How Britain's Treason Machine Made War Against Mexico

by Anton Chaitkin and John C. Smith, Jr.

Printed in the American Almanac, November, 1997


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We celebrate this month the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's ```Spot' Resolutions,'' his bold exposure of President James Polk's lying pretexts for the Mexican War. Lincoln the Congressman risked his career, helping lay the basis for his nation's survival under his own future Presidency.

He and his fellow nationalist leaders knew then that the British Empire, America's mortal enemy, subversively guided the political faction which had launched the unnecessary and unjustified war against Mexico (1846-48).

In the 1844 election, Lincoln's Whig Party had issued a pamphlet proving that the British were financing the ``Free Trade'' campaign of James K. Polk, against his rival for the Presidency, the protectionist, nationalist Henry Clay. Lincoln's party asked patriots to decide ``whether British gold shall buy what British valor could not conquer'' in America's Revolution and the War of 1812. Quoting from British newspapers and from the literature of Prime Minister Robert Peel's free trade political movement, the Whig pamphlet documented the British transfer of at least $440,000 (equivalent to hundreds of millions today) to put behind the Polk campaign.

It was, in fact, a British ``underground'' political machine that put Polk into the Presidency, and that pulled the strings to start his administration's war against Mexico. The British pointman throughout was George Bancroft, a Massachusetts-based political operative now known primarily as an historian.

It was Bancroft's plot that made Polk the surprise, ``dark horse'' candidate of the Democratic Party in 1844. Then, as a Cabinet officer in the new regime, Bancroft himself pushed the provocative actions, and he and his outrageously criminal sponsors managed the decision-making process that led to the Mexican War.

Bancroft's false reputation as a ``patriotic'' writer, and the textbooks' silence on his perfidy in the fateful 1840s, are due to the continued power of Bancroft's own treason faction of historians at Harvard and other locations (see article).

At the outset of the Polk administration, political debate revolved around the ``Oregon Territory'' between Mexican-owned California and Russian-owned Alaska, an area contested by the United States and Britain; and around the territory of Texas, which a revolution had taken from Mexico and which had just been annexed to the United States by the previous administration of John Tyler.

The strategic question was, should America risk another war with Britain by kicking the British out of the Oregon territory? Or should America accommodate the British Empire's expansion of its Canadian colony, and point Anglo-Saxon guns southward, thus using the tense Mexico-Texas relations as a trigger and pretext for an aggressive war to steal California?

American nationalists bluntly said, take the Pacific Northwest and fight Britain, not Mexico. Whig former President John Quincy Adams, at that time in Congress allied to the young Abraham Lincoln, warned that Britain was dispatching warships and troops to Canada, and he called for U.S. preparations to drive the British Empire entirely from North America. Democrat Sam Houston, the Texas independence leader, counselled Polk to maintain peace with Mexico, and called for an Oregon Territory showdown against the British. Whig leaders such as Adams and Henry Clay had wanted to buy Texas and California from Mexico, not acquire them at the cost of a war between the sister North American republics.

Indeed, even the Polk 1844 campaign had appealed to the predominant nationalist sentiment, with Polk's famous election slogan, ``54-40 or fight!'' That is, Polk pledged to exclude the British from all of the contested Pacific Northwest Territory, up to the southern border of Alaska at latitude 54°40'. But this was deception.

We shall now look behind the scenes, at the British treason machine managing that regime of lies, acting against which Abraham Lincoln made his first great mark on world history.


- Bancroft's power, from his poison pedigree -

George Bancroft wrote to James Polk on July 6, 1844, explaining in polite terms, for the official record, how Bancroft had just manipulated the Democratic National Convention to get the party's nomination for Polk. The Bancroft letter begins:

``The last time I had the pleasure of conversing with you was ... when ... you were leaving the [Washington D.C.] scene of your [Congressional] service for ... [your] glorious [Tennessee gubernatorial] campaign of 1839. I watched your progress with intensest interest, made the more near and personal by the zeal of our friend [Jeremiah George] Harris.''
This Mr. Harris first worked for George Bancroft, editing Bancroft's own Bay State Democrat in Boston; then, in 1839, was transferred to Tennessee to edit the Nashville Union and make it into the central propaganda organ boosting James Polk's candidacy for governor.

The 1844 letter continues:

``My eye was immediately turned towards you for the service of the nation, and our Massachusetts Democracy ... very readily received and acted upon the suggestion of rallying around you'' for a possible vice presidential race in 1840.

``At the [1844 Democratic] convention I immediately exchanged a few words with our friend Gen. Pillow, of your neighborhood''--that is, Polk's Tennessee law partner--``...and I renewed my old acquaintance with Gen. [Andrew Jackson] Donelson,'' former President Andrew Jackson's nephew and private secretary.

As other pre-candidates failed to get the nomination, Bancroft continues, ``It flashed on my mind, that it would be alone safe to rally to you. This I motioned to my ... New Hampshire [friends].... We spoke with Gov. [Henry] Hubbard; he agreed; and the N.H. delegation was fixed. I then opened the matter to our ... friend [Massachusetts] Gov. [Marcus] Morton ... and he coincided.... [Y]our faithful friends Gen. Pillow and Donelson ... informed me that if we of N[ew] E[ngland] would lead off, they would follow with Mississippi and Alabama and some others.''

Bancroft goes on to describe how he personally converted the Ohio, New York, and Louisiana delegations to Polk, and ``I saw my friend Fink, state delegate of Maryland, who heartily came into the scheme....''

Now Bancroft's surprise was sprung. ``It came to voting. You should have heard the cheers'' as the New Hampshire and Massachusetts delegations announced for Polk, and the astonished Virginia delegation changed course and voted for Polk, who now swept to victory. [fn1]

Where did George Bancroft, whose only previous public office was (customs) Collector of the Port of Boston, get the power to make a U.S. President? And why would the Northerner Bancroft, who claimed to oppose Negro slavery, boost Polk, a degenerate mediocrity of a Tennessee slaveowner and land speculator? Polk, who asserted that ``a slave dreads the punishment of stripes [whipping] more than imprisonment, and [whipping] has, besides, a beneficial effect on his fellow slaves''; Polk, who as Speaker of the House had enforced the ``gag rule'' against Congressmen daring to challenge the slaveocracy.

Polk had shown himself a dogged opponent of American nationalism; he was a radical Free Trader, and had been Congressional leader of the 1830s witch-hunt against the Bank of the United States and its president, Nicholas Biddle. Bancroft had been a pamphleteer in that crusade against Biddle. But Bancroft's political role stemmed from his personal, very private relations with the British sponsors of the Free Trade faction.

George Bancroft was born into a nest of treason, and was bred an agent of the bitterest enemies of American nationhood and independence.

His father, Aaron Bancroft, left Massachusetts in 1780, in the middle of the American Revolution, going into exile in Nova Scotia with the swarm of ``Tories,'' that is, those who supported continued British rule over the American colonies. But Aaron Bancroft returned after the war in 1783, settling in Worcester, Massachusetts. There he married Lucretia Chandler, whose father, John Chandler, leader of Worcester's Tories, had fled to England with most of their family, leaving her behind.

During the two decades following the Revolution, the British Empire nurtured within the United States a stay-behind Tory network, headquartered in Massachusetts. The leading intriguers were assembled into a single multiply-intermarried set, consisting of the Cabot, Lowell, Higginson, Forbes, Cushing, Perkins, Sturgis, and Paine families, with some other families, and with their exiled relatives and commercial partners in England. This political clique, which George Bancroft would serve, was dubbed the ``Essex Junto'' (most of its leaders were from Essex County, Massachusetts). They worked for the secession of the Northern, and later the Southern states from the American Union. The Junto's chief, Sen. George Cabot, failed in his attempt to make British spy Aaron Burr the U.S. President in 1800.

Meanwhile, the British Empire created, through its Essex Junto, the most important criminal enterprise in American history: a syndicate to smuggle the narcotic opium into China, alongside the British East India Company's smugglers. The syndicate was based in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and London, England, and was financed, as the East India Company was, by Britain's Baring bank. This racket, smuggling chiefly Turkish opium, provided the bulk of the family fortunes for the Cabots and other prominent ``blue-blood'' Boston families.

Bancroft's own family relations were crucial to the formation of the crime ring. His grandfather, old Tory John Chandler, had a political protégé and nephew named William Paine, who had grown up for the most part in the Chandler household along with his cousin Lucretia, George Bancroft's mother. As the American Revolution approached, this William Paine went to England, met with King George III, got a medical degree, and wrote back to America, ``The Colonists had better lay down their arms at once, for we are coming over with an overwhelming force to destroy them.'' [fn2]

Dr. William Paine was appointed apothecary--the head druggist--to the British forces which invaded America during the Revolution; he saw service with the invaders in New York and Rhode Island, and fled again to England. Returning later to Worcester, Massachusetts, Dr. Paine continued as a high-ranking officer on the British military payroll, while living in the United States.

Dr. Paine's sister Sarah married James Perkins, who, with his brothers Thomas H. Perkins and George Perkins (a Tory exile resident in Turkey to procure the opium), formed the core of the syndicate. Dr. Paine's daughter Esther married Joseph Cabot, of the syndicate; and Dr. Paine's son Frederick W. Paine--a close friend of his second cousin George Bancroft--was a leading organizer of the syndicate's dope-smuggling, personally based in London along with the Chandler family exile relatives. [fn3]

George Bancroft was born into this web of crime in 1800. George's own older brother, John Chandler Bancroft, was employed by the Perkins-Paine sydicate as an international opium smuggler.

Frederick W. Paine married Anne C. Sturgis, whose uncle William led the Sturgis family dope-dealing firm, Bryant & Sturgis. By the 1820s, the Perkins-Paine syndicate, in an operating alliance with the William Sturgis firm, held a tight monopoly over Turkish opium smuggled into China. This William Sturgis, working in tandem with Bancroft, was to play a leading role in the British machinations which led to the U.S.-Mexican War.


- Bancroft's career as a British agent -

George Bancroft entered Harvard College in 1813. The Essex Junto, in absolute control over Harvard, had made John T. Kirkland its president in 1810. In 1812, Kirkland had stipended Aaron Burr, returning from British exile in disguise, out of Harvard funds. Kirkland's sponsor and future father-in-law, Junto boss George Cabot, then led the underground political efforts and intelligence activities to try to sabotage the U.S. military in America's second war against Britain, 1812-1815; Cabot chaired the notorious 1814 Hartford Convention, a futile attempt to break up the American Union.

Student George Bancroft, like his classmate Caleb Cushing, was a particular pet of the Junto and of Harvard president Kirkland. When George Bancroft graduated in 1817, George Cabot told Bancroft he should go on a European study tour to prepare his further career, and Kirkland signed the checks to stipend Bancroft over the next several years. In 1822-23 he was back at Harvard, on Kirkland's faculty payroll. Throughout this period Bancroft's father, Aaron, was a leader of the British-Essex Junto religious initiative called Unitarianism; the elder Bancroft was president of the American Unitarian Association from 1825 to 1836.

As a Democratic Party Free Trade leader, George Bancroft helped forge the axis between the Northeastern Anglophile financiers and the Southern Anglophile plantation owners, a political combination that thwarted America's full-scale industrialization until Lincoln's 1861-65 Presidency changed the political universe.

Following Britain's 1839-42 Opium War, fought to force China to allow the drug in, as part of Free Trade, Bancroft's classmate and fellow syndicate intriguer Caleb Cushing went to China as an American diplomat. After compelling China to give his Boston relatives equal looting rights with the British, Cushing returned via Mexico, where he drew up a plan for a war between the United States and its southern neighbor.

George Bancroft's scheme having nominated James Polk, Polk was elected President, took office in March 1845, and appointed George Bancroft as Secretary of the Navy. Bancroft and Secretary of State James Buchanan became the leading Cabinet advisers to President Polk, and Bancroft gave the most aggressive counsels against Mexico.

As debate heated up over the Western territories, the British fifth column--Bancroft's covert network--flexed its political muscles. George Bancroft's own personal finances were managed by Samuel Hooper, son-in-law of dope lord William Sturgis and partner in the opium-smuggling firm Bryant & Sturgis. Hooper and Sturgis both mediated with Bancroft and the British Empire at the height of the war crisis.

In 1845, a Boston lecture of William Sturgis on ``The Oregon Question'' was reprinted and circulated nationally as a pamphlet. In addition to his opium-smuggling, Sturgis ran fur-trapping in the wild Oregon Territory. The 1845 pamphlet called for handing over to the British all of Victoria Island and all the Pacific Coast territory north of the 49th parallel. Sturgis also claimed that the U.S.A. could never successfully inhabit the Pacific Northwest, since any settlers would inevitably sever their allegiance to the ``distant'' U.S. government. Sturgis wrote, ``The Rocky Mountains, and the dreary deserts on either side, form a natural barrier between different nations, rather than a connecting link between parts of the same nation.... [an eventual] boundary between the United States, as they now are, and an independent nation, comprising the whole of what is now called the `Territory of Orgeon''' (emphasis in the original).

Secretary Bancroft having consulted concerning the Oregon/British controversy with his moneybags Sturgis, the Polk administration first feigned conflict with Britain, and then abruptly abandoned its campaign slogan ``54-40 or fight,'' and gave up half the Pacific Northwest to the British, precisely as Sturgis had called for. (The Sturgis dictum against America's Western development, which had been British policy since long before the Revolution, may still today be seen persisting in the Oregon and Washington State ecology freaks and eco-terrorists.)

Here is the sequence of some of the events through which America's strategic posture in the world was bent toward British imperialism, and away from its mission as champion of the republics.

On May 31, 1845, Secretary of the Navy Bancroft was appointed Acting Secretary of War as well, to fill the month-long absence of War Secretary William Marcy.

On June 6, 1845, as temporary head of the War Department, Bancroft ordered Gen. Zachary Taylor to advance his Army forces southwestward into territory beyond the line of Texas settlement--territory still disputed with Mexico. Bancroft's order stated that the site the Army occupied should be ``best occupied to repel invasion, and to protect what ... will be our Western border.''

Over the next several months, as the potential conflict with Britain over the Oregon Territory simmered into crisis, Bancroft prepared U.S. naval forces for war with Mexico.

The U.S. Army, having still been unmolested by the Mexicans following Bancroft's order, were moved by Polk still further in January 1846, to take a position along the northern bank of the Rio Grande. Mexican forces in the vicinity eventually came into conflict with some of Taylor's men. The Polk administration took this as a pretext to call, on May 11, 1846, for a declaration of war against Mexico, which had ``invaded the United States.''

In early June 1846, Samuel Hooper, opium lord William Sturgis' son-in-law, and Bancroft's personal money manager, asked Navy Secretary Bancroft to seize the California coast from Mexico, down to the 32nd parallel, so as to take in all the major harbors, including San Diego. Bancroft responded to Hooper June 2, ``If Mexico makes peace this month, the ... parallel of 35 [north of Los Angeles] may do as a boundary. After that, 32, which will include San Diego.'' [fn4]

On June 6, 1846, Secretary of State Buchanan met secretly with the British Ambassador, Sir Richard Pakenham, and agreed to sign a treaty giving Britain control over what is now British Columbia. The treaty was signed June 15, 1846.

Not long afterwards, President Polk granted George Bancroft's request to be appointed U.S. Ambassador to Britain. On May 14, 1847, Bancroft wrote back to President Polk, to ``announce a very great and decided change in the views of England with reference to our war with Mexico, to our finances, and generally to the position of the administration and the country.... `You are the lords of Mexico!' said Lord Ashburton to me. `How could you take the castle of Vera Cruz so soon?' said Lord Grey [Secretary of State for the Colonies]; `You have been entirely successful' said Lord Clarendon [President of the Board of Trade]; I hope your sacrifice will lead to a peace.' And even Lord Palmerston [Foreign Secretary] ... spoke to me in the very warmest language ... of the immense superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race as displayed in our great number of victories over the Mexicans.... [All parties] look very wistfully at the working of [Polk's Treasury Secretary] Mr. Walker's [Free-Trade] tariff and congratulate themselves upon the increase of our revenue.''


- Man of the people... -

George Bancroft constantly orated upon the merits of Andrew Jackson and Polk because they favored ``the little man,'' ``the people,'' against the ``aristocracy''--by which he meant in particular Alexander Hamilton, Nicholas Biddle, and the Philadelphia industrialists.

But as ambassador to England, Bancroft broke previous American precedent for diplomats and donned full court dress uniforms with swords and rode in luxury personal coaches, the royal splendor needed to engage in the constant whirl of elegant social occasions with Queen Victoria, Lord Palmerston, and Bancroft's British merchant and literary partners.

All this was paid for by arrangement with Samuel Hooper, of Bryant & Sturgis. The regular salary of a diplomat not coming near to Bancroft's requirements, the Tory dopesters had taken over Bancroft's personal debts, and provided him with a handsome flow of money.

Bancroft's most notable achievement in London was his arrangement with Lord Palmerston, to cede to the powerful British shipping companies the right to full access to American coastal routes. American nationalists had carefully preserved this right to the American Merchant Marine only, since the founding of the nation. Bancroft's agreement caused a storm in the U.S. Congress, and it was invalidated.

  1. This backstage conspiracy for Polk was repeated exactly in the infamous 1852 Presidential nomination of New Hampshire's Franklin Pierce, plotted by Bancroft's fellow Boston-based British agent, Caleb Cushing.

  2. See The Loyalists of Massachusetts, p.386.

  3. For Frederick Paine, see Anton Chaitkin, Treason in America (New York: The New Benjamin Franklin House, 1984), pp. 129-131.

  4. Quoted in Lillian Handlin, George Bancroft, The Intellectual as Democrat (New York: Harper and Row, 1984).


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The preceding article is a rough version of the article that appeared in The American Almanac. It is made available here with the permission of The New Federalist Newspaper. Any use of, or quotations from, this article must attribute them to The New Federalist, and The American Almanac


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