War with Mexico

The annexation of Texas on December 29, 1845, made war with Mexico all but inevitable. In January President Polk ordered General Zachary Taylor to advance into the disputed territory on the border. On April 14 a skirmish took place, and Polk announced to Congress that "American blood had been shed on the American soil," and Congress agreed to a bill of war. Early on, Taylor, although vastly outnumbered, won gallant victories in Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. The Army of the West, under the command of General Stephen Watts Kearny, met no resistance in its conquest of New Mexico. Meanwhile, in Mexico's sparsely settled department of California, American settlers, buoyed by the presence of Captain John C. Frémont and his exploring party of sixty well-armed men, declared independence, and on July 7 the American naval forces raised the Stars and Stripes at Monterey. Soon every port in California was soon under American control. In November Winfield Scott, General-in-Chief of the army, led an expeditionary force into the heart of Mexico, and less than a year later he entered Mexico City in triumph.

David Wilmot, a first-term congressman from rural Pennsylvania, made the Mexican War a portent of the Civil War to come when, in August 1846, he offered a proviso banning slavery in any territory that might be acquired from Mexico. While the proviso never became law, it sharpened the division between North and South. "What is to come of this only time can disclose," South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun wrote. "The present indication is, that the South will be united in opposition to the Scheme. If they regard their safety they must defeat it even if the Union should be rent asunder."

Zachary Taylor at Walnut Springs
Zachary Taylor at Walnut Springs
William Garl Brown, Jr.
Oil on canvas, 1847
30 x 36 inches
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution (NPG.71.57)

John Charles Frémont
John Charles Frémont
William S. Jewett
Oil on canvas, not dated
14 7/8 x 11 inches
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution (NPG.72.17)

Winfield Scott
Winfield Scott
Robert Walter Weir
Oil on canvas, circa 1855
34 x 27 inches
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution (NPG.95.52)

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