Was the Mexican American War a War of American Conquest or a Response to Mexican Provocation? The Mexican American War was fought between 1846 and 1848.
It was a conflict between the United States and Mexico over not only the ownership of Texas, but of which country would control much of the western part of North America. The cry of “Remember the Alamo!“ comes from the Mexican American War, as one of the most important battles of that war was fought at the Alamo fort in Texas.
The war has many important lessons for Americans today, as it parallels the current issue in this country of bringing our brand of democracy to the rest of the world. Even in the 19th century, America had this as an aim, and this aim was expressed in the Mexican American War.
While the true reason for the war has been debated throughout the years, with some saying the war was an American response to Mexican aggression, while others say it was a war of American conquest, a look at the facts and circumstances of the war show that there really is no question regarding its cause.
The Mexican American War was clearly a war of American conquest.In order to understand how the Mexican American War was a war of American conquest, it is first necessary to understand how some historians see it as an American response to Mexican aggression. In the early nineteenth century, much of the land in what is now the western part of the United States belonged to Mexico.
Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1822, and its significant land holdings extended from what is what is Mexico today all the way up through California. The various territories of Mexico were loosely allied with one another, as it was difficult to govern so vast a territory from one central location. Mexican general Santa Anna was largely responsible for consolidating power among the various Mexican territories into one centralized Mexican nation. However, not all of the territories appreciated Santa Anna’s attempts to control them, and several rebelled against his authority.
The territory of Texas was one of these territories.By the time of the Mexican American War, Americans had been living in the western territories for years. While still under Spanish rule, these territories allowed anyone to live there who was Catholic and who would swear allegiance to the Spanish king. Therefore, when Texas rebelled against Mexican authority, the United States was quick to support the territory, as the interest of many American citizens already living there was at stake.
Texas had many grievances against the Mexican government, including the Mexican government’s abolition of slavery and the abolition of the federalist constitution of 1824 in favor of a central government headed by Santa Anna.3 Unable to live under Mexican rule, Texas revolted in a successful, but violent,revolution in 1836. The infamous battle of the Alamo happened3Machado, Daisy L. Of Borders and Margins: Hispanic Disciples In Texas, 1888-1945.
Oxford University Press: London.2003.during the Texas Revolution, and many Americans helping the cause died in that battle. Ultimately, Texas won its revolution, defeating Santa Anna and the entire Mexican army.
Texans captured Santa Anna and released him only when he promised to recognize Texas’s new sovereignty. Santa Anna was released, but Mexico never officially recognized Texas sovereignty, and continued to look upon Texas as a rebel territory that needed to be brought back into the fold.While Mexico was plotting ways to take Texas back, Texas was busy establishing diplomatic ties with the United States and Great Britain. Both nations recognized Texas as its own nation, and it became known as the Republic of Texas.
4 While Texas governed itself for the better part of a decade, most citizens of Texas wished for the nation to be annexed by the United States. After all, there were already plenty of United States citizens living there, the territory bordered the territory of the United States following the Louisiana Purchase, and the republic had open and friendly trading and diplomatic relations with theUnited States. Further, parts of the United States were stillpracticing slavery, which Texas desired. While Southerners in the United States were all in favor of annexing Texas, Northerners were opposed to bringing in another slave state.
Therefore, there was much wrangling and debating in Congress over whether or not Texas should be admitted to the union as a state,4Noy, Gary. Distant Horizon: Documents from the Nineteenth Century American West. Universityof Nebraska Press: Nebraska. 1999.
and if so, whether or not it should be allowed to be a slave state. Ultimately, Texas was admitted as a state in 1846, ten years after declaring its independence from Mexico.The Mexican government was furious at what it considered the interference of the United States in a Mexican matter. Mexico still claimed Texas as part of its territory, and by annexing Texas, the United States had essentially slapped Mexico in the face.
Mexico claimed the United States had unjustly and illegally seized sovereign territory of Mexico, which was tantamount to a declaration of war as far as Mexico was concerned. European nations, which had recognized the independence of Texas all along, tried to persuade Mexico to stand down in this matter, but for Mexico, getting Texas back was a matter of national pride. Mexico became determined to show the United States which country Texas really belonged to.The final straw in the matter, as far as Mexico was concerned, was when the United States sent a representative, John Slidell, to Mexico to offer to buy the Mexican territories of California and New Mexico.
The United States wanted these territories in order to keep Britain from exercising any territorial claims there, and also wanted access to the Pacific Ocean in order to better facilitate trade with Asia. Though Slidell presented the Mexican government with a very generous offer, and the Mexican president was inclined to accept, the Mexican people felt that Slidell’s presence in their country and his offer to buy more of their territory after stealing Texas was a national insult. As a result, the Mexican president was forced to refuse the offer, and Slidell left the country with the opinion that Mexico should be taught a lesson in humility.After that, it was inevitable that hostilities would commence, and indeed they did in 1846, not long after Slidell left Mexico.
The Mexican government claimed land along the Nueces River as the boundary between Texas and Mexico. However, Texas claimed that land as its own, and pointed to its treaty with Santa Anna giving Texas this land as proof of its claim. The Mexican government claimed that treaty was invalid because Santa Anna had no authority to sign it, had signed it under duress, and it had never been ratified by the government of Mexico. Mexico began moving troops into the area to defend their claim, while the United States did likewise, constructing a fort and sending in military forces to defend what it saw as land that now belonged to the United States.
After a few skirmishes, war was officially declared against Mexico in May of 1846, while Mexico officially declared war against the United States in July 1846. While the Mexican American War was a relatively short one, only lasting until February 1848, it was a particularly violent one, with many bloody hand-to-hand battles. The war was so violent because its outcome was a matter of national pride for each side, and as a result, soldiers on both sides fervently believed in the cause they were fighting for. In the end, though, the United States won, not through a greater sense of patriotism, but through superior weaponry.
While the Mexicans were using old rifles from the Napoleonic Wars and employed outdated fighting techniques, the United Sates was using state of the art modern weaponry and updated fighting techniques. This advantage led to a United States win, and the treaty of Guadeloupe Hildago was signed on February 2, 1848. This treaty gave the United States official possession of Texas, as well as California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming.1 In return, Mexico received $18,250,000 from the United States.
Just like with the Louisiana Purchase, the United States had once again doubled the size of its territory in one fell swoop.Was the Mexican American War an American response to Mexican aggression, or was it part of the American drive of expansion across the North American continent? Americans certainly had a belief in manifest destiny, what they perceived as their God-given right to occupy the entire North American continent. Thisbelief had been expressed to Spain, Mexico, Britain, and other European countries by President James Monroe in the Monroe Doctrine, when he had specifically warned other nations of attempting to interfere in the affairs of the Western hemisphere, as the United States considered that its sole province. Many Americans embraced the idea of manifest destiny.
It fit in well1Black, Jeremy. America as a Military Power: From the American Revolution to the Civil War.Greenwood Press: New York. 2000.
with other popular notions of the times, including the ideas of the exceptional quality of America in the world, the superiority of the American form of democracy, and the superiority of what was then called the “Anglo Saxon race.”6 Since America and its people were so superior to the rest of the world, in the minds of Americans, it only stood to reason that America had the right to expand and bring her unique brand of democracy anywhere in the world she wanted to go.Annexing Texas fit right in with the idea of manifest destiny. Texas was part of the North American continent, therefore America had a right, a privilege, and a duty to make Texas part of the country.
The fact that Texans by and large wanted to become a part of the United States simply made the matter all the more straightforward. That Texas wanted to be a part of the United States was simply an easy reason for the United States to justify its war with Mexico over the territory. The fact is, the United States would likely have annexed Texas eventually even without the Texas Revolution, and with or withoutTexas’s permission. There may have been a different war over annexing Texas, or the United States may simply have purchased Texas from Mexico under friendlier circumstances.
It may not have happened as soon as it did, but it most likely would have happened. The belief in manifest destiny among the general populace of the United States was too strong to allow such a6Weinberg, Albert K. Manifest Destiny: A Study of Nationalist Expansionism in AmericanHistory. Johns Hopkins Press: New York.
1935.large piece of the North American continent to go unclaimed by America.Of course, not all Americans were supportive of manifest destiny, and these were the same Americans who opposed the Mexican American War. In fact, much like the Iraq war of today, support for the Mexican American War was drawn decidedly along party lines.
The Democrats, firm believers in manifest destiny, solidly supported the war. They believed it was the right of the United States to take Texas, and they believed in the validity of the treaty Texas signed with Mexico giving it independence. However, the Whig party opposed the war, and its members were suspicious of manifest destiny. Robert Winthrop, a member of Congress in 1846, criticized the notion of manifest destiny as being chauvinistic toward other nations, saying “I suppose the right of a manifest destiny to spread will not be admitted to exist in any nation except the universal Yankee nation.
”5 Winthrop was expressing what many in the Whig partybelieved, which was that the United States was taking on airs ofgrandeur to which it was not entitled, that it was not the onlynation in the world that believed it had a right to expand itsterritory. He was also allowing for the notion that perhaps Mexico might feel a manifest destiny of its own, and questioning the right of the United States to declare Mexico’s rights in that regard to be invalid.5Rowe, John Carlos. Literary Culture and U.
S. Imperialism: From the Revolution to WWII.Oxford University Press: London. 2000.
The official American justification for the Mexican American War was that Mexico had invaded American territory (Texas) and shed American blood there (in battles in Texas in which Americans were killed). Because Mexico had started the fight by moving troops into territory that belonged to Texas (which was now part of the United States), it had provoked war. It is true that Mexico did make the first aggressive moves in this conflict, and that, at first glance, may seem like reason enough for the United States to respond with like violence, as the United States would be seen as defending itself against Mexican hostility. However, many Whigs in Congress questioned the true motives for declaring war, and rightfully so.
After all, Texas and its rightful ownership had been an issue for both Mexico and the United States for some time, and an issue between the two countries for nearly a decade. It was an issue long brewing that had never been decided definitively. The United States wanted Texas, had made no secret of that fact, and had brazenly annexed Texas while Mexico still claimed it. Certainly, Mexico had the right to see this as an act of war on the part of the United States, and could hardly be blamed for wanting to appease its national pride in the matter.
When the United States annexed Texas, it surely had to foresee the future consequences that action would likely bring. The beginnings of Mexico’s hostilities toward the United States could not have come as a surprise.Whigs in Congress felt the same way. Abraham Lincoln, then a representative to Congress from Illinois, openly questioned the motives upon which the war was started.
The original justification for the war was the killing by Mexican troops of eleven American soldiers along the Nueces River in what became known as the Thornton Affair.4 Abraham Lincoln demanded to be shown the exact spot upon which American blood had been shed on American soil in the Thornton Affair, showing a prudent suspicion for the true motives of the war. Representative Robert Toombs of Georgia, the Whig leader in Congress at the time, took it a step further, condemning President James K. Polk for instigating an illegal war by usurping war-making powers that, under the Constitution, belonged solely to Congress, and by seizing territory that had long belonged to Mexico without justification.
Toombs said, “Let us put a check upon this lust of dominion. We had territory enough, Heaven knew.”2With the Democrats holding the majority in Congress, though,and with most of the country supporting the Democratic position,the Mexican American War was almost a foregone conclusion from the time Texas declared its independence from Mexico. The belief in manifest destiny was powerful among the people of the United States, and any small act of aggression on Mexico’s part regarding Texas, once it had declared its freedom, was all that2Foos, Paul.
A Short, Offhand Killing Affair: Soldiers and Social Conflict During the MexicanAmerican War. University of North Carolina Press: North Carolina. 2002.4Noy, Gary.
Distant Horizon: Documents from the Nineteenth Century American West. Universityof Nebraska Press: Nebraska. 1999.was needed to justify going to war.
In fact, Mexico’s ongoingclaim to Texas was really all that was needed for the United States to justify going to war with Mexico; any military movements on Mexico’s part were ultimately inconsequential. Mexico’s ongoing claim to Texas was a direct challenge to America’s treasured concept of manifest destiny, and such a challenge could not be tolerated. As long as Americans believed in manifest destiny, and as long as Mexicans believed that Texas was theirs by right, war was inevitable.The war, in fact, was not in response to Mexican aggression at all, as Mexico’s actions regarding Texas were predictable.
The war was a result of America’s desire to expand, to bring its brand of democracy to the world, and its belief in its right to do so. The Mexican American War was, for the United States, not a war of defense of territory, but a war of conquest, justified by manifest destiny. It is a war we are still, in many ways, fighting today. Bibliography1.
Black, Jeremy. America as a Military Power: From theAmerican Revolution to the Civil War. Greenwood Press:New York. 2000.
2. Foos, Paul. A Short, Offhand Killing Affair: Soldiers andSocial Conflict During the Mexican American War.University of North Carolina Press: North Carolina.
2002.3. Machado, Daisy L. Of Borders and Margins: Hispanic DisciplesIn Texas, 1888-1945.
Oxford University Press: London.2003.4. Noy, Gary.
Distant Horizon: Documents from the NineteenthCentury American West. University of Nebraska Press:Nebraska. 1999.5.
Rowe, John Carlos. Literary Culture and U.S. Imperialism:From the Revolution to WWII.
Oxford University Press:London. 2000.6. Weinberg, Albert K.
Manifest Destiny: A Study of NationalistExpansionism in American History. Johns Hopkins Press:New York. 1935.
Cite this The Mexican American War
The Mexican American War. (2017, Apr 06). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-mexican-american-war/