Profiles in Courage: Season 1, Episode 26

Thomas Corwin (9 May 1965)

TV Episode  -   -  Biography | Drama | History
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The story of U.S. Senator Thomas Corwin, a rising star in the Whig party in the 1840s who was one of the few political leaders to oppose the US-Mexican War initiated by the administration of President James Polk.

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George Rose ...
Sen. Thomas Corwin
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The story of U.S. Senator Thomas Corwin, a rising star in the Whig party in the 1840s who was one of the few political leaders to oppose the US-Mexican War initiated by the administration of President James Polk.

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9 May 1965 (USA)  »

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1.33 : 1
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Final episode of the series - and possibly one of the most obscure
2 November 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

John Colicos, the British character actor (he was Thomas Cromwell in the film ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS) portrayed this gentleman, Thomas Corwin, Senator from Ohio in the 1840s. Thomas whom? That's the problem of a series like this - at some point the characters will begin entering the area of the second or third tier of historical figures whom few recall.

I remember seeing this episode, and feeling Corwin, by his very obscurity in the 1960s, must have been destroyed by his act of courage. Little did I know, again the series and thesis of the book were at fault - even if the world has forgotten Mr. Corwin.

Corwin's act of heroism was that he was a leading Whig Senator, and there was the possibility of future political advancement (like the Presidency). But he had to be relatively quiet to allow his public persona to be attractive for future advancement. But while delivering a speech to his constituents, he heard of the fighting at the Rio Grande between the forces of General Zachary Taylor and Mexican forces. This fighting set off the Mexican War.

Corwin, from contacts in Washington, was aware that the Administration was supposedly restraining Taylor's forces near the Nueces River in Texas, further North - and beyond a "no man's land" between the two armies. He starts investigating, and as the war opens up he attacks the Administration of President James Polk of manipulating events to force a war against Mexico - a war of conquest.

The episode was interesting (as far as it went) in reminding us of how really controversial was the beginnings of the Mexican War. Many Northerners had profound doubts about it, fearing that Polk (a Tennessean) was planning expansion to assist the slave states. But because of the obscurity of the subject of the episode, the subject matter was mishandled - even though Colicos gave a good performance.

Ironically Corwin was not the best choice for this story - actually (from what I have read) few can be shown to have suffered for their criticism. The war was popular only after it was over, and we had won a lot of territory. The casualties in this, our first foreign war, were unsettling (although in comparison to the American Civil War, the American Revolution, the two World Wars, and even colonial America's King Philip's War, the casualties were relatively small). James Russell Lowell wrote THE BIGALOW PAPERS, a set of political satires (supposedly the sayings of one Hosea Bigalow) which criticized Polk's war policies. Lowell would eventually be our Minister to Great Britain in the middle 1880s. Henry David Thoreau, a philosophical citizen of Concord, Massachusetts, refused to pay a tax to support the war, and spent a day in jail as a result. He would then write his first published classic AN ESSAY ON CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE, and then work on such works as WALDEN and A WEEK ON THE CONCORD AND MERRIMACK RIVERS that made him a national literary God until today. An obscure Illinois Congressman named Abraham Lincoln was so angered by the "tricks" of Polk "the mendacious", that he proposed (on the floor of Congress) that Polk be impeached. Lincoln was defeated for re-election, but twelve years later he was President of the United States!

See what I mean - people who spoke out against the staged nature of the war's start did not really suffer. Polk also did not really suffer. Although so hard working (he is the only President who accomplished all the goals of his administration) he died three months after he left office, his historical reputation is high - he is one of our greatest Presidents. The only real losers in the Mexican War were the Mexicans.

And Corwin?

After his anti-Administration speeches and complaints, in the 1850 - 53 Fillmore (Whig) administration, Corwin served as Secretary of the Treasury (just like Daniel Webster who served as Secretary of State). Corwin would later serve as Congressman from Ohio, and then (in 1861) Lincoln appointed him Minister to Mexico. Ironically Corwin was there when Juarez faced the French invasion that tried to put Emperor Maximillian on the Mexican throne. He remained there until 1865. He died in Washington D.C. in 1865, after he retired from the diplomatic post. Again, he hardly seems to have suffered from being outspoken in his political stand.


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