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Gadsden Purchase

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The Gadsden Purchase of 1853 is one of the most monumental land purchases in United States history.

In basic terms, the Gadsden Purchase was an area of land that was acquired by the United States from Mexico in order to build a railway for the transportation of goods in the South from East to West in order to fulfill Manifest Destiny. Throughout this paper, I hope to accurately navigate through the events prior to the Gadsden Purchase as well as the early life of James Gadsden.

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Although many topics relate to the purchase itself, I will offer a historical view into Gadsden’s life before, after, and during the purchase as well as a more in depth look into the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. I shall also touch base on why the land was so sought after, for what purposes, the Santa Anna profile, and the details of the land and the growth of the region after the treaty. Although the original railway plans were never fully developed, the region of the Gadsden Purchase is rich in history and culture, and is, in my opinion the most well-known land purchase in United States history.

James Gadsden was born May 15th 1788 in Charleston, South Carolina. There is not a lot of information about his childhood or even his earlier years of education but we do know that he graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Yale University in Connecticut in 1806. After graduating college he soon realized his calling was to join the army. He was brought in as a commissioned officer under the command of General Andrew Jackson, who later in 1828 became the President of the United States of America.

Gadsden served under General Jackson during two wars, the war of 1812 against the English and against the Native Indians in Florida in 1819. While fighting the Indians he built and defended a great fort, named Fort Gadsden. This today would be found in the Florida panhandle. He later helped establish Fort Brooke south of Fort Gadsden. Fort Brooke was built on the lands we now know as Tampa. James second chapter in his life was to leave the U. S. Army and move to Florida and become a planter.

He got into politics in Florida and was appointed commissioner in 1823, and helped with the moving Indians out of Florida and southern Georgia along the long treacherous road called the “Trail of Tears”. He has a couple cities and a county named after him in the South. Railway expansion was starting to become a big hit and James Gadsden moved back to South Carolina and became the President of the South Carolina Railroad Company from 1840-1850. He decided that it would be best if his associates would start promoting transcontinental railway travels from the east coast to the west coast.

This railway was thought up to start in southern Georgia and pass through the southern states and through Mexico and into California where it would end in San Diego. During their planning on this route, they discovered that the best possible route after El Paso was through Mexican Boundaries. James was very much for the owning of slaves, and when he went to California he talked to State Senator Thomas Jefferson Green, in which these two men devised a plan to divide up California into two separate states and allow slavery in the South.

This would be turned down shortly after being submitted with no chance of retrying it. In 1853, James Gadsden was appointed the new U. S. minister to Mexico by the American Government. He was given orders to negotiate with Mexico for more land along the border. The United States government wanted to acquire more of what today we call Arizona and New Mexico. He was also supposed to clear up any questions on where the border was with Mexico since it was a grey area in the past. Gadsden successfully completed the government’s orders by negotiating with the Mexican government in Mexico City.

He ended up buying the land from Mexico which covered from the south most New Mexico and Arizona, and by creating the boundary between the United States and Mexico as two long natural lines between the Rio Grande at the west most tip of Texas all the way to the Colorado River at the eastern boundary of California. They called it the Gadsden Purchase, which the United States agreed to pay Mexico ten million dollars for thirty eight thousand square miles of land. Ten million dollars back in 1853 is equivalent to two hundred and eighty million dollars today.

The Southern transcontinental railroad that James Gadsden had dreamed up was never built. The treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which ended the Mexican American war in 1848 was a very important decision in our history. We allowed the Mexican government to keep Mesilla Valley in place of them giving us the Santa Rita Mountains. We believed that we would profit off of this compromise due to the fact that we thought there was rich copper deposits, and some silver and gold which had not yet been mined. Little did we know that the Mesilla Valley was essential for the construction of a Southern Transcontinental Railroad.

The reason it was important for the railroad was because it consisted of flat desert land about fifty miles north to south and 200 miles wide, east to west. There were two parcels of the land that President Pierce instructed Gadsden to try and buy. The Baja California Peninsula was the first for fifty million dollars or the thirty eight thousand square miles of dry arid desert. Santa Ana needed money badly to help build up his army to defend against the very people wanting to pay him, the United States.

He thought the best solution was to sell as little land as possible for the most amount of money and when Great Britain rejected Mexican request to assist in the negotiations, Santa Ana decided to take the fifteen million dollar deal. Antonio de Padua Maria Severino Lopez de Santa Anna y Perez de Lebron was born February 21st, 1794, he is famously known as Santa Anna, he has also been referred to as “The Napoleon of the West. ” Santa Anna was a Mexican political leader as well as a general, and eventually the President of Mexico.

He had a great influence in early Mexican government and politics. He was the General and the President of Mexico numerous times for over four decades. Santa Anna is a widely beloved man by some Mexicans and widely hated by others. The allied people thought he was a very heroic leader for their great country. The people who didn’t like him very much believed that he is the main reason Mexico is ran so poorly now a days. Santa Anna was born into money and was fortunate enough to be sent off to school at a very young age. After school, he enrolled in the army and became an infantry man.

After a few years, a couple wars later and one injury to his left arm by an arrow he moved quickly through the ranks and started making friends in the higher places of the government. Santa Anna was only 30 years old when he was appointed governor of the Mexican state of Yucatan. Santa Anna gave himself the nickname the Napoleon of the West because of a battle against the Spanish who tried to retake Mexico. They brought 2,600 men across the big pond but they were slowed by yellow fever and Santa Anna defeated them with significantly less soldiers.

In his later years, Santa Anna went into exile to the island of Jamaica where he hid out in Kingston. Two years later, he moved to Colombia when he was called back to help run the government. Those were the years of the Gadsden Purchase and where he was skimming the top and putting money into his own pockets. After a great deal of time in exile, living in the United States, and after meeting with president Andrew Jackson in 1837, the Mexican government agreed to allow Santa Anna to return to Mexico.

He arrived in Mexico aboard the USS Pioneer. The Gadsden Purchase Treaty was signed on December 13th 1853, in Mexico City. It was amended by the United State Senate. It consisted of nine articles all written in English and in Spanish. In the beginning of the Treaty it has a brief statement explaining the reasoning behind this whole treaty and how the two countries would like to come to an agreement on where boundaries truly are, since the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 was not very sound in where boundaries lie.

The two countries also wanted to get rid of any kind of bad blood between the nations and have a fresh start and a new beginning. Article one starts off with the Republic of Mexico agreed on the boundaries and borders brought forth to them by the United States. The Gulf of Mexico where the Rio Grande meets was the border for the Mexico’s far north east boundary. Then it would go west one hundred miles then turn south to the parallel of 31° 20′ north latitude. From there is would go along the parallel of 31° 20′ to the 111th meridian of longitude west of Greenwich.

From there it would be in a straight line to a point on the Colorado River twenty English miles below the junction of the Gila and Colorado rivers; and finally up the middle of the Colorado River until it intersects the present line between the United States and Mexico. Three months after the treaty was made official each of the two governments nominated one commissioner. They met in the city of Paso del Norte, and were given permission to survey and mark their territories on the land the dividing line stipulated by article one.

The second article says that the government of Mexico released the United States from all liability on the account of the obligations contained in the eleventh article of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo; It should not be allowed for any reason that the United States to purchase or acquire any Mexican, or any foreigner residing in Mexico including black slaves, who may have been captured by Indians living in the United States or in Mexico.

They also cannot purchase or buy horses, mules, cattle, or property of any kind, stolen within Mexican territory by such Indians. This article was written on the April 5th, 1831. Article three goes into the monetary side of things and says that the Government of the United States agreed to pay the government of Mexico, ten million dollars, of which seven million would be paid immediately upon the exchange of the ratifications of the treaty, and the remaining three million as soon as the boundary lines were surveyed, marked, and established.

The money was paid to Mexico in New York City. The provisions of the 6th and 7th articles of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo having been deemed unimportant, for the most part, by the cession of territory granted in the first article of this treaty. The vessels and citizens of the United States shall, in all time, have free and uninterrupted passage through the Gulf of California, to and from their possessions situated north of the boundary line of the two countries.

It was understood that this passage was to navigate the Gulf of California and the river Colorado, and not by land, without the expressed approval of the Mexican government; and exactly the same requirements and restrictions are hereby agreed upon and adopted, and will be carefully observed and enforced by the two governments in reference to the Rio Colorado. The eighth article says that on February 5th 1853 the Mexican Government approved the early construction of a railroad across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and to protect the firm profits of transit to the persons and merchandise of the citizens of Mexico and the United States.

It is specified that the government will not interrupt any obstacle to the transit of persons and merchandise of both nations; and it will not up the charges on the transit of persons and property of citizens of the United States, but it could be raised on the persons and property of other foreign nations, and when it is all said and done any profits or interest made will not be sent to any foreign countries.

The United States shall have the right to transport across the Isthmus, in closed bags, the mails of the United States not intended for distribution along the line of communication; also the effects of the United States government and its citizens, which may be intended for transit, and not for distribution on the Isthmus, free of custom-house or other charges by the Mexican government. Neither passports nor letters of security will be required of persons crossing the Isthmus and not remaining in the country.

When they complete the railroad structures, the Mexican government decided to open a port of entry including to the port of Vera Cruz, at or near the terminus of the road on the Gulf of Mexico. The two governments will enter into arrangements for the quick transit of troops and weapons of the United States, which that government may have occasion to send from one part of its territory to another, which were on opposite sides of the continent. The ninth and final article just closes the treaty with the location of where it was signed and who was to sign the treaty by both espected countries. After the Gadsden Purchase, southern Arizona’s land became flourished with natural resource explorers. The Sonora Exploring and Mining Company opened silver mines in southern Arizona, it sought to employ educated, middle-class Americans who shared a strong work ethic and leadership abilities to operate the mines. Another big move into Arizona was the cattle business. By the end of the 19th century ranchers from all over the south and Midwest including Texas were moving their herds into Arizona and establishing the range cattle industry.

The Texans contributed their established range methods to the new and rising populated land of Arizona but their problems as well. Texas rustlers brought lawlessness, poor management resulted in overstocking, and carelessness introduced destructive diseases. But these difficulties did force laws and associations in Arizona to control and bring the bad to justice. In 1861, during the Civil War, the Confederate States of America formed the Confederate Territory of Arizona, which consisted of the new land acquired by the Gadsden Purchase.

This new territory would be the last of the 48 lower states to be added to the United States in 1812. The Southern Pacific Railroad that was the initial reason for purchasing the land from Mexico ran from Los Angeles and reached all the way to Yuma, Arizona, in 1877, then extended to Tucson in March 1880, El Paso in May 1881, and then it was completed as the second transcontinental railroad in December 1881. The land in Arizona was originally largely in the Gadsden Purchase but the western part was later rerouted north of the Gila River to serve the newly built city of Phoenix.

The land in New Mexico is a big part of the territory that had been disputed between Mexico and the United States after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo had been officially finalized, and before the Gadsden Purchase. We wouldn’t have needed to buy the land in the southwest known today as the two states of New Mexico and Arizona if the government just would have followed through with the rights and the purchase of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

During negotiations of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the Americans failed to secure the right of transit across the 125-mile wide piece of land that’s the smallest amount of land to cross from the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. The idea of building a railroad in Southern Mexico along this path had been considered for a long time. In 1842 Mexican President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna sold the rights to build a railroad or canal across the isthmus. The deal included land 300 miles wide for future colonization and development.

In 1847 a British bank bought the rights, raising the fears of the United States that the British would colonize in the western hemisphere again, which is a violation of the rules of the Monroe Doctrine. United States interest in the land was increased by the 1848 discovery of gold in California. This would make it very easy and cost affective to purchase the land rights and build a railway connecting the large bodies of water to allow the shipment of gold from the west coast of the United States to the east coast. The people in the US pushed very hard for the purchase of this land for numerous reasons.

One was that they believed a transcontinental railroad wasn’t going to happen for a very long time. And secondly the people of the gulf region were for it because they thought that it would take stress off the amount of people and boats traveling in and around the Mississippi River. The proposal for this land was to buy it outright from the Mexican government but give them twenty percent discount on all shipping and also would allow the United States government free access to allow them to send US troops down there at any time they such needed.

This treaty was never fully followed through and was eventually left alone and never finalized. There was a second attempt to claim the land such desired, it was called “The Clayton-Bulwer Treaty”, which was between the United States and Great Britain, it would guarantee a neutral stance of any such canal, finalized in April 1850. Mexican negotiators denied this treaty because it would reject Mexico’s ability to play the U. S. and U. K. against one other. They eliminated the right of the United States to individually interfere militarily.

The United States Senate approved the treaty in early 1851, but the Mexican Congress refused to accept the treaty. Hargous proceeded with the plans as if the treaty was signed, thinking that eventually it would happened. He sent his men down there to survey the land and was in touch and working on plans with local railroad companies. He eventually bought a great deal of land which he states that he spent 5 million dollars back then which equals out today to roughly one hundred and forty million in today’s money.

He tried to get the President Filmore to get his money back or push on with the project but the President refused to do so. The land was eventually sold to a British company that ended up defaulting on bank loans and that was the last of countries trying to purchase the land known as Isthmus of Tehuantepec. The Gadsden Purchase which was purchased in 1853 ended up being one of the most historical land purchases in United States history.

The land was looked at as a great piece of real estate for a growing nation in order to build a railway for the transportation of goods in the South from East to West to fulfill Manifest Destiny. This land which many lives were sacrificed on became a huge part of American history and the final piece to the mainland puzzle. It solidified boundaries between two great nations and created borders that are still in place today. There are a lot of people who are living in this huge plot of land who are very happy that they are able to live in such a free land.

Our country wouldn’t be the country it is today without the two States of New Mexico and Arizona. The vast lifestyles that these two states bring are amazing by themselves. I believe that I learned a lot about our country’s history and I am very happy that this has opened my eyes to a new sense of understanding and appreciation for what we call the southwest.


1. George Griggs, “History of Mesilla Valley, or, The Gadsden Purchase : known in Mexico as the Treaty of Mesilla”, Mesilla, N. M. Bronson Print Co. 2. David Devine, “Slavery, scandal, and steel rails”, iUniverse, New York, 2004. 3. Sylvester Mowry, “Memoir of the proposed territory of Arizona”, Tucson, Ariz. : Territorial Press, 1964. 4. William S. Kiser. “Turmoil on the Rio Grande : the territorial history of the Mesilla Valley, 1846-1865”. College Station : Texas A&M University Press, c2011. Edition 1st ed. 5. J. Fred Rippy, Anglo-American Filibusters and the Gadsden Treaty, 1922, Duke University Press. 6. Louis Bernard Schmidt, Manifest Opportunity and the Gadsden Purchase, Arizona and the West, 1961, Journal of the Southwest.

Cite this Gadsden Purchase

Gadsden Purchase. (2017, Jan 22). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/gadsden-purchase/

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