Texas Revolution and Mexican American War 

Condensed

There is considerable opinion in the US and nearly universal opinion in Mexico that the Mexican American War was a war of aggression against Mexico. Most Americans have been taught that the US provoked Mexico into attacking the US so we could steal the Southwest from Mexico. This is NOT accurate. 

The Mexican American War of 1846-48 was actually a continuation of the Texas War for Independence fought 10 years earlier. 

In 1821, Mexico successfully revolted against Spain and became an independent country. But due to the dysfunctional state of Mexican politics - and only 2 years after independence - five states in Central America declared themselves independent from Mexico - Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. On July 1, 1823, the United Provinces of Central America was formally established. Constant infighting and wars resulted in the Union falling apart in 1838. The five states became independent nations without any interference from Mexico or threats of perpetual war. 

Mexico invited Americans into Texas in 1821 and by 1834 there were about 30,000 Anglos. Mexico was in a  constant state of political turmoil so Santa Anna was appointed President in May, 1833 to restore order. Santa Anna  became increasingly dictatorial and in 1835, he abolished all state legislatures and centralized all power in Mexico City.

This centralization of power by Santa Anna caused the Mexican states of Texas, Coahuila and Zacatecas to revolt. On May 11, 1835 Santa Anna’s Army crushed the revolt in Zacatecas and 2,000 civilians were killed. Fearing a similar fate, the governor of Coahuila, Agustin Viesca, disbanded the legislature on May 21. On June 25, Viesca issued the following appeal: "Citizens of Texas, arise and take arms, or sleep forever! Your most cherished interests, your liberty, your properties, even more, your very existence depend on the changing whims of your most relentless foes."(1)

 
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Mexican General Filisola.“In our opinion the blood of our soldiers as well as that of the enemy was shed in vain... The massacres of the Alamo, of Goliad, of Refugio, convinced the rebels that no peaceable settlement could be expected, and that they must conquer, or die...” [4]

Hostilities started in Texas in Oct. 2, 1835. On March 6, 1836  Santa Anna’s Army overwhelmed Mexicans and Texans defending the Alamo, with around 200 men fighting to the death. Texas was on the brink of defeat, but on  April 21, 1836, San Houston’s Army of 750 men defeated Santa Anna at San Jacinto River. Over 700 Mexicans were killed and 730 captured.  Santa Anna was captured the next day. 

On May 14, 1836, Santa Anna signed the Treaties of Velasco that made Texas an independent country. The Rio Grande River became the boundary between Mexico and Texas.

Mexico ignored the peace treaty and vowed never ending war on Texas until they reconquered the land. When Texas voted to join the US in 1845 for their own protection. Mexico declared - repeatedly - that war with the United States was inevitable. In 1846, General Mariano Parades overthrew the existing government with one stated objective - start a war with the United States and retake Texas. 

Due to Mexico’s constant calls for war, President Polk ordered 4,000 troops under General Zachary Taylor to march to the Rio Grande River. Taylor consistently informed the Mexican government of his movements and stated multiple times their intentions were to defend Texas from Mexico’s constant vows to invade. 

On  Mar 21, Paredes declared that Mexico “does not recognize the American flag on the soil of Texas” and “will defend its invaded territory. . .”(2) In a letter dated Apr 18, 1846, Paredes wrote to General Arista who commanded the Mexican force along the Rio Grande River: “It is indispensable that hostilities begin, yourself taking the initiative.”(3)

It is interesting that Mexico quietly accepted the loss of five southern states in 1823 but vowed never ending war on Texas. Is it because the five southern states are fellow Spanish, whereas the northern territories came under the control of those evil Anglo Americans? 

On Apr 23, 1846, two days BEFORE the Mexican Army attacked the US Army, Paredes revealed his excuse to justify attacking the U.S.: “. . .I have commanded the general-in-chief of the division of our northern frontier to attack the army which is attacking us; . . .From this day defensive war begins, and every point of our territory which may be invaded or attacked shall be defended by force.”(5) 

“Our general. . . has demanded from the commander-in-chief of the American troops that they retire to the other side of the Nueces River, the ancient boundary of Texas, and the demand has been refused. . .”(5) 

 
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Nueces and Rio Grande Rivers.

The Nueces River is about 100 miles north of the Rio Grande River. The Treaty of Velasco made the Rio Grande the boundary. Mexico NEVER said they merely wanted to conquer the land up to the Nueces River. If Mexico wanted the boundary to be the Nueces, they had 10 years to bring it up with Texas, and later the U.S. and negotiate a deal. But the issue was really not about the border. Mexico was NEVER going to resolve the border impasse as that would be an admission that Texas was separate from Mexico. Mexico owned all of Texas and intended to conquer it. 

On April 25, 1846, 1,600 Mexican troops crossed the Rio Grande and ambushed a force of 80 American troops. Eleven men were killed and the rest taken prisoner. President Polk received a report of the ambush on May 9. On May 13, Congress declared war on Mexico.

Initial U.S. strategy was to defend Texas and then attack across the Rio Grande into Mexico and conquer the Mexican territories of New Mexico and California. This, it was hoped, would persuade Mexico to negotiate a permanent peace with the U.S. By August, 1846, these lands had been conquered. But with Mexico still refusing to negotiate, a heated debate took place in Washington on how to prevent this war from dragging on indefinitely. General Taylor’s opinion was that we had already conquered enough territory to pay all of our monetary claims against Mexico, and we should just stop the war and force Mexico to undertake any future offensive operations. Many in the U.S. favored this idea over a long war of attrition.(6)  

 

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Land ceded to U.S. after the Mexican American War

Ultimately, this idea was rejected. Such a defensive plan was precisely what the Mexicans, whose ancestors had fought the Moors of Spain for hundreds of years, desired. It was exactly this policy of endless war against Texas that had propelled Texas to join the American Union for her own defense. Endless war with Mexico would have required a large and continuous military force on the border and eroded national resolve.  By November, Polk realized that Mexico had to be conquered.  U.S. forces would have to occupy or threaten Mexico City and that it would be best to approach it from the Gulf coast, rather than from the north, taking the same route Cortez followed three centuries earlier when the Spanish conquered the Aztecs.(6)

On March 1847, General Winfield Scott made his amphibious landing near Vera Cruz with about 12,000 men. Unable to maintain a secure supply line, Scott lived off the land. Mexicans eagerly sold Scott all the food and supplies he needed because the U.S. Army paid in cash. 

Over the next 5 months, the American Army, with less then 15,000 men repeatedly outmaneuvered, outsmarted and decisively defeated Santa Anna and the Mexican Army. On September 13, 1847, Scott’s men entered Mexico City. Santa Anna fled the country.

Negotiations with Mexico were difficult. 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. 

If Mexico had recognized Texas independence 10 years earlier, this war could have been avoided. While no American president would go to war over monetary claims against Mexico, once Mexico started the war, there had to be consequences. 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.”(7)  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 shorter and more defensible border. 

Historical revisionists claim we provoked Mexico into attacking the U.S. Army so we had an excuse to go to war and steal what became the southwest US from Mexico. The truth is Mexico was eager to start this war because they were confident they would defeat the US. After being thoroughly crushed, Mexico changed their story and decided it was all the U.S. fault by claiming the US goaded Mexico into attacking the US. Historical revisionists have blindly followed the Mexican line.

Mexicans today claim the southwest US is historically Mexican land. Wrong. This land is historically Indian land. The Spanish stole it from the Indians and then lost this land after the Mexican American War.

Today, 170 years later, many Mexicans believe the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was too harsh. So the issue today is this: Even if Mexico is 100% to blame for starting both wars - which they were - did the US have the right to take almost half of Mexico’s territory? The answer is ABSOLUTELY YES!! Here’s why:

Mexico was looking for an excuse to start this war because they were certain they could defeat the US. But Mexico lost every major battle. To have beaten Mexico as badly as we did, conquered most of their country including the capital city, and then told them they must accept Texas as part of the US, which it already was, and then retreated back to the U.S. would not have been fair to us. This would have been an unforgivable disgrace to the men who died and the rest who went through hell to attain victory - and we would be inviting another attack.

Now put yourself in Mexico’s shoes. Your army has been repeatedly defeated, nearly the entire country has been conquered, and the consequences are - nothing!! Just be nice and don’t threaten Texas again! In a machismo society like Mexico, would they sit back and say ‘OK’ or would Mexicans think we Americans are unbelievably gullible. Mexico would hold Americans in contempt for conquering their country and not making them pay a price for their warmongering. The reality is that once Mexico attacked the US, losing the land north of the Rio Grande became necessary to repay the US for the cost of the war and repay US citizens for monetary damages Mexico refused to pay. Mexico had to pay a price for attacking the U.S.

If the US could change history, what could we change so Mexico would love us today? If we only kept Texas and gave back the southwest U.S., would Mexico still hate us for keeping Texas? Absolutely yes. If we gave Texas to Mexico, would they love us? No, Mexico would still be bashing America and sending drugs and illegal aliens into all parts of our country. Giving all this land to Mexico would gain us nothing. 

Most Mexicans believe that if they had kept ownership of the land north of the Rio Grande - Texas, California and New Mexico, these areas would be economically prosperous like they are now. This is delusional thinking. These areas became prosperous because they belong to the US, not Mexico. Had these lands stayed under the control of Mexico, they would not have helped Mexico prosper. This part of Mexico would be as dysfunctional as the rest of Mexico. All that would change is that constant revolutions, widespread poverty, a disastrous economic system, bad health care, poor education, political turmoil and murderous drug cartels would be in a country twice as large as it is now. Even more illegal immigrants from Mexico would be coming into our considerably smaller country for jobs. 

So be happy the U.S. won. For detailed examination of the Texas Revolt and Mexican America war, go to:

http://americanaction.us/index.php/american-history/mexican-american-war/
Sources:
1. Myths, Misdeeds, and Misunderstandings, (1997) Jaime E. Rodriguez O. and Kathryn Vincent p. 71
2. Two Armies on the Rio Grande (2014) by Douglas Murphy, p 46 
3. War with Mexico, vol1. (1919), Justin H. Smith p.155
4. "A Critical Study of the Siege of the Alamo and of the Personnel of Its Defenders," Amelia Williams, Southwestern Historical Quarterly, July 1933. p 37 http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101094/m1/45/?q=filisola
5. The United States and Mexico, 1821-1848, by George Lockhart Rives, pg. 141,142
6.  War with Mexico, vol1. (1919), Justin H. Smith pgs.347-352 
7. Claims As a Cause of the Mexican War, by Clayton Kohl, pub 1914, p 72
8. University of Texas at Austin.  http://www.cah.utexas.edu/exhibits/Pena/english/exhibit7.html  
9. The World Book 1999