A Conspiracy Emerges

James Polk.

Amidst the Mexican-American War, a conspiracy emerged involving President James Polk and the exiled leader of Mexico, Santa Anna. Not only would this conspiracy embolden Whigs but Democrats would also come down on President Polk for his actions.

Prior to the war breaking out, President Polk had discussions with Santa Anna, exiled in Cuba, where Santa Anna agreed that if President Polk secured his safe passage to Mexico, he would seize power in Mexico and sign a peace treaty with America. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 766. These discussions had President Polk thinking that the war would be short and straightforward. See id.

In August 1846, Santa Anna was permitted to pass through the American blockade of ships and into Mexico, however, he betrayed his agreement with President Polk and did not have any intention of signing a peace treaty. Id.

Thomas Hart Benton, picking up on the administration’s “deviousness and secrecy,” wrote in his memoirs, “Never were men at the head of a government [in wartime] less imbued with military spirit, or more addicted to intrigue.” Thomas Hart Benton, Thirty Years’ View, II, 680-82.

In December 1846, Whigs revealed the Polk-Santa Anna conspiracy, which President Polk would acknowledge in his Annual Message to Congress later that month. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 766. While Whigs would attempt to conduct an investigation of President Polk’s activities related to the conspiracy, the congressional Democrats blocked this from happening. Id.

President Polk’s actions, while naive and far too trusting of Santa Anna, would lead to the Mexican-American War being a much longer, deadlier war than had originally been predicted. The foreign policy that the Polk administration executed was unrealistic. President Polk was taking measures that would lead to the American military fighting the Mexican-American War for far longer than should have been necessary, but more than that, the underlying objective was for President Polk to fulfill the goals of manifest destiny and expansionism. Had the Whigs been successful in conducting a full investigation of President Polk’s actions, perhaps it would have changed the course of the war and the politics leading up to the Civil War.

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