The Mexican War-1846
In the mid 1800s, the United States of America was at crossroads. Having survived challenges to independence from abroad, the growing pains of a totally unique type of free government and all of the hurdles that any young nation faces, there were still more issues to be resolved. The United States occupied a continent, but did not have total control over it. Rather, a vast portion of the new nation shared a common border with Mexico, a nation much older than the US and likewise looking out for its own interests. America’s desire to expand geographically put the US and Mexico on a crash course to war; this war would ultimately be fought from 1846-1848. Far from needless bloodshed, however, this war was necessary for the US. This research will explain and justify this assertion.
“America is destined for better deeds. It is our unparalleled glory that we have no reminiscences of battle fields, but in defence of humanity, of the oppressed of all nations, of the rights of conscience, the rights of personal enfranchisement. Our annals describe no scenes of horrid carnage, where men were led on by hundreds of thousands to slay one another, dupes and victims to emperors, kings, nobles, demons in the human form called heroes. We have had patriots to defend our homes, our liberties, but no aspirants to crowns or thrones; nor have the American people ever suffered themselves to be led on by wicked ambition to depopulate the land, to spread desolation far and wide, that a human being might be placed on a seat of supremacy” –John L. O’Sullivan on Manifest Destiny, 1839.
The promises of the Declaration of Independence-life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, eventually led to the realization that for the United States of America to reach its full potential, it would have to reach its maximum geographic size as well. With millions of people immigrating to the new nation from all over the world, and established Americans starting large families, the demand for land upon which to build homes, schools and factories and from which to gather natural resources and raise food was at an all time high (Stephenson). The ideology of American democracy, combined with the practical need for more territory expressed itself in Manifest Destiny. Not a law in itself, Manifest Destiny is more of a mindset, which held that the US had not only a need, but a divine right and responsibility to expand from the east into the mostly unsettled west. This Destiny was eventually driven by gold fever, with vast resources of the priceless metal being found in the western areas of North America (Meed).
Battles on the Borderlands
For a nation that was driven by a force as powerful as Manifest Destiny, it didn’t take long for the US government to realize that both land and riches could be obtained from their southern neighbor with whom they shared a common border-Mexico. In 1835, the US offered to buy territory from Mexico-the area of modern day California for $5 million and increased the offer to $25 million in 1845, but both offers were rejected by Mexico, a nation that suffered from unstable, corrupt government and an uncertain future. It was this instability that also led Texas to battle Mexico for independence, successfully, in the 1830s. By 1845, Texas was granted admission to the United States by an act of congress. Mexico would not take this loss of ground unanswered, however, and soon, fighting between Mexican forces and US forces on the Tex-Mex border sparked the beginning of the Mexican War of 1846 (Devoto).
The War and its Impact
On February 2, 1848, The Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo was signed, and was eventually later accepted by both the U.S. and Mexican congresses. The treaty provided for the annexation of the northern portions of Mexico to the US, in exchange for the US paying $15 million to Mexico as compensation for the land (Streeby).
Since previous peaceful offers to purchase this land from Mexico were unsuccessful, and Mexico was constantly waging battle on the Texas border, it is clear to see how the Mexican War was necessary. Looking beyond the protection of the stability of the US and the preservation of peaceful borders, the acquisition of the land involved in the aftermath of the Mexican War also speaks to necessity of the conflict. In the early 1800s, the Louisiana Purchase had added vast amounts of western territory to the United States (Stephenson). This not only more than doubled the physical size of the US, but also added huge amounts of natural resources and a natural protection against enemies. The southern portion of the US, because of the instability and violence of Mexico, was a threat to the stability of the US and also limited the size of the nation. Therefore, these concerns, driven by the ideology of Manifest Destiny and little other choice to counter constant violence, made the Mexican War all the more necessary if the US were to mature to the next level.
Without the Mexican War, it is feasible that Mexico could have eventually not only taken back Texas, but could have continued forward and consumed the US as well. As such, for the US, the war was not only a matter of opportunity, but one of necessity as well. Diplomacy and defensive tactics had failed, so war remained the only option. Thankfully, this option proved effective for the new nation.
As bloody and tragic as it was, the Mexican War, as has been proven, was necessary for countless reasons. Therefore, in closing, let it be said that as hard as it is to go through wars, in the case of this war, the ends truly justified the means.
Devoto, Bernard. The Year of Decision, 1846. Boston: Little, Brown, 1943.
Meed, Douglas. The Mexican War, 1846-1848. New York: Routledge, 2003.
Stephenson, Nathaniel W. Texas and the Mexican War: A Chronicle of the Winning of the Southwest. New Haven, CT: Yale Unviersity Press, 1921.
Streeby, Shelley. “American Sensations: Empire, Amnesia, and the Us-Mexican War.” American Literary History 13.1 (2001): 1-40.