Between 1846 and 1848, one of the wars that shaped the history of the US took place. The United States and Mexico engaged in the war that has colored the History books as one of the fiercest of the time. The Mexican war was much castigated at the time, and one of the most vehement people to that effect was David Thoreau. Thoreau wrote an essay that has gained wide popularity as “Civil Disobedience”. In his work, Thoreau voices what appears a bona fide concern about the morality of waging a war he believes is unnecessary.
The Mexican war was sparked by a relentless expansionist American government’s decision to take control of the state of Texas. The government, upon prodding by such personalities as Waddy Thompson Junior, was in a race against time to capture California, which at the time was widely accepted as a place with exceeding future promise. The keen interest in California by the US was not in solitude. Both England and France had also cast a lustful eye towards the region.
The humiliation of a seventy-man American patrol party by a bellicose Mexican Calvary was the actual casus belli of the Mexican war. The United States declared the war after the congress voted in its favor on May 13, 1846.
The war was a hot controversy in the US throughout its duration. A section of the population preferred industrialization to expansion as the best means of economic growth. This group staged the greatest opposition to the war. Those against the war included the Whigs and such prominent personalities as Thoreau, who penned the masterpiece “Civil Disobedience” (Thoreau 89).
Examining the argument of those against the war, I would readily sympathize with Mexico over their stand in the war. Thoreau’s argument against the war, which, for all intents and purposes, he called an immoral act by those in the government, was emphatic. In fact, Thoreau went the full length to put his freedom on the line by refusing to fund the war by means of paying taxes. He suffered the wrath of the law for that, but he was very proud of what he had done, nonetheless.
Those against the war argued that the US government was unlawfully and unwarrantedly overstepping its limits by forcefully grabbing lands that rightfully belonged to another country. They put forth strongly-worded arguments against the war and claimed that the war was but an effort to aid and abet slavery.
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The group in defense of the war argued that Texas and California could not be said to be Mexican territory, that they were simply frontier lands without any government or protection. They claimed that the majority of occupants in those regions were actually Americans. As such, they found little reason to criticize the government concerning the issue (Thoreau 89).
Thoreau in his essay staged a full-blown attack on the government and all its wings and proxies, especially the army. He argued that the army men were comparable to wood or clay, who acted upon no conscious thought but only on instruction. He wailed about whether the government had the moral authority to subject innocent citizens to the injustices of war for unnecessary reasons.
Thoreau was, in my view, not only right but also wise in his argument against the Mexican war. The United States, in all honesty, has to date gained a lot from the territories, which were fought for in the Mexican war. However, at the time the government stood to lose a lot more by engaging in an uncalled-for war than if it had opted for other means of expanding its economy (Thoreau 89). Besides the inexplicable loss of life during the war, the United States lost a lot of manpower and time. The government of those days also lost command of the respect of many of its citizens. In such moments citizens take such extreme measures as a refusal to comply with tax that should signal an alarming degree of civil dissatisfaction with the goings-on in the government (Thoreau 89).
The Mexican war brought to the fore heavy issues surrounding the rationale behind the war and the whole process of government. David Thoreau, by way of his treatise, championed the act of civil disobedience in situations where government policy does not match personal conviction. The pertinent question, however, remains, is Thoreau’s theory applicable in today’s world?
The answer to that question is a matter of opinion, but this is what I would say: an emphatic no! Attempts to practice the concept of civil disobedience can only lead to anarchy and widespread chaos. There are less radical ways to deal with unbecoming government policy. These time-proven methods are, in fact, more effective than civil disobedience. One of the most prominent of these ways is the power of negotiation through civil societies. Thoreau put his point across in a powerful manner, and his logic still has a place in today’s society.