Lincoln, Patriotism and Protest : Background and Context
by Jennifer Erbach 


The documents you will read for this lesson plan discuss protest over two different wars in United States history, The Mexican War (1846-1848) and the Persian Gulf War in 1991. In both of these wars, acts of opposition and protest sparked conflict over whether such actions were unpatriotic. The following paragraphs will provide you with descriptions of both wars and give you background to the documents that will be used in this lesson.

The Mexican War:

In 1844, the U.S. elected James K. Polk, a Democrat, as president of the United States. Key to Polk's agenda was a plan for expanding U.S. territory. After negotiating with the British to secure Oregon territory, he turned his attention to California, which in 1844 was ruled by the Mexican government. Polk's attempts to purchase this territory from Mexico were unsuccessful. At the same time, the recently annexed state of Texas was in a dispute with Mexico over a strip of territory between the Rio Grande and Nueces Rivers (see map). Both Mexico and Texas claimed jurisdiction (the right to govern) over this territory. In 1845, Polk ordered General Zachary Taylor to march with his troops to the Rio Grande River. After a skirmish between Mexican and U.S. forces, Polk asked Congress for a declaration of war against Mexico, on the grounds that Mexico provoked the war by shedding U.S. blood on U.S. soil. Congress declared war on Mexico, and the United States invaded Mexico, easily overpowering Mexican forces. In February of 1848 Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which gave the U.S. the territory that today makes up the states of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and Colorado.

Lincoln and War:

In 1846, as the war was beginning, Abraham Lincoln was elected to the United States Congress. Lincoln at that time was a member of the Whig Party (the Republican Party would not be formed for several more years). Lincoln was opposed to the war in Mexico. President Polk claimed that the blood shed on territory that belonged to the U.S. and that that gave the U.S. the right to go to war with Mexico. Lincoln however, did not believe that all of the territory between the Rio Grande and Nueces Rivers belonged to the United States. In 1847, he called on the President to prove that the territory on which the first blood of the war was shed actually belonged to the United States. He also voted in favor of a resolution that declared the war with Mexico was unnecessarily and unconstitutionally commenced by the President. However, while Lincoln believed that the war was wrong he continued to vote to send necessary supplies to the troops that were fighting the war. Lincoln was criticized for not supporting the war, both by Democrats and by members of his own Whig Party, including his close friend and law partner, William Herndon.

The Persian Gulf War:

Events leading up to the Persian Gulf War began in 1990 when the nation of Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, invaded and annexed the neighboring country of Kuwait. Although Iraq claimed its actions were justified, the United Nations passed a resolution ordering Hussein to withdraw its army from Kuwait by January 15, 1991. When Iraq did not comply with this resolution, a coalition of forces including Canada, France, Great Britain, Russia, and the United States went to war with Iraq, to remove them from Kuwait. The coalition's efforts were successful, and a cease-fire was called on February 28, 1991. Iraqi forces were removed from Kuwait, but the damage done to the area was heavy. Although the U.S. Congress had voted to go to war with Iraq, the war sparked a series of protests in the United States.