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Document #4

Abraham Lincoln was a first term member of the U.S. House of Representatives elected in 1846. On January 12, 1848, he delivered one of the few speeches he made while in Congress. His speech challenged President Polk's war against Mexico. It has been suggested that one reason he was not re-elected to Congress was because of his opposition to the war.

. . . The President, in his first war message of May, 1846, declares that the soil was ours on which hostilities were commenced by Mexico, and he repeats that declaration almost in the same language in each successive annual message, thus showing that he deems that point a highly essential one. In the importance of that point I entirely agree with the President. To my judgment it is the very point upon which he should be justified, or condemned....

. . . the President sent the army into the midst of a settlement of Mexican people who had never submitted, by consent or by force, to the authority of Texas or of the United States, and ... thereby the first blood of the war was shed....

. . . Let the President answer the [questions] I proposed, . . . Let him answer fully, fairly, and candidly. Let him answer with facts and not with arguments. Let him remember he sits where Washington sat, and so remembering, let him answer as Washington would answer. As a nation should not, and the Almighty will not, be evaded, so let him attempt no evasion—no equivocation. And, if, so answering, he can show that the soil was ours where the first blood of war was shed—that it was not within an inhabited country, or, if within such, that the inhabitants had submitted themselves to the civil authority of Texas or of the United States, . . .—then I am with him . . . But if he can not or will not do this, . . . then I shall be fully convinced of what I more than suspect already—that he is deeply conscious of being in the wrong; that he feels the blood of this war, like the blood of Abel, is crying to Heaven against him . . ., and trusting to escape scrutiny by fixing the public gaze upon the exceeding brightness of military glory, that attractive rainbow that rises in showers of blood—that serpent's eye that charms to destroy, ... he now finds himself he knows not where....

As I have before said, he knows not where he is. He is a bewildered, confounded, and miserably perplexed man. God grant he may be able to show there is not something about his conscience more painful than all his mental perplexity. (Source: Congressional Globe, 3-th Congress, 1st session, New Series, No. 10, pp. 154-56)

1. What does Lincoln ask President Polk to explain?
2. What does Lincoln mean when he says that Polk attempts "to escape scrutiny by fixing the public gaze upon the exceeding brightness of military glory—that attractive rainbow that rises in showers of blood"? Why is it difficult for a people to protest a war once committed to it?


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