Mexico and the United States moved from their colonial experiences into revolution on very different roads. Those experiences imparted important legacies on each nation. Legacies that provided challenges to and offered promise for life as independent nations. Because the United States and Mexico were both new nations, understanding their colonial and revolutionary legacies is critical to understanding the actions that brought them to war in 1846. This post continues my examination into those legacies, focusing on the revolutionary legacy of the United States. A similar post examining the revolutionary legacy of Mexico will follow.
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Happy Independence Day! God bless the USA!
“It is very easy to put a country into combustion, when it possesses the elements of discord; but the difficulties of its re-organization are infinite”
Lorenzo de Zavala
From: Henderson, Timothy J. The Mexican Wars for Independence. New York: Hill and Wang, 2009.
Mexico and the United States share historical experiences. Both nations experienced periods of colonization, revolution, and independence. However, the experiences of each nation through these periods differ greatly. A cursory examination of these experiences helps to understand how each nation benefited, or suffered, from the legacy of those experiences. My aim is to understand the trends that brought each nation to war in 1846. I am not establishing blame, justifying actions, proclaiming heroes, or identifying villains.
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“Something was said which drew from General Taylor the expression of views which greatly surprised me. They were to the effect that California and Oregon were too distant to become members of the Union, and it would be better for them to be an independent government. He said that our people would inhabit them and repeated that it would be better for them to form an independent government for themselves. These are alarming opinions to be entertained by the President of the United States.”
An excerpt from James K. Polk’s diary entry of Monday, March 5, 1849. Polk is relating a conversation between himself, President Zachary Taylor, W.W. Seaton (the Mayor of Washington D.C.), and Robert Winthrop (former Speaker of the House of Representatives) conducted during a carriage ride after Taylor’s inauguration.
Nevins, Allan (ed). Polk: The Diary of a President 1845-1849. New York: Capricorn Books, 1968. p 389.
There are few monuments in the United States to the U.S. Servicemen who gave their lives in service during the U.S.- Mexican War. None on the mall in Washington, D.C. These are a few of the Mexican- American War Memorials from around the U.S.
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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.
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“The drama, indeed the tragedy, of history comes from our understanding of the tension that existed between the conscience wills and intentions of the participants in the past and the underlying conditions that constrained their actions and shaped their future.”
Wood, Gordon S. The Purpose of The Past: Reflections on the Uses of History. (New York: The Penguin Press, 2008).p.11