Friday, January 24, 2014

The Spot Resoultions and the Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858


Prior to Polk’s Presidential election, the annexation of Texas and the War with Mexico were already very heated issues between Democrats and Whigs.  The “Spotty Lincoln” nickname stemmed back to when Lincoln was an emerging young Illinois congressman under the Whig party, who questioned the Polk’s justification for war based on U.S. territorial claims over the “spot” where the first bloodshed started the U.S. war with Mexico.  The ‘spot’ question widened the political argument on whether Polk’s war with Mexico was actually a defensive war or a war of aggression, expansionism and imperialism [1].

In 1847, Representative Lincoln challenged “President Polk to submit evidence to Congress that the land on which the initial battle occurred was indeed American property” [2].  There were eight of these House inquiry resolutions put forth by Lincoln with the Whig party aim of faulting Polk and the Democrats for beginning an unjust war, and these resolutions are informally known as the Spot Resolutions.

In Lincoln’s speech before the House, on the twenty-second of December, 1847, questions such as whether the U.S. citizens, whose blood had been shed, as claimed by Polk in his messages of 1846-47, were armed officers and soldiers directed to the area or were regular U.S. tax paying citizens [3].  It was evident to Lincoln and the Whigs that the inhabitants of the disputed territory were not providing taxes to the U.S. prior to the war, and it was a strong political strike by the Lincoln and the Whigs.  In 1847, the Whigs took control of the House and were able to narrowly pass, 85-81, a vote to censure Polk on the grounds of starting the war with Mexico [4].

These political spot inquiries, which were venomous party politics aimed to shift power balances in the House and Senate, were fought over beginning of the Mexican War and disputed territory “between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande” [5].  Polk initiated a conflict over land acquisition and the Democrat party would take some damage for it during the late 1850s.

During the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 for “Illinois’s Senate seat” [6], Douglas pulled the patriot card on Lincoln with accusations that during Lincoln’s spot resolutions, Lincoln had actually sided with the common enemy against his own country during war.  Douglas referred to Lincoln as “Spotty Lincoln” and made jokes about spots of political platforms early on, but basically accused Lincoln of treasonous activity [7].  In response, Lincoln justified his position by stating that “his opposition to the initiation of the war had nothing to do with his willingness to support supplies for U.S. troops” [8].    

1. Mueller, Jean West and Wynell B. Schamel. 1988.  "Lincoln's Spot Resolutions." Social Education 52, 6 (October 1988): 455-457, 466. National Archives.  Accessed January 24, 2014.  http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/lincoln-resolutions/

2. Louis Fisher. 2009.  “The Mexican War and Lincoln’s Spot Resolutions.”  The Law Library of Congress, p. 1.  Accessed on Janruary 24, 2014.  http://loc.gov/law/help/usconlaw/pdf/Mexican.war.pdf

3.  Abraham Lincoln.  1847.  Speech Before the United States House of Representatives 22 December 1847.  Public Domain.  Accessed on January 24, 2014.  http://www.sewanee.edu/faculty/willis/Civil_War/documents/LincolnSpot.html

4. Louis Fisher. 2009.  “The Mexican War and Lincoln’s ‘Spot Resolutions’.”  The Law Library of Congress, p. 5.  Accessed on Janruary 24, 2014.  http://loc.gov/law/help/usconlaw/pdf/Mexican.war.pdf

5. Michael Holt.  2004. “The Fate of their Country: Politicians, Slavery Extension, and the Coming of the Civil War” (New York: Hill and Wang, 2004), 16.

6. Michael Holt.  2004. “The Fate of their Country: Politicians, Slavery Extension, and the Coming of the Civil War” (New York: Hill and Wang, 2004), 124.

7. Louis Fisher. 2009.  “The Mexican War and Lincoln’s ‘Spot Resolutions’.”  The Law Library of Congress, p. 8.  Accessed on Janruary 24, 2014.  http://loc.gov/law/help/usconlaw/pdf/Mexican.war.pdf

8. Louis Fisher. 2009.  “The Mexican War and Lincoln’s ‘Spot Resolutions’.”  The Law Library of Congress, p. 8.  Accessed on Janruary 24, 2014.  http://loc.gov/law/help/usconlaw/pdf/Mexican.war.pdf

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