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The Mexican War refers to the armed conflict that arose between the United States and Mexico during the 19th century. The conflict started when Mexico attacked the American troops that were stationed at the southern border of Texas in 1846. The confrontation came to an end when General Winfield Scott of the United States took over the Mexican City in 1847 leading to the signing of a peace treaty at Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848.
Apart from acknowledging the annexation of Texas by the Americans, Mexico gave up California and New Mexico to the United States. Just like any other historical event, the causes of the Mexican War are variedly explained (Feldman, 16).
The Mexican War can be attributed to the dictatorial tendencies of the centralist government in Mexico which was opposed to the annexation of Texas by the United States. It has to be recognized that though Texas had made clear her intentions to establish an independent state, Mexico still laid claim on this territory which was regarded as one of her provinces (Feldman, 5; Fehrenbacher, 17).
On the other hand, other scholars have argued that the Mexican War was provoked by the US through the annexation of Texas and establishing of an army station at the Rio Grande.
In addition, it has been claimed that the US, under President James K. Polk, deliberately entered the war with Mexico with the aim of seizing California and the Southwest region. It is also believed that the war was sparked by Mexico failing to pay claims for losses that were incurred by the American citizens during the Mexicans War of Independence (Feldman, 19).
It is true that the Mexican War resulted in the addition of large territories to the United States and that it led to the replacement of dictatorship in the Southwest and Texas. However, the annexation of other territories by the United States can be perceived in a negative light as a show of imperial tendencies of the US.
This paper will review the diplomatic and military aspects of the events that led to the Mexican War, and present an argument that the Mexican War was indeed unjustified and only demonstrated the imperial tendencies of the US.
The American Mexican War
During the 1840s, the concept of ‘Manifest Destiny’ had taken root in America and it called for the expansion of the American territory. The United States looked determined to expand its territory to as far as possible towards the western region (Nevin, 19).
The election of James K. Polk as the President of the United States cemented the expansion mission. Many observers saw the election of Polk as President being a recipe towards the annexation of Texas (DeVoto, 169). During his campaigns, Polk had indicated that he was determined to pursue the call of Manifest Destiny.
At the time when Polk was elected as the President of the US, America was faced by the threat of two wars. There were the British who occupied a large area of Oregon and were unwilling to recede on one hand, and the Mexicans who were in control of the present day western US on the other hand.
Although Texas had declared her independence and desire to be annexed by the US, Mexico did not recognize these assertions. In fact, Mexico threatened the U.S with war in the event that Texas was annexed (Willis, para 3).
The US wanted to take control of these territories; however, the US managed to enter into a compromise with the British and it was agreed that Oregon was to be divided along the 49th parallel between the British and the US. As for the Mexican conflict, the U.S. was not willing to enter into a compromise. This was an indication that the U.S. was determined to establish an empire in the Mexican territory (Miller, para 2).
When the US annexed Texas in 1945, Mexico severed diplomatic links with Washington. The annexation of Texas meant that the US had taken over all the problems that were being experienced between Texas and Mexico.
In this case, the dispute over the land between the Nueces River and Rio Grande in which both Texas and Mexico claimed ownership acted to precipitate war between the U.S and Mexico (Feldman, 26). One may ask why the U.S was quick to enter a compromise with the British over Oregon and not do the same with Mexico (GlobalSecurity.org, para 6).
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This can be interpreted to mean that the US was driven by imperialist tendencies in acquiring the territories that belonged to the Mexicans. The Mexican leader, Santa Anna, was forced into exile by the civil war and fled to Cuba. On his return, Santa managed to negotiate his passage through the American blockade with the promise that he was going to suspend hostilities between the two states (Muzzey, para 6).
Also, the Americans wanted Santa to relinquish a large territory to the Americans, and that Rio Grande was to be established as the boundary between the US and Mexico. Polk also requested for the American soldiers to be deployed at Vera Cruz and Tampico so as to display the American might to the world. In return, Santa Anna asked the American administration to paint him positively in the media (Feldman, 42).
However, upon recovering power in Mexico, Santa Anna embarked on strengthening the military. He is said to have failed to honor the promise that he made to the Americans arguing that the Mexican Congress was the only institution that could engage peace agreement.
Polk looked determined to engage the Mexicans in the war and nothing was going to stand in his way to realize the expansion mission that he had already started. The war was branded as the ‘Manifest Destiny’ calling for the enhancement of expansionist tendencies (Feldman, 47).
This war was supported for different reasons: the northern states thought that through supporting the war, they were going to dominate the Middle West that had shown some signs of power in the union. On the other hand, the southern states supported the war in the hope of gaining control of the empty lands so as to reinstate balance between the north and the south (Feldman, 41).
It can also be observed that the war was driven by the need to expand the American nation from coast to coast. As for the Whig Party, they were initially opposed to the war hoping that it was going to enable the Democrats increase their hold on power.
However, since the public was in support of the war, the Whig Party reversed their position and supported the war but still blamed it on the President (DeVoto, 203). With the war having gained support from the masses, President Polk was ready to venture into the war (Lawson, 40).
As the Americans were almost winning the war, there was discontent which was coming up. The momentum of the war had changed from mere repulsion of an invasion, to a determined effort to overthrow a foreign administration that was regarded to be dictatorial (DeVoto, 203). Some critics of the war saw it as driven by American greed to capture more territories and spread her influence.
There was a growing discontent against the US involvement in the war and the Whigs shifted the blame on the President. In fact, in early 1848, the House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning the impropriety and the unconstitutional nature of the war (DeVoto, 448).
It can be argued that the Americans hid behind the ‘Manifest Destiny’ to take over a half of the territory that belonged to Mexicans (Fehrenbacher, 78). The signing of the Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 provided the United States with the territory ranging from California to Texas. This was regarded as a major gain that the Americans made from the war.
The takeover of California was very much welcome considering that President Polk had previously unsuccessfully offered to buy it from the Mexicans (Feldman, 52).
In essence, it has been established that the US gained close to half the territory of Mexico to increase her size by close to a third. To the Americans, this was a show of might that came with respect from other countries, such as the Great Britain, which had previously looked down upon the US military capabilities (Feldman, 31).
There is no doubt that the US-Mexican War had mixed blessing to the Americans and the people who were entangled in the conflict. Though there is an argument that the war brought great relief for the Texas citizens, it has been noted that the United States used the war to accomplish her expansionist mission.
In this case, the United States engaged in the war to enhance her imperialist tendencies where close to half of the Mexican territory was acquired.
DeVoto, Bernard. The Year of Decision *1846*. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1943, print.
Fehrenbacher, Don E. The Era of Expansion: 1800-1848. New York: Wiley, 1969, print.
Feldman, Ruth Tenzer. The Mexican-American War. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications Co., 2004, print.
GlobalSecurity.org. Mexican War. 2011. Web.
Lawson, Don. The United States in the Mexican War. New York: Abelard-Schuman, 1976, print.
Miller, Robert Ryal. The Aftermath of War: The War between the United States and Mexico. 2006. Web.
Muzzey, David Saville. The Mexican War. n.d. Web.
Nevin, David. The Mexican War. Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1978, print.
Willis, C. John. U.S. Grant: “Causes of the Mexican War.” Web.