James K. Polk

Special Message

April 29, 1848

To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States:

I submit for the consideration of Congress several communications received at the Department of State from Mr. Justo Sierra, commissioner of Yucatan, and also a communication from the Governor of that State, representing the condition of extreme suffering to which their country has been reduced by an insurrection of the Indians within its limits, and asking the aid of the United States.

These communications present a case of human suffering and misery which can not fail to excite the sympathies of all civilized nations. From these and other sources of information it appears that the Indians of Yucatan are waging a war of extermination against the white race. In this civil war they spare neither age nor sex, but put to death, indiscriminately, all who fall within their power. The inhabitants, panic stricken and destitute of arms, are flying before their savage pursuers toward the coast, and their expulsion from their country or their extermination would seem to be inevitable unless they can obtain assistance from abroad.

In this condition they have, through their constituted authorities, implored the aid of this Government to save them from destruction, offering in case this should be granted to transfer the "dominion and sovereignty of the peninsula" to the United States. Similar appeals for aid and protection have been made to the Spanish and the English Governments.

Whilst it is not my purpose to recommend the adoption of any measure with a view to the acquisition of the "dominion and sovereignty" over Yucatan, yet, according to our established policy, we could not consent to a transfer of this "dominion and sovereignty" either to Spain, Great Britain, or any other European power. In the language of President Monroe in his message of December, 1823--

We should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety.

In my annual message of December, 1845, I declared that--

Near a quarter of a century ago the principle was distinctly announced to the world, in the annual message of one of my predecessors, that "the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers." This principle will apply with greatly increased force should any European power attempt to establish any new colony in North America. In the existing circumstances of the world, the present is deemed a proper occasion to reiterate and reaffirm the principle avowed by Mr. Monroe, and to state my cordial concurrence in its wisdom and sound policy. The reassertion of this principle, especially in reference to North America, is at this day but the promulgation of a policy which no European power should cherish the disposition to resist. Existing rights of every European nation should be respected, but it is due alike to our safety and our interests that the efficient protection of our laws should be extended over our whole territorial limits, and that it should be distinctly announced to the world as our settled policy that no future European colony or dominion shall with our consent be planted or established on any part of the North American continent.

Our own security requires that the established policy thus announced should guide our conduct, and this applies with great force to the peninsula of Yucatan. It is situate in the Gulf of Mexico, on the North American continent, and, from its vicinity to Cuba, to the capes of Florida, to New Orleans, and, indeed, to our whole southwestern toast, it would be dangerous to our peace and security if it should become a colony of any European nation.

We have now authentic information that if the aid asked from the United States be not granted such aid will probably be obtained from some European power, which may hereafter assert a claim to "dominion and sovereignty" over Yucatan.

Our existing relations with Yucatan are of a peculiar character, as will be perceived from the note of the Secretary of State to their commissioner dated on the 24th of December last, a copy of which is herewith transmitted. Yucatan has never declared her independence, and we treated her as a State of the Mexican Republic. For this reason we have never officially received her commissioner; but whilst this is the case, we have to a considerable extent recognized her as a neutral in our war with Mexico. Whilst still considering Yucatan as a portion of Mexico, if we had troops to spare for this purpose I would deem it proper, during the continuance of the war with Mexico, to occupy and hold military possession of her territory and to defend the white inhabitants against the incursions of the Indians, in the same way that we have employed our troops in other States of the Mexican Republic in our possession in repelling the attacks of savages upon the inhabitants who have maintained their neutrality in the war. But, unfortunately, we can not at the present time, without serious danger, withdraw our forces from other portions of the Mexican territory now in our occupation and send them to Yucatan. All that can be done under existing circumstances is to employ our naval forces in the Gulf not required at other points to afford them relief; but it is not to be expected that any adequate protection can thus be afforded, as the operations of such naval forces must of necessity be confined to the coast.

I have considered it proper to communicate the information contained in the accompanying correspondence, and I submit to the wisdom of Congress to adopt such measures as in their judgment may be expedient to prevent Yucatan from becoming a colony of any European power, which in no event could be permitted by the United States, and at the same time to rescue the white rate from extermination or expulsion from their country.


James K. Polk, Special Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/201563

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