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Border security… 1851

14 April 2019

Of all the odd things to be reading: Millard Fillmore’s Second Annual Message (what today is called the “State of the Union Address). An “accidental president”, as a Whig Member of Congress, he had been an early opponent of the Mexican-American War. As a compromise within his own party, he was the Vice.Presidential candidate in 1848, when the party’s Presidential candidate was the apolitical “hero” of that “unjust invasion by the North Americans”, Zachary Taylor (Taylor was also a southern, and Fillmore from western New York, adding geographical balance to the ticket). When Taylor died (apparently of food poisoning from something he ate at a 4th of July picnic) on July 9 1850, Fillmore became 13th president of the United States.

While remembered, if at all, as supposedly one of the worst U.S. presidents (his reputation never recovered from his refusal to veto the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850), and the one with the silliest name, he deserves some credit for being one of the few U.S. Presidents (Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and maybe Lyndon Johnson being the others) who genuinely wanted nothing more from Mexico than decent relations, and was anxious that Mexican citizens in the United States received equal protection under the law.

In that address of 2 December 1851, Fillmore mentions an executive order forbidding U.S: citizens to take part in military and paramilitary operations in Mexico… aimed squarely at the “filibusters” of the era, the adventurers who would cross the border (or, a few years later, invade Nicaragua) usually bent on annexing territory to the United States, or setting up their own small independent republics. He also directs the U.S. Army to protect Mexico from Indian raids, and to protect Mexican citizens in the then newly acquired U.S. territories on the same basis as they protected Americans.

The border itself was still being surveyed, and… while there had to be some kind of demarcation, it wasn’t something he was willing to spend too much money on.

The joint commission under the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo has been actively engaged in running and marking the boundary line between the United States and Mexico. It was stated in the last annual report of the Secretary of the Interior that the initial point on the Pacific and the point of junction of the Gila with the Colorado River had been determined and the intervening line, about 150 miles in length, run and marked by temporary monuments. Since that time a monument of marble has been erected at the initial point, and permanent landmarks of iron have been placed at suitable distances along the line.
The initial point on the Rio Grande has also been fixed by the commissioners, at latitude 32 degrees 22′, and at the date of the last communication the survey of the line had been made thence westward about 150 miles to the neighborhood of the copper mines. The commission on our part was at first organized on a scale which experience proved to be unwieldy and attended with unnecessary expense. Orders have therefore been issued for the reduction of the number of persons employed within the smallest limits consistent with the safety of those engaged in the service and the prompt and efficient execution of their important duties.

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