A Concise History of the U.S.-Mexican War

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President James K. Polk

"After reiterated menaces, Mexico has passed the boundary of the United States, 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."

U.S. President James K. Polk
   May 11, 1846

1. Introduction

The U.S.-Mexican War began on April 25, 1846. It ended nearly two years later with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, on February 2, 1848. Although the war was one of the most momentous conflicts of the nineteenth century, most Americans seem to know little about it today. Frequently, they confuse it with the Texas Revolution (1835-1836), the Spanish-American War (1898), or the border skirmishes with Mexican Revolutionaries that took place between 1913 and 1916. This situation is probably due in part to the overshadowing of the U.S.-Mexican War by the American Civil War, a much larger and more protracted conflict.

Since end of the U.S.-Mexican War, historians have been divided in their interpretations. Some have held the United States cupable. Others blame Mexico. Studies of the literature reveal the majority of writers have taken a balanced view, holding neither country entirely blameless.

Although Whigs such as Massachusetts Congressman John Quincy Adams and Illinois Congressman Abraham Lincoln were opposed to the war, most Americans enthusiastically supported it. At the time of the war, one celebrated critic, the writer Henry David Thoreau, was virtually unknown outside his hometown of Concord, Massachusetts and almost certainly had no influence on public opinion. Approximately 75,000 men eagerly enlisted in volunteer regiments raised by the various states, including Massachusetts, where Whig opposition to the war was strongest. Thousands more enlisted in the regular U.S. Army. There was no need for a draft. In some places, so many men flocked to recruiting stations that large numbers had to be turned away. Thousands of newly-arrived Irish and German immigrants also heeded the call to arms.

The initial battles of the war, Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, took place on Texas soil. Today, Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site, located near Brownsville, Texas, is the only U.S.-Mexican War battlefield in the U.S. National Parks system. All subsequent battles were fought in Mexico, California, and New Mexico.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the war, is still in force today. It not only fixed the Rio Grande as the boundary of Texas but required Mexico to cede to the U.S., in return for $15 million, all the territory that today makes up the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming. At the time of the cession, the Republic of Mexico exercised very little actual control over this territory, which contained less than 1% of the country's population nor was anyone aware of the gold, silver, and other minerals that would later be found there.


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