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Abraham Lincoln is one of the most prominent US presidents of all time, occupying the post from 1861 to 1865. He earned this recognition as he successfully navigated one of the darkest events in the country’s history, the American Civil war, and was responsible for the abolishment of slavery. However, not many people know about Lincoln’s political career prior to becoming the president, during which he was not as popular amongst the citizens of the US. One prominent action of his that drew people’s disapproval was his speech in 1848 addressed to the president at the time, James K. Polk, criticizing the American-Mexican war that started two years prior. The purpose of this paper is to analyze Lincoln’s declaration in terms of its purpose and aim.
Background Information on Lincoln’s Speech
In 1848, Lincoln had been occupying a seat in the House of Representatives for two years and was representing the Whig political party. Despite having only recently started his career in politics, the future president took a strong stance against the American-Mexican war, outlining his criticism of the government’s actions in a speech. While the address begins with the words “Dear Chairman,” it is transparent that Lincoln meant for the recipient of his criticisms to be James K. Polk himself. In fact, there are many points in the speech, which specifically call out the US president, urging him to answer the posed questions. However, as the address was public, Lincoln meant for regular citizens to be privy of his conclusions in terms of the American-Mexican war. As the general public’s opinion was split in the middle, he hoped to sway more people to his side. Lincoln’s stance on this issue was not received favorably by his political party, and his career in this area came to a brief halt until the 1850s.
The Summary and Aim of Lincoln’s Speech
The speech was written after the House of Representatives voted and passed an amendment that undermined Polk’s reasons for starting a war with Mexico. Lincoln had agreed with this decision, and in his speech, he promised to reverse his vote if the president would answer several questions. Most of the inquiries were focused on the issue of the location of the first bloodshed. Polk had claimed that Mexican soldiers ruthlessly killed citizens on American soil, which was the grounds for waging war against them. However, Lincoln believed that the location of this battle was never formally confirmed to be part of the US territories. He claimed that it was most likely part of the inhabited land, which was not under the jurisdiction of either country. As such, the act of reiterating the first bloodshed as the reason for starting the war, as Polk had been doing in every address, was strongly criticized by Lincoln. Another part of the speech questions the duration of the fight with Mexico, which was initially promised to last no more than four months.
In order to obtain the truth, Lincoln urged the president to answer all of his questions. He put much emphasis on the responsibility of the president of the country to tell its citizens the truth and reminds Polk that he sits in the seat that Washington had once occupied. While Lincoln promised to reverse his vote, it is evident that he was confident in his stance as he was openly invalidating the president’s reasons for starting a war. As such, the true aim of the address was most likely to make Polk take responsibility for his words and admit to lying to further his own agenda.
While Lincoln’s decision to speak out against the American-Mexican war resulted in him halting his political career for some years, this act proved to be a good indicator of his time as a president. In this address, one can see the future leader of the US’ oratory skills and critical thinking. Additionally, Lincoln’s respect for the presidential post and the responsibilities it entails are apparent as he criticizes Polk for not taking his position seriously enough.
Lincoln, Abraham. 2016. “Speech in United States House of Representatives: The War with Mexico” (Speech, 1848). House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College. Web.