating Hidalgo but also as the jump off for celebrations for Mexican Independence day. (Which is September 16th. Cinco de Mayo is bullshit)

Anyway, it took 11 years for the Mexican War of Independence to run its course. Not all Mexicans were united for the cause, not all Mexicans wanted the land reform or racial discrimination laws rebuked, so the war dragged on for years. After the initial burst caused by Hidalgo’s “Grito de Delores”, no significant inroads were made until a liberal government in Spain agreed to some of the reforms advocated by those of Hidalgo’s ilk (in 1820), it was then that Mexicans came together and with the ‘Army of Three Guarantees’, completed the Mexican War of Independence in 1821. (Religion, Independence and Unity were the three guarantees, also defined as: Catholicism, Independence from Spain and Social equality)

Mexico signed the Treaty of Cordoba, which ended the immediate war. Spain rejected this and attempted to reconquer Mexico not long after losing the War of Independence, it was not until Spain’s defeat again that they recognized an independent Mexico in 1836. These economic and mental cost of these wars left Mexico rather ripe for the picking, which James K. Polk would take full advantage of when he brought war upon them in 1846 with what I will concern myself with next, the Mexican-American War.

I passed over many events and important characters of the Mexican War of Independence, but the main gist of this post is this: Mexico was not completely united in its effort to throw off the yoke of Spanish rule and the disjointed-ness of the effort would foretell doom when it came to the consolidated and forceful effort of the United States to absorb part of their country. ‘Manifest Destiny’ had been the foundational doctrine of American settler atrocities perpetrated upon Native Americans along the advancing frontier north of Mexico and it was only a matter of time before Americans would turn attention towards modern-day Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California as delightful additions to their expanding nation.

Spanish Mexico and the American Revolution

The British colonies in America received significant support from foreign imperial powers in their fight for independence. As much as I would like to say ‘George Washington with his wooden teeth and crushed testicles forced Cornwallis to surrender with a strong AMERICAN army’, that would be a lie. The French sent troops, money, supplies and ships in support while the Spanish provided supplies and money, these contributions were supremely important for the colonials. Hell, without French/Spanish support we might have spent even more time freaking out about the royal baby than we already did. (Because we’d still be British, get it?)

The Spanish smuggled supplies to the American revolutionaries through New Orleans and raised a significant amount of money to help fund the siege at Yorktown. Oh, that money for Yorktown was collected in HAVANA. That’s right, Cuba helped us become independent.

So it was the Spanish Empire, not so much Spanish Mexico. Well, shit. There goes my first post, this contributes nothing to my intended series on US-Mexico relations. Next, let’s take a real shallow look at the Mexican War of Independence and the fallout.

United States-Mexico Relations

The United States and Mexico have had quite the history together. Both countries were born from colonial insurrection, this common ancestry led the United States to be the one of the first to recognize an independent Mexico in 1821. We have been to war, we have established important trade relations, they have and continue to supply us with drugs, (illegal and pharmaceutical) we have purchased land from them, safe to say our relationship has run the gamut. United States-Mexico relations are terrifically important, a consequence of sharing a 1,954 mile (3,145 km) border, the most frequently crossed international border in the world. I will take a look in a number of posts, at the history of US-Mexican relations. I will begin with Spanish Mexico and the United States in revolt. 

JFK to LBJ

Right, onto the big one. JFK’s assassination is continually questioned, the motive of Lee Harvey Oswald and if he was alone are just a few to mention. It is a goldmine for conspiracy theorists, but I will not address that for one second. JFK was assassinated in Dallas on November 22nd, 1963 and LBJ replaced him. Frankly I am was not looking forward to this one, LBJ does not particularly interest me for some reason. Civil Rights, Vietnam, all that are huge, monumental events in American history and I can not motivate myself to look into it a bit more. So here is my brief summation of LBJ’s administration:

When he got it right, he got it absolutely right. When he got it wrong, it was disastrous.

Moving on. What could be next? More presidential history? Another country? Something silly?

Teddy Roosevelt: GREATEST PRESIDENT OF ALL TIME

Theodore Roosevelt was 42 years of age when he was sworn in which gave him the title belt for youngest US President, a belt he still holds. Ignoring his personal history, which is mighty interesting and might warrant its own blog post delving into greater detail, let us focus on his administration.

Shortly after becoming president, Roosevelt gave a speech to Congress asking them to regulate the power of trusts, or corporations, which had become quite powerful during the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th. This was the era of the ‘Robber Baron’, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, JP Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt and Charles M. Schwab among others who held monopolies which dominated the American economy. Roosevelt got federal government into regulating these monopolies and busting up ‘trusts’ or ‘corporations’ that held an unfair advantage by utilizing the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, which had become law in 1890 but had yet to be enforced. Examples of enforcing the Sherman Anti-Trust Act include; American Tobacco Company, which controlled 90% of the tobacco market before forced dissolution, John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, which controlled 80% of the oil market before forced dissolution and Northern Securities Company, which controlled all major railways in the northwest before it was broken up. Roosevelt was a champion of the little guy, taking the fight to big business that had flourished and rose to incredible heights of wealth and opulence. (One of his first moves as President was to negotiate a settlement of a major coal industry strike, a deal that was more favorable for labor, not management) It did not happen overnight, Northern Securities Company was sued first under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and it took several years before the Supreme Court sided with the government, which set the precedent to dismantle other monopolizing corporations. (This is evidence for my own belief that capitalism must be strictly regulated, but that’s another post) The trust/corporation dismantling was continued by William Howard Taft after Roosevelt left office in 1909. One of the better acts by a President in peace time, if only our current President had such fortitude with regards with the rampant misconduct of the banking industry.

Theodore Roosevelt was an outdoorsman in the way Hugh Hefner appreciates female company. He aggressively pursued conservation efforts by establishing national parks, natural preserves, national forests and the United States Forest Service. Also, the Antiquities Act was passed in 1906 during his presidency, allowing the President of the United States to restrict the use of public land for the federal government. It has preserved some of the United States greatest natural treasures; an example of its implementation would be the Grand Canyon, designated in 1908. I do not want to think about what could have happened if Roosevelt’s administration did not put an emphasis on protecting the environment, about what could have been lost or destroyed. The national treasures of the United States have been preserved. (unless there is oil/natural gas beneath them, all bets are off)

Protecting the environment and preventing monopolies from dominating the economy were two tenets of what Roosevelt called ‘the Square Deal’, his domestic governing philosophy. The other significant accomplishment was establishing the FDA with the Pure Food and Drug Act, requiring safety/sanitation standards that protected Americans from shady/unethical/dangerous sources of food and drugs. Seems completely logical now, but with the rise of industrial meat packers, specifically in Chicago as documented in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, there were lax sanitation standards. It was a dearly necessary law and federal regulation, protecting America’s food source. I should have mentioned the ‘Square Deal’ earlier as it was the guiding vision Roosevelt had, the basic tenets were conservation, consumer protection and curbing the power of corporations.  He was a president with the best interests of the people, not the best interests of his own party. 

Real quick: Roosevelt had Booker T. Washington over to the White House for dinner, a potential enormous step for Civil rights but the public outcry was so fierce that Roosevelt did not press strongly for such reform. I find that a significant mistake of his presidency. Civil Rights would have to wait.

Foreign Policy: The Panama Canal. Roosevelt initiated a revolution so Panama could split from Colombia, then made a deal to build the canal, one of the most important engineering feats and waterways in modern history. Roosevelt’s actions were an example of the ‘Roosevelt Corollary’, an addendum to the Monroe Doctrine. (US would militarily intervene within the hemisphere, not the Europeans) Roosevelt also played peace maker between Russia and Japan with the Treaty of Portsmouth, which got him a Nobel Peace Prize. (Actually did something for his unlike Obama) This treaty was an example of Roosevelt’s ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick’ foreign policy, there was a significant US Naval presence at Portsmouth, a show of power to impress upon the Russians and Japanese the need to end hostilities unless they wanted US military intervention. (Roosevelt had built up the Navy, expanding on the foundation that our boy Chester A. Arthur had laid)

But the greatest achievement of Theodore Roosevelt’s administration was not the trust-busting or the conservation efforts, not the world-wide peace keeping role the United States began to take while he was in office or founding the FDA. It was forcing football to adopt safer rules and cleaning up the ‘murder on a field’ image it had gained by the turn of the 20th century. Professional football was not in the picture yet, it was the universities across the nation that were thinking of banning football because of the toll it took on its players. Roosevelt gathered influential collegiate coaches at the White House and it was because of this meeting that rule changes were implemented and football was saved. If not for Roosevelt’s intervention, we might not have Super Bowl Sunday or more importantly SEC Football! This is reason enough for Teddy Roosevelt to claim the top prize as best president ever. Move over Lincoln with your silly Civil War administration, don’t even bother us George Washington with your steady leadership of a fledgling country, you are just not good enough FDR with your guiding the country through a depression and a World War, none of you saved football. There should be a golden statue of Theodore Roosevelt outside every major football stadium, that would be just the start of thanking him for saving the greatest sport of all, college football. Someone should tell Alabama he coached them to one of their 23 or so national championships and he’ll get a statue ASAP.

Theodore Roosevelt curbed corporate power, regulated the food industry, enhanced America’s image abroad, protected natural beauty, SAVED FOOTBALL and looked out for the little guy. I believe he was a remarkable president, absolutely worthy of his place on Mount Rushmore.

Anarchy in the US

William McKinley was shot September 6th, 1901 and died eight days later due to infection, elevating Theodore Roosevelt to the Presidency. The man who shot him, Leon Czolgosz, was an anarchist. The anarchist movement had claimed political leaders in Russia, France, Spain along with assassination attempts in Germany and Italy but it made the jump across the Atlantic with the shooting of McKinley.

It was the height of the Gilded Age, robber barons were dominating various American economic sectors without much intervention from the United States government, giving rise to different flavors of socialism including the anarchist strain Leon Czolgosz subscribed to. Believing the United States government was to blame for this inequality, he decides the best course of action is to cut off the head of the snake. Thus, when Czolgosz learned of McKinley’s trip to the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo he decided that was the opportunity he could not let pass. He bought a gun on September 3rd and used it three days later to murder President McKinley instead of sharing greetings in a reception line. HOW RUDE. McKinley was expecting some clammy hand probably from Czolgosz and instead got shot twice in the abdomen.

McKinley looked to recover, but the infection he contracted from his wounds was too much to over come. Teddy Roosevelt was sworn in later that day, completely oblivious that the Internet would love him decades later.

Chester A. Arthur, not so bad?

Chester A. Arthur had some of the best facial hair of any president, for sure top 5. (I will absolutely do a ranking of best presidential facial hair, as soon as I learn how to place images in one of these terrible blog posts) Besides his remarkable facial hair, I believe he was a decent president. Unlike Andrew Johnson, who had to preside over a fractured country and an obstinate Congress without the personal political or mental ability to succeed (on any level), Chester A. Arthur had some positive accomplishments to be proud of.

The circumstances that led to Garfield’s assassination, the mentally unstable Charles Guiteau and his insistence of a political appointment, gave rise to the civil service reform movement. Garfield had mentioned its importance in speeches but it took his death for reform legislation to be implemented. The passage of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act was surprising considering new president Arthur’s own political history. Chester A. Arthur was a clear product of the spoils system, he was member of and his political career was due to, the corrupt Republican political machine of New York (to keep it bipartisan, the Democratic political machine of NYC was called Tammany Hall and was similarly corrupt) but when he ascended to the Presidency, he turned his back on the spoils system. (There was even conspiracy talk that Roscoe Conkling, his political machine ally from NYC, was behind Garfield’s assassination to elevate Arthur to the presidency.) Instead of the free for all his former compatriots imagined with Arthur now head of the federal government, Arthur disappointed them all.

Arthur’s about-face was political suicide but commendable. Arthur probably knew he would only last a single term, he had a kidney disease which would kill him 20 months after he left office. Maybe it was this disease, which he was diagnosed with shortly after becoming president, that caused his transformation from product of the spoils system to a champion of civil service reform. Coming to terms with one’s mortality and all that deep psychological technobable might have caused him to change his stripes. Alternatively, perhaps it was becoming President that changed him, joining the select group that included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other American heroes, the enormity of the United States Presidency that caused him to rethink his potential legacy.

The Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act only covered 10% of federal jobs, did nothing to stop the spoils system at other levels of government, (Tammany Hall in NYC was unaffected) but was a ‘shot across the bow’ as it were. Appointments were to be made based on merit without consideration for the applicant’s political affiliation, which seems simply logical now but Arthur signing this act into law (analogy time!) is like Ke$ha releasing an album of gothic hymns. Right, so what else did President Awesome Facial Hair do?

Before the civil service reform, Arthur ordered a serious opulent makeover of the White House. Example: Louis Comfort Tiffany (yes, of Tiffany’s) was pressed into duty to remodel the White House interior. Arthur was a New Yorker after all, used to grandeur and regarded the White House as shabby and in need of some flash. Enter Tiffany and his famous glass. With a gussied up White House, Arthur turned his attention to building up the United States Navy, which had become as shabby as he viewed the pre-Tiffany White House.

The Naval Appropriations Act of 1883 was the foundation upon which the modern US Navy was built. Three Steel ships with rifled guns were produced, raising the total of steel ships in the US Navy to…three. Arthur also obtained Pearl Harbor for the United States Navy, so we can blame him for that Michael Bay movie.

Arthur had something to do with Tariffs, but that doesn’t interest me so we will skip that bit.

Miscellaneous Section:

Chester A. Arthur signed legislation prohibiting Chinese immigration for 10 years while banning Chinese from becoming US citizens, along with other immigration reform. (taxing immigrants upon arrival) Less importantly, Arthur is probably despised by Mormons because he signed a bill making polygamy a felony. Arthur hosted some opulent parties at the White House during his administration, showing off the newly designed interior he commissioned.

Chester A. Arthur was a decent president. Competent is the highest compliment he should receive. Arthur’s administration was not dogged by corruption, he did not embarrass the office by any means and he restored some pageantry to the White House.  Considering what he could have done with his spoils system connections, he was not so bad.

Charles Guiteau, the mental assassin

Only 16 years after Lincoln was killed, another United States president was assassinated. James Garfield was only president for 200 days, the 2nd shortest presidential tenure, at the time of his death. Garfield’s successor was Chester A. Arthur, a Republican from New York City. Arthur only served out the remainder of the term Garfield was elected to, he grew weak and sickly near the end of the term and thus did not attempt a serious effort towards re-election.

James Garfield was assassinated by Charles Guiteau, a man best described as ‘bat shit insane’. Guiteau believed a speech supporting Garfield that he wrote, but never publicly delivered, was a major contributor to Garfield’s victory. Under the spoils system that had flourished post Civil War and arguably peaked during Grant’s administration, such contributions would have garnered Guiteau some comfortable diplomatic post or similar easy job with a nice paycheck. There was a significant problem with Guiteau’s desire for an easy presidentially appointed position, Garfield had no idea who he was. Guiteau was insistent he deserved a job and pestered members of Garfield’s administration to no end. Fed up with rejection, Guiteau plotted to murder Garfield. Guiteau was successful and Chester A. Arthur was sworn in.

Next up, a look at Arthur’s administration.

Andrew Johnson, the unlikely unionist

Andrew Johnson was elevated to the Presidency after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by the coward John Wilkes Booth; interestingly he was also supposed to be killed on April 15th, 1865 but was saved by his supposed assassin’s loss of determination into a bottle of drink. Andrew Johnson was not presidential material, he was only on the ticket for the regional/political balance he could bring. He also was a strict constitutionalist in the vein of Buchanan, so in a time when bold action was needed he deferred to the limits on federal power and watched the country fresh from a civil war damn near plunge back into it because of his feeble leadership.

I titled this post ‘Unlikely Unionist” because Johnson was the only southern senator pre-Civil War to oppose secession because he did not believe secession was constitutional like our dear friend James “Crap President” Buchanan. Johnson’s interpretation of the Constitution placed strict limits on federal power, sabotaging the efforts of Reconstruction and placing himself in the cross hairs of the Radical Republicans that dominated Congress during his presidency. Johnson favored a lenient Reconstruction agenda (decisions towards newly freed slaves and their rights should be left to the states; two clear examples of that  were his vetoes of the Freedman’s Bureau bill (twice) and the Civil Rights Bill of 1866, both of which were overridden by Congress) with expedient readmission into the Union,  the Radical Republicans sought harsher punishment and higher benchmarks to be met before readmission into the Union and these opposing views brought about Johnson’s impeachment.

Andrew Johnson was impeached for firing his Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, whom had the support of the Congress dominating Radical Republicans. Congress did not want Stanton to be fired, he was their only ally in Johnson’s cabinet and by passing an unconstitutional law (Tenure of Office Act) prohibiting the President from firing a cabinet member without Congressional approval, they had hoped to stay Johnson’s hand. They were wrong and when Johnson fired Stanton, he was impeached for violating this crap law Congress had drawn up. This is political maneuvering by idiots, but it almost worked. The only reason contemporary Republicans have not tried this strategy is the Democrats’ majority in the Senate, I’m sure. Johnson survived this heavy handed attempt to push him out of office by a single vote.

Johnson’s timid actions towards the defeated rebel states caused Congress to impeach him on made up reasons. They set the trap and Johnson took the bait, no matter that the law they used as the bait was unconstitutional. So Johnson was not that effective as President, he was stubborn and at odds with the Legislative Branch of the government and did not govern that well. Only positive from his administration that I can find is Seward negotiated the purchase of Alaska from the Russians, regarded at the time as Seward’s Folly but now as quite a good idea.

Andrew Johnson was a virulent racist. He did not want the 14th amendment passed, wrote in a letter “This is a country for white men, and by God, as long as I am President, it shall be a government for white men.” and in a message to Congress “(blacks) show less capacity for government than any other race of people.  No independent government of any form has been successful in their hands.  On the contrary, wherever they have been left to their own devices they have shown a constant tendency to relapse into barbarism.” Statements like these have all but assured Johnson’s place among worst US Presidents. Not just his racist ignorance but his staunch rejection of any federal assistance/protection to the newly freed assure him a spot in the team portrait.

Johnson was a crap president because he was a crap politician, racist and was an idiot. As great as Abraham Lincoln was, Andrew Johnson was bad. A blemish on Lincoln’s record, Andrew Johnson, the 17th president of the United States.

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