This honor later proved to be a dangerous and questionable one. General Scott wanted no interference of this kind, especially since he knew Mr. Calhoun’s influence in my choice. He thwarted all my attempts to reach the headquarters of the enemy, and did everything he could to secure a peace of his own, at the mouth of the cannon. I could offer no terms better than Mr. Buchanan, then our secretary of state, had prepared for me, and these were rejected by the Mexican government at last. I was ordered by Mr. Polk to state that we had no better terms to offer; and as for myself, I was told to return to Washington. At that time I could not make my way out through the lines, nor, in truth, did I much care to do so.
A certain event not written in history influenced me to remain for a time at the little village of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Here, in short, I received word from a lady whom I had formerly known, none less than Senora Yturrio, once a member of the Mexican legation at Washington. True to her record, she had again reached influential position in her country, using methods of her own. She told me now to pay no attention to what had been reported by Mexico. In fact, I was approached again by the Mexican commissioners, introduced by her! What was done then is history. We signed then and there the peace of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in accordance with the terms originally given me by our secretary of state. So, after all, Calhoun’s kindness to a woman in distress was not lost; and so, after all, he unwittingly helped in the ending of the war he never wished begun.
Meantime, I had been recalled to Washington, but did not know the nature of that recall. When at last I arrived there I found myself disgraced and discredited. My actions were repudiated by the administration. I myself was dismissed from the service without pay—sad enough blow for a young man who had been married less than a year.
Mr. Polk’s jealousy of John Calhoun was not the only cause of this. Calhoun’s prophecy was right. Polk did not forget his revenge on me. Yet, none the less, after his usual fashion, he was not averse to receiving such credit as he could. He put the responsibility of the treaty upon the Senate! It was debated hotly there for some weeks, and at last, much to his surprise and my gratification, it was ratified!
The North, which had opposed this Mexican War—that same war which later led inevitably to the War of the Rebellion—now found itself unable to say much against the great additions to our domain which the treaty had secured. We paid fifteen millions, in addition to our territorial indemnity claim, and we got a realm whose wealth could not be computed. So much, it must be owned, did fortune do for that singular favorite, Mr. Polk. And, curiously enough, the smoke had hardly cleared from Palo Alto field before Abraham Lincoln, a young member in the House of Congress, was introducing a resolution which asked the marking of “the spot where that outrage was committed.” Perhaps it was an outrage. Many still hold it so. But let us reflect what would have been Lincoln’s life had matters not gone just as they did.