02 August 2009

ch.4: "Plunder and Conquest"

summary: This short chapter primarily concerns Lincoln’s one term in Congress and the firestorm that surrounded the nation during those two years—the Mexican War. We see that Lincoln was extremely popular with his colleagues, but had some serious political problems with the War (he opposed the war but supported the troops). While he may have been correct that President James K. Polk (pictured on left) started the war solely for conquest (it wouldn’t be last time the United States conquered territory under the guise of democracy); Lincoln was still opposing a popular military action. Many of Lincoln's friends and supporters thought he had wrecked his political career. But the real conflagration started after the War--what to do with these conquered lands. Would slavery be allowed in the new territories or not? This issue ignited an already simmering sectional divide and led directly to the Civil War in 1861—political parties shifted, sectionalism was fortified, and both the North and South began to dig in their heels.

Discussion Questions
1. Why was Lincoln and the Whig Party opposed to the Mexican War?

2. What was Lincoln’s “spot resolution” and what was President Polk's response?

3. Why were American’s generally in support of this war?

4. What was the Wilmot Proviso and why was it so important politically at this time?

5. How were Abe and Mary getting along at this time?

6. We see in this chapter that Seward, Lincoln, and Chase exhibit some real differences on what to do about slavery. How did they differ and why?

Other Misc. Points
-Remember as you read this chapter and the next that Lincoln was basically out of politics for a time. He served one term in Congress and then went back to practicing law. His chances of rising again seemed slim. Some historians suggest that Lincoln was just biding his time. But a more realistic explanation is that Lincoln's
political career was nearly over, and he knew it. It would take some major changes to allow him to reemerge as a national figure.

-The map below shows the lands taken during the Mexican War (yellow and light pink). While Texas and the surrounding areas were technically annexed before the conflict, those territorial gains are still considered part of the Mexican War.


  1. I'm reading this book right now for the Honors class ,and I just wanted to say these blog posts are very helpful for me as a student to keep an eye out for things to look for and pay attention to (by looking at the discussion questions) and I hope to continue to use this as a tool with questions I may have and others! Thank you for doing this!


  2. Sarah, I will start posting more discussion questions. And if you don't understand something or have any questions about the book--please email me or ask right here on the blog.

  3. Chapter 4, Question 1: From the beginning of the Mexican War, many leading Whigs questioned the constitutionality and justice of the war.

  4. Chapter 4, Question 3: Americans were generally in support of this war because it aroused their political spirit and they regarded the war as "a romantic venture in a distant and exotic land." Also, many Americans were delighted with the outcome of the war.

  5. St. Thomas Salmon 409 April, 2010 14:06

    Chapter 4, Question 4: The Wilmot Proviso was a bill that was repeatedly put brought up by David Wilmot. This historic amendment said "neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any part of said teritory." This repeatedly passed the house and was shot down in the South-dominated Senate.

  6. Chapter 4, Question 6:
    Seward's,Chase's,and Lincoln's views on slavery are different by that they have different thoughts,ideas,and motives on how to solve the issue of slavery. For example Lincoln thinks that slavery can be solved by stopping slavery from going into other states that don't have slavery yet like the new states gained from Mexico.

  7. Question 1.
    There were questions concerning both the constitutionality and the ethics of the War. Lincoln, I believe, was very concerned about the lie that was told by then President Polk when “announcing that Mexico had fired upon American soldiers on American soil,” to instigate a war. Lincoln said, “It is a fact, that the United States Army, in marching to the Rio Grande, marched into a peaceful Mexican settlement, and freighted the inhabitants away from their homes and their growing crops.”

    Question 2.
    The “spot resolution” refers to Lincoln’s attempt to distinguish himself by calling on the President “to inform the House ”whether the particular spot of soil on which the blood of our citizens was so shed” belonged to Mexico or to the United States.” Lincoln is attempting to push the question of ethics.

    Question 6.
    In addition to St. Salmon 2, I will add that Seward was motivated toward “Universal Freedom”. And Chase “pursued a different strategy . . . he believed the time had come for a broad Northern party that would unite Liberty men with antislavery Democrats and “conscience” Whigs.” In other words he was in favor of a coalition party called the “Free soil Party”.

    Thank-you Dr. Woodard for the map, as it helps define the area incorporated to the US after the Mexican War.