A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and online sale the online sale 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico outlet sale

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Often forgotten and overlooked, the U.S.-Mexican War featured false starts, atrocities, and daring back-channel negotiations as it divided the nation, paved the way for the Civil War a generation later, and launched the career of Abraham Lincoln. Amy S. Greenberg’s skilled storytelling and rigorous scholarship bring this American war for empire to life with memorable characters, plotlines, and legacies.

This definitive history of the 1846 conflict paints an intimate portrait of the major players and their world. It is a story of Indian fights, Manifest Destiny, secret military maneuvers, gunshot wounds, and political spin. Along the way it captures a young Lincoln mismatching his clothes, the lasting influence of the Founding Fathers, the birth of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and America’s first national antiwar movement. A key chapter in the creation of the United States, it is the story of a burgeoning nation and an unforgettable conflict that has shaped American history.

Review

“The best account we have of the politics of Mr. Polk’s War . . . If one can read only a single book about the Mexican-American War, this is the one to read.”   —James M. McPherson, The New York Review of Books

“Amy Greenberg''s original and moving narrative of the U.S. invasion of Mexico relates the gradual loss of enthusiasm for waging what began as a popular war of conquest.  How peace ultimately prevailed is the most surprising part of her story.” —Daniel Walker Howe, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of What Hath God Wrought
 
“No less a warrior than Ulysses S. Grant had good reason to decry the war with Mexico as ‘wicked.’  In Amy S. Greenberg’s dramatic and deeply engaging political narrative, the reader gets the grit of the campaign and rich insight into the fascinating historical actors who stage-managed (or resisted) this all-important, under-studied war.  In these fast-turning pages, we see clashes among political opportunists, moments of eloquence and pathos-all under the rising sun of American power.” —Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg, authors of Madison and Jefferson
 
A Wicked War gives the U.S.-Mexican War a personal dimension and immediacy that has been lacking until now.  Amy Greenberg makes us live the war vicariously through the lives of the aging patriarch Henry Clay who lost a son in Mexico, the husband-and-wife presidential team of James K. and Sarah Polk, the lanky and somewhat disheveled Abraham Lincoln still learning about politics, and others.  This is a rare melding of great story-telling and analysis of an era that shaped not only the United States but the entire North American continent.” —Andrés Reséndez, author of A Land So Strange
 
A Wicked War, with its emphasis on politics rather than military history, does for the Mexican-American war what James McPherson did for the Civil War with Battle Cry of Freedom, greatly broadening our understanding of the war. Certainly Professor Greenberg’s book will immediately become the standard account of the Mexican War, at last giving it an important place in the history of the United States. This book restores my faith in the merits of narrative history.” —Mark E. Neely, Jr., Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Fate of Liberty

“A well-rendered, muscular history of a war whose ramifications are still being carefully calibrated." — Kirkus Reviews

"The seldom-sung Mexican War emerges as one of America''s most morally ambiguous and divisive conflicts in this illuminating history." — Publishers Weekly

“Amy S. Greenberg’s new history elegantly unfolds the story of the war through the lives of five politicians . . . [Greenberg] immerse[s] her readers in the early 1840s . . . Gripping.” —Maria Montoya, San Francisco Chronicle

"A provocative main idea in a freshly original narrative." — Booklist

“Greenberg writes taut political history, full of chapter-ending cliffhangers and characters who feel like real people.”
Zocalo Public Square

“In her absorbing and valuable A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico, Penn State’s Amy S. Greenberg does a splendid job of vivifying this disgraceful episode in American history.” —Bill Kauffman, Reason

About the Author

Amy S. Greenberg is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of History and Women''s Studies at Penn State University. She is a leading scholar of Manifest Destiny and has held fellowships from the Huntington Library, the New-York Historical Society, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the American Philosophical Society. Her previous books include Manifest Manhood and the Antebellum American Empire and Cause for Alarm: The Volunteer Fire Department in the Nineteenth-Century City.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

1

Valentine’s Day

February 14, 1844, did not unfold as sixty-six-year-old Henry Clay planned. It was Valentine’s Day, no longer a sleepy saint’s day resigned to religious calendars, but fast becoming a national craze. Stationers had discovered profit in the increasingly sentimental culture of middle-class America by promoting a holiday dedicated to the novel practice of exchanging store-bought cards. Christmas presents were still considered suspect, even profane, by American Protestants in the 1840s, but among the urbane it had become a “national whim” to send engraved or printed tokens of love through the mail, more than thirty thousand in 1844 in New York City alone. Urban post offices around the country were “piled with mountains of little missives, perfumed, gilt, enameled, and folded with rare cunning . . . they overflow with the choicest flowers of love, poetry and sentiment.”

   Most everything fashionable in 1840s America was imported from Europe, and this whim was no exception. Initially, almost all Valentine’s Day cards were British-made. But perennially insecure Americans complained that the old empire was “defrauding” Uncle Sam “of a rightful increase in his revenue.” U.S. firms rose to the challenge: they began producing and marketing their own sentimental cards, and advertising them in newspapers. Countless shops sold these valentines in towns and cities, and peddlers brought them into rural areas. Within just a few short years American-made valentines had become ubiquitous. Nothing better demonstrated the increasing complexity and sophistication of American commerce in the 1840s, or the rise of a female-centered culture of romance and sentimentality, than did the wholesale American embrace of a commercialized Valentine’s Day. In 1844 it was being celebrated like never before. It had, according to some observers, achieved “epidemic” proportions.

   Valentine’s Day could have been made for Henry Clay. During his nearly forty years in national politics, he had been both lauded and condemned for his attention, attachment, and deference to the ladies, so much so that the number of women he had kissed had become a running joke in Washington. The trappings of organized religion left him cold, but he was renowned for his sentimentality and deep emotion. He was easily moved to tears, and when Clay wept while delivering a speech in Congress, listeners on both sides of the aisle found themselves similarly moved. As the founder of the preeminent Whig Party, a political organization devoted to the growth of American business, Henry Clay was the public face of American commerce. It was Whig legislation, conceptualized by Clay, that enabled American card producers to compete with British imports, and that financed the roads and bridges over which the thousands of valentines traveled.

   In early 1844 he could lay claim to being the “most popular man in America.” “Prince Hal,” as his supporters warmly called him, was the nation’s most distinguished statesman, renowned for his oratory, his brilliant legal mind, his legislative prowess, and for his decades of service to the nation. He led the charge to war against Britain in 1812 and helped negotiate the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the conflict in 1815. His Missouri Compromise of 1820 calmed a sectional firestorm by maintaining the balance of slave and free states while also limiting the future spread of slavery to south of the Mason-Dixon line. As secretary of state under John Quincy Adams in the 1820s, he was an avid supporter of hemispheric solidarity, embracing the newly independent nations of Latin America as republican kin to the United States. And he promoted a vision for the economic development of the nation, what came to be known as his “American System,” that proved so compelling it became the platform for a new political party.

   His personality was as dazzling as his résumé. There was no better conversationalist in Washington, no more charming man to meet at a party, no one more ingratiating when he wanted to be—which was always. He was a master at the fiddle and a brilliant teller of jokes. He never ceased to remind his listeners that he came from humble origins (Clay was the first national politician to refer to himself as a self-made man). But by the time he entered politics he carried himself, and behaved, exactly like what he was: a southern gentleman who loved parties, gambling, whiskey, and women, who was open in his affections and undeniably magnetic. His wife, Lucretia, conveniently remained home in Kentucky, where she faultlessly managed their large family and equally impressive estate, Ashland.

   His excesses were in the past, youthful indiscretions that only his enemies would deign to dredge up. Now he was a mature politician, his appeal nationwide. He was the “Sage of Ashland.” Although he carried himself like a southerner, his vision of an American economy based on production was warmly embraced in the North. Despite owning scores of slaves, he professed to hate slavery.

   Clay’s popularity was in no way the product of his outward appearance. His self-assurance frequently crossed into arrogance, but even Clay would admit that nature had not blessed him with beauty. The freckles, blue eyes, and white-blond hair of his youth alone would have placed him outside the era’s manly ideal, but far worse were his facial features: a cavernous mouth rimmed with thin lips, and a receding cleft chin that emphasized his very prominent nose.

   But Clay made the best of what he had. Tall and thin, with delicate hands, he was graceful in his demeanor and careful in his dress. The real draw was his sparkling wit and great desire to please. “No portrait ever did him justice”; neither painting nor daguerreotype could capture his easy and winning smile or his ability to connect almost instantly with a new acquaintance. “His appearance upon the whole was not at first prepossessing,” one visitor to his house noted, “but when you heard him converse, you felt you were under the influence of a great and good man.”

   His popularity among women was legendary. They flocked around him when he appeared in public, treasured mementos of his visits, and purchased reproductions of his likeness. They cheered his elections and promoted his causes. It was generally acknowledged that “if the Ladies . . . could vote, the election of Mr. Clay would be carried by acclamation!” They continued to find him irresistible well into his middle age, when his receding hairline did nothing to diminish his remarkable wit and courtesy. As his closest female friend, Alabama socialite Octavia LeVert, explained, Clay had “a heroism of heart, a chivalry of deportment, a deference of demeanor,” all of which were “irresistible talismans over the mind of the gentler sex.”

   Nor were women alone in succumbing to Clay’s charms. There was a “winning fascination in his manners that will suffer none to be his enemies who associate with him,” wrote one congressman. “When I look upon his manly and bold countenance, and meet his frank and eloquent eye, I feel an emotion little short of enthusiasm in his cause.” Clay easily disarmed wary strangers; even lifelong opponents of his legislation found the legislator difficult to dislike in person. His political antagonist, South Carolina senator John C. Calhoun, believed Clay was “a bad man, an imposter, a creator of wicked schemes.” But after decades of political battles between the two, Calhoun concluded, “I wouldn’t speak to him, but, by God! I love him.”

   Henry Clay was an American original, glamorous and magnetic to a fault, but far from perfect. He was spoiled by a lifetime of acclaim (he first entered the Senate at the tender and unconstitutional age of twenty-nine), and even his friends admitted he could be a prima donna. His wit could be biting, and he was easily bored. Impulsive and ardent, he too often spoke before thinking, made promises he couldn’t keep, and later came to regret his decisions. His ambivalence about slavery led many voters on both sides of the question to discount him as opportunistic. As a young man he passionately argued that Kentucky should end slavery through a plan of gradual emancipation similar to those being adopted by the mid-Atlantic states. When that plan was rejected he devoted himself to the cause of colonization, believing it possible to end slavery by colonizing freed slaves in Africa. But forty years later his wealth derived in large part from the unpaid labor of fifty men, women, and children whom he owned. His enemies called him a demagogue, but not to his face. Like other southern gentleman, Clay kept a set of dueling pistols and had put them to use more than once. But these excesses were also in the past, the dueling pistols now just for show.

  
By all measures February 14, 1844, should have been a blissful Valentine’s Day for Henry Clay, “full of glorious recollections—and pregnant with never ending happiness,” as it was for so many others. But this was not to be. In place of a scented, embossed, cherub-decorated paper heart, Henry Clay received intelligence that day that put a damper on his hopes and shook him to the bone.

   Clay was near the end of a two-month stay in his favorite city, New Orleans, when the local paper broke the news. He was lodging in the elegant and urbane home of Dr. William Mercer, on Carondelet Street, close to the hotels and business establishments where he spent his days winning over the wealthy men of the city with his brilliant economic plans, and evenings flattering their wives and sisters. The fun ended when he picked up the paper on February 14. Clay was flabbergasted, unwilling to believe the news, but also afraid it was true: reportedly President John Tyler had secretly negotiated a treaty to annex the Republic of Texas and was at that very moment lining up supporters for the bill in the Senate. Surely the great Henry Clay, who until two years before had been the senior senator from Kentucky and who was currently preparing for his third presidential run, should have known about a matter of such monumental importance both to the nation and to his status as a power broker in Washington. How could he be so out of the loop? “Address me instantly,” he demanded of his friend and Senate successor, John Crittenden. “If it be true, I shall regret extremely that I have had no hint of it.”

   True it was. In the winter of 1843–44, Secretary of State Abel P. Upshur had nearly drafted a treaty with the Lone Star Republic and had employed his masterly lobbying abilities to persuade a majority of U.S. senators to secretly pledge their support for it. By late January Upshur felt confident enough of the passage of the treaty to assure Texas leaders that forty of America’s fifty-two senators were committed to Texas’s annexation. With two-thirds of the Senate lined up, annexation was all but ensured.

   This was a startling turn of events, both for Henry Clay and for the nation. Clay’s insider status was legendary. America’s first congressional power broker, Clay became the Speaker of the House of Representatives on his first day as a congressman in 1811, and made the speakership second only to the presidency in its power. As Speaker, Clay offered patronage, controlled legislation and desirable committee appointments, and even decided who became president in the contested election of 1824, favoring Adams over Andrew Jackson despite the fact that Old Hickory had received more electoral and popular votes. The following decades became known as the Age of Jackson, but they could just as surely be called the Age of Clay, for Clay was as much a force of nature in American politics as his archfoe. The difference, of course, was that Andrew Jackson had won two presidential elections, while Henry Clay had twice lost.

   In 1844 Henry Clay was consumed with the notion that his time, at long last, had come. Dozens of important men had accrued debts to him over his many years in office, and Clay was ready to call in those debts in order to accede to the nation’s highest office. Clay hadn’t been officially nominated yet; the convention wasn’t until May. But New Orleans was the launching pad for a lengthy tour of the Southeast designed to shore up his support in the region, and so far things had gone swimmingly. In public squares and in private drawing rooms, the good people of New Orleans proclaimed Henry Clay their undisputed choice for president. Nothing appeared to stand in his way—until he heard the news about Texas on Valentine’s Day.


Texas had been brewing as a problem since 1835, when a band of slave-owning American settlers, attracted by Mexico’s generous immigration policies and the ample land available for growing cotton, rose in rebellion in the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas. The Texians (as they called themselves) invoked the American Revolution to justify their actions, but their objections to Mexican rule extended beyond representation, taxes, and trade. In 1830 Mexico attempted to restrict immigration into Texas and to limit slaveholding. The laws were utterly unenforceable, and probably just as many in the region were as upset about Mexico’s attempt to collect revenue and increase central authority as they were about the fate of their slaves. But the survival of the “peculiar institution” made for a perfect call to arms. The nation was, in the words of a Texas newspaper, attempting to “give liberty to our slaves, and to make slaves of ourselves.”

   Most Americans viewed the Texas Revolution not as a war for slavery but as a race war between brown Mexicans and white Texians, and as a result supported the Texians wholeheartedly. Thousands of white American men from the South and West illegally crossed into Texas in order to join the fight against Mexico. Many fewer, primarily ministers and abolitionists, attacked the legitimacy of the rebellion. In Philadelphia, Quaker abolitionist Benjamin Lundy left no doubts about his views on the subject when he titled his 1836 pamphlet The War in Texas; A Review of Facts and Circumstances, Showing That This Contest Is a Crusade Against Mexico, Set on Foot and Supported by Slaveholders, Land Speculators, &c, in Order to Re-establish, Extend, and Perpetuate the System of Slavery and the Slave Trade. A second edition expanded on his arguments against “the grand deception” calling itself Texas independence. But outside New England, where a significant minority supported the abolition of slavery, few Americans believed that Mexicans occupied the moral high ground in this conflict. Not even Quaker Pennsylvania was a safe place to protest the Texas Revolution: a Philadelphia mob destroyed Lundy’s printing press and threatened his life a year after the second edition of The War in Texas appeared in print.

   Marked by dramatic battles, the Texas Revolution was ripe for exploitation in America’s vibrant and competitive penny press. There was no need to exaggerate or sensationalize. Mexican troops, driven by the battle cry “Exterminate to the Sabine” river, acted barbarously. First came the cruel slaughter of American Texians by Mexican general Antonio López de Santa Anna at the Alamo. Mexican forces piled up Texian corpses, soaked them in oil, and set them on fire. At Goliad, although his subordinate agreed to treat surrendering forces as prisoners of war, Santa Anna arbitrarily set aside the agreement, marched 340 Texians out of town, and had them all shot.

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4.5 out of 54.5 out of 5
318 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

Steven Sprague
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Enjoyable read, but more an editorial on Polk, than a history lesson about the Mexican/American war
Reviewed in the United States on November 1, 2020
For a book of history, Greenberg''s "A Wicked War" reads very much like a Gore Vidal volume from his "American chronicle" which is a compliment as far as readability, but as history, it contains far too much editorial commentary to be considered the "single book about the... See more
For a book of history, Greenberg''s "A Wicked War" reads very much like a Gore Vidal volume from his "American chronicle" which is a compliment as far as readability, but as history, it contains far too much editorial commentary to be considered the "single book about the Mexican-American War" one needs to read in order to fully appreciate the subject. On the contrary, rather that satisfy my curiosity, Greenberg''s treatise left me with more questions and the need to read quite a number of additional volumes in order to appreciate not only the event, but the historical context as well. Perhaps that is a good thing? While I do not disagree that this War was indeed wicked, Greenberg has a tendency of examining the events of the early 1840''s through the prism of today''s sensibilities and moral preconditions. Early on she states, "Like most Americans, Polk felt a deep disdain for the racially mixed population of Mexico - and was convinced that its leaders were corrupt and cowardly." First of all, she does not provide evidence for her racial characterization of the "American people," and then just four paragraphs after this statement is written, she provides evidence of Mexican leaders being corrupt and cowardly. Later in the book she states, "Even enlightened U.S. soldiers were by modern standards, racist." By modern standards, President Lincoln was a racist, but by the standards of his time, we might say he was "enlightened?" The margins of my copy of Greenberg''s "A Wicked War" are filled with phrases like "calls for speculation," or "assumes facts not in evidence," that are more in keeping with a legal deposition than a work of history. From Greenberg''s bibliography, on the other hand, I ended up purchasing a biography of Polk that she often referenced, Charles Sellers "Continentalist" which I would venture to guess provided the genesis of her conception of the 11th President of the U.S., which is excruciatingly detailed, and surprisingly, free from editorial commentary unlike her own work. For those who are more interested in "a single book" about Polk, his life and times, and the Mexican-American War, I would suggest Walter Borneman''s excellent and highly readable "Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America."
13 people found this helpful
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Pat McKim
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Surprisingly good
Reviewed in the United States on May 27, 2020
I almost didn''t buy this book. I thought it would be biased against war in general, but the author does a very good job of describing the unfairness of the Mexican War. As a retired Naval Officer researching many commanding generals, the author does a good job of showing... See more
I almost didn''t buy this book. I thought it would be biased against war in general, but the author does a very good job of describing the unfairness of the Mexican War. As a retired Naval Officer researching many commanding generals, the author does a good job of showing the heroics and what happened, but with a view for how the President Polk picked a fight and wouldn''t let up. Other books might be better to discuss all the characters, but this does a very good job of showing Polk''s duplicity. This war started as a popular one and quickly became unpopular because it was a foreign war of aggression. Certainly worth the read. As a footnote both Generals Taylor and future General Grant thought it was an bad, unfair war. Grant regretted he didn''t have the courage to leave the Army in protest.
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Gilberto Villahermosa
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A Wonderful - and Disturbing - History of America''s Truly Forgotten War!
Reviewed in the United States on December 15, 2018
Well Researched! Well Written! Informative! I learned many new things about the Mexican-American War. The war was so unpopular among the American public and politicians that there is still no monument to the more than 12,000 Americans who fell in this needless conflict. The... See more
Well Researched! Well Written! Informative! I learned many new things about the Mexican-American War. The war was so unpopular among the American public and politicians that there is still no monument to the more than 12,000 Americans who fell in this needless conflict. The U.S. invasion of Mexico and atrocities by US Volunteers and Texas Rangers against the Mexican people sullied the reputation of America worldwide and led to lasting enmity on the part of the Mexican people.
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T. Good
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A Superb Book On Many Levels
Reviewed in the United States on September 7, 2015
This is an excellent book on several levels. First, of course, it is titular subject, the Mexican War, a period both obscure and lightly glossed by most courses in American history. Greenberg provides the reader with a fine summary of the personalities, events and... See more
This is an excellent book on several levels. First, of course, it is titular subject, the Mexican War, a period both obscure and lightly glossed by most courses in American history. Greenberg provides the reader with a fine summary of the personalities, events and collateral issues surrounding the war''s inception, prosecution and aftermath. Second, the book is fascinating in outlining the process of Presidential politics in the period in question. Polk was clearly an "accidental" president but having assumed the office he was nearly unstoppable in his pursuit of this "wicked" war. The portrait of Henry Clay is also superb. Third, Greenberg''s presentation of the tenor of the times is highly instructive if for no other reason than she reminds us how vitriolic, shameful and corrupt politics were, are and always will be. We tend to think the current climate in American politics is the worst it has ever been. This book, among many, corrects that misconception.
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Thomas Wynn
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Conscience concealment via political sleight of hand
Reviewed in the United States on April 3, 2020
A significant international war that lacks visibility but the effects of which have lingering modern consequences. Deeply researched and interpreted with little apparent bias or political overtones. Well worth reading to supplement an understanding of current political... See more
A significant international war that lacks visibility but the effects of which have lingering modern consequences. Deeply researched and interpreted with little apparent bias or political overtones. Well worth reading to supplement an understanding of current political geographical boundaries. The scope is confining.
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Nataša MV
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A fairly readable book
Reviewed in the United States on July 27, 2019
As the author reveals in the introduction "this is the story of five men (Henry Clay, James K. Polk, Abraham Lincoln, John J. Hardin and NIcholas Trist), four years and one foreign war". Military tactics and minor battles receive limited coverage.
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NYC Guy
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Not as Described
Reviewed in the United States on August 19, 2021
The cover of the book was excellent; however, the inside pages are completely underlined. Yes, I purchased this book used but in the product details it should have let the buyer know that each and every page was completely marked up. I would have never purchased it. Very... See more
The cover of the book was excellent; however, the inside pages are completely underlined. Yes, I purchased this book used but in the product details it should have let the buyer know that each and every page was completely marked up. I would have never purchased it. Very disappointed in this product.
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Craig Nettleton
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Demonstrating the effects of American Imperialism
Reviewed in the United States on August 9, 2016
An excellent summary of the circumstances leading to the Mexican American War: imperialism disguised as manifest destiny and racism masked as cultural superiority. The war itself was brutal and inhumane, such as the first artillery bombardment of a civilian population. Ms.... See more
An excellent summary of the circumstances leading to the Mexican American War: imperialism disguised as manifest destiny and racism masked as cultural superiority. The war itself was brutal and inhumane, such as the first artillery bombardment of a civilian population. Ms. Greenberg does an excellent job of bringing these issues to light for a war that has been largely forgotten, but whose effects linger on.
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Top reviews from other countries

Tim Truett
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Highly Recommend
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 14, 2012
Beautifully written historic prose, frankly a page turner, that emphasises the politics leading up to and throughout the 1846 Mexican American War. This necessarily includes the social and political dynamics of Manifest Destiney, slavery, annexation of Texas, California,...See more
Beautifully written historic prose, frankly a page turner, that emphasises the politics leading up to and throughout the 1846 Mexican American War. This necessarily includes the social and political dynamics of Manifest Destiney, slavery, annexation of Texas, California, Oregon and Washington (oh, and Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and the rear of northern Mexico called Alta Mexico). The molding of enthusiastic public support for a rapid, heroic foreign adventure and a gradual loss of enthusiasm as fact and reality merge create a familiar feel to a distant time. As both the US''s first invasion of a foreign nation, as a lead up to the Civil War, and as a primer to America at war in the Middle East, this is a fascinating look at an important, forgotten, but quit important part of American history. May I suggest it be read in conjunction with the last chapter of Robt. D. Kaplan''s "Geography" and it should become even more interesting.
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Scott
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A Polictaly Motivated Book
Reviewed in Canada on June 30, 2021
A Wicked War is written by a professor of History and Women''s Studies. The book is very politically motivated from a modern progressive point of view. The author frequently labels American soldiers and people and racists and portrays the motivations of the war with Mexico...See more
A Wicked War is written by a professor of History and Women''s Studies. The book is very politically motivated from a modern progressive point of view. The author frequently labels American soldiers and people and racists and portrays the motivations of the war with Mexico as an unjustifiable attempt to annex as much of Mexico as possible. Many unsubstantiated claims by the author are made. For example, the author claims that if women were allowed to vote in 1844 election, Henry Clay would have won. While it may be true that some women expressed vocal support for Clay, it is conjecture to claim that women overwhelming supported Clay to the point that they could have overturned the election. The author also claims that Henry Clay made an appeal to his racist supporters by saying that annexing Mexico would requiring giving Mexicans citizenship, and that giving away citizenship to foreigners who are different linguistically, culturally and ethnically would corrupt and destroy the United States. The author''s claim that it is racist to be against giving citizenship to foreigners seems to be a belief that comes from the modern progressive movement in the United States. It is also worthy to note that that author claims that the statement was just an appeal to racists, not that Henry Clay was racist himself. If you are interested in a definitive unbiased book about the Mexican American War, then this is not it. While I disagree with many of claims made by the author, I did find the book interesting and worth giving a chance.
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Unique History of an Overlooked Conflict
Reviewed in Canada on February 27, 2014
At the outset of A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln and the 1846 US Invasion of Mexico, historian Amy Greenberg takes it as a foregone conclusion that the Mexican-American War was an act of unjust aggression, formulated by an expansionist president who was beholden to the...See more
At the outset of A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln and the 1846 US Invasion of Mexico, historian Amy Greenberg takes it as a foregone conclusion that the Mexican-American War was an act of unjust aggression, formulated by an expansionist president who was beholden to the proponents of slavery. While it would have been preferable for the author to first present the facts and then reach a conclusion, this book is nonetheless a fresh and interesting analysis of the conflict that became known as "Mr. Polk''s War." The author looks at new aspects of this war that have never been so thoroughly canvassed before, such as wartime atrocities, the evolution of anti-war sentiment at home, conscientious objection and the political dilemma faced by many politicians striving to balance competing factors of conscience and electability. In telling the story of the "wicked war" (a title taken from a description of the conflict contained in the memoirs of Ulysses Grant), the author follows five historical figures who figured prominently in the event. The author has no love for President James Polk, who is portrayed as someone bent on prosecuting an unjust war against a weaker nation in order to take through force what could not be gained through negotiation. While other historians have debated the question of whether or not the southern boundary of Texas was the Rio Grande river (where American troops drew attack from Mexican forces, beginning the conflict), there is no debate in the mind of the author, who is certain that the conflict began with an unjust act of provocation by an invading army. Henry Clay is portrayed as the voice of reason, even though he straddles both sides of the issue in his public oratory. Abraham Lincoln is a young congressman who protests the war and attacks a wartime president, in spite of knowledge that doing so will wound him politically. John Hardin is a politician with a bright future who abandons his rise to power for military glory and becomes a prominent casualty. Nicholas Trist is an unappreciated diplomat who ultimately brokers a peace, to the chagrin of his expansionist president. This book portrays a side of the Mexican War that is ignored by most historians, who generally play up the nationalistic and patriotic fervor and the tales of glory on the battlefield. Greenburg sets out the conditions leading up to the way and describes how and why she believes the war began. Although she says that her book will not contain a technical military account of the major battles, she actually does an excellent job of describing what happened and why smaller US forces were able to emerge victorious in many of the major battles of the war, in a concise but coherent manner. But where this book excels is in its telling of many of the stories of the war that are left out of most other histories: the undisciplined state militias and the atrocities they committed against the Mexican civilian populace, the problems of communication between the war department and the armies in 1846, the rates of desertion and the reasons for it, and how a popular war became an unpopular one. The author superbly describes the transition of the hearts and minds of the American populace as the war goes from one enjoying popular patriotic support to one that has the public questioning why the country went to war and if all of the tragic loss of life is really worth it. Although the author does not expressly make the comparison, it is easy for readers to see historic parallels to Vietnam and Iraq, as the author shows that decline in public support for foreign wars is not a recent phenomenon, There are times when the author goes too far in projecting her hypothesis. For example, she vilifies not only James Polk, but also first lady Sarah Polk, referring to the war as "Mr. and Mrs. Polk''s War", but fails to make a convincing case as to why the first lady is deserving of such scorn. She also presents Henry Clay as the conscience of the anti-war sentiment, especially in reference to a powerful critical speech Clay gave when wartime dissent was at its highest. But while she acknowledges that Clay has also generated pro-war rhetoric when it suited his political purposes or audiences, this hypocrisy is ignored. Despite its imperfections, this is an excellent history of an important conflict often overlooked by historians. Its consideration of issues often left out of most wartime histories make it an exceptionally good read. My only criticism is that it would have been even more compelling if the author had let her conclusions follow the evidence, rather than the reverse.
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Reviewed in Canada on November 17, 2020
Well written and easy to understand.
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marco
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A wicked war
Reviewed in Mexico on April 4, 2017
Five stars. A very comprehensive book of. The American Mexican war on the point of view of the American side. Highly recommended. The way the American saw the Mexicans is horrible. It was an unjust war, and the book reflects it. Obligatory reading
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