HIS 2213 LU13: Was the U.S. Mexican War an Act of American Imperialism?
Learning Unit #13 Lecture“Was the U.S.-Mexican War an Act of American Imperialism?”
U.S. Territorial Expansion & the Ideology of Manifest Destiny 2
U.S. Territory (Free & Slave) After the Missouri Compromise
Obstacles to Expansion• Oregon Territory was claimed by both the USA and Great Britain.• CA, AZ, NM, NV, TX -- all were part of Mexico after its independ- ence from Spain.
“Manifest Destiny” and U.S. Expansionism• The idea of Manifest Destiny, a term coined in 1845 by newspaperman John L. Sullivan, expressed the belief in the superiority of the United States and the “white race” over other peoples and countries, and in the God-given right of the US to territorial expansion.• It also summarized views about US exceptionalism, its permanent quest for national greatness, and the “mission” it had for spreading democracy. These were seen not as choices, but as sacred obligations.
“American This image perfectlyProgress” expressesby John the ideologyGast of “Manifest Destiny.’”“Civilization, or extinction, has been the fate of all people who have found themselves in the trace of the advancing Whites, and civilization, always the preference of the Whites, has been pressed as an object, while extinction has followed as a consequence of its resistance.” – Sen. Thomas Hart Benton (1846)
Senator Thomas Hart Benton on Manifest Destiny (1846)“It would seem that the White race alonereceived the divine command, to subdue andreplenish the earth: for it is the only race that hasobeyed it- the only race that hunts out new anddistant lands, and even a New World, to subdueand replenish . . . . “The Red race has disappeared from theAtlantic coast; the tribes that resisted civilizationmet extinction. This is a cause of lamentationwith many. For my part, I cannot murmur at whatseems to be the effect of divine law.”
Early map of1821: 2,240 Texas Spanish- Speakingresidents in Texas
The Independence and Annexation of Texas• Mexico granted Moses Austin (and later his son Stephen) an area in the territory of Texas to be settled• 1828: Mexican state tried to regain control: – restricted U.S. immigration – outlawed slavery – imposed new or increased existing taxes
Political Instability in Mexico• Constant changes in government, civil wars, and political instability• Antonio López de Santa Anna was Mexico’s strongest political/ military figure: “If the U.S. helps the rebels I will march my army to Washington and place upon its Capitol the Mexican flag.”
Texas War for Independence (1835-36)• Pres. Jackson was sympathetic to Texans but USA remained neutral; many American volunteers fought for Texas’ ‘right’ to keep slavery.• Sam Houston led Texas forces• Isolated Texans/Americans were surrounded and massacred at the Alamo & Goliad.• Battle of San Jacinto – Houston’s soldiers surprised the Mexicans during the siesta hour, turned into a rout.• Defeated, Santa Anna agreed to withdraw from TX and recognize its independence; he and Mexico’s congress later disowned the agreement.
Sam Houstonwas a protégéof AndrewJackson’s anda formergovernor ofTennessee.He defeatedthe MexicanArmy at SanJacinto.
TextSam Houston commanded a rag-tag militia that included Texians (whites), as well as Tejanos & free blacks.
The Surrender of Santa Anna –Houston is lying beneath the tree--wounded in the battle--receiving Santa Anna (white pants) as a prisoner of war
Lone Star Republic• Existed for about a decade w/o recognition from Mexico; USA recognized TX in 1837.• Mexico talked of re-conquest.• USA believed annexation would mean: war with Mexico; disputed boundaries; renewal of crisis over slavery.• Houston was ambivalent; flirted with Great Britain; Texans wanted annexation.• Dispossession of Tejanos, outnumbered by whites 6 to 1; Juan Seguin.
PresidentJames • 1844: Polk won thePolk US presidency. He offered 30 million for New Mexico & California; Mexico refused. • December 1845: Texas joined the USA. Mexico broke diplomatic relations. • Polk sent U.S. troops into territory that Mexico considered its own.
• Slidell’s secret mission to the Mexican govt. failed. John Slidell• April 1846 – Gen. Taylor & 4000 troops advanced to Rio Grande.• Polk received news Mexicans had skirmished with Americans in the disputed territory.• Polk claimed the U.S. had been provoked into war, said Mexico had “shed American blood on American soil.”• Rep. Lincoln’s “Spot Resolutions” questioned Polk’s truthfulness.
The Mexican War (1846-48)• Congress declared war, May 13, 1846 (174 to 14; 40 to 2); – War popular w/ younger white men, esp. those in the states of the ‘Old Southwest’• Polk wanted quick war but did not get it; 17,000 U.S. soldiers died, many from disease.• Although some Whigs became war critics, they would not withhold supplies from troops already committed to combat.• First war to be extensively covered by war correspondents; telegraphy, railroads, “pony expresses,” all facilitated more rapid communication.
The Mexican CessionTreaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo: USA gained 1 million square miles; Mexicoreduced by half; Rio Grande boundary recognized; USA paid $15 million.
The Mexican War (1846-48)• War of conquest; land was motive for war; California; Pacific Ocean ports.• Racism undermined the (take) ‘All-of-Mexico’ Movement. – Mexicans seen as too ‘alien’ to absorb into USA; “mongrel” & Catholic• Was the war an act of U.S. imperialism? – A ‘continental’ empire, yes, but not overseas, yet• Polk put new twist on Monroe Doctrine: U.S. not just defender of the hemisphere but its rightful dominator.
Mexicans as Indians“The Mexicans are Indians—Aboriginal Indians.Such Indians as Cortez conquered three[hundred] years ago, only rendered a little moremischievous by a bastard civilization…. Theydo not possess the elements of an independentnational existence. Providence has so ordainedit, and it is folly not to recognize the fact. TheMexicans are Aboriginal Indians, and they mustshare the destiny of their race.” (New YorkEvening Post).
Critics of the U.S.-Mexican War• Until Vietnam, it was most criticized war in U.S. history.• Many people in the US criticized the war and the appropriation of Mexican territory (intellectuals such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau; abolitionists; and others).• Sources of criticism included Polk’s dubious justifications for the war; the death and destruction it caused; and its long-lasting effects on US-Mexico relations• Ulysses Grant, who served in the war as a junior officer, is quoted as saying, “I do not think there was ever a more wicked war than that waged by the United States on Mexico.... I thought so at the time, when I was a youngster, but I had not moral courage enough to resign.”
Lee GrantFuture generals-in-training who will go on to lead armies during the Civil War (1861-65). The U.S.-Mexican War was their only combat experience.
The War Viewed from a Mexican Perspective• "Yankeephobia“: negative stereotypes of Americans, who were portrayed as treacherous, devious, malicious, perfidious, godless, predatory, greedy, materialistic, and usurpers.• Nearly unanimous view of the war as unjust –a view that is still held today in Mexico.
Recent Vodka Ad Imagines a Restoration of the Mexican Cession
The Mexican War’s Aftermath(Some material is also covered in Learning Unit 14a.) 31
New Territory, Old Problem• Slavery, again.• Wilmot Proviso, 1846.• Positions on Extending Slavery into New Territories: • Extreme Pro-Southern – slavery is legal everywhere; slaveholders should be able to exercise their property rights over other humans anywhere in the country. • “Free Soil” – keep slavery out of new territories • Polk’s Solution (extend 36° 30’ line to Pacific) • Moderate (Lewis Cass) – “popular sovereignty”
This 1848 Democratic politicalcartoon: • attacks General Taylor (or possibly General Scott, also a contender for the Whig nomination) as a butcher in the Mexican War because of the atrocities committed by his troops. • points out how Whigs like to run famous generals as their presidential candidates. (The only Whigs ever elected were Gens. Harrison  and Taylor .) • plays upon longstanding fears that the American republic could lose its liberties if it elects an ambitious military chieftain, who might become a dictator.
Zachary Taylor, 11th President of the USA. A famous general but an ‘unknown quantity’ politically at the time of his nomination. Southern Whigs thought they were getting a pro- slavery candidate because Taylor himself was a slaveholder.
California Statehood• Gold discovered, 1848.• At time Taylor took office CA had 100,000 white male voters.• Skipped “territory” status.• CA wrote constitution excluding slavery; passed by wide margin.• Sen. John C. Calhoun (SC) denounced CA constitution b/c southerners could not bring slaves; what about ‘states rights,’ Mr. Calhoun? – Whole episode shows Southerners really cared about property rights, not “states’ rights”
The Crisis of 1850• Pres. Taylor surprised his fellow southerners by favoring admission of CA as a free state.• Threats of secession became frequent.• Mystery surrounds the death of Taylor, July 1850. Rumors that he was poisoned persist to this day.
The Compromise of 1850• Clay’s Omnibus Bill: – CA admitted as free state. – Slave trade (not slavery) abolished in D.C. – More effective fugitive slave law. • Citizens required to turn in runaways; no jury trial; special commissioners. – Popular sovereignty in UT and NM territories