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Mexican-American War

Mexican-American War

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The first important dates relating to the Mexican-American War were the start of the Texas War for Independence, specifically date on which independence was declared on March 2, 1836, the fall of The Alamo on March 6, and the end of the war not long after, which can be largely dated to the victory of Sam Houston over the Mexican army at San Jacinto on April 21 of the same year.The United States recognized the independence of Texas on March 3, 1837, but did not immediately annex Texas as state. From that date, war with Mexico became nearly inevitable.There was a period during which reconciliation seemed possible in in September, 1845, the United States sent John Slidell was a minister with the power to negotiate the purchase of California and New Mexico. In January, 1846, President Polk ordered General Zachary Taylor to advance to the Rio Grande, which was provocation that resulted in some skirmishes. The date of Polk`s war message to Congress was May 11.A small expedition under Colonel Stephen Kearny received instructions on July 3, 1846, to go via the Santa Fe Trail from Fort Leavenworth to take over New Mexico. They reached Santa Fe on April 18, and proceeded to Los Angeles, where they arrived on January 10, 1847.Other important dates include the capture of Vera Cruz on March 29, 1847, and of Mexico City on September 14. Senate was March 10.


and Texas

Central Mexico



March 1

Tyler signs Texas
annexation resolution

March 4

Polk inaugurated

March 28

Mexico breaks diplomatic relations

November - January

Slidell Mission


Frémont in Upper California


March 28

Taylor to Rio Grande

April 23

Mexico declares war

April 25

Mexicans attack Taylor
on American soil

May 8

PaloAlto, TX

May 9

Resacade la Palma, TX

May 13

Congress declares war

May 18

US takes Matamoros

June 14

Bear Flag Republic
proclaimed at Sonoma

July 7

Sloat takes Monterey, CA;
later Yerba Buena, Sonoma

August 18

Kearny occupies Santa Fe

August 22


September 19

Battle of Monterrey (Mex.)begins

November 16

Taylor takes Saltillo


Kearny arrives in California



Winfield Scott prepares invasion force

January 10

Kearny and Stockton take Los Angeles

January 13

Frémont negotiates Treatyof Cahuenga

February 22

Buena Vista begins

February 28

Chihuahua falls

March 29

Vera Cruz occupied

April 9

March on Mexico City begins

April 17-18

Cerro Gordo

May 14-15



Trist peace effort

August 19


August 20


September 8

Molino del Rey

September 12


September 13

MexicoCity falls



Gold discovered in California

February 2

Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgosigned

March 10

US Senate ratifies treaty

May 30

Mexico ratifies treaty

June 12

Last US soldiers depart Mexico City

Military Resources: Mexican War, 1846-1848

"Monuments, Manifest Destiny, and Mexico"
Michael Dear's article which tells the story of the survey of the U.S.-Mexico border following the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. From NARA's publication Prologue.

Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo
Digitized version of the original document that ended the Mexican-American War.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
A Teaching with Documents lesson plan about the treaty that ended the Mexican-American War.

Other Resources

A Continent Divided: The U.S.-Mexican War
A web site created by a collaboration between the Center for Greater Southwestern Studies and the Library at the University of Texas at Arlington for both scholars and teachers.

A Guide to the Mexican War
This guide provides links to digital materials related to the Mexican War that are available on the Library of Congress web site.

The Mexican-American War
"This web site presents a historical overview of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), as well as primary documents and images related to the conflict."

Mexican War
The Texas State Historical Association offers this chapter from The Handbook of Texas.

Mexican War Dead or Veterans
From the American Battle Monuments Commission, this site remembers soldiers from the Mexican War who are buried in the Mexico City National Cemetery.

Robert E. Lee Mexican War Maps
An online exhibit of 30 original military maps owned by Robert E. Lee from the holdings of the Virginia Military Institute.

U.S.-Mexican War (1846-1848)
This PBS site chronicles the events of the border disputes through multiple points of view to provide an enlightened perspective on the subject. Includes histories, articles, essays, a timeline, and a moderated discussion area for visitors.

U.S.-Mexican War
A site rich in the history of the war, by the Descendants of Mexican War Veterans. Read battle plans and orders, peruse letters, and see images of the war and veterans.

U.S.-Mexican War: The Zachary Taylor Encampment in Corpus Christi
Created by volunteers at the Corpus Christi Public Libraries, this informational site offers images, letters, newspaper accounts, and more, of the Mexican War in the Corpus Christi, Texas, area.

This page was last reviewed on July 22, 2019.
Contact us with questions or comments.

The Impact of the Mexican American War on American Society and Politics

Wikimedia Commons

On February 2, 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed which officially ended the Mexican-American War. However, as the guns fell silent, and the men returned home, a new war was brewing, one that continues to shape the course of this country to this day.

While Ulysses S. Grant might have argued that the Civil War was God’s punishment for the Mexican-American War, a “wicked war" that was rooted in imperialism and the expansion of slavery, many Americans supported the Mexican-American War as they viewed it as the fulfillment of Manifest Destiny: the promise that the United States would extend from “sea to shining sea.” While Manifest Destiny remains a core of U.S. national identity, in the 1840s it encouraged a slew of ideological debates over this potential new territory, specifically if the territory should be free or enslaved. The Louisiana Purchase caused a major crisis over the organization of new states which Congress ultimately resolved with the Missouri Compromise, the compromise to end all compromises. It is important to note that the debates in 1820 were largely split among party lines, i.e. Democrats vs. Whigs. However, the Mexican American War reopened past wounds and sent the United States into another legislative crisis.

Even before the war was won and territory had been ceded, Congress was already discussing how to organize any potential new territory gained as reparations from Mexico. One of the most important of proposals was the Wilmot Proviso which Representative David Wilmot of Pennsylvania proposed in 1846, two years before the war ended. Under this proviso, any territory gained by war with Mexico should be free and thus reserved exclusively for whites. Wilmot was a free-soiler, which meant that he did not want to abolish slavery in the places it currently existed but rather prevent its expansion to new territories. However, Wilmot was also a Northern Democrat, and most Democrats supported slavery and protected it, even if they themselves did not own slaves. Many Northern Whigs believed in something called the Slave Power Conspiracy, a conspiracy theory in which slaveowners (the Slave Power) dominated the country’s political system even though they were a minority group, which was accomplished through a coalition with “dough-faced Democrats,” Northern Democrats who supported and protected slavery. While the Wilmot Proviso failed in the Senate, it passed in the House of Representatives because of a coalition between Northern Democrats and Northern Whigs and illustrates the first shift from party alliances to sectional alliances. Indignation over the Wilmot Proviso united southerners against northern threats to their most valuable institution, slavery. After this vote, the antebellum political landscape was forever changed.

The failure of the Wilmot Proviso only put off the issue of slavery for so long. With the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico ceded over 525,000 square miles of territory to the United States in exchange for $15 million and the assumption of Mexican debts to American citizens, which reopened the slavery issue. In order to promote party loyalty without aggravating sectional tensions, the Whigs did not include specific resolutions on slavery in their official platform for the Election of 1848. The Democrats ran on popular sovereignty, which is the idea that the status of a territory will be determined by the people residing in that territory. Popular sovereignty is neither explicitly pro-slavery or anti-slavery however, it does nullify the Missouri Compromise. Neither party adopted a firm stance on slavery in the 1848 election however, the free-soilers made the election about slavery. Consequently, the Whigs and the Democrats developed campaign materials to be sectionally distributed which highlighted their candidate's support and opposition for slavery respectively. The separate campaign materials in this election reveal the growing sectional divide in antebellum America.

Despite the growing sectionalism, Zachary Taylor, a hero of the Mexican-American War and a slaveholding Whig was elected president in 1848 and served for two years before dying in office of natural causes. The Mexican-American War projected Taylor into a position of celebrity and enabled his election in 1848. After his election, Taylor promised not to intercede with Congress’s decision for the organization of the Mexican Cession. Many southerners felt betrayed by Taylor, a slaveowner from Louisiana, as they equated his position with those of a free-soiler. In this time of heightened sectional tensions, southerners believed that if one did not actively protect slavery and its expansion, one supported abolition.

As a direct result of the Mexican Cession, the California Gold Rush began in 1849 which caused a massive frenzy to organize and admit California into the Union. The Missouri Compromise stated that any territory north of the 36°30’ parallel would be free however, the line would divide California into two sections. California was never a US territory and approved a free constitution, elected a Governor and legislature and applied for statehood by November 1849. Since California did not wish to be divided into two separate states, a new compromise was formed, aptly named the Compromise of 1850. Under the Compromise of 1850, California was admitted as a free state without deciding the fate of the remainder of the Mexican Cession. Additionally, under this compromise, there was the federal assumption of Texas debt, the abolishment of the slave trade in the District of Columbia, and a stronger fugitive slave law. While controversial, the Compromise of 1850 alleviated the growing tensions over slavery and delayed a full-blown crisis over the issue.

However, in 1854 tensions over slavery once again skyrocketed over the organization of Kansas and Nebraska. While Kansas and Nebraska were not part of the Mexican Cession, their debates over their organization are linked to the Mexican-American War. As stated above, the Mexican-American War re-opened the discussions over how to organize territory, and one of the proposed solutions was popular sovereignty. While the Compromise of 1850 elected not to include popular sovereignty, it reemerged in 1854 with the Kansas-Nebraska Act, where Kansas and Nebraska would be organized using popular sovereignty. The Kansas-Nebraska Act caused Bleeding Kansas, where pro-slavery and anti-slavery Americans flocked to Kansas in an attempt to establish either a slave or free government in that state, which eventually erupted into violence where neighbor killed a neighbor in the name of slavery and abolition. Bleeding Kansas is also the first instance where John Brown, famous for his 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry, used violence to enact his radical abolition vision. Moreover, the Kansas-Nebraska Act propelled future President Abraham Lincoln into the national spotlight. The Kansas-Nebraska Act was Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois’s pet project and popular sovereignty is often associated with Douglas. Lincoln and Douglas engaged in a series of debates in 1858, which mainly focused on popular sovereignty and slavery’s expansion. While Lincoln lost the senatorial election in 1858 to Douglas, he became well known because of the debates, which positioned himself to be the Republican candidate for the Presidential Election of 1860. Additionally, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was the final nail in the coffin for the Whig Party and paved the way for the establishment of the Republican Party, the first prominent anti-slavery party which was rooted in sectionalism.

Ralph Waldo Emerson prophetically wrote, “Mexico will poison us.” The Mexican-American War and the massive territory gained reopened debates over slavery which diminished party alliances and increased sectional alliances. These debates over slavery eventually led to the demise of the Second Party System and paved the way for the rise of Republicanism. Sectional tensions had never been stronger and there were open discussions of disunion which increased as the 1850s progressed. All these tensions and issues would come to head with the Election of 1860 and eventually with the Civil War, where brother fought against brother. To say "Mexico poisoned" the United States is an understatement, the bloodshed during the Civil War rivaled any other American conflict and today we are still in the process of healing wounds that occurred over 150 years ago.

The Flying Artillery Arrived

Kean Collection/Getty Images

Cannons and mortars had been part of warfare for centuries. Traditionally, however, these artillery pieces were hard to move: once they were placed before a battle, they tended to stay put. The US changed all that in the Mexican-American war by deploying the new "flying artillery:" cannons and artillerymen that could be quickly redeployed around a battlefield. This new artillery wreaked havoc with the Mexicans and was particularly decisive during the Battle of Palo Alto.

Important Facts of the Mexican War

This was the first time in history that people were able to receive the latest news from the reporters on the front via telegraph. It made the general awareness of the war and what battles were lost or won known to a greater number of people. American troops used the new flying artillery: cannons and artillery soldiers that could move around the battlefield more quickly than ever before, starting to change the way battles were fought.

From Armchair General Magazine:

In 1846 the Mexican War erupted along the Rio Grande River over the disputed Trans-Nueces region. The Mexican government insisted that the actual border was the Rio Nueces, 200 miles to the north. The intervening Trans-Nueces region was an uninhibited wasteland of no particular economic interest to either government, but the 1,800-mile-long Rio Grande stretched all the way to the Rocky Mountains – using it as the border could expand Texas into an empire.

The U.S. government’s 1845 legislation admitting Texas as a state did not define the territory it encompassed. Neither did the Mexican government define it when, at the same time, Mexico offered the Republic of Texas provisional recognition if Texas refused to become part of the United States.

Events developed slowly but steadily, and in August 1845 U.S. President James K. Polk sent an Army of Occupation under General Zachary Taylor to encamp at what is now Corpus Christi, just inside the southern boundary of the disputed Trans-Nueces territory. With later reinforcements, by spring of 1846 Taylor had nearly 4,000 soldiers, all regulars.

Meanwhile, in December 1845 Polk sent an emissary to the latest president of Mexico, General Jose Herrera, who had indicated a willingness to negotiate. If Herrera would sign over the Trans-Nueces region, Polk offered that the United States would forgive the $3 million in longstanding claims U.S. citizens had against the Mexican government for expropriations and losses they had suffered during the Mexican War of Independence. Additionally, Polk was offering up to $25 million to buy the rest of what was then northern Mexico. Total revenue for the debt-mired Mexican government had been only $20.6 million in 1844, its best year to that time (versus expenses of $31.3 million). Surely, the Mexican government would find such money irresistible?

But as Polk’s emissary, John Slidell, arrived in Mexico, Polk’s plans were leaked. The Mexican press went ballistic – who put up a for sale sign? Herrera therefore did not dare receive Slidell. To boost his damaged credibility, Herrera then ordered General Mariano Paredes in San Luis Potosi to march north to the disputed border. Paredes, who had recently helped Herrera overthrow General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and send him into exile, boasted a force of 8,000 soldiers – twice the number of men in Taylor’s army.

Paredes, indeed, did march. But he led his army south, to Mexico City, where he overthrew Herrera and installed himself as Mexico’s new president.

Dollar diplomacy having backfired, Polk told Taylor to move his army to the Rio Grande. Taylor sortied on March 8, 1846. On March 28, the force arrived at the Rio Grande opposite Matamoros, having made a side trip to seize a port for receiving supplies by sea at Point Isabel, 23 miles northeast of Matamoros on the Gulf of Mexico coast.

Taylor’s army encamped on a duly leased farm field directly across the Rio Grande from Matamoros and began to construct an earthen fort that was intended to communicate a permanent U.S. presence to Mexican authorities. Built in a vague star shape with six corner bastions, the fort featured walls that were 9.5 feet high by 15 feet thick and its 800-yard perimeter was fronted by a ditch 8.5 feet deep. Thousands of cubic yards of dirt had to be excavated with hand tools, causing the work to continue night and day.

Although Matamoros had a garrison of about 3,000 Mexican soldiers, the two sides did not exchange gunfire. The U.S. force wanted to finish the fort, and the Mexican force suffered from a command vacuum.


Paredes, following his coup in Mexico City, had dismissed the commander of the Matamoros area, General Mariano Arista (a future president of Mexico), for not supporting his takeover. He then had General Pedro de Ampudia scrape together about 2,200 second-line troops left in San Luis Potosi and head north. Ampudia’s arrival in Matamoros brought the garrison to 5,200 soldiers and 26 cannon. However, Ampudia’s appointment triggered a political crisis, as his well-earned reputation for brutality against Mexican civilians caused the locals to demand Arista be restored to his position.

Paredes eventually complied, but then nothing happened while the seething Ampudia awaited Arista’s return. Meanwhile, the area’s population was so restive that the Mexican commanders dared not use the usual IOUs or expropriations to gather supplies. Being broke, the Mexican forces faced chronic shortages.

When Arista returned, he decided to act immediately while he still held a numerical superiority over the American force, surmising correctly that Taylor would promptly ask for reinforcements. Thus, on April 23 Arista sent a mounted force of 1,600 troopers across the Rio Grande to get between Taylor and Point Isabel.

Hearing of the Mexican movement, Taylor sent scouting patrols upstream and downstream on April 24. The following day, Thornton, leading the upstream patrol, was ambushed. Taylor learned of this on April 26 when two of Thornton’s wounded dragoons were released to the Americans because Arista claimed he had no way to care for them.

Before the Mexican mounted force could do much more damage, Arista sent the men to a point 13 miles downstream from Matamoros to cover the planned crossing of his main infantry force, which began April 30.

The next afternoon, Taylor learned that Arista’s infantry had begun crossing the river. Within two hours Taylor had his army on the road back to Point Isabel, hoping to secure it against the Mexican threat and then return to the fort with more supplies. At the hastily finished fort, Taylor left an infantry regiment and three artillery batteries, totaling about 500 soldiers. He reached Point Isabel around noon the next day, May 2. At about that same time, Arista finished crossing the river and set out toward Point Isabel, leaving a force under Ampudia to watch the fort.

On May 3, Arista reached the Palo Alto area and found that he had missed Taylor, who had already passed through on his way to Point Isabel. Arista decided to block Taylor’s return route to the fort, encamping his army at a place where he could cover the Point Isabel road and another nearby “fair weather road.”

Also on May 3, the Mexican artillery bombardment of the fort began, continuing during daylight hours for the next six days. Taylor’s men at Point Isabel could clearly hear the bombardment, adding a sense of urgency to their task of strengthening Point Isabel’s defenses and returning to the fort as soon as possible.

By the afternoon of May 7, Taylor’s soldiers had fortified the port and filled 270 supply wagons. Then they headed back to the fort, traveling seven miles before camping.


Around noon the next day, May 8, Taylor’s force arrived at the watering hole near Palo Alto (or “Tall Timber,” so called because its trees were the first encountered when approaching from the coast.) The flat prairie provided no protective cover, while thick, knee-high cord grass, scattered ponds and muddy ground restricted off-road movement. Random clumps of brush offered only minimal concealment, but denser thickets did limit visibility to the west and south. Taylor found Arista’s force deployed perpendicular to the road to his front, as the Mexican army had marched from its campground to the southeast.

The U.S. force consisted of about 2,300 soldiers, including a young 4th Infantry Regiment lieutenant named Ulysses S. Grant. Taylor formed the men on a line about 1,000 yards long, with the wagon train gathered in the rear. Two 18-pounder cannon were in the middle of the line, along with two batteries of four six-pounders each. These six-pounder batteries, known as “flying artillery,” were trained by Major Samuel Ringgold. (See Combat, November 2013 ACG.) Employing well-rehearsed drills, they would dash up to a point near the enemy line just beyond musket range, fire several rounds into the opposing ranks and then dash away. The speed, maneuverability, firepower and accuracy of the “flying artillery” batteries gave American forces an overwhelming tactical advantage in combat.

Arista’s force of about 3,700 soldiers was posted on a mile-long line, with the largest cavalry force on the west flank. Two eight-pounder guns and six four-pounders were scattered along the Mexican line.

The Mexican artillery began firing about 2:30 p.m. when the U.S. force was approximately 700 yards away. The rounds, however, were largely ineffectual since Taylor’s men could easily see – and thus avoid – the solid-shot cannon balls as they hit the ground and then bounced along. When the superior U.S. artillery responded, firing bursting shell and canister as well as some solid shot, the carnage inflicted on the Mexican line was ghastly.

This was the theme for the rest of the day, as the excellent U.S. artillery dominated the field and kept Arista from capitalizing on his numerical advantage in troops. Arista tried to send cavalry around the west flank, but the Mexican horsemen literally bogged down in the muddy, broken terrain and were easily driven off. Combat operations there were halted between about 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. due to grass fires. The greatest loss to Taylor’s force was the death of Major Ringgold, who fell mortally wounded.

Arista then launched an attack on the east flank, but it too was unsuccessful and his retreating soldiers disrupted the Mexican line. With the sun setting, Arista decided to pull his force to the south behind a chaparral thicket, and the fighting ended with Taylor’s victorious army holding the battlefield.

The superbly trained, aggressively led U.S. artillery had fired about 3,000 rounds of bursting shell, canister and solid shot for devastating effect. On the other hand, Arista’s overmatched gunners had fired only about 600 rounds, all solid shot, for little effect. Taylor’s casualties amounted to six dead and 40 wounded. Mexican casualties totaled 102 killed and 150 wounded or missing. Generally, the Mexican soldiers had bravely behaved as if they were on parade, yelling, “Viva!” and closing into tight, massed formations where, as witnesses noted, American artillery rounds tore “lanes” and “vistas” through the packed Mexican ranks.


During the night of May 8-9, Arista decided to put some distance between his men and Taylor’s force. On the morning of May 9, he led the Mexican army south on the Matamoros road six miles to its crossing of Resaca de la Palma. The terrain beyond the road corridor was an increasingly dense chaparral thicket that was difficult for troops in formation to negotiate. Arista’s force was joined by Ampudia’s troops, who had left the siege of the fort and come north on the Matamoros road.

Arista deployed his force behind the vegetation-covered banks of the wide, dry resaca (former riverbed), where they had cover from the U.S. artillery that had done such damage to his army at Palo Alto. (See Battle of Resaca de la Palma map.) The Mexican line extended about 1,000 yards on either side of the road, with seven cannon covering the crossing. Arista assumed that by the time Taylor’s force arrived and deployed, it would be too late to fight that day.

Taylor spent several hours at Palo Alto on May 9 fortifying his wagon train, and then he followed Arista, making contact about 2 p.m. To Arista’s surprise, Taylor immediately attacked, deploying infantry units to the right and left as they arrived. Lieutenant Charles May led a mounted charge against Arista’s artillery, and back-and-forth fighting erupted at the crossing.

The U.S. infantry units that deployed to the west found that the road closely paralleled the resaca, and they were soon in contact with its defenders. Small unit melees, including hand-to-hand combat, broke out. Later U.S. arrivals found a cow path that led them across the resaca beyond the Mexican west flank. They pressed their advantage and the entire Mexican position soon collapsed. Arista’s force withdrew in disorder three miles south across the Rio Grande River.

Taylor’s second victory in two days cost his army 45 killed and 98 wounded. Mexican casualties were 154 killed, 205 wounded and 156 missing (reports claim that many Mexican soldiers drowned during their panicked crossing of the Rio Grande).

Upon leading the army on to the fort, Taylor arrived there that evening to find that its commander, Major Jacob Brown, had died earlier that day after being severely wounded by a Mexican artillery shell on May 6. The Mexican bombardment had inflicted only one other fatality among the fort’s defenders. Taylor named the earthwork Fort Brown.

The U.S. troop reinforcements Taylor had requested earlier arrived over the next days – along with heavy rain. On May 17, Arista abandoned Matamoros and retreated southwest to Linares, leaving behind his artillery and about 400 wounded Mexican soldiers. Arista began his hastily organized retreat with approximately 4,000 men and arrived 11 days later with only 2,638.


On May 11, two days after the Battle of Resaca de la Palma, President Polk received word of Thornton’s April 25 ambush. It was exactly the kind of incident he wanted to justify a U.S. war against Mexico. He immediately asked Congress to declare war, saying that the Mexican army “has passed the boundary of the United States, has invaded our territory and shed American blood upon the American soil.” Congress complied, declaring war against Mexico on May 13 and authorizing a six-fold expansion of the U.S. Army.

Of course, by then Taylor’s victories at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma had already won the disputed Trans-Nueces region, establishing the Rio Grande River as the boundary by American force of arms. But Polk had a much larger vision for what his new war with Mexico could achieve. The body of water he now had his sights set on was the Pacific Ocean, not the Rio Grande River.

Taylor pressed on to Monterrey and then to Saltillo in northern Mexico, and other U.S. military expeditions would seize all of the Mexican territory that Polk had offered to buy – but the Mexican government remained unresponsive.

So, in 1847 U.S. planners prepared an expedition under General Winfield Scott to land at Vera Cruz on the Gulf of Mexico coast and then march overland to Mexico City, where it was hoped Scott could dictate terms. Naively believing that Santa Anna could negotiate a quick Mexican surrender, American authorities permitted the exiled politician-general to return to Mexico through the U.S. blockade.

However, the crowd-pleasing but erratic Santa Anna reasserted control in Mexico and then by supreme effort concentrated an army of more than 20,000 soldiers against Taylor, whose best troops had been sent to join Scott’s expedition. After a 240-mile advance across the desert in winter, and after losing the February 23 Battle of Buena Vista/Angostura (despite a 3-to-1 advantage), followed by a retreat across the same desert, Santa Anna had lost half his army. He scratched together a force to oppose Scott’s advance, but between losing more battles, violating truces and soliciting bribes from Scott, Santa Anna eventually lost Mexico City and resigned.

Thornton had been freed in a prisoner exchange and he marched with Scott his bad luck, however, was unchanged. Thornton was killed by artillery fire on August 18, 1847, while leading another reconnaissance just before the Battle of Contreras near Mexico City.

Santa Anna’s successors ratified the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on February 2, 1848. The treaty not only officially recognized the border as the Rio Grande but also added to the United States vast territory that is today California, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah, most of Arizona and Colorado, and slivers of Wyoming, Kansas and Oklahoma. The United States gave Mexico $15 million and covered the longstanding prewar claims.


At almost the same time as the treaty ratification, word of a huge gold strike began filtering out of California and the Trans-Nueces was forgotten. It remains forgotten. For instance, the Rio Grande Valley is the only metropolitan region in the contiguous United States not reached by the Interstate Highway System. Sadly, due to upstream irrigation, the river now has about one-fifth of the flow it had in 1846.

The Fort Brown earthwork was abandoned shortly after Taylor occupied Matamoros following Arista’s departure. Most of it was obliterated by later Rio Grande levee construction. The fort’s southwest corner survives as a serpentine, brush-covered mound in the northwest corner of the Fort Brown Memorial Golf Course (it is actually outside the U.S. border fence). Fort Brown the military post was later established a few hundred yards to the north of the earthwork, and the city of Brownsville grew up beside it. Decommissioned in 1946, it is now a college campus.

At the site of the Battle of Resaca de la Palma, there is now a modern bridge where Parades Line Road crosses the resaca, which has been dredged and flooded to serve the area’s municipal water system. The battlefield northwest of the bridge, where most of the fighting took place, is lost under suburban development. A largely vacant 35- acre tract of land just northeast of the bridge, formerly a polo field, was finally acquired by the U.S. National Park Service as the Resaca de la Palma Battlefield in 2011.

Aside from improved drainage, the Palo Alto battlefield has changed little. The Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park was established in 1978 and now owns about 1,600 acres of the battlefield, mostly in the area the Mexican army defended.

As for the Thornton ambush site, in late 1847 freshman congressman Abraham Lincoln tried to force the government to prove that the site had actually been American soil. He was ignored – and that’s a pity, since proof would have involved identifying the exact site, which we can’t do today. A memorial to the Thornton incident was erected in 1936 marking a candidate site on Highway 281 about two miles west of Los Indios, but this is almost a mile from the river and cannot be the correct location.

Since 1846 the Rio Grande River has meandered considerably, and today the ground for whose defense the U.S. officially went to war against Mexico has almost certainly reverted back to Mexico.

Lamont Woodis a freelance writer living in San Antonio, Texas, who writes about both technology and history. He has written hundreds of articles for magazines and is the author of nine books.

Originally published in the November 2014 issue of Armchair General.

Mexican American War : 1846 to 1848

In 1845 Texas was admitted to the union as a slave-state and immediately thereafter, Mexico declared War on the United States of America. It was a symbolic gesture, however, since the Mexican government was in complete disarray and in no position to actually fight a war. Many Americans saw this as an excellent opportunity to gain territory so there was a large pro-war party that sought any excuse to justify American aggression. Meanwhile, President Polk sought to avert a war by purchasing the territories that the United States sought after, but his offer was indignantly refused. In the meantime, American settlers flocked to California, intending to declare their settlement "independent", and thereby provoke a war.


An excuse to declare war on Mexico presented itself when the U.S. sent a patrol to the disputed region near the Texas-Mexico border. This activity provoked an incident with the Mexican forces in the region and American war-hawks lost no time in declaring war and sending a ready battalion to the area. The first battles were at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma in the disputed territory. The Americans were victorious, and General Zachary Taylor led the Americans into Northeast Mexico. In the following months Taylor's troops fought a number of skirmishes including major battles at Monterrey and Buena Vista. Although he prevailed in every event, the Mexican government was not willing to negotiate peace on the terms offered by the United States.

In order to bring the war to a close, Polk sent a fleet directly to Veracruz, a coastal town adjacent to Mexico City. The object of this expedition, led by Winfried Scott, was to force the Mexican government to accept American terms of surrender. A force of over 12,000 Americans besieged Veracruz, the most heavily fortified city in Mexico, and in six days gained a landing. It was not until they actually entered Mexico City, after fighting several famous battles en route that they were able to force the Mexican government to concede to the secession of the Southwest quarter of the United States. The territory ceded was composed of the modern states of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.

Some Americans were puzzled at Mexico's refusal to negotiate any terms for a territory that they could not possibly defend. The United States had originally offered to pay over $25,000,000 for the parcel, which amounted to more than $300 per Mexican citizen in the territories, but instead of accepting this "generous" offer, the Mexicans subjected themselves to a series of humiliating defeats and incurred a great loss of life and property damage. The reason for this political. Various parties were vying for power and the idea of surrender was so unpopular that any politician who even discussed it would be thrown immediately out of office. So to most Mexican leaders, a bruising defeat was more politically viable than an unpopular surrender.

Mexican-American War and the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo

On September 14, 1847 the Mexican flag was not flying over the Mexican capital. Instead, Mexico’s neighbor to the north had captured the country. How and why did the United States defeat Mexico in the Mexican-American War? To the victors went what spoils? This essay will answer these questions in a nutshell.

Throughout the 19 th Century, the United States was increasing in power and population while Mexico was stuck in chronic “political unrest, civil conflicts, depleted treasuries, [and] separatist movements” (Oscar J. Martinez, Troublesome Border [Tucson: the University of Arizona Press, 1988], 51). The U.S. was also heavily influenced by Manifest Destiny—the idea that the U.S. had the natural right to rule North America from coast to coast. Consequently, various presidential administrations in the 1820s and 30s sought to purchase land from Mexico, with no avail.

In 1835, Texas battled and gained independence from Mexico Texas was a sovereign country for the next decade (the Lone Star Republic). In the Treaty of Velasco, the Texas-Mexico border was established along the Rio Grande. Mexican President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna (pronounced “Santana”) signed the treaty but the problem lied in the fact that the Mexican Congress did not ratify it, nor did Mexican presidents after Santa Anna acknowledge Texas’ independence.

Texas was annexed by the United States in 1845. Mexico claimed the international border to be the Nuecos River, while the U.S. claimed the border to be at the Rio Grande. The Nuecos River runs roughly parallel to the Rio Grande about fifty to one-hundred miles northeast (the Texas side) of it. Therefore, by claiming their respective river boundaries, both countries were trying to expand their territory. When the Mexican army crossed the Rio Grande and skirmished with U.S. soldiers, President Polk declared that America had been invaded and American blood had been shed. These words meant one thing: war.

Mexican-American War battle scene

The Mexican–American War was an embarrassment for Mexico and a goldmine for the United States, literally. Within days, the important port of Veracruz was blockaded by the U.S. navy. The U.S. army fought their way overland into Mexico from California, Texas, and eventually from Veracruz straight to the capitol. Mexico’s Santa Anna, back in power again, sent a peace treaty to Washington in early 1847, but his terms were not approved. Later on that year, with U.S. troops just outside Mexico City, peace talks occurred. When Mexico would not admit defeat and offer up territory, American troops invaded the capital city and quickly took control. Santa Anna resigned as president and fled central Mexico in defeat. The United States now occupied the Mexican capital, thus the U.S. occupied Mexico, now what could it take?

It was a long negotiation process that ultimately led to the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo on February 2, 1848. President Polk sent “Peace Ambassador” Nicholas Trist to central Mexico in order to set the terms of the Treaty. On a note of interest, Trist was recalled by Polk but disobeyed orders to go back to Washington he was the only American to sign the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. If Trist would have left for Washington like he was ordered to do, the treaty would probably never have happened. With this Treaty, the American Southwest as we know it today officially came under U.S. control and Mexico lost half of its country. The treaty established the Texas-Mexican border along the Rio Grande fifteen years later it would be the same river that led to the Chamizal dispute between Mexico and the United States. It was agreed that a group of surveyors from each country, working together, would set out to map the new 2,000-mile long border.

Just weeks after the treaty was signed, gold was discovered in California (California was known for a long time as El Dorado, which means “the land of gold” in Spanish), leading to the largest gold rush in the history of the United States. But unfortunately for Mexico, El Dorado was not part of Mexico anymore.

The Mexican-American War

Opinion on the war was with Mexico was divided and Woodville therefore depicted a range of responses among the figures reading the latest news in a Western outpost. Detail, Richard Caton Woodville, War News from Mexico, 1848, oil on canvas, 68.6 × 63.5 cm (Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art). Watch the video.

A forgotten war with unforgettable consequences

A tourist visiting the National Mall in Washington, D.C. today is likely to see monuments commemorating American involvement in several foreign wars, including the striking Vietnam Memorial, with its reflective surface naming the war dead, or the squadron of stainless steel soldiers honoring veterans of the Korean War. That same tourist might be surprised to learn that the United States had fought another foreign war whose toll on the American population was greater than either of those conflicts: the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). [1]

Maya Lin, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, 1982, granite, National Mall, Washington, D.C. (photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

There is no memorial to the Mexican-American War in Washington, D.C., and only about 30 monuments across the whole of the United States pay tribute to a war in which more than 15,000 American soldiers lost their lives. By comparison, there are at least 13,000 historical markers commemorating the U.S. Civil War. [2] In fact, the Mexican-American War has been overlooked in both U.S. and Mexican popular culture. The war is rarely depicted in film, and no images of the War of Northern Invasion (as the war is named in Mexico) were made by Mexican artists. A war of conquest conducted by a land-hungry U.S. government against ill-supplied Mexican soldiers did not generate much pride for either nation.

Timeline of significant events

Nevertheless, the Mexican-American War had far-reaching consequences for both the United States, Mexico, and the Indigenous peoples whose land both nations claimed. First among these was the cession of about one third of Mexico’s territory to the United States, a landmass of over 338,000,000 acres. Redrawing the border added to American economic prosperity at Mexico’s expense. The war also contributed to the outbreak of later civil wars in both countries: the Civil War in the United States (1861–1865) and the War of Reform in Mexico (1857–1860) .

Lastly, the war’s outcome left many residents of the ceded territory worse off than they had been under Mexican rule, which had guaranteed people of African and Indigenous descent some rights and protections. Not only did the U.S. government permit slavery (which had been outlawed in Mexico for years) but the annexation of these lands sent large numbers of white American settlers west, where they displaced and often killed Indigenous people.

Comparing Mexican and American societies before the war

Both the United States and Mexico were young republics that had recently gained independence after centuries of European colonization. The process had been considerably easier for the United States, which had had French aid in defeating Great Britain, as well as bountiful natural resources to fuel its economy. In the early nineteenth century, the people of the United States were awash in patriotism, Protestant religious fervor, and enthusiasm for rapid expansion. Jacksonian Democracy , ushered in by the presidency of Andrew Jackson, extolled the virtues of the “common man,” extending the franchise to all white men regardless of their social standing.

George Caleb Bingham portrayed the Missouri election in which he was running as a candidate for state legislature (he depicts himself at center, seated on the wooden steps). Bingham seems both to celebrate and critique the enthusiastic exercise of mid-nineteenth century U.S. democracy, depicting the white male voters with equal dignity, although he shows some men who are clearly inebriated. George Caleb Bingham, The County Election, 1852, oil on canvas, 38 x 52 in. (96.5 x 132.1 cm) (Saint Louis Art Museum).

But citizenship in the United States became more entwined with constructions around racial difference at the same time it became less tied to class. The “white man’s republic” championed by Jacksonian Democrats categorically excluded women and people of color from the body politic. This was particularly evident in Jackson’s policy of “Indian Removal”: where once white Americans had committed to christianize and assimilate Indigenous people for their own good, many now declared Indigenous people savages who must either be expelled to distant western lands or face extinction.

By contrast, Mexico had won independence after 300 years of Spanish colonization without outside help, but the conflict had left the nation in a difficult economic state, with its mining, industrial, and agricultural capacity significantly reduced. The Mexican government was unstable, with 50 different governments in the 30 years after independence, most installed by military coup. Conservatives wanted to maintain a version of the colonial system that privileged social elites, the army, and the Catholic Church, while Liberals wanted to implement republican reforms.

Although Mexican society did make sharp distinctions of race and class in the years leading up to the war, nonwhites had more political power and social mobility than in the United States. Centuries of racial and cultural mixing between the descendants of Spanish settlers, enslaved Africans, Indigenous inhabitants, and Asian immigrants of the region had created a diverse populace. After independence from Spain, the Mexican government removed racial identifiers from official documents to promote equality in the new republic, and in 1829 abolished slavery altogether.

Cotton, Texas, and Manifest Destiny

Many Americans believed that the key to their prosperity was relentless expansion. The U.S. government had purchased the Louisiana Territory in 1803, and newspaper editors spread the idea that it was the “Manifest Destiny” of the United States to possess North America from the Atlantic to Pacific Ocean. The ideology of Manifest Destiny justified U.S. imperialism by claiming that the nation had a divine mission to spread democracy and Protestant Christianity across the continent.

Expansion was particularly crucial for the cotton planters who dominated the southern United States. Cultivating cotton quickly depleted soil, and plantation owners were eager to obtain more fertile land. They relied on the forced labor of enslaved people of African descent, and sought to expand slavery along with the borders of the American south. Many cotton planters crossed the border into the Mexican territory of Coahuila y Tejas, where they were initially welcomed as a stabilizing force that would help to repel raids from the powerful Comanche ( Nʉmʉnʉʉ ) nation. But the Mexican government soon grew frustrated with the American settlers, who disregarded the ban on slavery and showed no intention of assimilating into Mexican society.

The war begins

In 1836, American and Mexican residents who wanted to introduce enslaved laborers to the area to farm cotton took advantage of the Mexican government’s tenuous hold on the country’s periphery by declaring Texas an independent republic. The Texians triumphed, despite their storied defeat at The Alamo, a Spanish mission ( San Antonio de Valero ) that had been converted into a fortress. But the Mexican government did not accept the treaty granting Texas independence since it had been signed under duress. For nearly ten years, the Mexican government considered Texas a rebel territory, while the United States recognized it as a sovereign nation.

In fact, Texians wanted to join the United States and applied for annexation shortly after the rebellion. But the U.S. Congress, unwilling to upset the delicate balance between states that permitted slavery (“slave states”) and states that did not (“free states”), declined to consider the matter. All of that changed when James K. Polk was elected president in 1844. Polk was a Democrat, closely tied to Andrew Jackson, and he favored territorial expansion. Consequently, the United States annexed Texas in 1845 (leading Mexico to sever diplomatic relations), and Polk negotiated with Britain for a portion of the Oregon Territory in 1846.

Polk also sent an envoy to Mexico to offer to purchase California, then coveted for its Pacific ports and fertile farmland, but the Mexican government refused. Finally, in April 1846, Polk sent U.S. soldiers under the command of General Zachary Taylor to disputed territory south of the Nueces River, hoping to provoke conflict.

Text of Polk’s war proclamation in the New-York Daily Tribune (Library of Congress).

The progress of the war

Polk’s gamble paid off after a U.S. patrol marched into the disputed territory, a Mexican cavalry unit attacked, killing 11 American soldiers. When news reached Washington, D.C. two weeks later, Polk wen t to Congress to ask for a declaration of war, claiming that Mexico had shed “American blood on the American soil.” Many U.S. lawmakers, especially those of the opposition Whig party, were suspicious of Polk’s claims—Abraham Lincoln, then a young Congressman, would later ask the president for evidence of the exact “spot” where the hostilities had begun—but conscious that fighting was already underway, the Whigs ultimately voted to support the war.

Detail of map below, showing land and naval campaigns during the Mexican-American War, including Monterrey and Buena Vista.

General Taylor commanded just one of many American military forces in what would become a two-year-long, multi-front war. In northern Mexico, Taylor fought inland to Monterrey and secured the region for the United States in the Battle of Buena Vista.

Farther north (see map below), the U.S. army captured Santa Fe, in what is now New Mexico, without firing a shot (although Mexican and Indigenous Puebloan residents later rebelled against U.S. occupation in the Taos Revolt). Naval campaigns targeted the west coast of Mexico from Mazatlán to Yerba Buena (present-day San Francisco), and wrested control of the ports and pueblos of California along with several ground units.

Map of land and naval campaigns during the Mexican-American War. The inset depicts General Winfield Scott’s route from Veracruz to Mexico City (map: Kaidor, CC-BY-SA 3.0).

The most devastating campaign, however, was in southeastern Mexico (see inset in map above). In 1847, U.S. General Winfield Scott conveyed a force of more than 13,000 men by sea to Veracruz. He deliberately followed the same path of conquest to Mexico City that Hern án Corté s had taken more than 300 years earlier to the Mexica capital of Tenochtitlan (which became Mexico City). In September 1847, the U.S. army invaded the nation’s capital, Mexico City. Despite months of guerrilla warfare , Mexicans could not expel the occupying army.

In February 1848, the two nations negotiated the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo to end the war. The treaty’s terms gave the United States most of what is now the southwestern United States, including the modern-day states of Texas, California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and portions of Colorado and Wyoming, in exchange for $15 million and the forgiveness of Mexican debts to American citizens. Mexicans who chose to remain in the territory would receive American citizenship.

“A wicked war”

“I do not think there was ever a more wicked war than that waged by the United States on Mexico.” —Ulysses S. Grant, 1879

Ulysses S. Grant, who would go on to command the victorious forces in the Civil War nearly twenty years later, not to mention serve as president of the United States, was a 24-year-old lieutenant during the Mexican-American War. Grant believed that in the Mexican-American War, a stronger nation had unjustly made war on a weaker one. [3] Indeed, the United States government had expected a quick win against an inferior opponent, and the extent of Mexican resistance came as a surprise. Racial and religious prejudice influenced American attitudes toward Mexicans. Officers wrote about the depredations committed by volunteers, who frequently stole from and sometimes killed Mexican civilians.

Most American soldiers and volunteers were Protestants, rife with anti-Catholic prejudice, and they disdained Mexican religiosity as superstition and ignorance. In some cases, American soldiers deliberately defiled churches or religious objects. Their behavior so disgusted German and Irish Catholic volunteers that several hundred switched sides and fought for the Mexicans as the St. Patrick’s Battalion, or San Patricios .

The San Patricios were U.S. soldiers who switched sides to fight with the Mexican army. Many were captured and executed in the battles leading up to the occupation of Mexico City. Samuel Chamberlain, who was a private in the U.S. army during the 1847 mass execution, illustrated the event in his memoirs twenty years later. Chamberlain likely made sketches on site (suggested by the recognizable volcanoes in the Valley of Mexico and Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City at right) and worked them into finished watercolors at a later time. The hanging scene’s distance from the viewer, and the lack of visible emotion with which Chamberlain portrays it, suggests that he saw the San Patricios as traitors. Samuel Chamberlain, Hanging of the San Patricios following the Battle of Chapultepec, c. 1867, watercolor (Smithsonian Magazine).

Unknown photographer, General Wool and staff in the Calle Real, Saltillo, Mexico, c. 1847 (Amon Carter Museum of American Art)

New technologies of communication and representation brought news of the war home to civilians faster and more vividly than ever before. The first photographs of war anywhere in the world emerged from this conflict: a series of 50 daguerreotypes, now housed at the Amon Carter Museum, which were created in 1847 by an unknown photographer in Saltillo, Mexico. Daguerreotypists followed the U.S. troops, taking portraits of officers, landmarks, and grave sites as souvenirs. [4] The Mexican-American War was also the first war in which U.S. journalists accompanied the army as foreign correspondents, and the updates they sent home to newspapers by telegraph generated great interest and patriotism among the public.

Richard Caton Woodville, War News from Mexico, 1848, oil on canvas, 68.6 × 63.5 cm (Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas)

But the war and its expansionist aims did not enjoy universal support in the United States. Just three months into the conflict anti-slavery politicians introduced a bill into Congress, the Wilmot Proviso, that would outlaw slavery in any territory that might be gained from Mexico.

In addition, the first anti-war movement in the United States arose in response to the conflict many northeastern intellectuals protested what they saw as an unprincipled land-grab aimed at increasing the power of slaveholders. Henry David Thoreau, a leading Transcendentalist writer, was jailed for refusing to pay taxes to support the war. His essay on the duty of citizens to refuse to cooperate with immoral government actions, “Civil Disobedience,” inspired the nonviolent resistance tactics of later civil rights leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mexican War

The conflict between the United States and Mexico in 1846–48 had its roots in the annexation of Texas and the westward thrust of American settlers. On assuming the American presidency in 1845, James K. Polk attempted to secure Mexican agreement to setting the boundary at the Rio Grande and to the sale of northern California. What he failed to realize was that even his carefully orchestrated policy of graduated pressure would not work because no Mexican politician could agree to the alienation of any territory, including Texas.

Frustrated by the Mexican refusal to negotiate, Polk, on January 13, 1846, directed Gen. Zachary Taylor's army at Corpus Christi to advance to the Rio Grande. The Mexican government viewed that as an act of war. On April 25 the Mexican troops at Matamoros crossed the river and ambushed an American patrol. Polk seized upon the incident to secure a declaration of war on May 13 on the basis of the shedding of "American blood upon American soil." Meanwhile, on May 8 and 9, Taylor's 2,200-man army defeated 3,700 Mexicans under Gen. Mariano Arista in the Battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma Initial American strategy called for a blockade of the Mexican coast and the occupation of the northern Mexican states in the unrealistic hope that these measures would lead to an acceptable territorial settlement. Taylor, reinforced by a large body of volunteers including regiments of Texans, seized Monterrey in September and declared an armistice with General Arista. Col. John Coffee Hays's Texas Mounted Rifles played a significant role in storming the city's defenses. Polk repudiated the armistice, so Taylor thrust south to Saltillo and east to Victoria. A second force under Gen. John E. Wool marched from San Antonio to threaten Chihuahua but ultimately joined Taylor. Gen. Stephen W. Kearny led another column from Fort Leavenworth to seize New Mexico. During July, while Taylor's forces gathered, the navy's Pacific squadron under Commodore John D. Sloat occupied Monterey and San Francisco, California. They linked up with the American settlers there who had established their own government at the urging of the explorer John C. Frémont. Although an incursion into southern California in August failed, the area was secured by a joint army-navy expedition under Kearny and Commodore Robert F. Stockton in January 1847.

Neither American success on the battlefield nor the restoration to power of the deposed strongman Antonio López de Santa Anna brought the expected negotiations. The administration prepared a new army under Gen. Winfield Scott to march from the coast to Mexico City. Santa Anna, aware of the American plans, attempted to defeat Taylor's troops in the north before returning to face Scott's force. The Mexican commander's plan failed when Taylor's largely untested 4,600-man army won a closely contested battle against 15,000 Mexicans at Buena Vista on February 22–23, 1847. The astute reconnaissance work of Maj. Benjamin McCulloch's spy company contributed significantly to the American victory.

A naval squadron under Commodore David Conner put Scott's 10,000-man army ashore near Veracruz on March 9, 1847. It was America's first large-scale amphibious assault. After securing the port as a base, Scott led his army inland. At Cerro Gordo on April 17–18 the Americans destroyed Santa Anna's hastily gathered eastern force of nearly 17,000 men. Scott's advance ground to a halt at Puebla in May, when the volunteers who composed over half his force insisted on returning to civilian life. The American army remained at Puebla, cut off from its base at Veracruz, until reinforcements, especially Texas Rangers under Hays, reopened communications in August.

After initiating a notably successful campaign, Scott set out for Mexico City. In the battles of Contreras and Churubusco on August 19–20, his 8,500 men drove possibly three times their number of Mexican defenders into the Mexican capital. When Santa Anna did not sue for peace as expected, Scott resumed the assault on the city with an attack on its outworks at Molino del Rey on September 8. In the final assault on September 13–14, Scott's force seized the heights of Chapultepec and breached the inner defenses. Santa Anna abandoned the city but salvaged enough of his army to attack Puebla unsuccessfully later in the month. The Mexicans could not prevent American occupation at will of other cities in central and eastern Mexico. Along the Pacific coast the navy, now commanded by Commodore W. Branford Shubrick, also seized the chief port, Mazatlán, neutralized Guaymas, and eliminated Mexican authority in Baja California.

Since no Mexican government functioned after the fall of Mexico City, Scott and the State Department's agent, Nicholas P. Trist, had to wait until February 1848 before a government could be formed that would agree to peace. Then, in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the United States gained California, Arizona, New Mexico, and the Rio Grande boundary for Texas, as well as portions of Utah, Nevada, and Colorado.

U.S. Mexico War: “We Take Nothing by Conquest, Thank God”

Teaching Activity. Lesson by Bill Bigelow and student reading by Howard Zinn. 21 pages. Rethinking Schools.
Interactive activity introduces students to the history and often untold story of the U.S.-Mexico War. Roles available in Spanish.

Today’s border with Mexico is the product of invasion and war. Grasping some of the motives for that war and some of its immediate effects begins to provide students the kind of historical context that is crucial for thinking intelligently about the line that separates the United States and Mexico. It also gives students insights into the justifications for and costs of war today.

This activity introduces students to a number of the individuals and themes they will encounter in the chapter from Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, “We Take Nothing by Conquest, Thank God.” The individual roles include:

  • Cochise, Chiricahua Apache leader
  • Colonel Ethan Allen Hitchcock, commander of the 3rd Infantry Regiment
  • Congressman Abraham Lincoln, Whig Party, Illinois
  • Doña Francesca Vallejo
  • Francisco Márquez, Mexican Cadet
  • Frederick Douglass
  • General Mariano Vallejo
  • General Stephen Kearny
  • Henry David Thoreau
  • Jefferson Davis, plantation owner, Mississippi
  • María Josefa Martínez, Santa Fe, New Mexico
  • Padre Antonio José Martínez
  • President James K. Polk
  • Reverend Theodore Parker
  • Sgt. John Riley San Patricio Battalion, Formerly U.S. Army
  • William Lloyd Garrison , Founder, American Anti-Slavery Society
  • Wotoki, Miwok Indian, California.

The lesson includes a reading from Zinn’s chapter, “We Take Nothing by Conquest, Thank God.” Here is an excerpt.

Frederick Douglass wrote in his Rochester newspaper the North Star, January 21, 1848, of “the present disgraceful, cruel, and iniquitous war with our sister republic. Mexico seems a doomed victim to Anglo Saxon cupidity and love of dominion.” Douglass was scornful of the unwillingness of opponents of the war to take real action (even the abolitionists kept paying their taxes):

No politician of any considerable distinction or eminence seems willing to hazard his popularity with his party … by an open and unqualified disapprobation of the war. None seem willing to take their stand for peace at all risks and all seem willing that the war should be carried on, in some form or other.

Where was popular opinion? It is hard to say. After the first rush, enlistments began to dwindle. Historians of the Mexican war have talked easily about “the people” and “public opinion.” Their evidence, however, is not from “the people” but from the newspapers, claiming to be the voice of the people. The New York Herald wrote in August 1845: “The multitude cry aloud for war.” The New York Morning News said “young and ardent spirits that throng the cities … want but a direction to their restless energies, and their attention is already fixed on Mexico.”

It is impossible to know the extent of popular support of the war. But there is evidence that many organized workingmen opposed the war. There were demonstrations of Irish workers in New York, Boston, and Lowell against the annexation of Texas. In May, when the war against Mexico began, New York workingmen called a meeting to oppose the war, and many Irish workers came. The meeting called the war a plot by slave owners and asked for the withdrawal of American troops from disputed territory. That year, a convention of the New England Workingmen’s Association condemned the war and announced they would “not take up arms to sustain the Southern slaveholder in robbing one-fifth of our countrymen of their labor.

This lesson was published by Rethinking Schools in The Line Between Us: Teaching About the Border and Mexican Immigration. For more teaching activities like “U.S. Mexico War: “We Take Nothing by Conquest, Thank God,” order The Line Between Us with role plays, stories, poetry, improvisations, simulations and video edited by Bill Bigelow.

Classroom Stories

As educators across the country are faced with the daunting challenge of moving their instruction online in the midst of the global pandemic, many teachers are brainstorming innovative ways to implement interactive lessons with students. Bethany Hobbs is one of those educators.

Read more to find out how Hobbs taught this lesson online during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I teach at an inner city school, an incredibly diverse school. The lesson on the Mexican American War and the role play are incredibly effective in helping students understand the role of racial bias in the history of U.S. Foreign Policy.

Students really appreciate the opportunity to read and reflect on Zinn’s chapter, and appreciate different points of view about the war during the role play. My Latino students appreciate the approach, one that all too often in their education has not received the attention it deserves. This lesson took on new forms and even greater importance at our school, with the organization of a Hispanic Union, and it informed our celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month and current events, like the debate on immigration policy.

Many of my 12th grade students today in Government class still look back to this lesson as a foundational moment in their learning about the history of US/Mexico relations. (They) see that the border issue today has a much longer history and wider context than they originally may have realized.

The U.S. – Mexico War Tea Party lesson is without questions one of the most engaging lessons for my students all year. I have learned so much more about different perspectives on the war through teaching this lesson. My students see the complexities of the war and how it affected all parties involved, while they have the opportunity to develop their historic empathy skills when they role play the different historic figures involved. The conversations that come out of this lesson are thoughtful and relevant for today. I look forward to teaching this lesson each year, it’s a winner!

I dedicate a unit to westward expansion, and using the U.S.-Mexico War Tea Party activity has given students many perspectives on the war.

They enjoy this lesson in particular because they are able to interact with one another and teach in turn their assigned perspectives. I find that they walk away from this activity knowledgeable and excited to learn about the impact of the war.

I received the Zinn Education Project materials and I immediately flipped through the book and taught the U.S. – Mexico War lesson. It was so wonderful to see a group of usually unmotivated students engaged in the lesson that I called in another teacher to see this group of students actively involved in the activity.

I use lessons from the Zinn Education Project because they are relevant, factual, and inspiring. Lessons like The U.S. – Mexico War shed light on aspects of our shared American heritage that are often overlooked. These lessons give a voice to great Americans who are too often forgotten.

Even though my students don’t quite understand it yet, I can see that a close examination of people’s history empowers my students to use their own voices.

Constitution Daily

May marks two key anniversaries in the conflict between the United States and Mexico that set in motion the Civil War&mdashand led to California, Texas, and eight other states joining the Union.

On May 13, 1846, the United States Congress declared war on Mexico after a request from President James K. Polk. Then, on May 26, 1848, both sides ratified the peace treaty that ended the conflict.

The conflict centered on the independent Republic of Texas, which opted to join the United States after establishing its independence from Mexico a decade earlier.

The new U.S. president, James K. Polk, also wanted Texas as part of the United States, and his predecessor, John Tyler, had a late change of heart and started the admission process before he left office. Polk and others saw the acquisition of Texas, California, Oregon, and other territories as part of the nation&rsquos Manifest Destiny to spread democracy over the continent.

The U.S. also tried to buy Texas and what was called &ldquoMexican California&rdquo from Mexico, which was seen as an insult by Mexico, before war broke out.

Mexico considered the annexation of Texas as an act of war. After a series of border skirmishes, President Polk asked Congress for the war declaration because, under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, only Congress could declare war.

In the fighting that followed, the mostly-volunteer United States military secured control of Mexico after a series of battles, and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed on February 2, 1848.

It was the first large-scale success of a United States military force on foreign soil.

Mexico received a little more than $18 million in compensation from the United States as part of the treaty.

The pact set a border between Texas and Mexico and ceded California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, most of Arizona and Colorado, and parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Wyoming to the United States. Their transfer to the United States&rsquo control also cut the territorial size of Mexico in half.

On the surface, the war&rsquos outcome seemed like a bonanza for the United States. But the acquisition of so much territory with the issue of slavery unresolved lit the fuse that eventually set off the Civil War in 1861. But the underlying issue was how adding new states and territories would alter the balance between free and slave states was critical.

On the battlefield, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, and Stonewall Jackson were among those who served in the war against Mexico who would later gain prominence in the American Civil War.

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Watch the video: What Was the Mexican-American War? History (August 2022).