February 01, 2007
Memo From Mexico,
On Guadalupe Hidalgo Day, Here’s
Why The U.S. Has Title To The Southwest
The Second Annual
"National March for Immigrant Rights" is
scheduled to be held on the U.S.-Mexico border on
Last year, the march was
also held on February 2nd.
What’s going on here? Why February 2nd?
Answer: February 2nd is the anniversary of
the signing of the
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. That 1848 treaty
officially ended the Mexican War and legally turned over
most of the Southwest to the United States.
The average American
doesn’t know much about the Mexican War and thinks
about it less.
But here in Mexico they do think about it—a
everybody knows that "the U.S. took half our
Intervención Norteamericana" has been
described—by Mexican writer and Nobel laureate
Octavio Paz—as "one of the most unjust wars of
conquest in history."
Not only that, but the loss of Mexico’s northern
territories has been used as a reason—an
excuse, really—for the
economic failures of Mexico compared to the economic
success of the United States.
According to at least one poll, conducted in 2002 by
Zogby in Mexico, 58% of respondents
agreed with the statement that "the territory of
the United States’ Southwest rightfully belongs to
Word] Now that’s definitely a different
In a lighter vein, some Mexicans jokingly quip that,
when the U.S. took half of Mexico’s territory, we took
the half with the paved roads.
Some Americans are shocked to learn that Mexicans
actually have a different historical perspective than we
How dare Mexicans say the U.S.
took the Southwest from Mexico? How dare they have a
different perspective than us?
It’s time for a reality check. Different nations have
different historical perspectives on the same
historical events. That’s one reason they are different
Of course Mexicans say that the U.S. took (or even
"stole") the Southwest! Why wouldn’t they?
We’ve got to get over this naïve belief that
everybody in the world
has the same values, and that everybody wants to be
just like us.
Maybe we should have thought twice about importing
millions of people from the only country on earth with
an irredentist claim against us—and then encouraging
not to assimilate!
It’s not that the facts of the war are in dispute. A
Mexican historical text and an American historical text
provide the same facts about the war. It’s just that the
"spin" is different. (And nowadays, some of the
American treatments of the war are more critical of the
war than the Mexican ones.)
Even some of the arguments used on our side are a
Some try to prove the territory wasn’t conquered.
After all, we did pay $15 million dollars for it.
True, but that makes it sound like a garden variety
real estate deal. Mexico was soundly defeated, and as
defeated nations throughout history, had to abide by the
terms of defeat.
It was a conquest. And historically there’s nothing
unique about that. Just about every country in the world
formed by some type of conquest and just about all
the real estate in the world has been
conquered and re-conquered, some of it quite a few
Mexico. The contemporary conventional Mexican view
is that the evil Spaniards conquered Mexico. But when
Hernan Cortes arrived in 1519, the present-day country
of Mexico did not exist. The Aztec Empire (itself a
product of conquest) only covered about a quarter of
present-day Mexico. After the Spaniards conquered that
empire, they went on conquering numerous other
indigenous entities, including the
Tarascan Empire, enemy of the Aztec Empire,
thus assembling the enormous colony of “Nueva
España”, which was renamed Mexico after
independence. Furthermore, throughout the history of
independent Mexico, the government has repeatedly used
force to subdue rebellious tribes and areas and keep
them in Mexico. So yes, Mexico was formed by conquest as
Nor is invading a neighbor country at all rare. In
fact, it’s the most common form of international
invasion there is.
And supposing the Mexican War hadn’t started in 1846,
it’s quite probable Mexico would have lost the
The region in question was far from the heartland of
Mexico, and sparsely settled. Neither the
Spanish Empire nor the independent Mexico which
succeeded it did much to develop the area, which was
prone to frequent anti-government uprisings.
In the 1840s, there was speculation that the British,
French or the Russians might take try to take it.
But the most likely possibility would have been that
growing communities of unassimilated American settlers
would have revolted, seceded from Mexico, and joined the
It was the Texas dispute that provoked the Mexican
War. Americans had settled in Texas, they
didn’t assimilate, they
became the majority, and seceded from Mexico in 1836.
That was not the first time that Mexico lost
territory. Upon independence in 1821, Central America
had been part of Mexico, but Mexico
lost that territory in the 1820s. Funny, I never
hear about a Mexican "reconquista" of
Republic of Texas was independent from 1836 to 1845,
during which time it was diplomatically recognized by
the U.S., France, Britain, Holland and Belgium, and
Mexico was unable to get it back.
After Texas joined the Union in 1845, the dispute
erupted again. Both countries sent troops into the
disputed territory between the
Rio Grande (which Texas said was the border) and the
Nueces River (which Mexico said was the border). In
April 1846, the two armies
clashed in the
Thornton Skirmish, followed by several battles in
May of 1846, after which President Polk
asked for and
received a declaration of war from Congress. Three
months later the Mexican Congress reciprocated.
Nowadays, of course, the war is seen as the attack of
a strong U.S.A. upon a weak and peaceful Mexico.
But at the time, both countries were about equally
hawkish and ready for war. Mexico had a larger full-time
military (27,000 Mexican men under arms vs. a U.S. Army
of about 7,000 soldiers—a number which soon swelled when
volunteers flocked to join).
Nowadays, the idea of conquest is very unPC. But in
1846, neither the U.S. nor Mexico was against the idea
of conquest in principle. It’s just that each country
wanted to be the conqueror and not the conquered.
Mexico’s government planned an invasion of the U.S.,
predicting that as Mexico invaded, the slaves would
revolt and the
Mexican flag would fly over the U.S. capitol in
Washington. The Mexican government planned to annex
parts of the United States, in the
Louisiana/Alabama region. What a plan!
But they didn’t have the chance to do all that,
U.S. Army invaded Mexico first. (Maps are available
Brigadier General Zachary Taylor ("Old Rough and
Ready") invaded and occupied part of northeastern
Mexico, including the
city of Monterrey, which fell after a fierce battle
involving house-to-house combat, in September of 1846.
After the battle of Buena Vista (February of 1847),
conventional war in that theater was over, though there
were guerrilla attacks against U.S. forces.
In another prong of the invasion,
Colonel Stephen Kearny marched west from Fort
Leavenworth, Kansas, taking Santa Fe and arriving in
California. There Kearney linked up with Captain John C.
Fremont and some of those unassimilated American
settlers who had already declared independence from
Mexico. On July 7th, 1846, the
Navy landed and did its part. By February of 1847
fighting in this theater was over.
Mexico had still refused to surrender. So President
Polk sent an invasion force to take Mexico City. This
expeditionary force, under the command of General
Winfield Scott ("Old Fuss and Feathers") landed
at Veracruz, on Mexico’s Gulf Coast, and carried out the
largest American amphibious landing up to that time.
Veracruz was taken in March 1847. Then the U.S. Army
fought its way inland to Mexico City, taking the same
as Hernan Cortes in 1519.
Among the soldiers who fought under General Scott was
a member of the Indiana Volunteers by the name of Robert
Wall—my first cousin 4 times removed, the first member
of my family to go to Mexico. After returning to
Indiana, for the rest of his life my kinsman was known
as "Mexican Bob". Mexican Bob had two cousins
also named Robert Wall— a funny cousin known as
"Monkey Bob" and a feisty one known as "Spunky
Bob". Spunky Bob was my great-great-grandfather.
With the fall of
Mexico City in
September of 1847, major combat operations were
over, although in both Taylor’s and Scott’s occupation
zones, there were continued enemy attacks on U.S. supply
convoys—just as in
Why did the American army defeat the Mexican army?
The American army, composed 100% of men who had
volunteered, was better trained and better equipped, had
its own supply convoys and medical personnel to care for
the wounded. The U.S. Army’s artillery was a decisive
factor— each cannon's crew was overseen by a seasoned
NCO known as "chief of the piece." (See
The Mexican army was mostly composed of draftees, had
Napoleonic-era weapons, and sometimes left its wounded
behind, not a great morale inducer. The classic Mexican
history work México Á Través De Los Siglos points
out that, though the Mexican soldiers in the rank and
file were brave,
"…the mutual confidence
between the leaders and officers did not exist, the
weaponry was old and defective, the artillery was small
and of short range, the cavalry was mostly useless, the
movements were slow and heavy, and finally, ambulances
and supplies of provisions and everything necessary for
the good service of an army on campaign were lacking."(México Á Través De Los Siglos Vicente Riva Palacio, 1880).
Mexico’s loss was also due to internal disunity. In
the face of the American invasion, Mexico’s leaders did
not form a government of national unity and
work together to defend their country.
Instead, Mexican leaders often seemed more concerned
with maneuvering against each other than against the
enemy. In December of 1845, with war imminent, General
Mariano Paredes was sent north with an army to face off
against the Americans. But on the way, he changed his
mind and decided instead to return to Mexico City and
overthrow the government.
That’s how the more hawkish Paredes became president,
replacing Jose Joaquin de Herrera, who was willing to
compromise on the Texas issue. In August of 1846,
Paredes himself was deposed by Mariano Salas. The
presidency actually changed hands four times that year
and by March of 1847,
Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was in charge of both
the government and the military. He resigned after the
Mexico City defeat of 1847.
Also during the war, the Mexicans had an internecine
dispute about church property, an attempt to install a
Spanish monarch, and about 35 uprisings throughout the
country. Some Mexican communities didn’t support the war
effort, and had no qualms about trading with the
American enemy. Others were simply indifferent and
stayed out of it.
The Yucatan Peninsula, which had been independent
from 1841-1843, declared independence again on January 1st,
1846 and announced its neutrality during the Mexican
War. But the indigenous Maya revolted against Yucatan’s
white elite in the “Caste
War”, which broke out in 1847. The whites were
forced to retreat into the walled cities of Merida and
Campeche in 1848. After the U.S. withdrew from Mexico,
Yucatan's leaders rejoined Mexico. It began a long drawn
out reconquest of the Maya territory which didn't end
The Mexican War had its
contemporary American critics, mostly among the Whig
party. Critics of the war included former president John
Quincy Adams, John C. Calhoun, Ralph Waldo Emerson and
Henry David Thoreau who
spent a night in jail because he refused to pay a $1
tax in protest.
Abraham Lincoln opposed the use of the Thornton
Skirmish as justification for the war, although he still
voted for funds to supply the U.S. Army in Mexico,
and later supported Zachary Taylor’s presidential
Among the 200 junior officers in the war who wound up
being generals (Union
and Confederate) in the Civil War, was
future president Ulysses S. Grant, who at some point
in his life
decided that the war was
But whatever Lincoln and Grant thought about the
Mexican War, as president, neither man offered to give
the conquered territories back to Mexico.
When Mexican leaders signed the Treaty of Guadalupe
Hidalgo in 1848, they were almost out of money and the
country was on the verge of a revolution. American
troops had defeated the Mexican army, were occupying
strategic parts of the country, and negotiator Nicholas
Trist made clear that without a transfer of the
territories, there would be no treaty. So the Mexican
leaders decided to sign the treaty to avoid greater
losses. It was signed on February 2nd, 1848
and ratified by both congresses several months later.
The U.S. Army withdrew from all the territory it was
occupying except the newly-annexed territories.
In the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the U.S. gained
nearly all the Southwest,—all of California, Nevada
and Utah, and parts of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and
area south of the Gila River in the present-day
states of Arizona and New Mexico, was purchased from
Mexico in the Gadsden Treaty of 1853.)
So the Southwest is part of the U.S. and has been for
over 150 years, longer than most present-day national
states have been in existence.
Even the Mexican Constitution doesn’t claim the
Southwest! That’s right. The Mexican Constitution, in
articles 42—48 [Word
Document] spells out the extent of Mexican
territory. It mentions Mexican islands, continental
shelf, and airspace, Mexico’s 31 states and federal
district, but it never mentions California, Texas or
So take that, you reconquistas!
When reflecting upon the Mexican War, some Americans
ask why we didn’t just annex the whole country. And
there were actually people in favor of that—the "All
Mexico" movement. But there were several reasons
that didn’t happen.
One was America’s North-South divide, especially the
congressional balance between free states and slave
states, with northerners fearing that Mexico would be
divided into slave states and thus upset the balance.
John C. Calhoun and others opposed annexing Mexico
for National Question reasons.
In 1848, the U.S. population was about
21 million, and the population of Mexico about 7
million, a third of ours. How well could we have
assimilated 7 million Mexicans, with all the racial,
cultural, social, nationalistic differences that would
have been involved? Annexing Mexico would have changed
the character of our nation.
Ironically, today’s leaders have no such qualms.
Today our leaders apparently see no problem in
merging us with Mexico, despite the
differences between our societies.
They are merging our countries on several levels. At
one level is the mass migration of Mexicans into the
U.S. coupled with a multicultural ideology which
encourages non-assimilation and
retention of their Mexican identity. At another
level, inter-governmental agreements are moving us
closer to some sort of
North American Union.
It’s a century and a half after Guadalupe Hidalgo.
Who will be the winners in this century?
Will it be the U.S.A., Mexico—or a transnational
elite, for whom all the residents of our continent are
just interchangeable pieces in a vast market?
The next few years will give us the answer.
citizen Allan Wall (email
him) resides in Mexico, with a
legal permit issued him by the Mexican government. Allan
recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq with the
Texas Army National Guard. His VDARE.COM articles are
here; his FRONTPAGEMAG.COM
articles are archived
here his "Dispatches from
Iraq" are archived
here his website is