Edited by Gerald Boerner
We might consider the Mexican-American War as the United States’ first war of imperialism. We used our fighting might against a much weaker Mexican force that lacked a strong government. It was a war of expansion. We had added a great deal of territory to the north of the Mexican territory through the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Texas had won its independence from Mexico in 1836. This was sought to add Texas (via Annexation, not treaty) and Alta California (Most of the territory south of the Louisiana Purchase and California) to the United States.
To our credit, we did not try to annex the whole of Mexico to our growing country. Our armed forces basically occupied most of the territory from Vera Cruz north. This conflict was ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed in 1848.
The acquisition of this territory added a couple of jewels to our growing country. These were the Republic of Texas and the California territory. We completed this acquisition just a year before gold was discovered in northern California. Can you imagine the struggle that might have erupted if California was not part of the United States!
But, let’s proceed with our exploration of this war of expansion. The Mexican-American War was much more complicated than it appears on the surface… GLB
These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2011 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved
[ 3298 Words ]
Quotations Related to Veterans Day:
“I am heartily rejoiced that my term is so near its close. I will soon cease to be a servant and will become a sovereign.”
— James Polk
“Mexico has passed the boundary of the United States, has invaded our territory and shed American blood upon American soil.”
— James Polk
“In the murder of Mexicans upon their own soil, or in robbing them of their country, I can take no part either now or here-after. The guilt of these crimes must rest on others. I will not participate in them.”
— Joshua Giddings, Dissenter
“The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican War. Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times.”
— Ulysses S. Grant
“Public opinion: May it always perform one of its appropriate offices, by teaching the public functionaries of the State and of the Federal Government, that neither shall assume the exercise of powers entrusted by the Constitution to the other.”
— James Polk
“This war is nondescript…. We charge the President with usurping the war-making power… with seizing a country… which had been for centuries, and was then in the possession of the Mexicans…. Let us put a check upon this lust of dominion. We had territory enough, Heaven knew.”
— Robert Toombs, Whig Leader
“As to Texas I regard it as of very little value compared with California, the richest, the most beautiful and the healthiest country in the world… with the acquisition of Upper California we should have the same ascendency on the Pacific… France and England both have had their eyes upon it.”
— Daniel Webster
“It is to the credit of the American nation, however, that after conquering Mexico, and while practically holding the country in our possession, so that we could have retained the whole of it, or made any terms we chose, we paid a round of sum for the additional territory taken; more than it was worth, or was likely to be, to Mexico. To us it was an empire of incalculable value; but it might have been obtained by other means.”
— Ulysses S. Grant
Veterans Day: The Mexican-American War…
The Mexican–American War was an armed conflict between the United States and Mexico from 1846 to 1848 in the wake of the 1845 U.S. annexation of Texas. Mexico claimed ownership of Texas as a breakaway province and refused to recognize the secession and subsequent military victory by Texas in 1836.
In the U.S. the conflict is often referred to simply as the Mexican War and sometimes as the U.S.–Mexican War. In Mexico, terms for it include Intervención Estadounidense en México (American intervention in Mexico), Invasión Estadounidense de México (American Invasion of Mexico), and Guerra del 47 (The War of ’47).
The most important consequences of the war for the United States were the Mexican terms of surrender under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in which the Mexican territories of Alta California and Santa Fe de Nuevo México were ceded to the United States. In Mexico, the enormous loss of territory following the war encouraged its government to enact policies to colonize its remaining northern territories as a hedge against further losses. In addition the Rio Grande became the boundary between Texas and Mexico, and Mexico never again claimed ownership of Texas.
American forces invaded New Mexico, the California Republic, and parts of what is currently northern Mexico; meanwhile, the American Navy conducted a blockade, and took control of several garrisons on the Pacific coast of Alta California, but also further south in Baja California. Another American army captured Mexico City, and forced Mexico to agree to the cession of its northern territories to the U.S.
American territorial expansion to the Pacific coast was the goal of President James K. Polk, the leader of the Democratic Party. However, the war was highly controversial in the U.S., with the Whig Party and anti-slavery elements strongly opposed. Heavy American casualties and high monetary cost were also criticized. The major consequence of the war was the forced Mexican Cession of the territories of Alta California and New Mexico to the U.S. in exchange for $18 million. In addition, the United States forgave debt owed by the Mexican government to U.S. citizens. Mexico accepted the Rio Grande as its national border, and the loss of Texas. Meanwhile gold was discovered in California, which immediately became an international magnet for the California Gold Rush. The political aftermath of the war raised the slavery issue in the U.S., leading to intense debates that pointed to civil war; the Compromise of 1850 provided a brief respite.
Republic of Texas
In the years after 1836, Texas consolidated its status as an independent republic by establishing diplomatic ties with Britain, France, and the United States. Most Texans were in favor of annexation by the United States, but U.S. President Martin Van Buren rejected it; then the pro-independence Mirabeau Lamar was president of Texas 1838-41; then the U.S. Senate rejected an annexation treaty in 1844.
Under U.S. President John Tyler, Texas was offered admission to the Union as a state via, controversially, a joint resolution of Congress rather than a treaty. The bill was signed into law on March 1, 1845. It was ratified by Texas on July 4. Texas became the 28th state on December 29, a law signed by President James K. Polk.
Origins of the War
The Mexican government had long warned the United States that annexation would mean war. Because the Mexican congress never recognized Texas’ independence, it saw Texas as a rebellious territory that would be retaken in the future. Britain and France, which recognized the independence of Texas, repeatedly tried to dissuade Mexico from declaring war. British efforts to mediate were fruitless, in part because additional political disputes (particularly the Oregon boundary dispute) arose among Mexico, Britain, and the United States. When Texas was granted statehood in 1845, the Mexican government broke diplomatic relations with the United States.
The United States supported Texas when it claimed all land north of the Rio Grande, and this provoked a dispute with Mexico. In June 1845, James K. Polk sent General Zachary Taylor to Texas, and by October, 3,500 Americans were on the Nueces River, prepared to defend Texas from a Mexican invasion. Polk wanted to protect the border and also coveted the continent clear to the Pacific Ocean. Polk had instructed the Pacific naval squadron to seize the California ports in case Mexico declared war. At the same time he wrote to Thomas Larkin, the American consul in Monterey, that a peaceful takeover of California would be welcomed.
In August 1835, President Andrew Jackson developed a "passion" to acquire all Mexican territory north of the 37th parallel north after a navy purser’s favorable report on the San Francisco Bay Area, and issued instructions to pursue this, but the suggestion came to nothing. In 1842, the American minister in Mexico Waddy Thompson, Jr. wrote to Daniel Webster, "As to Texas I regard it as of very little value compared with California, the richest, the most beautiful and the healthiest country in the world… with the acquisition of Upper California we should have the same ascendency on the Pacific… France and England both have had their eyes upon it."
In the winter of 1845-46, the federally commissioned explorer John C. Fremont and a group of armed men appeared in California. The Mexican authorities became alarmed and ordered him to leave. Fremont returned to California and assisted the Bear Flag Revolt in Sonoma, where a number of American settlers stated that they were playing “the Texas game” and declared California’s independence from Mexico.
On November 10, 1845, Polk sent John Slidell, a secret representative, to Mexico City with an offer of $25 million ($613,653,846 today) for the Rio Grande border in Texas and Mexico’s provinces of Alta California and Santa Fe de Nuevo México. U.S. expansionists wanted California to thwart British ambitions in the area and to gain a port on the Pacific Ocean. Polk authorized Slidell to forgive the $3 million ($73,638,462 today) owed to U.S. citizens for damages caused by the Mexican War of Independence and pay another $25 to $30 million ($613,653,846 to $736,384,615 today) in exchange for the two territories.
Mexico was not inclined nor in a position to negotiate. In 1846 alone, the presidency changed hands four times, the war ministry six times, and the finance ministry sixteen times. However, Mexican public opinion and all political factions agreed that selling the territories to the United States would tarnish the national honor. Mexicans who opposed open conflict with the United States, including President José Joaquín de Herrera, were viewed as traitors. Military opponents of de Herrera, supported by populist newspapers, considered Slidell’s presence in Mexico City an insult. When de Herrera considered receiving Slidell in order to peacefully negotiate the problem of Texas annexation, he was accused of treason and deposed. After a more nationalistic government under General Mariano Paredes y Arrillaga came to power, it publicly reaffirmed Mexico’s claim to Texas; Slidell, convinced that Mexico should be "chastised," returned to the United States.
On April 25, 1846, a 2,000-strong Mexican cavalry detachment attacked a 63-man U.S. patrol that had been sent into the contested territory north of the Rio Grande and south of the Nueces River. The Mexican cavalry routed the patrol, killing 11 U.S. soldiers in what later became known as the Thornton Affair after the U.S. officer who was in command. A few survivors were returned to Fort Brown by the Mexicans, including wounded sent in an ambulance.
Declaration of war
By then, Polk had received word of the Thornton Affair. This, added to the Mexican government’s rejection of Slidell, Polk believed, constituted a casus belli (case for war). His message to Congress on May 11, 1846 stated that “Mexico has passed the boundary of the United States, has invaded our territory and shed American blood upon American soil.” A joint session of Congress approved the declaration of war, with southern Democrats in strong support. Sixty-seven Whigs voted against the war on a key slavery amendment, but on the final passage only 14 Whigs voted no, including Rep. John Quincy Adams. Congress declared war on Mexico on May 13, 1846 after only having a few hours to debate. Although President Paredes’s issuance of a manifesto on May 23 is sometimes considered the declaration of war, Mexico officially declared war by Congress on July 7.
Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna
Once the United States declared war on Mexico, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna wrote to Mexico City saying he no longer had aspirations to the presidency, but would eagerly use his military experience to fight off the foreign invasion of Mexico as he had in the past. President Valentín Gómez Farías was desperate enough to accept the offer and allowed Santa Anna to return. Meanwhile, Santa Anna had secretly been dealing with representatives of the United States, pledging that if he were allowed back in Mexico through the U.S. naval blockades, he would work to sell all contested territory to the United States at a reasonable price. Once back in Mexico at the head of an army, Santa Anna reneged on both of these agreements. Santa Anna declared himself president again and unsuccessfully tried to fight off the United States invasion.
Although the United States declared war against Mexico on May 13, 1846, it took almost two months (until the middle of June, 1846) for definite word of war to get to California. American consul Thomas O. Larkin, stationed in Monterey, on hearing rumors of war tried to keep peace between the States and the small Mexican military garrison commanded by José Castro. U.S. Army captain John C. Frémont, with about sixty well-armed men, had entered California in December, 1845, and was marching slowly to Oregon when he received word that war between Mexico and the U.S. was imminent and so began his chapter of the war, the "Bear Flag Revolt".
On June 15, 1846, some thirty settlers, mostly American citizens, staged a revolt and seized the small Mexican garrison in Sonoma. They raised the "Bear Flag" of the California Republic over Sonoma. The republic was in existence scarcely more than a week before the U.S. Army, led by Frémont, took over on June 23. The California state flag today is based on this original Bear Flag and still contains the words, "California Republic."
The defeats at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma caused political turmoil in Mexico, turmoil which Antonio López de Santa Anna used to revive his political career and return from self-imposed exile in Cuba in mid-August 1846. He promised the U.S. that if allowed to pass through the blockade, he would negotiate a peaceful conclusion to the war and sell the New Mexico and Alta California territories to the United States. Once Santa Anna arrived in Mexico City, however, he reneged and offered his services to the Mexican government. Then, after being appointed commanding general, he reneged again and seized the presidency.
Led by Taylor, 2,300 U.S. troops crossed the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo) after some initial difficulties in obtaining river transport. His soldiers occupied the city of Matamoros, then Camargo (where the soldiery suffered the first of many problems with disease) and then proceeded south and besieged the city of Monterrey. The hard-fought Battle of Monterrey resulted in serious losses on both sides. The American light artillery was ineffective against the stone fortifications of the city. The Mexican forces were under General Pedro de Ampudia. A U.S. infantry division and the Texas Rangers captured four hills to the west of the town and with them heavy cannon. That lent the U.S. soldiers the strength to storm the city from the west and east. Once in the city, U.S. soldiers fought house to house: each was cleared by throwing lighted shells, which worked like grenades.
On March 1, 1847, Alexander William Doniphan occupied Chihuahua City. He found the inhabitants much less willing to accept the American conquest than the New Mexicans. The British consul John Potts did not want to let Doniphan search Governor Trias’s mansion and unsuccessfully asserted it was under British protection. American merchants in Chihuahua wanted the American force to stay in order to protect their business. Gilpin advocated a march on Mexico City and convinced a majority of officers, but Doniphan subverted this plan, then in late April Taylor ordered the First Missouri Mounted Volunteers to leave Chihuahua and join him at Saltillo. The American merchants either followed or returned to Santa Fe. Along the way the townspeople of Parras enlisted Doniphan’s aid against an Indian raiding party that had taken children, horses, mules and money.
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
Outnumbered militarily and with many of its large cities occupied, Mexico could not defend itself and was also faced with internal divisions. It had little choice but to make peace on any terms. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on February 2, 1848 by American diplomat Nicholas Trist and Mexican plenipotentiary representatives Luis G. Cuevas, Bernardo Couto and Miguel Atristain, ended the war and gave the U.S. undisputed control of Texas, established the U.S.-Mexican border of the Rio Grande River, and ceded to the United States the present-day states of California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming. In return, Mexico received US $18,250,000 ($447,967,308 today)—less than half the amount the U.S. had attempted to offer Mexico for the land before the opening of hostilities—and the U.S. agreed to assume $3.25 million ($79,775,000 today) in debts that the Mexican government owed to U.S. citizens. The acquisition was a source of controversy at the time, especially among U.S. politicians who had opposed the war from the start.
A leading antiwar U.S. newspaper, the Whig Intelligencer sardonically concluded that:
“We take nothing by conquest…. Thank God.”
Mexico lost more than 836,000 square miles (about 2,100,000 km²) of land, 55% of its national territory. Texas included. The annexed territories contained about 1,000 Mexican families in Alta California and 7,000 in Nuevo México. A few relocated further south in Mexico; the great majority remained in the United States. Descendants of these Mexican families have risen to prominence in American life, such as United States Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, and his brother, U.S. Rep. John Salazar, both from Colorado.
A month before the end of the war, Polk was criticized in a United States House of Representatives amendment to a bill praising Major General Zachary Taylor for "a war unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun by the President of the United States". This criticism, in which Congressman Abraham Lincoln played an important role with his Spot Resolutions, followed congressional scrutiny of the war’s beginnings, including factual challenges to claims made by President Polk. The vote followed party lines, with all Whigs supporting the amendment. Lincoln’s attack won luke-warm support from fellow Whigs in Illinois but was harshly counter-attacked by Democrats, who rallied pro-war sentiments in Illinois; Lincoln’s Spot resolutions haunted his future campaigns in the heavily Democratic state of Illinois, and was cited by enemies well into his presidency.
Please take time to further explore more about Veterans Day, Mexican-American War, Texas Annexation, Territorial Expansion of the United States, Texas Revolution, Mexican Cession, Compromise of 1850, and the California Gold Rush by accessing the Wikipedia articles referenced below. In most cases, the text in the body of this post has been selectively excerpted from the articles; footnotes and hyperlinks have been removed for readability…
Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: Veterans Day…
Wikipedia: Mexican-American War…
Wikipedia: Texas Annexation…
Wikipedia: Territorial Expansion of the United States…
Brainy Quote: Veterans Day Quotes…
Other Posts on related Topics:
Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Revisiting Archives — Veterans Day: America’s Foreign Wars…
Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Veterans Day: Remembering the Mexican-American War…