Context is key to understanding a historic event, and contextualizing a complex event is a challenge. Where do you begin? Too far removed and the history will lack nuance. Too close and the history may present the event as particular when, in fact, it reflected a larger trend. Because the United States and Mexico were both new countries at the war’s outbreak in 1846, an overview of each nation’s colonial history is necessary. From there I studied each nation’s early history, looking at political, economic, and social developments. I examined the domestic concerns that animated people in both countries. Abolitionists in the U.S. fearing the expansion of slavery, or Mexican elites facing potential revolution and ethnic unrest. Or leaders in both nations fearing political adventurism in the continent’s undeveloped vastness. Concerns not unfounded. They were rooted in experience, in history.
It became clear early that the Mexican- American War involved more than two nations. Factors, both continental and global, contributed to the war’s outbreak. Native peoples were directly involved in, and affected by, the war. Events in Texas, Oregon, New Mexico, and California raised fears in both Washington and Mexico City. Americans watched British expansion in Canada. Tension also arose between the U.S. and British Canada in Maine. Mexico also watched Europe with caution. Spain had attempted to reconquer Mexico and later France landed troops to enforce debt payment. European diplomats sought to exert political and economic influence everywhere possible. An independent Texas added to the complexity. Western North America was vast, sparsely populated, strategically important, and rich with resources. All involved knew that the war’s outcome held great consequence for the future of the continent.
One challenge in contextualizing an event as complex as the Mexican- American War is identifying, and avoiding, pitfalls. One pitfall I continue trying to avoid is historical shorthand. I am working to avoid using generalizing phrases to describe incredibly complex social phenomena. “Manifest Destiny” is one such phrase. My research finds that “Manifest Destiny” means different things to different people. I believe the phrase is fine to use if its meaning is clearly defined and contextualized. It’s so complex that I am now researching it separately (I am ordering several more books on the subject). I intend to devote at least one post to the idea. My nationality presents another possible pitfall. I am U.S. born. Until recently I had read very little about the war from a Mexican perspective. While I do not have access to primary sources from Mexico (and my Spanish is both basic and rusty), I am relying on secondary sources to provide a Mexican point of view. Timothy J. Henderson’s book A Glorious Defeat is one that relies on many Mexican sources. I also have ordered a few more books on early Mexican history.
It should be evident that this will be a continuing project. My (very temporary) writing/ posting plan is:
- A very basic background history regard Mexico and the United States from about 1800 AD to the Texas Revolution in 1835 AD.
- A history of the period between 1835 and 1844. This post will cover the period of the Texas Revolution and the Texas Republic.
- Manifest Destiny
- A history of the years 1844-1846. This will include the annexation of Texas and the Oregon settlement.
- The period between annexation and the outbreak of war (specific to Mexico).
- The War
- The War
- The Treaty Guadalupe Hidalgo and the war’s historical significance.
Hopefully, I will also post short articles on things I find particularly interesting. There should be book reviews, re-blogs, and general discussions. I welcome all comments. Of course, everything is subject to change.
Sources (So far…):
Burk, Kathleen. Old World, New World: Great Britain and America From the Beginning. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2007.
Henderson, Timothy J. A Glorious Defeat: Mexico and Its War with the United States. New York: Hill and Wang, 2007.
Eisenhower, John S.D. So Far from God: The U.S. War with Mexico 1846-1848. New York: Random House, 1989.
Morgan, Robert. Lions of the West: Heroes and Villains of The Westward Expansion. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2012.
Merry, Robert W. A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, The Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009.
Nevins, Allan. Polk: The Diary of a President 1845-1849. New York: Capricorn Books, 1968
Hyde, Anne F. Empires, Nations, and Families: A New History of the North American West, 1800-1860. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2011.
Poage, George Rawlings. Henry Clay and the Whig Party. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1936.
McEvoy, Arthur F. The Fisherman’s Problem: Ecology and Law in the California Fisheries 1850-1980. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
Twiss, Travers. The Oregon Territory Its History and Discovery. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1846. Kindle Edition.
Skelton, Oscar D. The Canadian Dominion: A Chronicle of Our Northern Neighbor. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1919. Kindle Edition.
Garrison, George P. Diplomatic Correspondence of the Republic of Texas. American Historical Association. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1907), GooglePlay. https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=H0UzAQAAMAAJ&pg=GBS.PA1
Glendhill, John. Mexican History 1810-1940: A Chronological Summary of the Main Events. http://jg.socialsciences.manchester.ac.uk/Peasants/mexican_history_since_1810.html. Accessed May 11, 2019.
Gross, Don. The Mexican Army in 1846. A Continent Divided: The U.S.- Mexican War. University of Texas- Austin. https://library.uta.edu/usmexicowar/item? content_id=177&format_id=1&ofst=8&ni=13. Accessed May 11, 2019.
Nelson, Robert Earl. Britain and the Annexation of Texas with a Particular Reference to the Slavery Question (1836- 1845). Graduate Thesis, University of North Dakota 1964. Ann Arbor: ProQuest LLC. https://scholarworks.umt.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi? article=2729&context=etd. Accessed May 11, 2019.
The Border Dispute: How the Maine- New Brunswick Border was Finalized. Upper St. Johns River Valley: A History of the Communities and People. C. Cagnon, 2019. http://www.upperstjohn.com/history/northeastborder.htm. Accessed May 11, 2019.
Buckner, Phillip A. Rebellions of 1837-38. The Canadian Encyclopedia. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/rebellions-of-1837. Accessed May 11, 2019.
When Texas Invaded New Mexico. The Texas History Notebook: A Blog About Texas. Texoso, 2017. https://texoso66.com/2017/01/19/when-texas-invaded-new-mexico/. Accessed May 11, 2019.
Population data from: http://worldpopulationreview.com/states/, Accessed May 11, 2019.
Ron Current. History of the Alamo: Part 1. Still Current. May 29, 2017. Accessed May 11, 2019. https://stillcurrent.blog/2017/05/29/the-history-of-the-alamo-mission-to-fort/.
Ron Current. Texas and the Alamo. Still Current. December 11, 2014. Accessed April 27, 2019. https://stillcurrent.blog/2014/12/11/texas-and-the-alamo-conflict-between-mexico- and-the-united-states-part v/
This Week in Mexican History. Conservatism. La Historiadora. March 24- 30, 2019. https://lahistoriadorasite.wordpress.com/category/presidents-los-presidentes/. Accessed April 27, 2019.
Why Did James K. Polk Want War with Mexico? TeachingHistory.org https://teachinghistory.org/history-content/ask-a- historian/22205 Accessed May 25, 2019.
Crowhurst, Peter. “What Were the Key Features of the 19th Century British Empire?” The British Empire 1815-1914. March 2018. http://www.britishempire.me.uk/keyfeaturesofbritishempire.html. Accessed May 25, 2019.
U.S. Presidential Inaugural Addresses. Assembled by James Linden. Kindle Addition.
Mayer, Brantz. History of the War Between Mexico and the United States with a Preliminary View of Its Origin. New York: Wiley & Putnam, 1847. Kindle Edition.