Territorial Aggrandizement

THE rapidity with which public opinion matures in this country, is one of the most extraordinary results of our peculiar political system. With our infinite newspaper circulation, and with party-organizations singularly complete and penetrating the uttermost recesses of the nation, a new doctrine can be suggested, discussed and determined on with as much, nay, more promptness than an ordinary suit at law can be begun and concluded. We are impressed especially with this peculiarity, in observing the present state of the public mind upon the subject of our relations with Mexico and Texas. A short year ago the whole nation was occupied by the simple prospect of annexing Texas, and the consequence of such an alliance upon our national welfare. More recently—that subject having been fully exhausted and disposed of—the chances, the dangers and the advantages of a war with Mexico, became the questions paramount. Even these have subsequently passed away. The impotence of the Mexican Government has been already discovered to be only less than its folly, and all apprehension from that quarter is giving place to speculations upon the probable consequences of annexing Mexico or some portion of her territory to our Republic. That that country is destined to become an integral portion of these United States at some future period, is a pretty universal conviction. Whether such an event is at hand, and the probable consequences of it, are now the chief points left in debate of all that have been provoked in one form or another and at divers times by the Texas Revolution of 1836. Certain it is, that the question whether we would accept Mexico into our Union, if it could be done consistently with our national honor and international duties, is no longer premature.

It is thought by some that it will be impossible permanently to compose our difficulties with her government without a war; that no permanent peace can be established while she has the power to vex this country, which she charges with having robbed her of her possessions, and that we shall be compelled to subjugate and extend over her our government, in self-defence. It is thought by others that the internal dissensions of the Mexican States will continue to become more violent when the weakness of their present administration becomes known, and that the departments conterminous with Texas will be tempted to follow her example, declare their independence, receive aid from Texas as she did formerly from the United States, and finally, like her, ask to join our confederacy.

With regard to the first point, we entertain little apprehension from any cause of quarrel at present subsisting, though we are free to admit that the state of feeling between our Western people and the Mexicans does not promise a very long continuance of peaceful relations between their respective governments unless the most rigid police be established along our western border. If through any fatuous impulse Mexico should elevate existing difficulties above the dignity of a mere border warfare, and should provoke our government to make a retaliatory invasion, it is impossible to foresee any limit to the contest short of an absolute subjugation of Mexico or of such a prostration of her national independence as to lead at no remote period to a revolution like, both in processes and consequences, to that which threw Texas into our arms. The feelings of the outraged Texans and of our Western citizens, who sympathise most warmly with them, are such that we arc assured no half-way measures will content them if occasion be given our armies once to pass the Rio Grande. The moment that event shall transpire, the young men at least, of this generation might expect to see the termination of Mexico’s independent national existence, and the Congress of the United States of America proclaiming its laws to the Pacific.

But as we stated before, the prospect of a war with Mexico for the recovery of Texas, or to revenge her loss, is too remote to awaken any apprehension, or to deserve further discussion. The other suggestion deserves more consideration, and if we were disposed to wreak upon our readers our own conjectures, we would prophecy the rebellion, revolution and independence of New Mexico, Chihuahua, California and Yucatan, at no very distant period. Such a result is certainly more probable than was the ascertained destiny of Texas ten years ago. Should such a separation take place, it would doubtless be followed with a speedy application on the part of those States for admission to our Union. In view of these considerations, we hope it will not be esteemed out of time or place in us to offer a few reflections upon our duty in such a contingency, and therein to consider briefly the subject of territorial aggrandizement under our form of government.

At the outset, we will remark, that in our judgment, the representative system as practically enjoyed in this country, will admit of an indefinite extension of territory, without weakening or impairing the political guaranties of any of its inhabitants. That the theory so popular among Europeans, that a democratic government can only be successfully administered upon a limited territory, is absurd. Indeed, it is our firm conviction, for reasons which, on a fitting occasion, we are prepared to render, that a democratic is the only form of government which, over a territory relatively large, can endure and furnish adequate security to the rights of its people. Of course, we do not now speak of what have been denominated by publicists pure democracies, in which the people assemble in mass to legislate. That absurdity of the ancient democratic States of Greece grew out of the jealousy of а peculiar people, limited in numbers, who were wise enough to know that the true end of government was the happiness of its subjects, and the people were the best judges of what would conduce to that result, but who were ignorant of the means of properly bringing their judgment to bear upon the laws. A pure democracy is an impossibility. Even the nations which have attempted it have failed to execute their plan. It is as much a business of government to administer as to make the laws. Executive officers must, therefore, have delegated powers. The people cannot all command ships, and lead armies, and administer justice. Here, then, they were obliged to abandon their principles, and act through representatives. The ancient democracies, however, were too jealous of delegating these powers to extend it far in legislation. More than six or ten thousand persons at the utmost could not, from the very nature of the case, assemble to decide upon any public measure—hence only a limited territory could be properly governed under a single constitution. But with a system of representation so complete as ours, aided by the facilities furnished by modern science and art for the circulation of opinion, these difficulties disappear, and with a proper constitutional definition, and establishment of the true functions of the central and local governments, the superficies of a territory, or the number of its inhabitants have not necessarily anything to do with the practicability of combining their political interests under one central administration.

There are other questions, however, to be disposed of in determining upon the expediency of enlarging the territories of a nation which are not so clear. In a representative government, the laws embody the average political intelligence of the electors; that is, their average knowledge of the true functions and processes of government. As that knowledge advances, will their capacity to govern themselves advance, and the necessity for legislative interference be superseded. According to their knowledge of, and respect for, the rights of a citizen, shall their freedom from governmental restraints be measured out to them, and every privilege which they learn to exercise wisely, government will be forced to relinquish, until each man becomes a law unto himself. If our view be correct, and the whole theory of popular sovereignty depends upon its correctness, every new man admitted to the enjoyment of our political privileges, either abates or exalts the average of which we have spoken, as he is more or less acquainted with, and respectful of, the rights and duties of an American citizen, than the average previous to his admission. Now this average should be kept just so low as to include within the beneficent influences of the national policy, all who can and choose to enjoy it without disturbing the general tendency of our legislation towards decentralization, and towards the enlargement of the rights of the individual man. When that tendency is reversed, it is a sign that the quality of the government is deteriorating. Of course, therefore, every people must grow its own political institutions, and every attempt to engraft a system of government upon a nation uneducated in its forms, or to confer upon it political privileges which its members know not how to exercise, must always result as such attempts always have done, either in revolution or in social oppression.

In view of these considerations, how should we estimate the fitness of the Mexican people to enter into the enjoyment of our political institutions. Taking that people as they are, and are likely to continue for the period within which the integrality of Mexico will probably continue, are they, or will they become, a valuable acquisition to us in any respect? Are there probably as many men in the whole Mexican Republic competent to exercise the elective franchise with the intelligence of the average American citizen as there were righteous men in Sodom when she was destroyed? If so, the number of the righteous in that fated city must have been exaggerated. Beyond a question the entire Mexican vote would be substantially below our national average both in purity and intelligence. The Mexican people are unaccustomed to the duties of self-government, and for years to come must travel up through numberless processes of political emancipation before they can dispense with restraints which the Saxon family threw off more than three hundred years ago. To enfranchise them, therefore, and give their representatives a voice in our legislature, would doubtless have the double effect of producing anarchy within their own borders, and of embarrassing our own interests to a most disastrous extent. Disregarding entirely the confusion which might result from such a step to the Mexicans themselves, how should we be able to exercise over them that federal supremacy which is necessary to the proper consolidation of the Union. Though that people were allowed to vote, it is doubtful if they could represent such a public sentiment as we would respect. They would be under influences which would deprive their political determinations of all claim to our confidence. But the Federal government of a democracy must be advised by the constituency which is most interested in its action. Offices must be filled; protections and guaranties, both civil and military, must be furnished, according to the necessity and preferences of the people for whose benefit chiefly they are designed. In our own country at present it is comparatively easy to learn what these requirements are. Our people are accustomed to deliberate upon political measures, and know how to convey the fair result of their deliberations to the understanding of the central government. It is about as easy for Congress to know the political sentiments of a township in Louisiana or in Maine, or in Missouri, as in Maryland. But it would be far otherwise if its inhabitants were Gachupins, Gambucinos, and Mestizoes. We should be obliged to disregard the apparent wishes of such a people, and govern them instead of permitting them to govern themselves, or else submit them and ourselves to difficulties, the extent of which it is impossible to divine. But in any case a consequence would follow which of all others it is most desirable for this country, in our judgment, to avoid—a greater centralization of power. This consequence must be inevitable. To protect the Mexican citizen in the enjoyment of his property and rights, would require the arm of a much more vigorous and centralized government than ours is at present, or than its true friends wish it to become. We can make no distinction among the States of the Union when once they are incorporated, and if the mountain wont go to Mahomet, Mahomet must go to the mountain. If Mexico can’t be qualified by the annexation to enjoy the privileges of the other States of the Union, the other States must consent to abandon those privileges until the constitution which is necessary to protect the rights of all, shall bear equally upon the privileges of all. For, as we stated before, the nation must be governed by its average intelligence. Now we submit that this will be earning the glories of successful war or negociation, and of enlarged dominion at too great expense; nay, at a price which, when we should come to pay it, would disgust us with our bargain. We believe no American is willing that we should suspend the advancing march of our civilisation, and return upon our steps, or motionless abide the coming of this semi-barbarous people, who are yet ignorant of the very elements of the science of political government, because the fortunes of war or successful revolution had made them subject to our laws; which leads us to consider the means by which free institutions may rightfully be propagated. Maintaining as we do, that a government in which the whole people are fairly represented, developes political science and advances national prosperity more rapidly than any other; and believing as we do, that the American people are more adequately represented in their laws than any other, we are bound to conclude that the distance between our political institutions and those of other nations is constantly increasing. This might seem to authorize the inference that we could never extend their beneficial influences to people less mature in political science than ourselves. The impropriety of such an inference will appear upon the slightest reflection. Democracies must make their conquests by moral agencies. If these are not sufficient, the conquest is robbery. By allowing to our people every inducement and opportunity for the utmost freedom of industry, we make them missionaries of our political science to every quarter of the globe. In establishing commercial and other business relations with and in the territories of our neighbors, they beget a community of interest between us: they obtain a confidence and respect for our institutions and spread an acquaintance with many of their merits which in time work influences far more efficacious and permanent than were experienced from all the arbitrary codes ever proclaimed by the renowned lawgivers of antiquity. A monthly line of merchant vessels from New York to Mexico, would do more than a wilderness of Solons to shape and direct the public sentiment of the Mexican people. Thus gradually would they be introduced to some of the conveniences of our institutions. They would be led of themselves to begin where the structure of every government should have its base, namely, in the township. They would learn how to manage local and municipal affairs, and would gradually extend their experience into the more complex relations of county and state governments. It is this habit of, and capacity for, self-government in our small districts, in our municipal corporations, in our ecclesiastical or elumosynary societies, that distinguish our people fundamentally from the Mexicans. “The native of New England,” says De Tocqueville, “is attached to his township because it is independent and free: his coöperation in its affairs ensures his attachment to its interest; the well being it affords him secures his affection; and its welfare is the aim of his ambition and of his future exertions. He takes part in every occurrence in the place; he practices the art of government in the small sphere within his reach; he accustoms himself to those forms which can alone ensure the steady progress of liberty; he imbibes their spirit; he acquires a taste for order, comprehends the union or the balance of powers, and collects clear practical notions on the nature of his duties and the extent of his rights.”

This is measurably true throughout the United States, but would not be true of the Mexicans in any particular. When, however, in the process of events, these elements of political education shall have found their way among them, as we trust they may at some future day, and they shall come to understand in some measure their relative duty to each other and to government, and can maintain for themselves individually their right to a free and equal representation before the law, let no one doubt that they will be but too anxious to ally themselves with this republic, from which they will have every thing to gain; and that an armed force will be as superfluous to effect the alliance as it has been to make the same purely acceptable to Texas. It is by its fruits that a good government shall be known; and when its merits shall become manifest, the nations of the earth will not be slow to imitate them. It is by moral influences such as these that this republic is to extend its sway—by a “wise and masterly inactivity” which will bring other nations at our feet, suppliants for protection, not for forbearance. It is in this wise, we make no doubt, that the whole of this vast continent is destined one day to subscribe to the Constitution of the United States; and if a gun be fired or a sword drawn to hasten the event, it will impair the value, if it do not procrastinate the period of the acquisition.

To maintain man’s capacity for self-government, be it observed, is not maintaining that that capacity is equal among all nations, at all times; or that all can dispense with governmental control in equal degrees. Even in our own community, if a class of people prove incompetent to use without abusing their liberty, we deny them the elective franchise, and perhaps shut them up in a Bedlam or a Penitentiary. They are allowed all the liberty which, if society were entirely composed of such defective natures, they would themselves concede to society. So if a nation be ignorant and corrupt, or corruptible, its constituents will unite in tying each other up for their own protection. The Roman people made Augustus Emperor and prostrated the Senate, because that under their constitution, with an army and a population composed in controlling proportions of barbarians and slaves, they needed the protection of a vigorous government. They wanted some supreme power to whom the republic and its more wealthy citizens might be made accountable. The population of the Empire had become so excessive and incongruous that there was no prevailing and conservative public opinion which could direct the enacting or the administration of the laws. All despotisms grow out of similar necessity. They are generally established for the protection of the people, though, of course, perpetuated through ignorance and fear. So Mexico at present needs a much stronger government than the United States. Her people may govern themselves, but they have long since learned that their happiness is concerned in being protected by a much stronger central police, and a more restrictive constitution than the American people would submit to, and hence they leave to a few what they dare not trust to more. It is, after all, this mutual distrust among the Mexicans which makes them yield the management of public affairs so fully to individual rulers; and it is this same distrust of the popular intent which the world over gives the despot his perilous power.

There are other differences between the characters and tastes of the two nations which would render an alliance between them, within any defineable period, distasteful to the American people, but we have not time at present to indicate them. Indeed, we esteem the considerations above stated sufficiently controlling to justify our government in discouraging any policy calculated to hasten an event from which we can apparently realize so little good, and may realize so much harm.

We may seem to be taking a great deal for granted, in discussing thus early the consequences of extending our territorial limits further to the westward than the boundaries of Texas, and to be unmindful of Mrs. Glass’s instructions in cooking a fish—first catch it. We believe, however, that our word, if wise in itself, is not premature. It is an opinion dangerously prevalent among some of our over-wise politicians that the events of the late presidential election was determined entirely by the views which the successful candidates entertained in favor of the Annexation of Texas to this Union. The enthusiasm which this alliance has since awakened throughout the country they have ascribed to a prevailing appetite among our people for territorial acquisition. Misled by this conviction, every engine is likely to be employed in enlisting public favor by endeavoring to anticipate its tendency in this direction. If our party prevailed by annexing Texas, why cannot another by annexing Mexico, and a third by annexing Canada, and a fourth, when our neighbors are all absorbed, by crossing the seas and annexing Ireland? This misapprehension of the true feeling which disposed this country to look with such favor upon the annexation of Texas is very likely to produce the very state of public opinion which is erroneously supposed already to exist, and which would lead to that very result, the consequences of which we have endeavored to consider, much sooner than is dreamed of by those who are most reckless in giving the impulse. The feeling upon our western border, we are pained to think anything but healthy upon this subject; and if, as there is certainly some reason to fear, we should be obliged, in self-defence, to assume an aggressive attitude towards Mexico, and our armies should once enter her territories, wise must be the statesman that can foresee an end short of absolute subjugation at once, or by fomenting a spirit of national hostility between us, which must ultimately lead to such a result.