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What did Emerson Waldo mean by “Mexico will poison us”?

Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American philosopher who is famous for leading the Transcendentalist movement in the nineteenth century. During the American-Mexican war, he is known for his famous quote, “The United States will conquer Mexico, but it will be as the man who swallows the arsenic which brings him down in turn. Mexico will poison us (Foner 67).” The immediate cause of this war was the annexation of Texas by the United States in 1845 amidst the opposition from Mexico, and Emerson Waldo was always open to express his profound disapproval.

Through the words, “Mexico will poison us” Emerson Waldo meant that although the United States had the power to conquer Mexico, the aftermath was not counter productive to its positive development. He feared that the ultra-expansionist ambitions of the United States were tainted by ulterior motives, which on the long run would only harm the country by dividing its people (Binder 49). Emerson was indeed right in a prophetic way. The word “poison” was used metaphorically to represent post war occurrences like slavery, which became pronounced after the war, and political divisions through out the country based on ideologies.

The first metaphorical poison that Emerson rightly prophesized was slavery. The history of the American-Mexican war dates back to 1835, when Texas seceded from Mexico. The main reason behind the secession was that Mexico had banned slavery (Binder 57). Critics of the war were convinced that the war was a precipitated power play by the southern slave owners to expand new lands for slavery and acquire new slave states (Foner 87). After the conclusion of the war, there was the acquisition of new territories that amassed to about one third of the total American land. This meant that, in addition to the already existing slave states like Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri, Texas had significantly increased the southern slave institution. Because the Northerners feared the same fate as the southerners and those from the west, they labeled the war a slave power conspiracy. This inevitable question of slavery and the subsequent events are what led to the American Civil War fifteen years later.

The second prediction of Emerson as poison was the political division in the country based on the annexing of Texas. After the United States had conquered Mexico in 1848, there were mixed ideas from different groups on annexing of the state of Mexico. The northeastern cities who were mainly ultra expansionists were supportive of the motion to annex the whole of Mexico. The southerners, on the other hand, were supportive for the annexation of Mexico but not beyond the Rio Grande (Binder 55). This was mainly because they did not welcome the idea of extending American citizenship to the Mexicans. The democrats also had their own ideas regarding the annexation of Mexico. They proposed the annexation of at least one third of Mexican land southwest of the Rio Grande.

However, in February 22, 1848, the peace treaty was signed and Mexico ceded to the United States the land that President James K. Polk had originally requested to buy before the war. The treaty also settled the dispute of the Texas-Mexico border by placing the boundary at the Rio Grande River. This division of people along the lines of ideas regarding the treaty had far-reaching consequences on the future of the United States (Foner 89). It created deep divisions politically that have threatened the country’s future. In conclusion, one can say that Ralph Emerson Waldo was entirely right in his prediction when he said, “Mexico will poison us”

Works Cited

Binder, Frederick M, and David M. Reimers. The Way We Lived: Essays and Documents in American Social History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co, 2008. Print.

Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty!: An American History. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. Print.

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