“Shall We Have Mexico!” (New York Times, December 26, 1860)

416. Shall We Have Mexico!

(New-York Times [Lincoln], December 26, 1860)

In view of the threatened dissolution of the Union, and the consequent derangement of commercial and business enterprises, we are gratified to learn from Washington that leading members of the Republican Party are already beginning to look forward to the acquisition or annexation of Mexico, as a ready means of at once indemnifying the North for the partial loss of Southern trade, and of marring the schemes of Slavery propagandism, which is one great incentive to disunion. This policy has been heretofore hinted at by the Press, but was formally foreshadowed in the recent speech of Mr. Wade in the Senate. We happen to know that this idea of acquiring Mexico, first under the forms of a protectorate, but eventually as a component part of the Confederacy, is no merely casual suggestion of an individual senator; but that it has been seriously and favorably considered by leading minds, which will exercise an important influence upon the incoming Administration.

There are many obstacles to the adoption of the policy of a protectorate over Mexico, which the dissolution of the Union would remove. Deeply as we should deplore the disruption of the Confederacy, as it now exists, it is a consolation to know that that sad event would remove the last obstruction to the consummation of the obvious policy of the American Republic. The whole question of Slavery will then be out of the way, and the Mexican people can receive a guaranty of a stable government at our hands, without incurring the risk of being overrun by Slavery. Ignorant and degraded as they are, the Mexicans cherish a wholesome prejudice against an institution which would reduce them to the level of slaves. It is on this account that a strong repugnance exists among the masses to the Southern portion of this Union. But they would regard the people of the free North as benefactors and deliverers from anarchy and revolution, as well as from invasion by a Slaveholding Confederacy. All classes and parties in that distracted country–or at any rate, the Liberal Party, which constitutes the great majority, would [958] fly to the free Northern Confederacy, for deliverance from the intolerable ills of the present, and the hateful subjugation of the Southern fillibusters [sic].

A protectorate would be the initiatory measure, accompanied with free trade, and a right of Colonization. But it is evident that the effect of this intimate intercourse with the free people of the North, accompanied by an infusion of a large element of Northern freemen, would be to Americanize Mexico in its ideas of Government and civil freedom; so that after a few years of pupilage the Mexican States would be incorporated into the Union on equal terms with the original States. The South would thus be surrounded by States and Territories in which the idea of civil liberty in its widest application will become the great bond of Union.

Mexico is about the size of the Slave States of this Union, and not a great way behind them in population. The trade of that most misgoverned country is even now valuable to the commercial nations of the world, and especially to England. We last year gave some interesting statistics on this subject, which demonstrate that the American Government has been singularly blind to the importance of cultivating more intimate relations with Mexico. But this trade, under the reign of anarchy which has lasted for forty years past, is as nothing when compared with what it may become when Anglo-Saxon energy, intelligence and freedom, shall have brought order out of chaos, and have converted the Guerilla bands–which now make war upon society because they have no protection in their homes–into industrious laborers.

When Mexico belonged to Spain, it was for three centuries an invaluable dependency, from which she derived fabulous wealth. The Mexican silver and gold mines for ages yielded millions to the hand of industry, while the manufactures and commerce of Spain reaped a perennial harvest in the markets of her transatlantic possession. It is useless to say that the resources of Mexico remain unexhausted. Her mines have ceased to turn out untold millions, because the hand of industry has been paralyzed by anarchy; and her soil has refused to yield rich harvests from the same cause. Under American auspices there can be no doubt that new life can be infused into Mexican industry–that treasures will again stream forth from her mines in greater profusion than ever; and that a commercial intercourse will spring up not inferior to that which we may lose by the secession of the Southern States. To doubt it, would be to doubt that the energies of American freedom are superior to those of Spanish despotism.

The secession of the Southern States would still leave the Federal [959] Government intact. It would retain every feature of its organization, and every resource for its preservation. The Army and Navy would remain in possession of the Government, and might be increased to any needful extent. There can, therefore, be no impediment to the consummation of this policy. No force which the seceding States could raise would interpose a serious obstacle. Without organization, without government, without money, without arms, without ships, without sailors, and at best, immeasurably the weaker party, the Slave States could do nothing to resist the Northern protectorate over Mexico. England and France, and all commercial nations owuld thank us for the service we should do the cause of civilization and commerce, and the Mexicans themselves will open their arms to receive us.

Here, then, is a policy which must enlist the ardent support of every Northern man, and especially those engaged in manufactures and commerce. It opens up a limitless field of enterprise, and cannot fail to restore any temporary loss we may sustain by the disruption of the Union. Should that dreaded event happen, it would undoubtedly damage and injure the commerce and trade of the North; but we have already shown that, whether in the Union or out of it, the South cannot dispense with Northern manufactures, Northern ships, Northern sailors and ship-builders, and Northern capital; and when we consider the facilities and inducements which Southern secession will give to the acquisition of Mexico by the North, we may console ourselves with the reflection that, much as disunion is to be deprecated on grounds of patriotism and national honor, it would not essentially and permanently injure the commercial and industrial prosperity of the North.

Howard Cecil Perkins, ed. Northern Editorials on Secession, Vol. II (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1964), 957-959.

“Race is often seen in fixed terms, either as a biological given or a static social category. However, as the debates about race at the turn of the century demonstrate, racial categorization is a fluid process that turns not only on prejudice, but also on factors ranging from dubious science to national honor.” (Haney Lopez)

fluidity & contested nature of racial categories / WBL p. 63

Not everyone agreed with Wigmore in his willingness to support Japanese but not Chinese naturalization. Wigmore’s preference for the Japanese contrasts with the preference articulated by the editor of the Fresno Republican, Chester Rowell, in 1909. While against both Chinese and Japanese immigration in principle, as a businessman Rowell favored the Chinese: “Taking for the moment this [businessman’s] viewpoint, we find the Chinese fitting much better than the Japanese into the status which the white American prefers them both to occupy–that of biped domestic animals in the white man’s service. The Chinese [63] coolie is the ideal industrial machine, the perfect human ox.”[41] Rowell’s argument demonstrates that views regarding the race of Japanese and Chinese persons and their fitness for citizenship turned on racial prejudice. Wigmore’s determined advocacy, however, shows that many other factors also entered into debates about who qualified as White. Race is often seen in fixed terms, either as a biological given or a static social category. However, as the debates about race at the turn of the century demonstrate, racial categorization is a fluid process that turns not only on prejudice, but also on factors ranging from dubious science to national honor.

An extraordinary number of rationales surfaced as criteria in the prerequisite decisions. However, in the complex task of racial definition, judges deciding prerequisite cases relied principally on four distinct rationales: (1) common knowledge, (2) scientific evidence, (3) congressional intent, and (4) legal precedent….

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 62-63.


  1. [41]Chester Rowell, Chinese and Japanese Immigrants–A Comparison, 34 ANNALS OF AM. ACAD. 223, 224 (July-Dec. 1909).

“the intermediate and much-better-qualified red and yellow races” (In re Po, qtd. in Haney López)

‘red’ and ‘yellow’ races as ‘intermediate’, WBL p. 57

In contrast to such openly racist views, some judges writing in the racial prerequisite cases proclaimed fair-mindedness on the issue of race as well as solicitude for the petitioners. For example, in 1894, Judge Danaher of the City Court of Albany, New York, barred a Burmese petitioner from naturalization in In re Po, but not before remarking that he “appears to be a man of education,” [57] adding, “if there is no obstacle, it would give the court great satisfaction to grant his petition, and admit him to citizenship.”[17] Such solicitude, however, often seems disingenuous, or at least incapable of overcoming the strong taint of racism in these opinions. Thus, the same judge who expressed this high sentiment regarding Po manifested his subscription to the racist hierarchies of the time only a few lines further on. In sympathy for the excluded applicant, Judge Danaher complained of the 1870 revision allowing the naturalization of persons of African descent: “A Congo negro but five years removed from barbarism can become a citizen of the United States, but his more intelligent fellowmen… of the yellow races… are denied the privilege.”[18] The judge in Po was not alone in seeing a contradiction between admitting to citizenship Blacks but not Asians. A federal district judge sitting in Oregon lamented in 1880 that Congress should have “profer[red] the boon of American citizenship to the comparatively savage and strange inhabitants of the ‘dark continent,’ while withholding it from the intermediate and much-better-qualified red and yellow races.”[19] A generation later and across the continent, a federal district judge in South Carolina, perhaps more pragmatic, resigned himself to the dictates of Congress thus: “It may be that a highly educated and cultivated Japanese or Chinese or Malay or Siamese is better calculated to make a useful and desirable citizen than a savage from the Guinea coast, but it is not for the courts to give effect to such reasoning.”[20]

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 56ff.
  1. [17]In re Po, 28 N.Y. Supp. 383, 384 (City Ct., 1894).
  2. [18]Id.
  3. [19]In re Camille, 6 F. 256, 258 (C.C.D.Or. 1880)
  4. [20]Ex parte Shahid, 205 F. 812, 815 (E.D.S.C. 1913).

“Black was a generic term encompassing all non-Whites” in People v. Hall, California 1854 (Haney López)

California – People v. Hall (1854) — Chinese testimony grouped with Black and Indian by construction, “Black” as generic term =df non-White, the reverse of arguments made in Texas 1845 state convention. / WBL 51ff

Unsurprisingly, this early social treatment of Chinese as akin to Blacks also found legal expression. For example, in the 1854 case People v. Hall the California Supreme Court heard the appeal of a White defendant challenging his conviction for murder. He appealed on the grounds that he was convicted only through the testimony of a Chinese witness, and that this testimony should have been excluded under an 1850 statute providing that “no Black, or Mulatto person, or Indian shall be allowed to give evidence in favor of, or against a White man.”[6] The court agreed with the defendant that the Chinese witness was barred from testifying by the 1850 statute, reasoning that Indians originally migrated from Asia, and so all Asians were conversely also Indian, and that, at any rate, “Black” was a [52] generic term encompassing all non-Whites, and thus included Chinese persons.[7] This legal equation of Chinese and Black status was not temporally or geographically unique. Three-quarters of a century later and across the country, Mississippi’s Supreme Court reached a similar decision, holding in 1925 that school segregation laws targeting the “colored race” barred children of Chinese descent from attending schools for White children.[8] Given their social and legal negroization, it may well have been easier for the Chinese and other immigrants to argue their qualification for citizenship as Blacks rather than as Whites.

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 51ff.


  1. [6]Ozawa, supra, 260 U.S. at 198.
  2. [7]Ichioka, supra, at 9-17.
  3. [8]

Compare antebellum vagrancy laws in Texas and California (California Statutes vs. Oldham and White)

Text of the California “Greaser Act” (An Act to punish Vagrants, Vagabonds, and Dangerous and Suspicious Persons,” April 30, 1855.)

Section 1. All persons except Digger Indians, who have no visible means of living, who in ten days do not seek employment, nor labor when employment is offered to them, all healthy beggars, who travel with written statements of their misfortunes, all persons who roam about from place to place without any lawful business, all lewd and common prostitutes and common drunkards may be committed to jail and sentenced to hard labor for such time as the Court, before whom they are convicted shall think proper, not exceeding ninety days.

Sec. 2. All persons who are commonly known as “Greasers” or the issue of Spanish and Indian blood, who may come within the provisions of the first section of this Act, and who go armed and are not known to be peaceable and quiet persons, and who can give no good account of themselves, may be disarmed by any lawful officer, and punished otherwise as provided by the foregoing section.

The Statutes of California, Passed at the Sixth Session of the Legislature, Begun on the First Day of January, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Fifty-Five, and Ended on the Seventh Day of May, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Fifty-Five, at the City of Sacramento (Sacramento: B.B. Bedding, State Printer, 1855), 217.

(Sections 3-5 provide for Justices of the Peace, keepers of the Jail, and Board of Supervisors’ administrative powers and duties. Section 6 states when the act will take effect.)

Text of the Texas antebellum vagrancy act (“Of Vagrants,” Act of Aug. 26, 1856[?])

Art. 891. A vagrant is an idle person, living without any visible means of support, and making no exertion to obtain a support by any honest employment.

Art. 892. It is the duty of each Chief Justice of a county and Justice of the Peace, to order the arrest of vagrants, which may be done by warrant, directed to any peace officer.


Art. 895. When a person arrested is taken before the magistrate, he shall proceed to ascertain whether he is a vagrant within the meaning of the law; and if it be found that he is, the magistrate shall make an order that such vagrant be put to labor in such a manner as the County Court may direct.


Art. 897. The County Court of each county shall, by general regulation, provide for the manner in which vagrants are to be employed, and the kind of labor to which they shall be put, which may be upon any road, bridge, or other public work of the county.

Art. 898. The County Court shall so regulate the disposal of vagrants, as that they may be compelled to labor for the first offence not more than one week, and for the second, or any subsequent offence, not more than three weeks, during which time the person so compelled to work shall be supported, and, if deserving thereof, shall be paid an additional compensation, at the direction of the County Court, out of the county treasury.

Art. 899. The municipal authorities of incorporated towns and cities may make like regulations, respecting cases of vagrancy within their respective [668] jurisdictions, and vagrants may be arrested and dealt with under the warrant of the Mayor or Recorder of such town or city; may be compelled, in like manner, to labor upon any street or public work of such town or city, and shall be supported and compensated therefor out of the treasury of the corporation, at the discretion of such municipal authorities.

George W. White and Williamson S. Oldham, eds. A Digest of the General Statute Laws of the State of Texas (Austin, Tex.: Printed by J. Marshall & Co., 1859), 667-668 (link).