The Mexican-American War

The Mexican-American War is one of those wars that you’re taught about in school that you forget about when you grow up (unless you are a history buff or a historian or work at some memorial area with history in the war) you forget about because there is only one lesson about it whereas the American Civil War gets a week of lessons. So what was the Mexican-American War? When did it happen? Where did it happen? And lastly, why did it happen? These questions will be answered throughout this essay along with a few others.

Here are the basic facts; the Mexican-American War was a war over a border dispute between the U.S. and Mexico that lasted from 1846 to 1848 although an American victory was imminent by September of 1847 after the capture of Mexico City. The war was fought in what is now the Southwestern United States and Mexico and the Americans won almost every battle in the war. Important American leaders include Zachary Taylor, who would later become president, Winfield Scott, and John C. Freemont.

Now if you just wanted the three-sentence rundown then you might as well be done, but if you want to read more, then here is the full essay.

The roots of the Mexican-American War run 35 years deep. It started with the Mexican War for Independence, which lasted from 1811 to 1821. Mexicans in what was then New Spain had grown tired of Spanish rule and rebelled in 1811, and lasted for eleven years until the Treaty of Cordoba was signed, which stated that Spain and New Spain were two separate empires. This new empire was called the Mexican Empire, and its first emperor was Agustín de Iturbide, and was chosen for his leadership during the revolution. The new Mexican Empire’s government was supposed to be a constitutional monarchy, but Iturbide did away with that and ruled with an authoritarian dictatorship and an iron fist. The people disliked Iturbide’s rule and two prominent Mexican generals, Antonio López de Santa Anna and Guadalupe Victoria, wrote and signed the Plan of Casa Mata, which stated that the authoritarian monarchy would be overthrown and a republic would replace it. Many high-ranking government officials and generals also signed this document. With the military and government officials wanting to establish the republic, the emperor was forced to abdicate. Mexico was established as a republic and Guadalupe Victoria became its first president. In 1835 Santa Anna became president and centralized almost all the power to him through a new amendment, but was exiled to the U.S. after losing in the Texas Revolution. Santa Anna returned to fight against the French in 1837 and lost a leg and hand from a cannonball. Santa Anna then returned to power in 1842, a hero, but was exiled again to Cuba, a Spanish possession.

The Texas Revolution shouldn’t be skipped over though, because the war played a vital role in setting up a confrontation between Mexico and America. The tension began when the two poorest states in Mexico, Coahuila and Tejas (Texas) were consolidated into the massive state of Coahuila y Tejas. The Texans were angry with their loss of autonomy, which they had when being the state of Tejas (Texas), and relations between the Texans and Mexicans went downhill from there. It wasn’t that the Texans didn’t like living with Mexicans around, they were actually fine with their Mexican friends in Texas, but instead the Mexican Government was who the Texans were at odds with. The almost bankrupt Mexican Government allowed 300 Americans to legally settle in Texas to help resist Comanche attacks, which were frequent. The Mexican Government also loaned the Texans a cannon, a valuable weapon that could greatly reduce the Comanche Tribe’s attacks. However, this did not end the Texans’ frustration. Mexico abolished slavery in 1829, and the Texans, many of whom were southerners, were outraged. By 1834 Mexico abolished further American immigration into Texas (note that Americans could immigrate to any other part of Mexico), and it made sense because there were 30,000 Americans compared to 7,800 Mexicans, and Mexico feared the Americans’ numbers. To further anger the Texans, Mexico increased tariffs, or taxes on imported or exported goods, on American goods imported to Mexico, and the ten year tax-exemption for immigrants was repealed. After a revolution,   Texas became an independent nation in 1836. (Mexico did not recognize Texas as independent and still saw it as Mexican land, despite recognition from the U.S., Britain, and France) The tensions got worse though, and ignited when U.S. president James K. Polk annexed Texas as a state and moved American soldiers into a disputed area known as the Nueces Strip, a small chunk of land in-between the Nueces River, which Mexico claimed as the border of Texas, and the Rio Grande River, which America saw as the border of Texas. Mexican Cavalry moved into the Nueces Strip after Polk moved U.S. soldiers to there. America declared war after the Mexican cavalry entered, and thus the Mexican-American War began (note that Mexico never made a declaration of war).

A driving force behind the war was Manifest Destiny. This belief, Manifest Destiny, was a concept that Americans, exclusively Americans, had the special right to expand and conquer all of North Americans. James K. Polk supported this belief as well, and wanted a war with Mexico to gain land. Also, resentment between Americans and Mexicans grew, and the Americans distrusted them, especially because of the abuses by the Mexican Government mentioned in the last paragraph.

The way the war was carried out was by a series of campaigns. There are three campaigns that will be mentioned in this essay, The California Campaign, The Northeastern Mexican Campaign., and the Mexico City Campaign. The California Campaign began in a similar fashion to the Texas Revolution. Mexico had just issued a proclamation stating that all foreigners who weren’t naturalized would not be able to own land and were subject to expulsion. Rumors were also being circulated that Jose Castro, the Mexican General in California, was building a massive army. As a reaction to these rumors, Americans in California raided the unguarded outpost of Sonoma on June 14, 1846. One of the Americans there created the Bear Flag, a flag with a red star in the top left corner, a gold bear next to it, and the words, “California Republic” below it on a white background with a red line at the bottom of it. The flag was hoisted at the outpost and served as inspiration for the state flag of California. Meanwhile in Oregon, an American captain by the name of John C. Freemont, who was leading a survey mission, was called to California after hearing word of a possible war between Mexico and America. He went to San Francisco, or Yerba Buena (Mexican Name), which was recently captured by the “Bear Flaggers”, who their name was given after the flag they carried. Freemont supported a new California Republic, and made a battalion dubbed the California Battalion from his soldiers and many of the “Bear Flaggers”. Another U.S. military officer, Commodore John Drake Sloat of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Squadron, had orders from the U.S. Government to secure San Francisco Bay. Once Sloat arrived, every city or outpost captured by the “Bear Flaggers” had the Bear Flag taken down and the American Flag hoisted up to replace it. The campaign however, would be overshadowed by Mexican resistance, or the Californios. The resisitance was so bad that the Americans were forced to retreat from California. In one way or another, the treaty of Cahuenga ended armed resistance in California on January 13, 1847, and the California Campaign was over.

The Northeastern Mexico Campaign was a spectacular campaign led by General (and future president) Zachary Taylor that saw the greatest battle of the war. The desperate Mexican president allowed Santa Anna to return to power after Santa Anna tricked President Polk into allowing himself to escape. In exchange Santa Anna said he would try to sell Alta California and Nuevo Mexico for a reasonable price. Santa Anna, however, did not keep his word. Zachary Taylor won victories in Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, and had captured Monterrey. Taylor offered the Mexicans a two-month truce in exchange for the city of Monterrey. Polk was infuriated after hearing this, and began to strip Taylor of his army for use in an ambitious landing on the Mexican coast. Taylor’s last battle was at Buena Vista, but he finished his campaign off strong after what seemed to be the impossible battle. The Battle of Buena Vista started off with Santa Anna taking his soldiers from Mexico City to where Taylor’s men were, which was somewhere in Northeastern Mexico. Santa Anna knew about Polk’s daring plan to send General Winfield Scott to the Mexican Coast, and figured Yellow Fever would cripple them before he got back. Santa Anna marched across Mexico, suffering many casualties along the way, but they were not enough to stop him. When Santa Anna arrived, he had a staggering 22,000 men compared to Taylor, who had less than 5,000, and only 500 were regular soldiers, the others were inexperienced volunteers. Santa Anna had a document demanding Taylor’s surrender sent to his camp. Santa Anna told Taylor the circumstances of the scenario, and what would happen if he didn’t comply, which was basically “…complete and utter destruction”, as written in the Allied message for Japan to surrender in World War II. Taylor was infuriated and did not comply with Santa Anna’s demands. When Taylor’s message was received by Santa Anna, the Mexican soldiers began firing. Both sides raced to find higher ground, and the battle continued until nightfall. The battle resumed the next day and Santa Anna overwhelmed many of Taylor’s men who retreated to the fort in Buena Vista. Taylor, however, had come up with a new strategy and outmaneuvered Santa Anna’s forces, drilling holes and later destroying massive chunks of Santa Anna’s men. Santa Anna had no choice but to retreat, and retreat he did. But not wanting to ruin his reputation, he claimed a victory, and convinced his people on the way home because he had captured a few cannons.

Unfortunately for Santa Anna, General Winfield Scott had taken control of Mexico City on August 7, 1847, by using an almost identical route to Hernan Cortez’s route when conquering the Aztecs over three centuries earlier. Fortunately for Scott, Cortez’s route went to Tenochtitlan, which is the same place as Mexico City today. Mexico wouldn’t stand much of a chance anymore, and Santa Anna was taken out of the government. In 1848 the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, which gave America all of California, Utah, Nevada, most of New Mexico and Arizona, and a little of Colorado and Wyoming.

The U.S. paid $15,000,000 ($497,452,885 today) in exchange for the land, less than half of what they offered before the war began. The U.S. also got $3.25 million ($88,587,500 today). That chunk of money was Mexican debt to America. In the end, 1,733 Americans died in Battle, and 16,000 to 25,000 Mexicans were killed during the war. The Mexican-American War gave America a sizeable chunk of land almost twice the size of Texas (note: Texas was not included in the Mexican Cession). The cession now contains four of America’s most populous cities (cities with most people) with ranks of 2, 6, 8, and 10 (Corresponding cities are Los Angles, Phoenix, San Diego, and San Jose). The war led to a growing population in the Western United States, something that is still happening today.