|Mexico refuses to recognize the Annexation of Texas.
The annexation of Texas was a perfectly fair transaction.
For nine years, since the victory of San Jacinto in 1836,
Texas had been an independent republic, whose reconquest
Mexico had not the slightest chance of effecting. In fact,
at the very moment of annexation, the Mexican government, at
the suggestion of England, had agreed to recognize the
independence of Texas, on condition that the republic should
not join itself to the United States. We were not taking
Mexican territory, then, in annexing Texas. The new state
had come into the Union claiming the Rio Grande as her
southern and western boundary. By the terms of annexation
all boundary disputes with Mexico were referred by Texas to
the government of the United States. President Polk sent
John Slidell of Louisiana to Mexico in the autumn of 1845 to
adjust any differences over the Texan claims. But though
Slidell labored for months to get a hearing, two successive
presidents of revolution-torn Mexico refused to recognize
him, and he was dismissed from the country in August,
Taylor attacked on the Rio Grande.
The massing of Mexican troops on the southern bank of the
Rio Grande, coupled with the refusal of the Mexican
government to receive Slidell, led President Polk to order
General Zachary Taylor to move to the borders. Taylor
marched to the Rio Grande and fortified a position on the
northern bank. The Mexican and the American troops were thus
facing each other across the river. When Taylor refused to
retreat to the Nueces, the Mexican commander crossed the Rio
Grande, ambushed a scouting force of 63 Americans, and
killed or wounded 16 of them (April 24, 1846).
The United States accepts War with Mexico.
When the news of the attack reached Washington early in
May, Polk sent a special message to Congress, concluding
with these words:
"We have tried every effort at reconciliation...
But now, after reiterated menaces, Mexico has passed
the boundary of the United States [the Rio Grande], has
invaded our territory and shed American blood upon the
American soil. She has proclaimed that hostilities have
commenced, and that the two nations are at war. As war
exists, and, notwithstanding all our efforts to avoid
it, exists by the act of Mexico herself, we are called
upon by every consideration of duty and patriotism to
vindicate with decision the honor, the rights, and the
interests of our country."
The House and Senate, by very large majorities (174 to 14,
and 40 to 2), voted 50,000 men and $10,000,000 for the
prosecution of the war.
Taylor invades Mexico.
Meanwhile, General Taylor had driven the Mexicans back to
the south bank of the Rio Grande in the battles of Palo Alto
and Resaca de la Palma. Six days after the vote of Congress
sanctioning the war, he crossed the Rio Grande and occupied
the Mexican frontier town of Matamoros, whence he proceeded
during the summer and autumn of 1846 to capture the capitals
of three of the Mexican provinces.
The Occupation of California and New Mexico.
As soon as hostilities began, Commodore Sloat, in command
of our squadron in the Pacific, was ordered to seize
California, and General [Stephen Watts] Kearny was sent to
invade New Mexico. The occupation of California was
practically undisputed. Mexico had only the faintest shadow
of authority in the province, and the 6000 white inhabitants
made no objection to seeing the flag of the United States
raised over their forts. Kearny started with 1800 men from
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in June, and on the eighteenth of
August defeated the force of 4000 Mexicans and Indians which
disputed his occupation of Santa Fé. After garrisoning this
important post he detached Colonel Doliphan with 850 men to
march through the northern provinces of Mexico and effect a
juncture with General Taylor at Monterey, while he himself
with only 100 men continued his long journey of 1500 miles
to San Diego, California, where he joined Sloat's successor,
Taylor's Victory at Buena Vista.
After these decided victories and uninterrupted marches
of Taylor, Kearny, Sloat, Stockton, and Doniphan, the
Mexican government was offered a fair chance to treat for
peace, which it refused. Then President Polk decided, with
the unanimous consent of his cabinet, to strike at the heart
of Mexico. General Winfield Scott, a hero of the War of
1812, was put in command of an army of about 12,000 men, to
land at Vera Cruz and fight his way up the mountains to the
capital city of Mexico. Santa
Anna, who, by the rapid shift of revolutions, was again
dictator in Mexico, heard of this plan to attack the capital
and hastened north with 20,000 troops to surprise and
destroy Taylor's army before Scott should have time to take
Vera Cruz. But Taylor, with an army one forth the size of
Santa Anna's, drove the Mexicans back in the hotly contested
battle of Buena Vista (February 23, 1847), securing the
Californian and New Mexican conquests. Santa Anna hastened
southward to the defense of the city of Mexico.
Scott take the city of Mexico.
Scott took Vera Cruz in March and worked his way slowly
but surely, against forces always superior to his own, up to
the very gates of Mexico (August, 1847). Here he paused, by
the President's orders, to allow the Mexicans another chance
to accept the terms of peace which the United States
offered,–the cession by Mexico of New Mexico and
California in return for a large payment of money. The
Mexican commissioners, however, insisted on having both
banks of the Rio Grande and all of California up to the
neighborhood of San Francisco, besides receiving damages for
injuries inflicted by the American troops in their
invasions. These claims were preposterous, coming from a
conquered country, and there was nothing left for Scott to
do but to resume military operations. Santa Anna defended
the capital with a force of 30,000 men, but the Mexicans
were no match for the American soldiers. Scott stormed the
fortified hill of Chapultepec and advanced to the gates of
the city. On the thirteenth of September his troops entered
the Mexican capital and raised the Stars and Strips over
"the palace of the Montezumas."
Polk's Efforts to secure Peace.
From the beginning of the war Polk had been negotiating
for peace. He had kept Slidell in Mexico long after the
opening of hostilities and had sent Nicholas Trist as
special peace commissioner to join Scott's army at Vera Cruz
and to offer Mexico terms of peace at the earliest possible
moment. He had allowed Santa Anna to return to Mexico from
his exile in Cuba in the summer of 1846, because the wily
and treacherous dictator held out false promises of
effecting a reconciliation between Mexico and the United
States. He had asked Congress for an appropriation of
$2,000,000 for peace negotiations when General Taylor was
still near the Rio Grande, ten days before General Kearny
had taken Santa Fé and the province of New Mexico, and
before General Scott's campaign had been thought of.
The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo.
When the Mexican commissioners made advances for peace at
the beginning of the year 1848, they were given terms almost
as liberal as those offered them before Scott had stormed
and occupied their capital. By the treaty concluded at
Guadalupe-Hidalgo, February 2, 1848, Mexico was required to
cede California and New Mexico to the United States and to
recognize the Rio Grande as the southern and western
boundary of Texas. In return, the United States paid Mexico
$15,000,000 cash and assumed some $3,250,000 more in claims
of American citizens on the Mexican government. Considering
the facts that California was scarcely under Mexican control
at all and might have been taken at any moment by Great
Britain, France, or Russia; that New Mexico was still the
almost undisturbed home of Indian tribes; that the land from
the Nueces to the Rio Grande was almost a desert; and that
the American troops were in possession of the Mexican
capital, the terms offered Mexico were very generous. Polk
was urged by many to annex the whole country of Mexico to
the United States, but he refused to consider such a
The Justice of the Mexican War.
The Mexican War has generally been condemned by American
historians as "the foulest blot on our national
honor," a war forced upon Mexico by slaveholders greedy
for new territory, a perfect illustration of La Fontaine's
fable of the wolf picking a quarrel with the lamb solely for
an excuse to devour him. But Mexico had insulted our flag,
plundered our commerce, imprisoned our citizens, lied to our
representatives, and spurned our envoys. As early as 1837
President Jackson said that Mexico's offenses "would
justify in the eyes of all nations immediate war." To
be sure we were a strong nation and Mexico a weak one. But
weakness should not give immunity to continued and open
insolence. We had a right to annex Texas after that republic
had maintained its independence for nine years; yet Mexico
made annexation a cause of war. We were willing to discuss
the boundaries of Texas with Mexico; but our accredited
envoy was rejected by two successive Mexican presidents, who
were afraid to oppose the war spirit of their country. We
even refrained from taking Texas into the Union until Great
Britain had interfered so far as to persuade Mexico to
recognize the independence of Texas if she would refuse to
join the United States.
The Moral Aspect of the Annexation of Texas.
If there was anything disgraceful in the expansionist
program of the decade 1840-1850, it was not the Mexican War,
but the annexation of Texas. The position of the
abolitionists on this question was clear and logical. They
condemned the annexation of Texas as a wicked extension of
the slavery area, notwithstanding all arguments about
"fulfilling our manifest destiny" or
"attaining our natural boundaries." To annex Texas
might be legally right, they said, but it was morally wrong.
James Russell Lowell, in his magnificent poem "The
Present Crisis" (1844), warned the annexationists that
"They enslave their children's children who make
compromise with sin." We certainly assumed a great
moral responsibility when we annexed Texas. However, it was
not to Mexico that we were answerable, but to the
enlightened conscience of the nation.
Completion of the Program of Expansion.
With our acquisition of the Oregon territory to the
forty-ninth parallel by the treaty of 1846 with Great
Britain, and the cession of California and New Mexico by the
treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848, the boundaries of the
United States reached practically their present limits. The
work of westward extension was done. Expansion, the
watchword of the decade 1840-1850, was dropped from our
vocabulary for fifty years, and the immense energies of the
nation were directed toward finding a plan on which the new
territory could be organized in harmony with the conflicting
interests of the free and slave sections of our country.