It is surprising how little attention is given to the idea of expansion in general, and the war with Mexico specifically, in the platforms of American political parties between 1832 and 1848. With Texas, Oregon, Manifest Destiny, and the Mexican War defining the period, I expected to find these subjects being addressed in the party platforms. It is only after the fact, the Mexican- American War that the parties mention the new territories. More prominent are statements concerning constitutional questions: limited government versus large scale internal improvements, and slavery. They generally feature praises of the various candidates. Below are planks that address expansion and the war with Mexico. One plank, the #6 plank in the 1848 Whig platform, is over-board in its description of Taylor’s virtues. If you are interested in reading it a link is provided in the source reference.
Colonial Eras to Independence
Once I began studying the Mexican American War, it became apparent that my original writing plan (Mexican- American War: Part 2/ Research and Writing Plan) would not provide an understanding of the conditions that existed in Mexico and the United States in 1846. If the purpose of this history is to identify the factors that contributed to the war’s outbreak, execution, and outcome, I needed more than a superficial understanding of each nation’s history immediate to the outbreak of war. 1846 did not emerge from the abyss, disconnected from previous events. Until I took on this project, I had not studied this subject in significant detail. Every class I have had seemed to examine other events from the period in detail while rushing past the Mexican American War. We examined the War of 1812, the Era of Good Feelings, Jackson, Indian wars, and the growing slavery divide. We talked about Manifest Destiny.
Attention given the Mexican American War, as the subject, seemed parenthetical and disappointingly simplistic. Always the same narrative: the greedy US attacked its weaker neighbor. Manifest Destiny, and racism, emboldened Euro- Americans to assume a righteous speciality, justifying its blatant land grab. A Jacksonian puppet (but tyrannical) president James K. Polk, engineered the conflict, manipulated information, over-ruled his military leaders, and condemned his nation to a coming Civil War. Texas and Oregon are usually given some attention. Polk bullied and manipulated his way to settlement with Britain over the Oregon boundary. Americans migrated to Texas (mostly illegally), ignored Mexican authority, rebelled, and asked the US for statehood. A plea that was rebuffed for a fear that admitting a new slave state might cause a civil war. While the narrative contains truth, I think it is quite problematic and begs many questions. I will begin with basic questions that are consistent throughout the period, and then expand upon those questions as my research continues. It is important to understand that this is not an attempt to victim blame Mexico for the war. I am not looking for victims or heroes. The purpose is to understand how Mexico and the U.S. arrived at 1846. In this post I will examine the questions in the historical context of the period to 1821.
Colonization Law State of Coahuila and Texas 1825
Article 1. All Foreigners, who in virtue of the general law, of the 18th August, 1824, which guarantees the security or their persons and property, in the territory of the Mexican Nation, wish to remove to any of the settlements of the state of Coahuila and Texas, are at liberty to do so; and the said State invites and calls them.
Article 2. Those who do so, instead of being incommoded, shall be admitted by the local authorities of said settlements, who shall freely permit them to pursue any branch, of industry that they may think proper, provided they respect the general laws of the nation, and those of the state.
Article 3. Any foreigner, already in the limits of the state or Coahuila and Texas who wishes to settle himself in it, shall make a declaration to that effect, before the Ayuntamiento of the place, which he selects as his residence; the Ayuntamiento in such case, shall administer to him the oath which he must take to obey the federal and state constitutions, and to observe the religion which the former prescribes; the name of the person, and his family if he has any, shall then be registered in a book kept for that purpose, with a statement of where he was born, and whence from, his age, whether married, occupation, and that he has taken the oath prescribed, and considering him from that time and not before, as domiciled.
Article 4. From the day in which any foreigner has been enrolled, as an inhabitant, in conformity with the foregoing article, he is at liberty to designate any vacant land, and the respective political authority will grant it to him in the same manner, as to a native of the country, in conformity with the existing laws of the nation, under the condition that the proceedings, shall be passed to the government for its approbation.
Article 5. Foreigners of any nation, or a native of any of the Mexican states, can project the formation of any towns on any lands entirely vacant, or even on those of an individual, in the case mentioned in 35th article; but the now settlers who present themselves for admission, must prove their Christianity, morality and good habits, by a certificate from the authorities where they formerly resided.
Article 6. Foreigners who emigrate at the time in which the general sovereign congress may have prohibited their entrance, for the purpose of colonizing, as they have the power to do, after the year 1840, or previous to that time, as respects those of any particular nation, shall not then be admitted; and those who apply in proper time, shall always subject themselves to such precautionary measures (if national security, which the supreme government, without prejudicing the object of this law, may think proper to adopt relative to them.
McKeehan, Wallace L. Sons of DeWitt Colony Texas, 2015, Coahuila y Texas Index, Colonization Laws: http://www.sonsofdewittcolony.org/cololaws.htm#coahuila
Emperor Agustin’s Colonization Law Decree of 1823: Articles 1-4
Article 1. The government of the Mexican nation will protect the liberty, property, and civil rights of all foreigners, who profess the Roman Catholic apostolic religion, the established religion or the empire.
Article 2. To facilitate their establishment, the executive will distribute lands to them, under the conditions and terms herein expressed.
Article 3. The empresarios, by whom is understood those who introduce at least two hundred families, shall previously contract with the executive, and inform it what branch of industry they propose to follow, the property or resources they intend to introduce For that purpose; and any other particulars they may deem necessary, in order that with this necessary information, the executive may designate the province to which they must direct themselves; the lands which they can occupy with the right of property, and the other circumstances which may be considered necessary.
Article 4. Families who emigrate, not included in a contract, shall immediately present themselves to the Ayuntamiento of the place where they wish to settle, in order that this body, in conformity with the instructions of the executive, may designate the lands corresponding to them, agreeably to the industry which they may establish.
McKeehan, Wallace L. Sons of DeWitt Colony Texas, 2015, Coahuila y Texas Index, Colonization Laws: http://www.sonsofdewittcolony.org/cololaws.htm
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.
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.
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.
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.
“The omission of such events as the Mexican War from the American consciousness does history injustice.”
“The cost in American lives was staggering. Of the 104,556 men who served in the army, both regulars and volunteers, 13,768 men died, the highest death rate of any war in our history. The period between 1844 and 1848 was a significant time, not something to be regulated to the attic of memory.”
Eisenhower, John S.D. So Far From God: The U.S. War With Mexico 1846- 1848. (New York: Random House, 1989). p. xviii
As one of the more formative events in the establishment of the United States as one of the world’s great powers, it is strange that the Mexican- American War has been so willingly forgotten. Sandwiched as it was between America’s two Wars of Independence (the American Revolution and the War of 1812) and the American Civil War, the Mexican war’s significance is little considered on its own. It is little considered at all. A Military History of the United States course I completed spent remarkably little time on the subject. I spent more time reading about the war in one of my Spanish Language classes. Granted, I have lived my life in the East and have only visited the states involved in the war. Had I lived there I may have been exposed to more of the history.