The Peace Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

Texas Revolution and Mexican American War (continued)

After over a decade of insults and obstinate refusals to negotiate, Mexico had finally been put into a position where it had no choice but to finally make a deal. In a country with about 7 million people, a tiny American Army had taken control of the capital city, the main port of Veracruz, many major cities and ports, arsenals, forts and even the mines in Mexico plus all the territory north of the Rio Grande River - Upper California and New Mexico.. The state of Yucatan had refused to send any men to fight the Americans. Most of the native Americans living under Mexican rule felt no desire to defend Mexico. By the end of the war, Mexico only had 8,109 men left in their army(112) and the country was broke.(113) The US could continue to occupy these cities indefinitely because the vast majority of the local population were content to live under US occupation. The truth is the average Mexican had it better living under the US military then under their own corrupt government. Some Mexicans wanted the US to annex ALL of Mexico so it would have a good government.(114a)

General Ethan Allen Hitchcock, who served superbly under General Scott, recorded in his diary on Nov 14, 1847: “During my sickness I have had many interesting interviews with intelligent Mexicans on the political relations of this country and my own. . . . three distinguished members of Congress, now sitting at Queretaro, and the editor of a liberal paper here.” They “wish that the troops of the U.S. may hold this country till the Mexican army is annihilated, in order that a proper civil government may be securely established. They are opposed to payment of money by the United States to the government of Mexico, saying it would only corrupt those in power.” “General Scott, while in command in the city of Mexico, was urged to issue a pronounciamento and declare himself dictator for six years; but he declined at once. . .”  On Nov. 26, he wrote: “. . . Another proposition was discussed at great length this morning. Dr. ----- came to see me, saying he was going to Queretaro, and wished to ask the Mexican Government to apply for admission into the Union of the United States.”(114b)

Ulysses S. Grant, later to become a general in the Union Army during the Civil War remarked: ”...the people who remained at their homes fraternized with the “Yankees” in the pleasantest manner. In fact, under the humane policy of our commander, I question whether the great majority of the Mexican people did not regret our departure as much as they had regretted our coming. Property and person were thoroughly protected, and a market was afforded for all the products of the country such as the people had never enjoyed before.” (115a) 

This realization by the ruling class in Mexico meant that it was time to make a deal so the “hated” gringos would go home.  On Oct 20, 1847, negotiations to end the war were started with Pena y Pena, the head of the interim government and a moderate who wanted peace. The negotiations continued slowly til the end of January, 1848, when the Mexican side accepted the new boundaries but demanded $30 million for the territory. The US negotiator, Trist, turned this down, but on Feb 2, 1848, agreement was reached and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, ending the war.  The treaty gave the U.S. California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming. In return, Mexico received $15 million and the U.S. assumed Mexican debts of $3.25 million owed to American citizens. As Bernardo Couto, one of the negotiators put it, “The present treaty does not merely prevent an increase of our losses by a continuance of the war; but it serves to recover the better part of that which was already under the control of the conquering army of the United States; it is more exactly an agreement of recovery than an agreement of cession.”

Many historians and Mexicans believe this treaty was unduly harsh on Mexico. Mexico didn’t leave the US any choice but to be harsh. Because of Mexico’s refusal to negotiate on anything, war was the ONLY answer. If Mexico had recognized Texas independence 10 years earlier, this war could have been avoided. In addition, Mexico refused to pay monetary compensation to Americans. While no American president would go to war over monetary claims against Mexico, once Mexico started the war, compensation in the form of land became the policy. Polk said on Dec 7, 1847, “It is well-known that the only indemnity which it is in the power of Mexico to make in satisfaction of the just and long-deferred claims of our citizens against her and the only means by which she can reimburse the United States for the expenses of the war is a cession to the United States of a portion of her territory.”(115b)  The war cost at least $75 million. With Mexico’s hostility towards America appearing to be permanent, the new border on the Rio Grande River gave the U.S. a much shorter and more defensible border. 

The reality is that the U.S. was far more generous to Mexico then they needed to be. We paid Mexico $15 million for New Mexico and California - land we already controlled - and the U.S. gave back to Mexico the land we had conquered south of the Rio Grande. Unlike so many other conquering armies, we treated civilians with respect, paid our just bills, took care of wounded Mexican soldiers and did not pillage the riches of Mexico - primarily Catholic Churches.

Most Mexicans had little interest in California or New Mexico. Spain had numerous plans to colonize Alta California since the early 1600s. But after well over 200 years, California was sparsely settled - about 15,000 Mexicans on this land.(116) Over 99% of the Mexican population (7 million people) lived on the land south of the Rio Grande and less than 1% lived north of the Rio Grande. By early August, 1848, U.S. troops had been completely withdrawn from Mexico.

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General Mariano Vallejo

"My opinion is made up that we must persevere in throwing off the galling yoke of Mexico, and proclaim our independence forever. All will probably agree with me that we ought at once to rid ourselves of what may remain of Mexican domination....but another remains to be taken. I will mention it plainly and distinctly: It is annexation to the United States. In contemplating this consummation of our destiny, I feel nothing but pleasure, and I ask you to share it. Discard old prejudices, disregard old customs and prepare for the glorious change which awaits our country. Why should we shrink from incorporating ourselves with the happiest and freest nation in the world, destined soon to be the most wealthy and powerful? When we join our fortune to hers, we shall not become subjects, but fellow-citizens, possessing all the rights of the people of the United States, and choosing our own federal and local rulers. We shall have a stable government and just laws. California will grow strong and flourish, and her people will be prosperous, happy and free.”(120) 

General Mariano Vallejo, Commandant of the Mexican Garrison, Sonoma, Alta California, June 1846

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Aftermath of the War

The fact that such a small American Army was able to control a country of 7 million people proves that a lot of Mexicans were not that interested in fighting the “hated” Americans and stayed home. If all of Mexico had mobilized to defend the country, an army of over a quarter million men could have easily been raised.

Most Mexicans living in Texas, California and New Mexico had little loyalty to Mexico and were not concerned about American rule. Many actually favored being under American jurisdiction as it would provide stable government. However, after the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, some Mexicans chose to return to Mexico. Most Mexicans stayed and were granted US citizenship. 

Many Mexicans struggled after the US took over. Mexican administrators had created vast cattle ranches or ranchos in California where a small number of families emerged as the governing elite. Most used Native Americans or low class Mexicans as virtual serfs. One of the effects of the US takeover was the abolition of the rancho system, class distinctions along with the peonage system. Education was now for everyone, not just the privileged. Free enterprise and self initiative was largely a new concept, as was the US legal system. Some land grant claims became contentious issues. 

Despite some misgivings, Mexican Americans only had to look at the never ending chaos in Mexico to understand how much better their lives turned out to be.

Some prominent former Mexicans played important roles in the early days of Texas and California.  In 1851, former General Mariano Vallejo, elected to the California State Senate, donated land for the first state capital in Vallejo. The former Mexican Governor Pio Pico was also elected to the California State Senate. Romualdo Pacheco became California governor and was elected to Congress twice. Pablo de la Guerra, who had served in Castro’s army, became a California state senator and then lieutenant governor and district judge. The first Vice-President of the Republic of Texas was Lorenzo de Zavala, formerly the governor of the State of Mexico.

The bad decisions by Santa Anna and other Mexican leaders in both the Texas rebellion and Mexican American war left a legacy of disaster for the Mexican people. Our hope is that events of long ago can be put behind us so the Mexican and American peoples can be friends and allies today just as the American and British people are.

Return to: "Mexican American War."

Continue to: "Mexican American War today".

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R6 updated on 15Nov2016.
R7 updated on 20Feb2017

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Ulysses S.Grant
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Mexican cession in 1848.


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Lorenzo de Zavala.
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Born in Yucatan in 1788, he was a principal writer of the Mexican Constitution of 1824. He fought against monarchy and centralized government power, a belief that forced him to flee to the United States in 1830. Out of frustration with Mexican politics, he joined the Texas rebellion. Fluent in Spanish, English and other languages, he served as translator for Sam Houston in his negotiations with Santa Anna after his capture at the battle of San Jacinto. 

In 1831, Zavala wrote a book about his time in the US, titled: Journey to the United States of North America. The book is similar to de Tocqeville's "Democracy in America", and the two men - from very different backgrounds - hold similar views about the United States. Zavala writes: "What will be the final outcome of its greatness and prosperity? ...it is a new social order, brilliant, positive; a political system that has excluded all privilege... Standing before this political phenomenon statesmen of all countries, philosophers, economists have stopped to contemplate the rapid march of this amazing people, and agreeing with one accord on the never before seen prosperity of its inhabitants side by side with sobriety, love of work, unlimited liberty, domestic virtues, a creative activity, and an almost fanatical religious feeling..."(pg 189)