The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 99, July 1995 - April, 1996

Manifest Destiny and Military Professionalism:
Junior U.S. Army Officers' Attitudes Toward War
with Mexico, 1844-z84 6
SAMUEL J. WATSON*
HISTORIANS HAVE LONG SEEN THE OFFICERS OF THE UNITED STATES
Army as the nation's primary "agents of empire" during the era of
Manifest Destiny. The rapacious national and ethnic chauvinism ofJack-
sonian America fostered ever more work for the professional soldier,
leading scholars to the logical assumption that army officers espoused
aggressive expansionist attitudes out of self-interest and a natural desire
to see their nation's power grow. This belligerent propensity would seem
to be particularly likely amid the military crisis caused by the American
annexation of Texas. Regular officers spent their professional careers
preparing for conventional warfare with European-style armies. War
with Mexico offered them a rare opportunity for martial glory against
"civilized" opponents-one of the officer corps' primary psychological
compensations for the boredom of peacetime service on isolated fron-
tier posts. Materially, war promised rapid promotion (and thus higher
pay) for ambitious young regulars frustrated by an inflexible seniority
system. One would naturally assume that these men were eager for war.'
* SamuelJ. Watson is a doctoral candidate in history at Rice University, studying professional-
ism and civil-military relations in the U.S. Army officer corps between 1815 and 1846. He will re-
ceive his Ph.D. in May.
"Agents of Empire" is the title of Francis Paul Prucha's chapter on the officer corps and the
army as an institution in The Sword of the Republic: The United States Army on the Frontier, 1783-1846
(New York: Macmillan, 1969). Prucha emphasizes the officer corps' nationahsm, and considers
it "an outstanding expression of the romantic impulse" in mid-nineteenth-century America (p.
331), but does not discuss officers' attitudes towards the onset of war with Mexico. Neither do
Edward M. Coffman, The Old Army. A Portrait of the American Army in Peacetime, 1784-1898 (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1986), who appears to accept the usual view as a given by citing
only a single officer to support the implication that the officer corps sought war (p. 57); Marcus
Cunliffe, Soldiers and Civilians: The Martial Spirit in America, 1775-1865 (2nd ed.; New York: Free
Press, 1973); or Robert W. Johannsen, To the Halls of the Montezumas: The Mexican War in the Amer-
ican Imaginatzon (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985). Ronald Spiller is apparently the only
scholar who has given officers' reluctance substantial weight or has remarked on their doubts
that war would occur; see his "From Hero to Leader: The Development of Nineteenth-Century
American Military Leadership" (Ph.D. diss., Texas A&M University, 1993), 129. For general con-
text, see John S. D. Eisenhower, So Far from God: The U.S. War with Mexico, 1846-1848 (New York:

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 99, July 1995 - April, 1996. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101217/. Accessed September 19, 2014.