It is surprising how little attention is given to the idea of expansion in general, and the war with Mexico specifically, in the platforms of American political parties between 1832 and 1848. With Texas, Oregon, Manifest Destiny, and the Mexican War defining the period, I expected to find these subjects being addressed in the party platforms. It is only after the fact, the Mexican- American War that the parties mention the new territories. More prominent are statements concerning constitutional questions: limited government versus large scale internal improvements, and slavery. They generally feature praises of the various candidates. Below are planks that address expansion and the war with Mexico. One plank, the #6 plank in the 1848 Whig platform, is over-board in its description of Taylor’s virtues. If you are interested in reading it a link is provided in the source reference.
National Republicans do not adopt a platform.
Democrat platform does not address expansion.
Democrat Party meeting in Baltimore do not adopt a platform.
Radical Democrats meeting in New York issue the “Loco-Foco” platform which argued against paper money and the issuance of special privileges. It did not address expansion.
The Whig platform denounced Martin Van Buren (Democrat candidate), praised William Henry Harrison (Presidential candidate) and Francis Granger (VP candidate). It did not address expansion.
In 1840 the Whig Party did not offer a platform.
The Democrat Party’s platform opposed the Bank of the United States, protecting slavery, and rejecting internal improvements. It did not address Texas, Oregon, or expansion.
In 1844 the Liberty Party adopted a thoroughly abolitionist platform. It only addressed expansion by opposing the introduction of slavery into new states and territories.
The Whig platform advocated for regulating currency, a tariff, distributing proceeds from the sale of public lands, single term for presidents, and a regulated economy. It did not address expansion.
Democrat’s reaffirmed the nine planks of the 1840 platform and added three planks. Two of the three did not address expansion, Texas, or Oregon. One (#10) advocated for the distribution of money made from the sale of public lands, and one (#11) supported presidential veto powers. The third new plank (#12) did address Oregon and Texas.
- Resolved, That our title to the whole of the Territory of Oregon is clear and unquestionable; that no portion of the same ought to be ceded to England or any other power, and that the reoccupation of Oregon and the reannexation [sic] of Texas at the earliest practicable period are great American measures, which this convention recommends to the cordial support of the Democracy of the Union.
This plank frames the coming arguments the Polk administration will use to legitimize the U.S. claim to Oregon (reoccupy) and the annexation of Texas (re-annex). It is not a stirring call for U.S. expansion.
The Democrat Party platform of 1848 was, largely, a re-statement of the last two platforms (1840 and 1844). It addresses the war with Mexico retrospectively. It calls for the war’s continuation if Mexico rejects the terms offered, admonishes those who opposed the war, and praises U.S. forces that fought the war. It does not address the organization of the new territories or call for new expansion.
(Planks from the 1848 Democrat convention relating to the war with Mexico or expansion)
- Resolved, That the war with Mexico, provoked on her part by years of insult and injury, was commenced by her army crossing the Rio Grande, attacking the American troops, and invading our sister state of Texas, and upon the principles of patriotism and the laws of nations, it is a just and necessary war on our part, in which every American citizen should have shown himself on the side of his country, and either morally nor physically by word or by deed, have given “aid and comfort to the enemy.”
- Resolved, That we would be rejoiced at the assurance of peace with Mexico, founded on the just principles of indemnity for the past and security for the future; but while the ratification of the liberal treaty offered to Mexico remains in doubt it is the duty of the country to sustain the administration and to sustain the country in every measure necessary to provide for the vigorous prosecution of the war, should that treaty be rejected.
- Resolved, That the officers and soldiers who have carried the arms of their country into Mexico, have crowned it with imperishable glory. Their unconquerable courage, their daring enterprise, their unfaltering perseverance and fortitude when assailed on all sides by enumerable foes and that more formidable enemy -the diseases of climate- exalt their devoted patriotism into the highest heroism, and give them a right to the profound gratitude of their country, and the admiration of the world.
One passage in plank #19 refers to “…the Union as it was, the Union as it is, and the Union as it shall be, in the full expansion of the energies and capacity of this great and progressive people.” It only refers to potential future condition, it is not a call to expansion.
The Whig Party Platform of 1848 is remarkable. Only one plank addressed the war in any way. Plank #6 praises the service, and specific actions of the party’s nominee, General Zachary Taylor. That is all it addressed.
On August 9, 1848 the Free Soilers (Democrats that opposed the expansion of slavery) met and adopted the Buffalo platform. Their platform rejected laws and treaties that might allow slavery into new territories, Oregon, New Mexico, and California were named. It also dealt with other issues, calling for cheap postage, improvement projects, and free land grants. This platform talks about expansion more than the others, but it deals with post expansion issues.
America’s political parties did not express the tenets of Manifest Destiny in their party platforms from 1832 to 1848. Certainly, campaign party platforms are not the only form of political speech. They are the central ideas of a given campaign and it appears that no party wanted to make expansion the central theme of these campaigns. They did, however, reflect the nation’s growing divide over several issues. Slavery was the major issue. Platform planks either expressed fear about encroachments against slavery as it existed, fears about its negative effects on society, or concerns over its potential spread. Cautious is the mood that I would use to describe the attitude many politicians had toward expansion. Many understood that expansion could easily draw the country into a battle over slavery. It seemed to a battle most wanted to avoid. Only the careless, the calculating, or the vain would bring about a situation that throw away that caution.
Frederick, J.M.H., National Party Platforms of the United States, Presidential Candidates, Electoral and Popular Votes. (JMH Frederick: Akron, 1896) GooglePlay, Pp. 12- 20. https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=4Ig0AAAAIAAJ&pg=GBS.PA12