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For more than 150 years, historians of this war on both sides of the Rio Grande often have reached conclusions as stark and simple as those of Carlos Nebel’s painting. The first US histories of the war reflected a triumphant and expansionist sentiment. That particular perspective mirrored popular opinion of the time. Writers of the era—Nathan Covington Brooks, John L. Frost, John S. Jenkins, Edward Mansfield, and Brantz Meyer—produced celebratory works that placed far greater emphasis on nationalist pride than on scholarly objectivity. A considerable portion of the published literature of the period focused upon the military aspects of the war, with the works of Francis Baylies and Jacob S. Robinson being typical of this genre.1 Officers and enlisted men who served in the war supplemented literary efforts of their civilian counterparts. Major Robert Anderson, Samuel Chamberlain, Colonel Samuel Ryan Curtis, Lieutenant Henry W. Halleck, Ralph W. Kirkham, Jacob Oswandel, and Captain Ephraim Kirby Smith all produced well-written memoirs. Veterans frequently provided more pointed and balanced histories than did contemporary scholars. For example, Anderson wrote in explicit detail of the carnage inflicted upon the civilians of Veracruz by Scott’s siege artillery. Unlike some authors, he did not gloss over the effects of the bombardment by merely noting the speed with which the US Army forced the surrender of the city and its garrison. Invariably, American historians of the conflict reflected the temper of their times. Frequently, late-nineteenth-century scholars treated the 1846–48 war in the framework of the pervasive disputes about the Civil Levinson_Wars_text_new_WarsLayoutNew4.11.05 10/18/13 2:09 PM Page 151 War. For example, a preeminent northern historian such as James Schoular interpreted the war with México as a southern effort to expand the territory in which slavery could be practiced.2 By contrast, southern partisans such as Alfred Jeremiah Beveridge, a noted author and US senator, insisted that considerations of slavery were factors of no consequence in the origins or course of the conflict. This dispute lasted well into the twentieth century. In 1934, John D. P. Fuller continued Beveridge’s defense of the South. In 1980, Ernest McPherson Lander took these arguments one step further, contending that the South Carolinians of that era were mightily concerned about the negative effects of the war on slavery. He argued that their publicly voiced doubts constrained Polk’s territorial ambitions. However, even the fierce disputations between historians such as Beveridge and Schoular failed to overshadow the generally triumphant tone with which late-nineteenth-century historians addressed the war. Typical of those writers is Horatio O. Ladd. Even though he conceded that the United States provoked a violent Mexican response by sending troops in the Nueces Strip, he wrote: “On the other hand, the grandeur of a Christian republic that in a hundred years may hold three hundred millions in its borders, stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific shores over such a magnificent domain, will ever, over the graves of the heroes of the Mexican War, inspire patriot hearts to the severest toils and the largest sacrifices for their country.”3 The 1919 publication of Justin H. Smith’s The War with Mexico marked the apogee of this perspective.4 In this work, the author concluded that México’s actions left the United States no honorable alternative other than war. He deemed the subsequent confiscation of approximately half of that nation’s territory to be just compensation for the unpaid claims of his aggrieved fellow citizens. Most controversially, he described Mexicans 152 Wars within War Levinson_Wars_text_new_WarsLayoutNew4.11.05 10/18/13 2:09 PM Page 152 using stereotypical and racist imagery. For decades, Smith’s work enjoyed such widespread acceptance that the veracity of his research remained unquestioned for some time.5 Other early-twentieth-century historians shared some of Smith’s biases. For example, in 1913 George Lockhart Rives wrote an elegantly phrased and well-researched history of the conflict in which he concluded that Mexicans bore responsibility for the war because they refused to yield peaceably and promptly to the inevitable triumph of the United States. This argument rests upon the implicit assumption that México did not possess the most basic prerogative of a sovereign nation: to maintain the integrity of its national territory. A countervailing historiography of the war gradually developed during the middle and latter part of the twentieth century. This development can be attributed in some degree to the social and political...


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