Like many Southerners, Whig Congressman Thomas L. Clingman of North Carolina was shocked at the Northern support for the post-Mexican War Wilmot Proviso and asserted that its passage would compel the South to reconsider its relationship with the Union. Along with Robert Toombs of Georgia, Clingman was a vocal opponent of President James Polk, who many believed to have maneuvered the United States into war with Mexico. Both would live to see “a bold man, as well as a bad one, in the White House.”
Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
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“[During] the last and short session of the Twenty-ninth Congress . . . [Toombs] made only one speech, which the continued Whig opposition to the prosecution of the Mexican War was reflected. The immediate occasion was the proposed bill authorizing ten additional regiments of regular soldiers for the war. Toombs opposed the bill for several reasons.
First, he preferred the use of volunteer to regular soldiers. They elected their own officers, whereas the President appointed the officers to command regulars. In Toombs’ mind the volunteers had acted in this capacity “with much greater judgment, skill, and patriotism” than Polk.
The President throughout the war had played politics in appointments and would doubtless continue to do so. Furthermore, said Toombs, the “battles of the republic ought to be fought by its citizens soldiery” who were faithful to its institutions and interested in good government. He was not implying that the present administration was looking toward a Caesar-type dictatorship but the time might come when “you have a bold man, as well as a bad one, in the White House.”
After his remarks on the “ten-regiment bill,” Toombs launched into a review of the war itself. He again charged the President with provoking hostilities and with attempting to discourage freedom of debate in the House by charges of disloyalty toward those who questioned war policy. Toombs desired peace, but he wanted no dismemberment of Mexico to accompany it. We have territory enough, he said, and should improve what we have.
Although as a unionist he deplored the agitation engendered by the principle of the Wilmot Proviso, he warned that as a Southerner he would not stand idly by and see his section shut out of any acquired territory [from the Mexican cession].
He stood firmly on the right [of Southerners] “wherever the American flag waved over American soil to go with their flocks and their herds, their maid servants and their men servants.” Southerners, “would be degraded, and unworthy of the name of American freemen, could they consent to remain, for a day or an hour, in a Union where they must stand on ground of inferiority, and be denied the rights and privileges which were extended to all others.” Almost fourteen years later Toombs was to say virtually the same thing in the Senate and then help lead his State out of the Union.”
(Robert Toombs of Georgia, William Y. Thompson, LSU Press, 1994 (original 1966), pp. 41-42)