*** American history Mexican War

Mexican-American War (1846-48)

Mexican-American War
Figure 1.--This monument in Mexico City honors the Boy Heroes (Niños Heroes) of Chapultepec Castle. These six boy cadets leaped from the castle battlements rather than surrender to the Americans during the Mexican-American War. The image here wethink depicts one of the boys and his mother who is clearly of Native American ancestry. The Boy Heroes were, however, of upper class origins. Perhaps our Mexican readers can provide some insights here. The boy heroes were Juan de la Barrera, Juan Escutia, Francisco Márquez, Agustin Melgar, Fernando Montes de Oca, and Vicente Suarez. At 19, de la Barrera was the oldest, while 13-year-old Marquez was the youngest. De la Barrera, the son of a general, was born in Mexico City. Escutia was from Tepic (then in Jalisco, now in Nayarit), but nothing is known about his family. Melgar was a Chihuahua native and the son of an Army lieutenant colonel. The only Tapatio (one who hails from Jalisco) was Márquez, born in Guadalajara. He was raised by a stepfather, a cavalry captain named Francisco Ortiz. His father having died when he was very young. Also orphaned on his father's side was Montes de Oca. He hailed from the Mexico City suburb of Azcapotzalco. Suarez, born in Puebla, was the son of a cavalry officer.

The Mexican War was a conflict between the United States and Mexico. It is one of the most important wars fought by the United States because of the vast area of land annexed, about one-third of Mexico. It has, however, been given relatively little attention by American historians, possibly because it does not fit well into America's self image. Assessments of the War vary among both Mexican and American historians. Mexican historians generally agree, American historians do not. And these assessments have varied over time. The War began when Mexican units attacked U.S. troops in disputed territory between Mexico and Texas (April 25, 1846). Their initial fighting took place in northern Mexico when General Zachary Taylor attacked across the Rio Grande. A small American force took New Mexico and California. When Mexico refused to make peace the United States invaded Mexico at Vera Cruz. The forced commanded by Gen. Winfield Scott moved inland and occupied Mexico City (September 14, 1847). A peace treaty was signed a few months later at Guadalupe Hidalgo (February 2, 1848). Mexico recognized the U.S. annexation of Texas and ceded California and New Mexico to the United States. Mexican historians have always seen the Mexican War as naked aggression by the United States. Some American historians in recent years have also come to this conclusion. This is some truth in this, but a strong jingoist element in Mexico desiring to retake Texas has to be considered. One often ignored question is why so few Mexicans moved into the northern territories. One reason the United States prevailed in the War was what is now the southwest (California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico) was very lightly populated. The War is important because by undoing the Missouri Compromise, the Civil War became almost inevitable. Also notable was the roles played by key figures in the coming American Civil War.


The Mexican War was a conflict between the United States and Mexico. It is one of the most important wars fought by the United States because of the vast area of land annexed, about one-third of Mexico. It was the last War fought by the United States before it emerged as an industrial power. The War has been given relatively little attention by American historians, possibly because it does not fit well into America's self image and and national narrative. Of course it was soon overshadowed by the great crisis of the American Republic and much larger conflict--the Civil War (1861-65) which dominates American 19th century historiography. Assessments of the Mexican War vary among both Mexican and American historians. Mexican historiography has been fairly consistent. American historians have offered a more varied view of the war. And the American assessments have varied over time, colored by the changing ideological outlook of the authors. Undisputed is the fact that the Mexican War was a major step in determining the modern political map of North America.

Native Americans

Northern Mexico at the time of the Mexican War for Independence and the Mexican-American Wat, while in may seem strange was not occupied by many Americans. Rather it was occupied by many Native American tribes who fiercely defended their lands. Both the arid territory and the fierce tribes discussed many Mexicans from moving north. Neither the Spanish army or subsequently the Mexican Army was able to offer security to Mexican settlers. Before the invention of repeating riffles, the highly mobile tribes like the Comanche and Apache were able to effectively defend their territory. The horse and mastery of light cavalry tactics were major factors in the ability of the Native Americans defend their territory.


The Spanish Government had brutally suppressed a rebellion by Tejanos during war for independence. Santa Anna had participated in that action. American interest in Texas increased after the Louisianian Purchase (1803). Lightly settled Texas proved an irresistible draw for Americans moving west. Moses Austin received a land grant from the Spanish government (1821). His son Stephen Austin obtained conformation from the new Mexican Republic (1823). Texanos and Americans resisted Santa Anna's efforts to impose centralist rule resulting in Texas independence (1836). For nearly 10 years Texas existed as an independent republic, the so-called Lone Star State. Texans wanted to join the Union. Texas admission into the Union became a major issue in American politics. The southern states wanted Texas admitted as a slave state. Growing anti-slave forces blocked the admission of Texas for several years. One concern was that several slave states would be created from Texas changing the balance of power in Congress. The issue was further complicated when Britain began promoting an independent Texas. This pushed out-going President Tyler to promote the annexation of Texas. he United States annexed Texas by a joint congressional resolution (1845).

Manifest Destiny

A The term Manifest Destiny began to be used by Americans in the 1840s. Here they had in mind the western territories of Texas, California, and Oregon. The two most emotional issue was Texas and Oregon. Texas became embroiled uin the slavery debate. Oregon became part of the still intensely anti-British feeling in America.

Election of 1844

The Democratic Party in the 1844 election championed expansion. The Party supported the annexation of Texas to appeal to the southern wing of the Party and asserted a claim to all of the Oregon Territory up to 49°40' which appealed to the northern wing of the Party. Nominee James K. Polk was adamant about Texas which would mean war with Mexico. Southern Democrats were increasingly interested in expanding slavery even at the cost of undoing the Missouri Compromise. Gaining Texas a a new slave state was first step in this enterprise. Whig nominee Henry Clay opposed expansion. This probably cost him the election. The possibility of a third war with Britain loomed. And by a 1840 American-British relations were approaching a crisis. Polk was, however, willing to compromise over Oregon as the United States could no go to war with both Mexico and Britain. Polk's bold statements were designed to obtain an acceptable compromise with the British.

President Polk (1845-49)

President James Polk won the 1844 presidential election in large measure because of his belligerently anti-British campaign. He focused in particular on the Oregon Territory. His campaign slogan was 54-40 or fight". Assuming office he declared that "the people of this continent alone have the right to decide their own destiny." In the end Polk wisely settled the Oregon dispute with the British, agreeing to a compromise of following the already established eastern border with Canada to the west, bisecting the Oregon Territory. This was considerably south of 54° 40'. The settlement with Britain allowed Polk to focus on Mexico which objected to the annexation of Texas. President Tyler had stolen a march on Polk an annexed Texas. This left Polk. however, with the issue of how to deal with Mexico. Mexico never recognized Texan independence and warned the United states nit to annex it.

Mexican Politics

I am not sure to what extent President Polk assessed the political situation in Mexico. As far as I can tell, his policies were pursued without any real consideration of Mexican political developments. Mexico in the mid-1850s was a divided country with an unstable government. Spanish colonial rule was highly exploitive, draining Mexico of its mineral wealth. An independence movement began with Hildalgo's "Grito de Dolares" while Spain was immersed in the Napoleonic Wars (1810). The Holy Alliance emerging from the Congress of Vienna desired to reimpose Spanish and royalist rule in the South America. This resulted in the Monroe Doctrine (1820) and more importantly the opposition of the British with the powerful Royal Navy. Mexico finally achieved its independence from Spain (1821). Mexico emerged as am independent republic. The Constitution off 1824 set up a federal system. Military dictator General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna replaced it with a more centralized system in the Constitution of 1835. Two factions emerged in Mexican politics, the Federalists who wanted a decentralized constitutional democracy and the Centralist led by Santa Anna who wanted a centralized autocratic government led by a monarch or dictator. Santa Anna and the Centralists controlled the government (1835-44). His policies set off regional revolts, one of which resulted in Texas independence. Moderates and federalists seized control of the government (December 1844) and forced Santa Anna into exile. José Joaquin Herrera became acting president of Mexico. Centralist schemed to overthrow Herrera and the federalists. The U.S. annexation of Texas (1845) provided the centralist with a rallying issue. Santa Anna who was in Cuba wanted to return to Mexico to lead the opposition to the federalists and the Americans. This was complicated by an American naval blockade. He managed to convince Polk that he would sort out the issues without war, Polk ordered that he be allowed to travel to Mexico. Once in Mexico, he seized control of the government and began preparing for war.

Mexican and American Social System

Authors writing about the Mexican War often display their ideological biases by the way they describe the social systems of the two countries. And this is important not only because the bias of many authors clouds their work, but it this period before the United States was heavily industrialized, the social systems largely determined the outcome of the War. It is true that about half of the American states were slave states, but it is also true that the great bulk of the male population were free citizens and as a result of the Jacksonian reforms, fully enfranchised. The great bulk of the American population enjoyed liberties and freedom of opportunities unavailable to any other people on the planet. We do not dismiss the blight of slavery or the mistreatment of Native Americans, but only point out the wider achievement of liberty for the great bulk of the population at a time when most countries were governed by monarchies and aristocracies. This is the issue that President Lincoln raised in the Gettysburg Address--arguably the greatest oration in the English language. Mexico it is true had abolished slavery, but the Afro-American population in Mexico was very small and relatively few individuals were affected. And Mexican society was dominated by the criollo elite, a very narrow sluice of society. A much larger number of Mexicans were campesinos living in serf-like conditions on haciendas. The difference between the two national societies who largely determine not only the War, but the trajectory of national development after the War. And it is part of the reason that Mexicans today seeking economic opportunity have to cross the Rio Grande.

Mexican Army

The Mexican and American armies were very different. The American Army was an entirely volunteer force. American officers had been trained at West point and had a degree of professionalism especially the younger officers, men like Jefferson Davies, Ulysses Grant, and Robert E. Lee. The Mexican Army was a conscript army. Many had been press ganged. The ordinary soldier was an illiterate campensino with no real sense of national identity. They were exploited by land owners and after being forced into the army by their officers, many of whom had purchased their commissions and profited from them. This began at the top with President Santa Ana. The soldiers were poorly equipped and supplied and terribly led. Despite this, the Mexicans soldiers fought tenaciously and with great courage. 【Clary】

Diplomatic Maneuvers

President Santa Anna made it clear that American annexation of Texas was unacceptable to his government. Tensions escalated as Congress began to move toward Texas annexation. The Mexican government informed the Tyler administration that it would consider annexation "equivalent to a declaration of war". The Federalists that ousted Santa Anna (December 1945 took a more moderate position. Herrera was moving toward recognizing the Republic of Texas, a step the British Government was promoting. As Santa Anna warned, his ambassador in Washington took the first step toward war and broke diplomatic relations with the U.S. government as soon as Congress passed the Texas annexation resolution. The Herrera government wanted to avoid war. He forwarded a message indicating his government's willingness to resume diplomatic relations relations (August 1845). Herrera was willing to accept not only the loss of Texas, but annexation. Herrera seems to have come to the conclusion that it was wise to settle all outstanding issues with the United States. Besides Texas Herrea wanted to settled the claims issue. As a result of Mexican independence, foreigners has unpaid monetary claims on the Mexican government. European governments (Britain and France) with navies had used military force to compel payment. The United States attempted to use diplomacy and, as a result, Mexico never paid the claims. Herrera wanted to remove all outstanding issues between Mexico and the United States to make sure there would be no war. He asked President Polk to appoint a minister plenipotentiary. Polk selected John Slidell. Polk may have not been that concerned with the claims issue. Here historians disagree. What he wanted now that Texas had been annexed was New Mexico and California. Slidell arrived in Mexico City with an offer to purchase California and New Mexico and to resolve the Texas boundary. The Republic of Texas had claimed the Rio Grande as its southern boundary. The Mexican state of Tamaulipas, however, claimed the area north of the Rio Grande to the Nueces River. Even Mexicans willing to settle the Texas issue were not willing to compromise in the boundary issue. Herrera's accommodation foreign policy was not popular in Mexico. The Centralists sharply criticized Herrera for offering concessions to the Americans. The Centralist nationalistic stance proved popular in Mexico. Centralist leader Mariano Parades y Arrillaga demanded that Herrera attack the United States and resolve the Texas issue by force (August 1845). The Centralist agitation proved so popular that when Slidell arrived in Mexico City, Herrera decided it was wisest not to meet with him (December 1845). Parades sensing Herrera's weakness proclaimed his revolutionary manifesto (December 14). He marched with his supporters to Mexico City. When he entered the City, Herrera fled (January 2, 1846). Herrera was proclaimed president (January 4). One of his first acts as president was to order Slidell to leave Mexico.

Mexican Expectations

The enormous differences between Mexico and the United States did not exist in the 1840s. America was not yet an industrial nation, although manufacturing had begun in the northeast. America had a larger population, but not enormously so. Most of the American population lived east of the Mississippi, far from Texas where Parades thought the war would be fought. Mexico at the time the war occured had a larger and more experienced army than the United States. It was a 32,000 man force which Santa Anna had formed and used a considerable portion of government revenues to arm and maintain. He used it to quell uprisings in various Mexican states, often with considerable brutality. The Mexican army was about five times the size of the United States army at the time war broke out. Parades thought that the logistics involved would favor the Mexican Army. The Americans would have a hard tome reaching Texas and would find it even more difficult to move into Mexico. He also was aware of the American slavery debate and thought this would prevent Polk from taking decisive action. Parades and other Mexican leaders were convinced that their military superiority would enable them to win back Texas. Parades even talked about continuing east and taking New Orleans and Mobile, the two most important American ports on the Gulf of Mexico.Some Mexicans thought a Mexican invasion of the United States would precipitate a slave uprising would leave the United States encapsulate of continuing the war.

Outbreak of War (January-May 1856)

President Polk when the Slidell mission failed did not declare war. Polk did order General Zachary Taylor to move his army from his position on the Nueces River south to the mouth of the Rio Grande into the disputed territory and to defend Texas (January 1). Historians do not know why Polk did not ask for a declaration of war, but the annexation of Texas had been controversial, primarily because it added a slave state to the Union. Presumably Polk did not believe he could get firm support from Congress. Taylor reached the Rio Grande (March 28). Anti-slavery forces criticized Polk for moving forces to the Rio Grande, seeing it as a move to provoke Mexico into a war that would add even more slave states. Parades and the Centralists did not see the Texas question as a boundary issue. They wanted all of Texas back and like Santa Anna they saw the American annexation of Texas as reason for war. Even before Taylor moved his army to the Rio Grande, Parades began mobilizing the Mexican Army and restated his intention of attacking the United States. Parades ordered his commander stationed at Matamoros on the Rio Grande to attack the Americans (April 4). When the commander hesitated, Parades replaced him. Parades then declared war (April 23) and ordered the new commander to attack. Wiser consul might have convinced Prades that Santa Anna had failed to defeat a small, poorly armed Texas militia that he was unlikely to defeat the United States. But he had seized control by appealing to Mexican nationalism and exerting Mexico's claim to Texas and was determined to make good his appeal. The fighting began when Mexican units crossed the Rio Grande and attacked a U.S. dragoon patrol commanded by Capt. Seth B. Thornton in the disputed territory (April 25, 1846). The Thornton Affair was a small engagement. Taylor reported that Thorton's patrol had been ambushed. Mexican forces staged two more attacks north of the Rio Grande resulting in battles at Palo Alto (May 8) and Resaca de la Palma (May 9). American forces repulsed both attacks. The Mexican offensive is someones referred to as the siege of Fort Texas. Taylor's report of the Mexican attacks across the Rio Grande arrived in Washington (May 9). The following Monday, Polk finally presented a declaration of war to Congress (May 13). There was vocal opposition to war, especially from the anti-slave forces, but Congress voted the declaration of war (May 13).

Northern Campaign (May 1846-February 1847)

President Polk ordered General Zachary Taylor to move his army into the disputed territory to the mouth of the Rio Grande. Anti-slavery forces criticized Polk for ordering Taylor to the Rio Grande, seeing it as a move to provoke Mexico into a war that would add even more slave states. Even before Taylor moved his army to the Rio Grande, Parades began mobilizing the Mexican Army and restated his intention of attacking the United States. Parades ordered his commander stationed at Matamoros on the Rio Grande to attack the Americans (April 4). When the commander hesitated, Parades replaced him. Parades then declared war (April 23) and ordered the new commander to attack. The War began when Mexican units crossed the Rio Grande and attacked a U.S. dragoon patrol commanded by Capt. Seth B. Thornton in the disputed territory (April 25, 1846). It was a small engagement. Taylor reported that Thorton's patrol had been ambushed. Mexican forces staged two more attacks north of the Rio Grande, at Palo Alto (May 8) and Resaca de la Palma (May 9). American forces repulsed both attacks. Taylor's report of the first attack arrived in Washington (May 9). The following Monday, Polk presented a declaration of war to Congress (May 13). There was vocal opposition to war from the anti-slave forces, but Congress voted the declaration of war (May 13). Parades and his supporters were shocked when Taylor's numerically smaller army repulsed the initial Mexican attacks across the Rio Grande. He ordered the new commander to move back from the Rio Grande thinking that the Americans would not pursue the war in the difficult terrain of northern Mexico. The rest of the northern campaign took place south of the Rio Grande in northern Mexico. President Parades had though American divisions would impair the war effort. In fact, news of the Mexican attacks across the Rio Grande had the impact of increasing popular support for the War although a vocal opposition continued. Taylor finally began planning a campaign south to seize the principal northern city of Monterrey. Monterrey was fortified and had a garrison of over 10,000 men. Taylor's army reached Momterrey (September 19). He began his attack (September 21). After intense fighting, Mexican commander General Pedro de Ampudia requested an truce which Taylor accepted. Taylor permitted him to withdraw his battered forces from Monterrey (September 25). A key factor in the War proved to be Mexican domestic divisions. Santa Anna established his headquarters at San Luis Potosi, far to the south. It was there that he leaned of the American redeployment through captured dispatches. Santa Anna began moving his 20,000 man army north to engage Taylor's weakened force of only about 7,000 men (January 1847). Despite having a much smaller force, Taylor decided to give battle. He set up defensive positions at Buena Vista. Santa Anna launched his attack (February 22). In two days of heavy fighting, Santa Anna almost overwhelmed Taylor's inferior force. When he failed, he disengaged and moved south to deal with political disorder in Mexico City and Scott's invasion. Buena Vista was the last important engagement fought in the north.

Western Campaign

What is now the American southwest, was the far north of Mexico. The Mexicans and the Spanish beore them had taken very little interest in the region. A small American force succeeded in taking New Mexico and California which were only lightly populated by Mexican settlers and lightly defended. Captain John C. Fremont proclaimed the independence of California (July 4). Navy Commodore John D. Sloat took Monterey, California (July 7) and then Yerba Buena (present San Fransisco) (July 8).

Public Opinion

Public opinion is an interesting question during the Mexican War because we know there were varied opinion among Americans. It is difficult to assess, however, because there were no such thing as a public opinion polling. The War was presented to Americans by President Polk as a Mexican attack on American soil. It is true that the War began with a Mexican attack. It is a matter of conjecture that the President was attempting to goad the Mexicans into attacking. This my be the case, but it is clear that the Mexicans showed no interes in a negotiated settlement, It is true that the the attack took place on disputed territory. Many accounts indicate that the Texan claim to The Neuses was strong, but all the ay to the Rio Grande was less firm, but it is not unreasonable to seed troops into disputed territory. The Mexicans did the same. There is no doubt that moving an army to the mouth of the Rio Grande was provocative. But Mexico sending troops into the disputed region and failure to pursue a negotiated settlement was also provocative. Opposition to the War was initially centered on the increasingly contentious slavery issue. One of the outspoken critics of the War was Whig Congressman Abraham Lincoln. One history maintains that that opposition to the war grew and one of the reasons that opposition to the War grew was the very high casualty rate, mostly from disease. American soldiers experienced a higher casualty rate in the Mexican ar than in any other war America has fought. It also seem clear that many Americans were enthralled by the battle victories and completion of America's manifest destiny by seizing California. These were matters that still affected Americans in both the North and South.

Southern Campaign (March-September 1847)

President Polk decided to pursue a southern strategy and selected General Winfield Scott to command the landing force. This became the decisive campaign of the War. This probably was a sound decision. Driving south from Buena Vista would have required a long campaign over extremely difficult mountainous territory. When Mexico refused to make peace the United States invaded Mexico at Vera Cruz. A siege of the port ensued (March 9-29). Scott captured the fort at the Veracruz harbor (March 27). Scott, with 800 men, drove 15,000 Mexicans from the pass at Cerro Gordo (April 18). A young Robert E. Lee played an important role. Command of Cerro Gordo opened the way to Mexico City. The forced commanded by Gen. Winfield Scott moved inland and occupied Mexico City (September 14, 1847). Santa Anna renounced the presidency and split his remaining forces. He took half of the Mexican forces and attempted to retake Puebla. Thus on the same day Mexico City fell to the Americans, the siege of Puebla began (September 14-October 12). Colonel Thomas Childs commanded a small force of Americans that had been left by Scott to garrison the city. General Joaquín Rea commanded the Mexican guerrilla forces in the area around Puebla which participated in the siege. It was the most important of Mexican guerilla efforts to cut the American supply lines between Mexico City and Vera Cruz. The siege proved to be the last significant threat to U.S. forces in central Mexico. Small-scale guerrilla raids continued to harass American supply lines (1847-48). Scott assigned General Lane to keep the supply lines ones.

Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo (February 1848)

A peace treaty was signed a few months later at Guadalupe Hidalgo (February 2, 1848). Mexico recognized the U.S. annexation of Texas and ceded California and New Mexico to the United States.

Santa Anna

Santa Anna went into another exile in Kingston, Jamaica (1851). He then moved on to Turbaco, Colombia (1853). He was then supported by rebellious conservatives and he successfully again seized the presidency. His last reign was no more successfully than the earlier ones. It was primarily notable for funneling government into his personal coffers. He proved an additional territory to the United States--the Gadsden Purchase (1853). Not satisfied with the presidency, he declared himself dictator for life and styled himself the "Most Serene Highness". This did not last long and the Ayutla Rebellion began his final fall (1854). Santa Anna made generous pay offs to the military. But by this time even Conservatives had lost faith in his leadership. Liberals led by Benito Juárez and Ignacio Comonfort overthrew Santa Anna and the dispirited Conservatives. Santa Anna again sought refuge in Cuba. The new Government found evidence of massive corruption and tried him in absentia for treason. As a result, the Government confiscated his enormous estates. He moved several times, living in the United States, Colombia, and the Virgin Islands. One actual achievement during this period was importing the first shipments of chicle, the first successful base for chewing gum, to the United States. He did not, however benefit financially because he sought to use it to replace rubber. The American working with him, Thomas Adams, worked with the chicle and called it "Chiclets". This was the foundation of the American chewing gum industry. Santa Anna's primary diversion during this period was cock fishing and he spent much of his dwindling resources on the fighting roosters. Late in his life Mexico declared a general amnesty and Santa Anna returned to Mexico for the last time (1874). He was in ill health ad almost blind from cataracts. The Government largely ignored him. He was not recognized when the anniversary of the Battle of Churubusco was celebrated. He died in Mexico City in virtual poverty (1876).

Mexican Settlement

One often ignored question is why so few Mexicans moved into the northern territories. One reason the United States prevailed in the War was that just as Texas had been lightly settled, California and New Mexico were also lightly settled.

Taylor Presidency (1849-50)

Taylor quarreled with President Polk. The President through his support behind Army Chief of Staff of Staff Winfield Scott. Polk ordered some of Taylor's best units to be transferred to Scott's command. Taylor was left with only a small force in northern Mexico. It was thus Scott's force which landed at Vera Cruz and took Mexico city. Taylor's run for the presidency was in large part due to anger over how he as treated by Polk and Scott. The Whigs were desperate for a presidential victory. Taylor had been involved in a popular war in 1848. He had earlier shown little interest in politics. But he was aggrieved for being abandoned by Polk after gaining important victories.

Civil War Figures

The Mexican War was a major factor in the outbreak of the Civil War. It had secured vast Western lands that Southern Planters wanted to expand slavery. Cotton could not be grown in the northern states formed from the Louisiana Purchase. Cotton could be grown in Texas and the states to be formed in the southwest could provide new slave states to balance out the increasing majority of Free states. Many planters also understood the need for western land because of the degree to which intense cotton cultivation reduced the fertility of the soil. The Mexican War thus undermined the Missouri Compromise which had deescalated sectional discord. The Mexican War is also notable because of the roles played by key figures in the coming American Civil War. Many of the senior figures of the Civil War fought in the Mexican War. It was in Mexico that they got their first taste of combat. Much of what they knew about war was learned in Mexico. It was the Mexican War provided these career officers with vital combat experience --something which can not be learned at a West Point classroom. Confederates included: Braxton Bragg, Jefferson Davis, Henry Heth, Thomas Jackson, Joseph Johnston, Robert Lee, James Longstreet, and George Pickett. Federal officers included Ulysses Grant, Winfield Hancock, George McClellan, and George Meade. Most of these men served in minor roles as junior officers. This was not the case of Lee. He was an engineer on Winfield Scott’s staff, becoming part of Scott’s inner circle of officers which became his 'little cabinet'. Scott significantly influenced Lee and much of his command style came out of his relationship with Scott who at the onset of the Civil War commanded the U.S. Army and authored the war-winning Anaconda Plan. One source explains Scott's imprint on Lee. "Scott taught Lee how to command an army in addition to teaching him important tactics and strategies. In Mexico, Lee learned that superior numbers did not guarantee a victory, that one could win with smaller forces by using superior tactics which included creative use of the terrain, surprise, flexibility, and adaptability. Lee took these lessons to heart during the Civil War as he won numerous victories despite inferior manpower by creating a tactical advantage. Scott believed risk-taking was the best way to maximize an advantage. While Scott did not like to throw his troops into battle haphazardly, he preferred offense to defense. Lee matched Scott’s boldness and became a very aggressive and calculated general." Lee admired and respected Scott, not only during the Mexican War, but throughout his career. Scott was convinced that there would not be a civil war. It seems likely that this influenced Lee's decision to side wtth Virginia and the Confederacy. That of course is speculation. What is not speculation is that most of the many of the Civil War's most effective commanders were the commanders who had fought in Mexico.


America's first initiative with Latin America began with the Monroe Doctrine (1820). America at the time did not have the military capacity to back up its proclamation. Here the major force preventing European colonization was the British Royal Navy. The first real engagement with Latin America was the Mexican War. It is one of the most controversial wars in which the United States has engaged. Historians still debate the War with considerable passion. Over time a historical consensus often emerges, but this is not the case with the Mexican War. Views of the War are colored by both national passion (mostly in Mexico) and ideological outlook (primarily in the United states). In both cases,basic historological standards are often ignored.

American aggression

Mexican historians have always seen the Mexican War as naked regression by the United States. Some American historians, usually those with left-wing orientation, in recent years have also come to this conclusion. This is considerable truth in this, but a strong jingoist element in Mexico desiring to retake Texas has to be considered. An important point here is that provocative actions (which the United States did take) and actual military attacks (which Mexico did) are two very different steps. There is a tendency to view the War in terms of the modern disparity in state power. The relative power of Mexico and the United States in the early- and mid-19th century was mush less unbalanced. The United States won the Mexican War, not by massive industrial might or overwhelming large armies, but by superior military leadership, primarily emerging from the more egalitarian American social structure.


The Mexican War was controversial at the time in the United States because abolitionist sentiment was growing in the North. And many northern Whigs saw the Mexican War as a veiled effort to extend slavery by evading the Missouri Compromise which covered only the territory acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. Texas Independence (1836) and even more so the Mexican-American War (1846-48) had a huge impact on the American slaver debate. All yoy have to do is look at the map to understand this. The southern United States basically ended at the Mississippi. The Louisiana Purchaser (1803) did not even include all of the modern state of Louisiana. Now as you move north, the Louisiana Purchase land involved spread west. But the Missouri Comprise (1820) basically precluded the expansion of slavery because there was so little American territory west of the Deep South cotton producing slave states. The acquisition of the northwestern Mexico totally transformed this situation. Now what is now Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California beckoned to southern planters. This occured just at the time that abolitionists had begun to sway sentiment in the North. Not only was more cotton producing land available, but new slave states would help to maintain the balance of free and slave states in Congress. It is difficult to separate the nationalist and pro-slavery motivations of southerners at the time. There is no doubt that extending slavery was a factor. Bur the idea of Manifest Destiny was a powerful force in Americans politics long before slavery became a major issue in national politics. Left-wing historians tend to portray Polk as a villain in American history for this reason. One historian writes that a nation founded on equality and proclaiming liberty for Latin American republics in the Monroe Doctrine, invaded the sister republic of Mexico that had successfully fought for its independence from Spain and had eliminated slavery to boot, while the United States seemed to be invading for the express purpose of restoring it." 【Widmer】 The author's ideological miopia and manipulation of facts is mind googling, but sadly all to common. The reference to American slavery is fair enough, but there is a convenient omission of the fact that a large part of the Mexican population were land-less campesinos living in serf-like conditions on the edge of survival with no real hope of improving their condition in life. These inequities would eventually lead to the Mexican Revolution (1910).

American imperialism

It is generally the case today to view the Mexican War as an early example of American imperialism. A case can be made for that. But Mexican President Santa Ana himself wanted a war so it is somewhat unfair to view the war as a one-side example of American aggression. And after the War, Mexicans were granted U.S. citizenship which is not normally what is done by a colonial power. Now it is true that Latinos were treated unfairly by Anglo officials and businessmen. The general trend in modern historiography is to stress this. And we note a comparable trend by the media in the United States to pursue this thread. The American PBS network, for example, runs quite a few programs about how Hispanics are treated unfairly. Now we do not object to this in itself. It is part of the historical record and needs to be told. We do object to the relentless one-sided presentation, especially when the public funding is considered and PBS's claim to promote ideas and discourse. Completely absent from the PBS and other media presentation is that Mexican society has terribly exploited its own people through both corruption and ideologically based policies.

Economic opportunity

America has provided an opportunity for millions of Mexicans and other Latin Americans to find decent jobs and live at levels of prosperity impossible in Mexico. Completely absent from this discussion are two uncomfortable facts that liberal oriented historians and journalists refuse to confront because of their ideological banners. First, as badly as Hispanics were once treated in America, it was not as bad as they were treated in Mexico. There was no significant movement of Hispanics in the Southwest to Mexico. And the ladowners horrendous exploitation of the Mexican compesino finally exploded in the Mexican Revolution. Second, the exploitation of Mexican workers has not ended. Millions of Mexicans have chosen to forsake their country and families to seek ddecent jobs in America. This relentless left-wing mantra that Hispanics are mistrated in America sounds hollow indeed when confronted with the simple fact that millions of Hispanics choose to live in America.

Ehtnic Studies

There is a movement in America to promote ethnic studies in both grade schools and at the university level. Now there is validity to this idea. Unfortunately there is a tendency tof many of those involved to produce a cultural narrative rather than accurate historical assessments. A good example of this is the ethnic studies curriculum developed in California (2019). It had a substantial section on Islamophobia, but totally omitted any consideration of antisemitism. The Mexican-American War is another flash point. The trend there is to present the War as one of American aggressive rather than a war of two contending imperial powers over land mostly occupied by Native Americans--something you might think would be mentioned in an ethic studies curriculum. We just listened to a university lecturer on C-Span, he made the absurd suggestion that the Mexican Army failed bcause they were worn down by Native American attacks. 【Calloway】 And of course he brought up American society (slavery), but not a word about Mexican society. There are reasons that Mexico lost the War, but they had nothing to do with either Native American attacks or slavery and a great deal to do with Mexican society. 1) Mexico was an agricultural country without a capitalist economy which drove industry. This affected arms and ordinance production. 2. A large part of the Mexican population was landless campesinos living on hacienda only marginally part of the national society and moneyed economy. They were not slaves, but they did not have many basic civil rights. they were poorly supplied and treated, affecting their fighting spirit. 3) Santa Anna was the most incompetent military commander ever faced by an American army. 4) Political instability in Mexico City forced Santa Ana to withdraw from the Battle of Buena Vista

The Press

One rarely discussed development is how the Mexican War impacted American news reporting and how it diverged from the rest of the world. At the time of the Mexican War, the United States was still a very rural country, but cities were beginning to grow and industries was forming, specially the rail roads. New York City with the completion of the Erie Canal (1825), New York had emerging as the preeminent American City over Baltimore, Boston, and Philadelphia. Thus the country' most important newspapers were New York City newspapers and a fierce battles began between rival newspapers inevitably leading to innovation. Benjamin Day founded the New York Sun (1833) and he proved to be a fierce competitor. He offered his papers at penny, only 1 cent, outselling all his rivals during a minor banking crisis. He also inaugurate the unheard of idea of actually hiring reporters. Until this time, newspapers generally relied on reports sent in by readers. His successor, Moses Yale Beach, went much further. And his steps were set in motion by Samuel F.B Morse who received the first patent for the elector-magnetic telegraph (1840). There is some differences as to who the true inventor was, but what is important is that by 1840, telegraph lines were being laid. Until this times had changed much since Pheidippide' famed run to Athens (490 BC), but not by much. Before 1840 news only travel as fast as the fastest horse or stagecoach or at sea the fastest ship. This lead to incidents like the Battle of New Orleans being fought after Britain and America had made peace. The telegraph changed that, once the lines were laid. For some time as the telegraph lines were being laid, riders, train and mail could help deliver the news. Agents in the big cities would meet ships from Europe with foreign newspapers conveying the latest news. The Sun was the most aggressive newspaper. They had type setters on steamboats from Albany (the state capital) so the presses could run as soon as they reached New York City. The Sun bragged about its 'Exclusive Express'--"From Albany Through by Horse and Sleigh in 10 Hours and ½." By 1946 when war with Mexico broke out, the Sun had a system of telegraph lines, Pony Express, and U.S. Mail coach organized bring its readers wars news before any other newspaper. The first battles occurred at the Texas border and in northern Mexico. Foreseeing an endless campaign through endless Mexican mountains ordered an invasion of Veracruz leading to a shorter campaign toward Mexico City. The first telegraph began running down the East coast, but had not yet expanded into the south beyond Richmond. Beach sought to obtain dispatches from Mexico before his competitors. His system was to get a hold of the dispatches which were sent from Veracruz by boat. They were landed at Mobil, Alabama. Beach had an express rider waiting to carry the dispatches to Montgomery. There the mail coach went to Richmond where there was a telegraph head. The riders from Mobil did not get paid unless Beach got a 24-hour edge. But that was not all of his scheme. Beach offered to let his competitors in on his expensive scheme. Four papers agreed to participate (The Courier and Enquirer, The Journal of Commerce, The Express, and The Herald). They became known as 'the associated press'. This was the origin of the modern Associated Press or AP. It was a news service unlike any other bcause it as commercial. The AP was a business but became a kind of public trust. Other countries began setting up news services to deal with the costs of delivering news from domestic and foreign services. But in other this was done by the government. But this meant that the governments managed and manipulated the news for governmental purposes. In America the AP ought to deliver the news to the public, even though the Government might to be happy with what was reported. The AP since the Mexican War, at least until the modern woke era when journalists begin thinking that they were social justice warriors. Beach's AP removed competition and duplication. More newspapers joined and they began sharing their own local news with the New York-based AP. Soon as the telegraph system broadened, the AP was providing news from across the country and eventually overseas. The U.S. Congress investigated, how the AP was evading Government censors during the Civil War, but was unable to control reporting (1862). 【Komor】


Calloway, Colin. Dartmouth Universality. C-Span. 2016 lecture rebroadcast (August 27, 2019).

Clary, David. Eagles and Empire: The United States, Mexico, and the Struggle for a Continent (2009).

Komor, Valerie S. "How the Mexican-American War Gave Birth to a News-Gathering Institution: The Associated Press Was Built for Speed and Straight Facts," Zócalo (September 4, 2015).

Widmer, Ted. Ark of the Liberties: America and the World (Hill and Wang, 2008), 355p.


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