The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
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The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which came into effect on 2 February 1848, ended the Mexican-American war and formally resolved territorial disputes resulting from that conflict. The treaty required the U.S. government to pay the Mexican government $15 million dollars, this in return for an expanse of territory that later became the states of Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Utah, Nevada, and Colorado. I intend to argue that the treaty benefitted the people who inhabited, and later came to inhabit, that territory. I also propose that, as a result of the transfer of territory from a dictatorial regime to one that was based on democratic principles, both Mexico and the United States ultimately benefitted in several ways.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was not easily negotiated, for the disputes which underlay it went back to the question of Texas. Following the successful revolt of the Texans, including Mexicans who lived north of the Rio Grande, against the dictator Santa Ana, the Mexican government did not reconcile itself to the loss of this vast territory. Instead, it plotted and planned to recover Texas, by military force if necessary. The accession of Texas to the Union in 2 March 1845 poisoned relations between the United States and Mexico and set the stage for the Mexican-American War.
The American President, James K. Polk, wanted to resolve these and other issues peacefully, but he also wanted to acquire California for the Union. When the Mexican government rejected his emissary, John Slidell, the stage was set for war. The causus belli was the corssing of the Rio Grande by a body of Mexican troops. A skirmish broke out and several American soldiers were killed. America declared war and drove the Mexican force out of U.S. territory. A force under General Stephen Kearny took Arizona, New Mexico, and California, while General Zachary Taylor drove south into Mexico. While his campaign was a disappointment, General Winfield Scott was much more successful. He landed at Veracruz, on the Mexican coast, and marched to Mexico City. The Mexicans capitulated. The war had lasted 21 months. The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was signed in a suburb of Mexico City, ending the territorial tensions between the United States and Mexico for all time. The two nations never again fought a war.
Why was the Mexican-American War fought. Was it driven by a blood lust for victory on the part of America? Some historians argue that the war was caused by America’s hunger for land, a form of greed. Other historians, seeing Mexico as a corrupt dictatorship, argue that war was a result of Mexican aggression, not only against its American neighbors, but also against their own people. In this reading, Mexico was so determined to recover Texas, regardless of the wishes of the people who resided in that state, that it was willing to risk war with the United States.
The two most important America figures during the Mexican-American War were President James Polk and General Zachary Taylor. When Pres. James Polk was sworn into office, war with Mexico became more likely, since he wanted to expand U.S. territory. The general disdain for his political strategies as well as his attitude towards territorial aggrandizement, especially in the south, made him widely disliked by many in the north. Following the Mexican invasion, President James Polk did not hesitate to ask the U.S. Congress to declare war. Did Polk, by his actions and decisions, provoke the Mexicans into attacking the U.S.? Some historians argue that he did. According to Richard R. Stenberg, Pres. James Polk was, “responsible for the war. It was Polk who thirsted for war . . . he had even encouraged the Republic of Texas to attack Mexico.” (The Mexican War 5-6). This proves, in Stenberg’s view, that he wanted war all along. He not only wanted war, he endorsed it.
The other important person in this scenario was General Zachary Taylor. President Polk ordered Gen. Taylor to move his “army on the Rio Grande, . . . to invade the heart of Mexico.” (Encyclopedia Britannica 376). Taylor’s campaign focused on the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, eventually taking the state capital of Monterrey. This was, at the time, one of the most populous cities in Northern Mexico, having a population of “of nearly fifteen thousand inhabitants.” (The Mexican War 33). About the same time, Taylor and his army won the battle of Buena Vista. The terrain in northern Mexico is difficult, and water scarce.
Perhaps this is why, after a number of arduous campaigns in the north, Taylor seemed to lose interest in fighting. Instead of pressing south towards the Mexican capital, he was content to remain in the north. Because of his lack of fighting spirit, Pres. James Polk lost faith in him as a leader. Instead, he turned to General Winfield Scott, who lost no time in making for the Mexican capital. “The American army and generals proved significantly superior to the Mexican forces and in less than a year and a half the American army had captured Mexico City and the Mexican Republic had to sue for an unfavorable peace.” (The Mexican-American War).
The treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo contained twenty articles. The most important of these were the payment of $15 million already mentioned, and the transfer of territory. The U.S. pledged to withdraw its troops from the Mexican capital, cease its blockading of Mexican ports, and to withdraw all of its forces from Mexico within three months of the signing of the treaty.
In the territories ceded to the United States, the Mexicans there resident were allowed to continue to live there. No additional taxes or levies would be imposed on them. Rather, they would enjoy the same rights that the citizens of Lousiana and Florida received when these were ceded to the U.S. by France. They were also promised that they would be free to continue to worship as Roman Cathlics, and that their churches would be free to operate without government interference. While the United States received large amounts of land, the people there resident were free from the oppressive dictatorship of the Mexican government.
The treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was a political victory for Pres. James Polk. California came under U.S. control, along with all of the territory in between. The war was brought to a close relatively quickly, and without a high cost in human terms. He proved that, once again, the United States was the irresistible force in the Americas, and that no nation could stand in its way. His territorial ambitions were now satisfied, even if war had been necessary to achieve them. The people there resident were a secondary consideration.
Anti-slavery groups opposed the acquisition because they believed that these new territories would be joining the Union as slave states, as Texas had. Moreover, with their high sense of morality, they could not bring themselves to support anything they saw as unfair or unjust. They saw the new territories as a breeding ground for more slavery. With the United States in possession of this new land, all south of Mason-Dixon line, it would probably delay for decades the elimination of the scourge of slavery. They suspected that plans were already underway, secretly supported by Polk, to accomplish just this.
Expansionists had their own criticism. They regretted that the terms of the treaty had been so modest. They wanted more land, and were convinced that Mexico could have been forced to cede more. They were not satisfied with the territories that came into being when the treaty was drawn up. They wanted Chihuahua, Neuvo Leon, Baja Californai, and all of the other states in northern Mexico. They were displeased with Pres. James Polk for not being more aggressive in demanding territory. If he had been insistent, they argued, the U.S. could have had all the land down to the central Mexican plateau. His main concern, bringing in California after the war, seemed too limited.
There are many benefits from the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. All of them have made a substantial difference in history. We all enjoy the benefits today. Were it not for the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, the United States would be a smaller, poorer, less populous country today. Mexico would have been so large as to be ungovernable, and would have been even more wracked by rebellion and unrest that than it was.
The treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo benefitted the United States in the sense that it was able to have more land and accept more immigrants, from Mexico as well as other countries. With this new acquisition of land, the United States was given more chance to improve the welfare of the states as well as the welfare of the people. As the frontier grew to California, the great westward march began.
Mexico was benefitted from this treaty in the sense that there was now hope for the future economy of Mexico. Now, people might actually be able to get jobs and earn an income. This in turn would encourage trade and sales which brings up the economy. People were now free to live outside the tyranny of a oppressive controlling government. They could now move about in freedom and not have to worry about someone reporting them to the government authorities for the slightest infraction of the rules.
There is notable importance of the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in today’s society. Without it, the United States might be very different. For example, we might not have the freedoms that we do today. If in some way we were connected to a dictator run country then our country would have suffered. This is said because, people wouldn’t be able to go and do what they want when they want. Everything would be controlled by the government, no one would be free to make their own decisions. No one would be free, we in a sense, would all be slaves in one way or another. There would be no freedom, there would be no peace.
Another key factor and important result of the treaty is democracy for the people of northern Mexico. The Bill of Rights guaranteed the people of the new territories precious freedoms that they were denied in Mexico. Democracy is the “free and equal representation of people: the free and equal right of every person to participate in a system of government, often practiced by electing representatives of the people by the people.” (Encarta) This form of government was virtually invented by the United States wanted to do more for it’s people then Mexico did for it’s people. Mexico may have tried to help it’s people but somewhere along the way, it lost site of what was good for the people and it resulted in a dictator run country. The United States on the other hand, always had in it’s mind what would be best for the people.
In conclusion, after analyzing the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, one may observe the importance it has served in the shaping of our democratic country. Also, the United States helped a country that was in desperate need of relief from an imposing, dictatorship. For all the criticism of the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, it remains true that the people of the American conquest were better off following the ceding of this vast tract of land from Mexico to the United States then they were before. The American South west, the population of these territories is today, nearly as great as that of Mexico, and enjoys a standard of living ten times higher. Hundred of thousands of Mexicans continue across the border established by the treaty each year yearning for a better life. While I, as a Mexican-American, wish Mexico well, it is only in the last ten years that the long dictatorship of the Party of the Institution Revolution or PRI for short had ended. Democratic election have now been held, and, for the first time in Mexican history there was a peaceful transition of power from one to another. There are all things to celebrate, to be sure, but they do not erase the fact that the Mexican-Americans, in the South west have enjoyed political and economic freedom for the past one hundred fifty-five years under a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
Occasionally, Chicano activists will suggest that the South west should rejoin Mexico. I say, let it be put to a vote. Were a popular referendum held today, I dare say that ninety-nine percent of the voters would reject either union with Mexico or an independent Chicano state. The verdict of history on the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo must be that it was, on balance, a good thing. However impure, self-interested, or even corrupt the motives of those Americans who wished to extend the United States to the Pacific, tens of millions of people have benefitted as a result.