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Points of view about the war

Historical Survey of the Mexican American War

A timetable of the war's events



The Mexican American War: A War Fought for Economics, not for Liberty and Justice

Nick at Palo Alto battlefield the site if the First Major battle of the Mexican American War!
On this journey, I begin my drive in south Texas, where cactus plants are everywhere and tumbleweeds blow across the roads. The region is so vast it's like I'm on a boat in the middle of the sea. The strong winds get dirt and dust in my teeth and hair.

I think about the upcoming presidential election, because George W. Bush is from Texas. Almost every politician these days is a millionaire, and it seems today's politics mostly revolve around money, money and more money. I wonder, have all of our wars been fought over money, rather than for liberty and justice? For example, what about the Mexican American War - surely it was fought for freedom, liberty and justice, wasn't it? As it turns out, the war was fought over issues of money, land and economics. It seems that liberty and justice did not play much of a role.

As I stare into this vast, wild region, I close my eyes and imagine how it was on this spot over one hundred fifty years ago, during the battles of the Mexican American War ...

This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land
Actually, neither the Mexicans nor the Americans were the first people to live on this land. Before the American settlers came West to do battle with the Mexicans, Spanish explorers had claimed the land for their country. Before the Spanish explorers arrived, several different Native American tribes made their homes in this region: the Caddo Indians lived in east Texas; the Nacogdoches, Nasoni and Neche lived in central Texas; the Comanche and Tonkawa lived in the rolling plains of north Texas; and the Coahuitltecan occupied south Texas. In other words, the land that the Mexicans and the Americans fought over in the battles known as the Mexican American War was actually Indian land!


On our trek, there are those days when I just feel good about everything...

During the 1830s politicians began thinking about expanding the United States to include territories west of the Mississippi River. After James A. Polk won the presidency 1844, he pledged that the U.S would acquire all of Oregon country, Texas and parts of northern Mexico. Captivated by the notion of adding these lands, many U.S citizens embraced the concept of "Manifest Destiny," a phrase suggesting it was God's will for Americans to settle all land from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific Coast. Such attitudes of entitlement met great resistance as the settlers moved west and discovered that other people had gotten there before them. In fact, that belief contributed greatly to both the Mexican American War and to many of the Indian Wars in the coming years.

It's the Economy, Stupid
The U.S population was not very big, and forging new paths across unchartered territories was both difficult and risky. So, why did people want to move west? The answer involves money: The move west would generate a lot of money for both individuals and for the U.S. government. To motivate U.S. citizens, the government created an "us against them" sentiment (Americans versus Mexicans). To make the undertaking even more compelling, the government sought to religiously motivate people (God is on our side). A far cry from liberty and justice, wasn't it?

Before the war, Mexico owned California, Nevada, Utah, most of Arizona, and parts of Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. However, most of Mexico's population lived in southern Mexico, around Mexico City. Most of northern Mexico was inhabited by Native Americans and animals, and covered by desert and forest. Because there weren't enough people to protect this area from intruders, it made it really easy for settlers and the U.S Army to take over these Mexican-owned territories.

Just 25 years before the Mexican American War, Mexico fought and won a war of independence from Spain. A quarter of a century later, Mexico was still recovering from the war, and had not developed a strong military. Mexican politicians were divided about what their country should do. The conservatives supported the idea of war against the U.S as a way to protect their lands, defend national honor, and increase nationalism. In contrast, the liberals and reformers, while supporting the defense of their nation, contended that the Mexican military was unprepared and that Mexico's lack of funds would doom any chance to conduct an effective war against the U.S. They also knew that with no allies, they would have to fight the U.S alone, without any help from France or Great Britain.

Texas Gets Bigger
The final spark that started the Mexican American War was the annexation of Texas. The U.S. settlers wanted to be independent from Mexico, and successfully fought what came to be known as Texas revolution of 1836. After winning its independence, the Republic of Texas made a claim to extend its boundaries south and west to the Rio Grande River.

insert texas.gif Although the Nueces River had been the historical boundary of Texas, the leaders of the Texas revolt negotiated a treaty with captured Mexican President Santa Anna, calling for Mexico to recognize Texas' independence and to acknowledge the Rio Grande as its new southwest boundary. However, because the Mexican congress never ratified the treaty, Mexico never formally recognized Texas' independence, or the claim of the Rio Grande boundary.

Time for War!
When U.S. troops moved to the north banks of the Rio Grande River, Mexico considered the action to be trespassing. On April 23, 1846, Mexican President Mariano Paredes declared that a state of war between Mexico and the U.S. Two days later, a large Mexican force ambushed two companies of American soldiers. Then, on May 8, 1846, soldiers fought their first major battle on a field called Palo Alto, north of the Rio Grande River. The brutal battle proved that the U.S. Army had far better cannons.

After two years of bloodshed, the U.S Army occupied Mexico City until diplomatic negotiations brought the war to an official end. On February 2, 1848, the diplomats agreed to the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hilgado, named for the suburb of Mexico City where the negotiations took place. The Mexicans got the short end of the stick. The treaty forced them to hand over half their land for $15 million. The huge chunk of territory included the present-day states of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Utah. The Rio Grande became the official boarder between Texas and Mexico.

As I sat there and stared out at the vast territory of Texas, I thought of all the people who fought for this land and for what they thought was freedom and liberty, but for what was really a matter of money. Then, I vowed to analyze every situation that I go into to make sure I'm doing it for something I believe in, not just for the money. That's a vow I made on that wild-horse desert, but it's a vow I will take with me everywhere in life.


Please email me at: nick@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Stephanie - The Alamo's top tall tales
Nick - A dreamer dodges the border patrol
Neda - The Republic of California, a 24-day wonder
Becky - Henry David Thoreau, busted! And a nonviolent political tool is born
Stephanie - The King Ranch, just another slice of corporate American pie?
MAD - English only? No, nyet, nein!