The Mexican-American War was fought between Mexico and the United States from 1846 to 1848. It marked the first conflict of the US that took place on foreign land. At that time, the US was under President James K. Polk, who had an expansionist-mindset and believed in ‘manifest destiny’ to conquer more land, while Mexico was militarily unprepared and also politically divided. The war witnessed a series of US victories. When it ended, around 33% of the land was lost by Mexico, including the present-day New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and California.
Causes behind the War
In 1836, Texas gained independence and was no longer under the control of Mexico. However, the US was not in favor of incorporating it, mainly because the addition of a slave state was against the northern political interests at that time. Meanwhile, the Mexican government was hinting towards war in the event of an annexation attempt for more territories by the US.
The annexations commenced in 1844 after Polk got elected. He campaigned that both Texas and the Oregon Territory should again be occupied. Polk also eyed New Mexico, California, and present-day Southwest region of the US. He initially offered to buy the lands but those proposals were rejected. He then forced his troops into a disputed region between Nueces River and the Rio Grande, thus instigating war.
The War Begins
As a countermeasure, Mexican cavalry attacked US soldiers on April 25, 1846. A dozen US soldiers, who were under the command of General Zachary Taylor, got killed. Taylor, in turn, called in additional soldiers and, with the aid of artillery and rifles, defeated the Mexicans in the battles of Resaca de la Palma and Palo Alto.
Subsequent to these battles, Polk instigated the government and made a statement to the US Congress, stating, “Cup of forbearance has been exhausted, even before Mexico passed the boundary of the United States, invaded our territory, and shed American blood upon American soil.” The Congress declared war on May 13, just 2 days after the statement of Polk. Mexico, however, never made an official war declaration.
The Rise of US Powers over Mexico
Approximately 75,000 Mexican citizens at that time lived in Rio Grande’s north. This provoked the invasion of those lands by the US forces, led by Commodore Robert F. Stockton and Col. Stephen W. Kearny. Likewise, Taylor met very low resistance in advancing in Monterrey, which was captured in September.
In the face of growing troubles, Mexico turned to General Antonio López de Santa Anna for help. Santa Anna was a strongman who, at that time, was living in exile in Cuba. He made an unofficial deal with the US that, if allowed to return back to Mexico, he would put an end to the war on terms and conditions that would be favorable to the US. Polk agreed, but then got double-crossed by Santa Anna who immediately let out a battle cry after taking control of the Mexican army. However, in February 1847, at the Battle of Buena Vista, there was a large number of casualties in the Mexican army and the forces were forced to withdraw. Nonetheless, Santa Anna became Mexican president the following month.
Meanwhile, the Veracruz city too was taken over by the US forces led by Gen. Winfield Scott. The troops then set sights on Mexico City as their target and began marching towards it. The Mexicans tried their best to resist at different sites but failed miserably. In September 1847, Chapultepec Castle of Mexico City was sieged by the US troops. As per some accounts, a few military school cadets committed suicide instead of surrendering. They came to be hailed as niños héroes.
Mexican-American War: Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo Was Signed
Despite the guerrilla attacks, the war, in essence, was over. After the resignation of Santa Anna, the US waited for a new government that would hold negotiations. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo got signed on Feb 2, 1848. This established the US-Mexican border as the Nueces River. Moreover, under this treaty, Mexico acceded to sell territory lying north of the Rio Grande and California for net $15 million, and also agreed to recognize Texas’ annexation.
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