Thomas Hart Benton (1782 - 1858)
Benton, the most prominent Jacksonian Democratic
senator of the early nineteenth century, was a grand spokesman for national
greatness and the common person.
Having grown up on the Tennessee frontier, he
moved to St. Louis in 1815 and became editor of the second newspaper printed
west of the Mississippi. In his youth he was involved in numerous duels, including
one in which he and his brother nearly killed Andrew Jackson. He later became
one of Jacksons closest political allies.
Benton was a huge man with great energy and
long-winded speaking capacity. When not orating in the Senate, he undertook
speaking tours of up to a thousand miles on horseback, and huge crowds gathered
to hear him talk for two or three hours. Mark Twain used one of Bentons
visits to Hannibal, Missouri, as the basis for an episode in Tom
Like most Jacksonians, Benton tried to divert
national attention away from the slavery issue, thinking that it would disappear.
But he harshly condemned southerners who threatened secession over slavery.
Quote: I shall
not fall on my sword, as Brutus did . . . but I shall save it, and save myself,
for another day, and for another usefor the day when the battle of
the disunion of these states is to be foughtnot with words but with
ironand for the hearts of the traitors who appear in arms against their
country. (Senate speech, 1844)
REFERENCE: William Chambers, Old
Bullion Benton: Senator from the New West (1956).
James K. Polk (1795 - 1849)
Polk was the dark-horse presidential winner
of 1844 who carried out his ambitious program of Manifest Destiny.
The scion of a stern Scots-Irish family, he
was very serious and fanatically hardworking, never able to relax or get away
He was Andrew Jacksons leader in the
House of Representatives during the Bank War. Although called a dark-horse
nominee in 1844, Polk was actually a very well known Democrat and would probably
have been the vice-presidential candidate with Van Buren in 1844 if the former
president had not opposed the Texas annexation.
During his presidency Polk operated almost entirely
alone, having no personal friends, and his diaries show that he was often
secretive and manipulative. He exhausted himself with overwork and died only
a few months after leaving office.
repeated menaces, Mexico has passed the boundary of the United States, has
invaded our territory, and shed American blood upon American soil. She has
proclaimed that hostilities have commenced, and that the two nations are at
war.War exists, and notwithstanding all our efforts to avoid it, exists
by the act of Mexico herself. (War Message to Congress, 1846)
REFERENCE: Sam W. Haynes, James
K. Polk and the Expansionist Impulse (1997).
Antonio López de Santa Anna (1795 - 1876)
Santa Anna was the Mexican military dictator
who lost both the Texas war for independence and the Mexican War.
The uneducated son of a minor Spanish bureaucrat,
Santa Anna emerged from the turmoil of the independence movement to dominate
Mexican politics. He was an unscrupulous manipulator and opportunist who ruled
by granting favors to the army and exploiting the peasant masses. When not
at war, Santa Anna spent most of his time in cockfighting and gambling. He
loved to stage fantastic, expensive public entertainments, which he would
attend with his numerous mistresses.
He lost a leg defending Vera Cruz against a
French raid in 1838 and used this sacrifice as proof of his patriotism when
it was questioned. He was frequently driven into exile in Cuba and Colombia
but usually managed to return to power when civilian politicians led the country
You have a religionprotect it! You have honorfree yourself from
infamy! You love your wives, your childrenthen liberate them from American
brutality! (Appeal to the Mexican populace, 1847)
REFERENCE: Oakah L. Jones, Santa
Winfield Scott (1786 - 1866)
Scott, the American commander in the Mexican
War, was the most important U.S. military leader between the Revolution and
the Civil War.
Scott first became a national hero as a young
officer in the War of 1812, when he was wounded in the Battle of Lundys
Lane. He fought in several Indian wars in the 1830s before becoming head of
the army in 1841. He was called Old Fuss and Feathers because
of his love for military pomp and detailed regulations. His campaign from
the coast at Vera Cruz over the mountains to Mexico City is still considered
a military masterpiece. During the year in which he ruled the city under military
occupation, he was considered very fair and just by the Mexicans.
Although he had a decent understanding of politics
from a military perspective, his Whig candidacy for the presidency in 1852
was doomed by sectional conflict within the party. He was still holding on
as the aged commander of the U.S. army at the outbreak of the Civil War, but
was shortly replaced.
Quote: The object
of all our dreams and hopes, toils and dangersonce the gorgeous seat
of the Montezumas. That splendid city will soon be ours! (Speech to
REFERENCE: James McCaffrey, Army
of Manifest Destiny (1992).