The U.S. War With Mexico: A Brief History With Documents (Bedford Series In History Amp; Culture) E
The U.S. War with Mexico: A Brief History with Documents
The U.S. war with Mexico was a pivotal event in American history, it set crucial wartime precedents and served as a precursor for the impending Civil War. With a powerful introduction and rich collection of documents, Ernesto Chvez makes a convincing case that as an expansionist war, the U.S.-Mexico conflict set a new standard for the acquisition of foreign territory through war. Equally important, the war racialized the enemy, and in so doing accentuated the nature of whiteness and white male citizenship in the U.S., especially as it related to conquered Mexicans, Indians, slaves, and women. The war, along with ongoing westward expansion, heightened public debates in the North and South about slavery and its place in newly-acquired territories. In this article, we will explore the origins, course, and impact of this controversial war that shaped both nations' destinies.
The U.S. War With Mexico: A Brief History With Documents (Bedford Series In History amp; Culture) E
The Origins of the War
The Expansionist Impulse
The U.S. war with Mexico was driven by a strong expansionist impulse that characterized the 19th century American society. Many Americans believed that they had a manifest destiny to spread their democratic institutions, culture, and religion across the continent. They also sought new lands for economic opportunities, such as farming, mining, trade, and settlement. The U.S. had already acquired large territories from France (Louisiana Purchase) and Britain (Oregon Country) through diplomacy and compromise. However, the U.S. faced resistance from Mexico, which controlled a vast region that stretched from Texas to California. Mexico was a former colony of Spain that had won its independence in 1821 after a long and bloody war.
The Mexican Independence and Instability
Mexico's independence from Spain was a tumultuous and chaotic process that left the new nation with many problems and challenges. Mexico inherited a colonial system that was marked by social inequalities, racial divisions, economic dependency, and political corruption. Mexico also had to deal with internal rebellions, foreign interventions, and border disputes with its neighbors. Mexico's first emperor, Agustín de Iturbide, was overthrown in 1823 by a republican faction that established a federalist constitution. However, the federalist system soon collapsed due to regional conflicts, military coups, and centralist reforms. One of the most influential and controversial leaders of Mexico was Antonio López de Santa Anna, who rose and fell from power several times between 1833 and 1855. Santa Anna was a charismatic and ambitious general who fought against Spain, France, and the U.S., but also betrayed his own principles and allies depending on his interests.
The Texas Revolution and Annexation
One of the most contentious issues between Mexico and the U.S. was the fate of Texas, which was part of the Mexican state of Coahuila-Texas. In the 1820s, Mexico encouraged American settlers to colonize Texas under certain conditions, such as becoming Mexican citizens, adopting Catholicism, and obeying Mexican laws. However, many Americans did not comply with these requirements and clashed with the Mexican authorities over issues such as slavery, taxation, immigration, and self-government. In 1835, Texas declared its independence from Mexico and fought a war against Santa Anna's army. The most famous battles of this war were the Alamo and San Jacinto, where the Texans suffered a massacre and then achieved a decisive victory respectively. Texas became an independent republic in 1836, but faced economic difficulties, Indian raids, and Mexican threats. In 1845, Texas accepted an offer from the U.S. to join the union as the 28th state. This provoked a diplomatic crisis with Mexico, which never recognized Texas' independence and claimed it as part of its territory.
The Course of the War
The Outbreak of Hostilities
The annexation of Texas was one of the main causes of the U.S. war with Mexico, but not the only one. The U.S. also had ambitions to acquire other Mexican lands, especially California, which was seen as a valuable prize for its natural resources, climate, and potential access to the Pacific Ocean. The U.S. tried to negotiate with Mexico to buy California and settle the Texas border dispute peacefully, but Mexico refused to sell or recognize any American claims. President James K. Polk, who was an ardent expansionist, decided to provoke a war with Mexico by sending troops under General Zachary Taylor to the disputed area between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande. In April 1846, a skirmish broke out between the two armies, and Polk used this incident as a pretext to declare war on Mexico. He claimed that Mexico had "invaded our territory and shed American blood upon American soil". However, many Americans, especially in the North, opposed the war as unjust and immoral. Some of them were motivated by anti-slavery sentiments, fearing that the war would expand the slave power in the South. Others were influenced by moral or religious principles, such as Henry David Thoreau, who wrote his famous essay "Civil Disobedience" in protest of the war.
The Invasion of Mexico
The U.S. war with Mexico lasted from 1846 to 1848 and involved several military campaigns on different fronts. The main theater of operations was northern Mexico, where Taylor's army advanced from Texas to Monterrey and then to Buena Vista, defeating numerically superior but poorly trained and equipped Mexican forces. Another theater was central Mexico, where General Winfield Scott led an amphibious invasion from Veracruz to Mexico City, following the same route that Hernán Cortés had taken in 1519 to conquer the Aztec empire. Scott's army faced fierce resistance from the Mexican army and civilians, but managed to capture the capital in September 1847 after a series of bloody battles such as Cerro Gordo, Contreras, Churubusco, Molino del Rey, and Chapultepec. A third theater was the Pacific coast, where the U.S. navy seized several ports and towns, such as San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Monterey in California, and Mazatlán and San Blas in Mexico. The U.S. navy also blockaded the Mexican coast and supported land operations with naval bombardments and amphibious assaults. A fourth theater was the far west, where U.S. forces led by Stephen W. Kearny and John C. Frémont occupied New Mexico and California with the help of local rebels who declared the short-lived California Republic (also known as the Bear Flag Revolt). Kearny also fought a battle against the Mexican army at San Pasqual near San Diego and against the Apache Indians at Pima Villages near Tucson.
The Resistance and Negotiation
Mexico did not surrender easily to the U.S. invasion, despite its military disadvantages and political divisions. Mexico had a larger population than the U.S., but most of its people were poor peasants who had little stake in the war. Mexico also had a long tradition of fighting against foreign enemies, such as Spain and France, and a strong sense of national pride and honor. Mexico's resistance was led by Santa Anna, who returned from exile in Cuba after promising Polk that he would negotiate a peace deal if allowed to pass through the U.S. blockade. However, Santa Anna betrayed Polk and rallied the Mexican people to fight against the U.S. He proved to be an erratic and ineffective leader, who lost most of the battles he fought and alienated many of his subordinates and allies. Nevertheless, he managed to prolong the war by avoiding a decisive defeat and exploiting the U.S. difficulties in occupying and administering hostile territory. Mexico also tried to negotiate a peace treaty that would end the war without ceding any land to the U.S. Mexico sent two peace commissioners, Bernardo Couto and Miguel Atristain, to meet with U.S. envoy Nicholas Trist in 1847, but they failed to reach an agreement because of their conflicting demands. Trist was recalled by Polk, who wanted to pursue a more aggressive policy against Mexico, but he disobeyed his orders and stayed in Mexico City to continue the negotiations.
The Impact of the War
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
The war ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on February 2, 1848, by Trist and the Mexican commissioners Luis G. Cuevas, Bernardo Couto, and Miguel Atristain. The treaty was ratified by both countries' governments with some amendments. The treaty recognized Texas as part of the U.S. and set the border at the Rio Grande. It also ceded to the U.S. a vast territory that comprised present-day California, Nevada, Utah, most of Arizona, half of New Mexico, parts of Colorado and Wyoming, and a small portion of Kansas. In return, the U.S. agreed to pay Mexico $15 million and assume $3.25 million of claims by American citizens against Mexico. The treaty also granted full citizenship rights to Mexicans who chose to stay in the ceded lands or relocate to Mexico within one year. The treaty was a humiliating loss for Mexico, which saw its territory reduced by half and its national sovereignty violated. The treaty was also a controversial gain for the U.S., which acquired vast lands that would fuel its economic growth and expansion but also exacerbate its social and political conflicts.
The Racialization of the Enemy
One of the most significant consequences of the war was how it racialized the enemy and accentuated the nature of whiteness and white male citizenship in the U.S., especially as it related to conquered Mexicans, Indians, slaves, and women. The war was influenced by racial stereotypes and prejudices that portrayed Mexicans as inferior, lazy, corrupt, and barbaric. The U.S. soldiers, politicians, journalists, and travelers who participated in or witnessed the war often expressed contempt and hatred for the Mexican people, culture, and religion. They also committed atrocities and abuses against the Mexican civilians and prisoners of war, such as rape, murder, plunder, and torture. The war also reinforced the idea that the U.S. was a white man's country, where only white men could enjoy the full rights and privileges of citizenship. This idea excluded or marginalized not only Mexicans, but also Indians, who were displaced or killed by the U.S. expansion; slaves, who were denied their freedom and humanity; and women, who were denied their political and legal equality. The war also exposed the contradictions and tensions within the U.S. society over the definition and boundaries of whiteness and citizenship, as different groups of white Americans competed for power and resources in the new territories.
The Prelude to the Civil War
Another major consequence of the war was how it increased sectionalism and polarization in the U.S. over the issue of slavery in the newly-acquired territories. The war reopened the debate over whether slavery should be allowed or prohibited in the lands that were taken from Mexico. The debate was not only about the moral and economic aspects of slavery, but also about the political and social balance between the free and slave states in the union. The war also revealed the divergent interests and visions of the North and South regarding the future of the nation. The North, which was more industrialized, urbanized, and diversified, favored a strong federal government that would promote economic development, free labor, and antislavery policies. The South, which was more agricultural, rural, and homogeneous, favored a weak federal government that would protect states' rights, slave labor, and pro-slavery policies. The war intensified these differences and generated a series of conflicts and compromises that failed to resolve them peacefully. Some of these conflicts and compromises were: the Wilmot Proviso (1846), which proposed to ban slavery in all territories acquired from Mexico but was rejected by the Senate; the Compromise of 1850 , which admitted California as a free state, abolished the slave trade in Washington, D.C., enacted a stricter fugitive slave law , and allowed popular sovereignty in New Mexico and Utah; the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854), which repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and allowed popular sovereignty in Kansas and Nebraska; the Bleeding Kansas (18541861), which was a violent struggle between pro-slavery and antislavery forces in Kansas; the Dred Scott decision (1857), which ruled that slaves were not citizens and that Congress had no power to prohibit slavery in any territory; the Lincoln-Douglas debates (1858), which were a series of debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas on the issue of slavery in the territories; the John Brown's raid (1859), which was an attempt by an abolitionist to incite a slave rebellion at Harpers Ferry , Virginia; and the election of 1860 , which resulted in Lincoln's victory and triggered the secession of 11 Southern states that formed the Confederate States of America . These events led to the outbreak of the American Civil War (18611865), which was the bloodiest and most devastating war in U.S. history.
The U.S. war with Mexico was a watershed moment in both nations' histories. It marked the culmination of U.S. expansionism and imperialism in North America. It also marked the beginning of U.S. involvement in Latin America and the Pacific. It transformed the U.S. geographically, politically, economically, socially, and culturally. It also transformed Mexico, which lost half of its territory but gained a new sense of national identity and resistance. The war was not only a military conflict, but also a cultural clash between two neighboring countries with different histories, values, and aspirations. The war had lasting consequences for both countries, some positive and some negative. The war also had global implications, as it influenced other countries' perceptions and relations with the U.S. and Mexico. The war was a complex and controversial phenomenon that deserves to be studied and understood from multiple perspectives.
Q: When did the U.S. war with Mexico start and end?
A: The war started in April 1846 and ended in February 1848.
Q: Why did the U.S. go to war with Mexico?