The Mexican-American War, and its importance toward American Leadership
In this essay, we intend to give a clear picture of the events that lead to the Mexican-American War. Also, we will show how the war went for the American side, and finally, we shall show how the war shaped the destiny of the modern United States, and the position it has today in the international politics. In this essay, we intend to focus on the American vision of what happened in the war. However, if we deem it necessary, we shall contrast our sources in order to give the most unbiased version possible. In that way, if an account or a source is heavily biased toward one side or another, we shall mention it.
The Mexican-American War (1846-1848), is regarded as the first experience the U.S. Army had in waging war in an extended conflict, and in a foreign land. Many scholars tend to forget this war, as it considers it small when compared with the American Civil War, a war that with its sheer size and significance, overshadowed the Mexican-American War. (Brown 1). Nevertheless, the Mexican War sports an incredibly important role in America’s history because it continued with the shaping of the United States boundaries and showed foreign powers that the United States was an emerging country. In the same light, we consider that another important part of the war is that it began to shape the United States manifest destiny and brought the country into the political spotlight. At the end of the war, the U.S. had acquired one million square miles of a territory that included: Arizona; California; New Mexico, and Texas. Also, the United States got portions of Colorado; Wyoming; Utah, and Nevada. According to Brown, the newly acquired land caused part of the problems of what it was going to become the American Civil War (Carney 2)
Causes of the Mexican-American War. In 1843, President Polk promised the annexation of Texas, who had previously got its independence from Mexico. However, Polk also wanted California and New Mexico as well. After hearing of Polk’s intentions, the Mexican government issued an ultimatum and said that if the American Government invaded Texas, it would be a declaration of war. In December of 1845, the U.S. annexed Texas, and despite the American efforts on buying Texas; California, and New Mexico, from Mexico, war erupted (Villescas 2).
The outcome of the War. To the American forces, led by Col. Stephen W. Kearny, and Commodore Robert F. Stockton, it was relatively easy to conquer the northern Mexican lands, as those lands had a minimal amount of population. However, after the entry of Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana, the tide started to turn for Mexico. Santa Ana was a charismatic general that led Mexico in many battles, but given the fact that American troops were better trained; armed and equipped, there was nothing much the General could do. However, for both countries the price of the war was high. 25,000 Mexican soldiers died in the two years of conflict. In the American side 14,000 died. Regarding the economic costs, the war cost around $100 million, roughly $2.9 billion today (Depalma 2). Besides, the U.S. had to pay $15 million in war reparations to Mexico after the war. For Mexico, the effects of the war were devastating. The country lost roughly a 30% of its territory, and the humiliation suffered lingered for many years, only subsiding after many years, when in the 1980s, Mexico decided to ally economically with the United States.
The importance of the War toward American Leadership. As we stated before, the war served the American purpose of fulfilling the country’s manifest destiny of expanding the country from the Atlantic, to the Pacific, an idea that started with the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. The Purchase started a period of territorial expansion of the United States. For the Americans, their expansion was justified, as they did not want the Europeans to recolonize the Americas, thus, expansion was to be American. That is why James Pol found so much support in his idea of invading Mexico (Becker 368). In the same way, the study of the 19th century America, and their expansionist policies, can show us many trends the country followed in subsequent wars. Ranging from the Spain-American War, to the Vietnam War, the expansionist policies the country carries, are all part of the idea that the United States was created to carry the torch of the reason within the countries in the American continent. In this case, the argument for the war was an expansionist one, using demagogy to inflame the population and drag them to a war that despite being won, brought suffering to many people.
After the Mexican-American War, the country waged two more conquest wars, but caved in to the pressure of the independence movements in the conquered countries –Philippines and Cuba- , and apparently learned its lesson on being a conquering world power. Nowadays, theUnited States do not wage conquest wars, instead the country uses another method to exert its influence in the world’s politics. Methods such as diplomacy and economic sanctions are more effective in the 21st century than they were in the 19th century. Besides, the country’s manifest destiny has been fulfilled, and the road ahead looks bright. It seems that wars such as the war we studied served their purpose of placing the U.S. in the place it has now, and although we deplore the use of violence, sometimes lives have to be lost to make way for the progress.
Becker, M. “The U.S. Manifest Destiny.” Web. <http://www.yachana.org/research/manifestdestiny.pdf>.
Carney, S. A. The Occupation of Mexico, May 1846-July 1848. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 2005. Print.
Depalma, A. “America’s Forgotten War.” The New York Times 19 Dec. 2011: 18-21. New York Times. Web. <https://lewishfa.wikispaces.com/file/view/Mexican American War.pdf>.
Villescas, D. “TheMexican-American War.” El Alma De La Raza Series (2009). Denver Public Schools. Web. <http://www.dpsk12.org/programs/almaproject/pdf/mex-americanwar.pdf>.
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