The Mexican-American War (1846-1848) brought suffering to many families on both sides. However, while heavy casualties were something the countries had in common, the war outcomes varied greatly, with Mexico ceding to the US territories that now constitute large parts of New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Texas (Guardino 1). This essay will address the causes of the conflict and consider the political climate within both states.
The war was preceded by the American annexation of Texas, which Mexico had already lost control over due to several political miscalculations. Assuming that assimilation was possible, the authorities encouraged immigration from the US, lacking their people and resources to manage this geographically distant region (Guardino 31-32). Foreigners, however, ignored such requirements as transitioning into Catholicism and, striving to grow more cotton, which contributed to the expansion of slavery (Guardino 32). The subsequent prohibition of the practice exacerbated the tensions (Guardino 32). The attempt to restrict local authorities powers finally led to an explosion resulting in Texas independence, aided greatly by a new wave of immigrants from the American South who saw the possibility of acquiring new lands for cotton (Guardino 32). After the decade of independence, Texas was annexed by America when James K. Polk became the president (Guardino 33). This enraged Mexicans who still saw this region as a rebel province (Guardino 33). The political tensions surrounding the issue were the harbinger of the war.
Texas was not the limit of the American’s ambitions. Polk sent the troops allegedly to protect the newly annexed region, but the forces were too large for the task (Guardino 34). He also sent John Slidell to Mexico City to negotiate the disputed borders of Texas, as well as to persuade Mexican authorities to sell several territories (“Mexican-American War” para. 2). Mexicans, however, aware of his mission, refused to accept him (“Mexican-American War” para. 2). This was followed by the Americans occupying the disputed territories between Nueces and the Rio Grande (“Mexican-American War” para. 2). Polk sought to persuade Congress to approve the war by referring to Mexican refusal to discuss the American claims but was granted a better excuse when Mexican troops crossed the Rio Grande (“Mexican-American War” para. 3). This marked the beginning of the Mexican-American war.
However, not every political force within the US-supported Polk’s actions. Many people were concerned about the moral implications of the war. Some of the strongest opposition came from abolitionists and supporters of women’s rights (Guardino 203). They were marginal groups yet literate and powerful enough to find ways to express their disapproval (Guardino 203). Abolitionists claimed that it was a war in the interests of Southern slaveholders seeking to expand their lands (Guardino 203). However, their voices were probably not strong enough to present a serious concern to those in power.
On the other hand, there was a more powerful political opposition to the war. Whigs insisted that American influence in the world should be facilitated by commerce, not by violence (Guardino 204). They also had reasons to fear that the expansion of American territory will imperil the country’s unity and become a danger for the population’s homogeneity (Guardino 204). The opposition to the war grew even despite the victories, with even some Southern landlords fearing the ultimate success resulting in accession of territories inhabited by whom they considered ‘racial inferiors’ (Guardino 204). Moreover, the overall cost, both financial and of human resources, concerned many Americans (Guardino 205). This opposition likely prompted Polk to finish the war earlier than he initially planned, agreeing on fewer territories than he wanted (Guardino 207). One of the contributing factors was the lack of volunteers seen due to political criticism of the war and the news from Mexico about the spread of diseases (Guardino 207-210). Thus, a negative attitude towards the war was likely to limit its scope to a certain degree.
As for the Mexican side, political forces also lacked unity. Mexicans were homogeneous in their disdain of the Americans but lacked collective vision on how to fight them and on their state itself (Guardino 5). These political conflicts were among the major complications the country encountered during the war. Citizens were encouraged to fight by newspapers and pamphlets, as well as by speeches and sermons appealing to their identity as Mexicans (Guardino 211). However, divergent ideas on the nature of that identity proved to be a problem.
One of the main disputes concerned prolonging the war when it had already started to seem a lost cause. Some politicians felt that it did not worth the money and people lost. For instance, the authorities of Puebla State “gave up on the war after the failed attempt to recapture the city of Puebla” (Guardino 301). Public opinion was also turning against the war, especially after the fall of Mexico City (Guardino 302). There were two political antipodes (radical federalists envisioning more egalitarian Mexico and conservatives who saw Americans as a threat to Catholicism) who wanted to prolong the war opposing moderate federalists who considered the possibility of negotiations (Guardino 302-303). Eventually, the Mexican government accepted the conditions of the US’s treaty, acknowledging the lack of resources and political stability necessary to continue fighting.
To conclude, the war was draining for both sides of the conflict leading to many deaths and financial costs. The new territories brought to America wealth but also a lot of disputes leading the country into the Civil War (Guardino 3). The political conflicts within Mexico also continued well after the war (Guardino 3). Thus, it had a significant influence on the subsequent history of both states.
Guardino, Peter. The Dead March: A History of the Mexican-American War. Harvard University Press, 2017.
“Mexican-American War.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 2019, Web.