SUMMATION - Why Negotiations failed and war was inevitable

The reality of the situation was clear. Negotiations were useless because Mexico refused to accept the loss of Texas. Mexican pride could not accept the fact that a bunch of outnumbered farmers, ranchers, businessmen and adventurous young men from the U.S. had defeated the Army of Mexico. But this colossal stain on Mexican pride could be fixed if Mexico reconquered Texas. Mexico was not going to negotiate over the Texas border since settling the border issue would be an admission that Texas was separate from Mexico. Mexico considered Texas a breakaway province and wanted it back.

The reason Mexico went nuts when Texas joined the U.S. was because instead of attacking Texas, Mexico now had to attack the US. The whole military equation changed dramatically. Of course, this is why Texas joined the U.S. in the first place - for protection from Mexico.

Who was provoking who? 

Mexico put themselves into a corner with their never ending hate speech against America by most Mexican politicians which kept the people in a war frenzy. They had to attack the U.S. or be viewed as a traitor. After 10 years of constant war rhetoric from Mexico, the U.S. had to confront Mexico: Accept the fact you lost to Texas and negotiate or start the war you keep saying you want. It was time to resolve the situation. Taylor was on the Rio Grande to protect Texas and force a decision. That this display of force caused Mexico to start the war rather than bargain does not prove the U.S. provoked the war. It proves Mexico chose war over negotiations. 

Critics of the U.S. for over 150 years have condemned the U.S. for sending troops to the Rio Grande, maintaining this was a ploy intended to provoke Mexico into starting the war. This is bogus reasoning and ignores facts. Who was provoking who?? How could the U.S. be responsible for provoking a war with a country that had repeatedly declared war on the U.S., refused to negotiate, vowed to conquer Texas and put an invasion force on the border? Consider:

• First, Herrera was overthrown by General Mariano Paredes, whose sole objective was to start a war with the U.S. - a war they were certain they would win. On Jan 4th, Paredes publicly claimed every foot of Texas to the Sabine River - the border between Texas and Louisiana.(64) This was not just bluster on Mexico’s part. Lieutenant Gillespie of the U.S. Marines was in Mexico after Paredes took power and saw war preparations underway. Troops and military supplies were being assembled near Mexico City on a large scale.(93) 

• Second, Mexico’s obsession for 10 years was with conquering Texas, which they considered a breakaway province. Mexico did NOT attack Texas over a boundary dispute. Mexico NEVER said they merely wanted to conquer the land up to the Nueces River. Polk was aware of this Mexican scam.(95) 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. The obvious truth was that Mexico was NEVER going to resolve the border impasse as that would be an admission that Texas was separate from Mexico. Mexico intended to conquer all of Texas.  

• Third, Mexico apparently accepted the Rio Grande as the boundary. Santa Anna DID sign a peace deal with Texas which placed the southern border at the Rio Grande. Santa Anna DID instruct the remnant of the Mexican Army to position themselves south of the Rio Grande after their defeat by Sam Houston at San Jacinto in 1836, and this is where they stayed.(96) Mexico and Santa Anna both repudiated the peace agreement with Texas, so if Mexico DID consider the Nueces River the correct boundary line, why didn’t they place their army there, instead of the southern side of the Rio Grande? If Mexico was fearful of a confrontation by placing their army at the Nueces, why didn’t they negotiate on the issue?  President Polk believed the true Texas border was the Rio Grande, not the Nueces River: “The Texas which was ceded to Spain by the Florida treaty of 1819, embraced all the country now claimed by the State of Texas between the Nueces and the Rio Grande.”(95)

• Fourth, Mexico’s claim that America had no valid claim to land between the Nueces and Rio Grande is NOT true. Doctor John Beales made a contract with the State of Coahuila and Texas in Oct 1832 for colonizing a tract of land between those rivers, comprising three million acres. Beales brought at least two groups of colonists to a settlement named Dolores, north of Loredo between 1834 and 1836. Everyone fled for their lives when Santa Anna’s army invaded Texas early in 1836. One large wagon train was attacked by Comanche Indians and all the settlers were massacred except two women and their small children, who were taken captive.(97)

• Fifth, when General Taylor began his march to the Rio Grande River from Corpus Cristi, he constantly informed Mexican authorities of his movements, so Mexico would not think we were going to attack them. The U.S. stated multiple times their intentions were to defend Texas from Mexico’s constant vows to invade. 

• Sixth, Evidence after the war shows that Mexico desired the war. In Oct 1847, a pamphlet written by Mariano Otero, editor of El Siglo XIX and Senator from the state of Jalisco, appeared. Otero wrote: “The American forces did not advance to the Rio Grande until after the war became inevitable, and then only as an army of observation.”(92) In 1847, Santa Anna admitted that Mexico desired to go to war with the U.S., as did the minister of relations in 1849.(123)  In December, 1847, General Arista declared, “I had the pleasure of being the first to begin the war.”(92)

• Seventh, by refusing to resolve the border issue, Mexico - whether by design or accident - laid a political trap for the US. The boundary only became important AFTER Gen. Taylor’s force went south of the Nueces to the Rio Grande. Suddenly, Mexico claimed the U.S. invaded Mexican territory and Mexico was compelled to defend herself and her honor. Mexico thus absolved itself of blame for starting an offensive war to conquer Texas by claiming they were fighting a “defensive” war to conquer Texas! 

In his war proclamation of Apr 23, 1846, Paredes stated: “. . .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.”(98)

• Finally, there was the issue of Mexican belligerence towards the US over money owed American citizens. After years of stalling,(99A)(99B)(99C) Mexico finally agreed to make 20 quarterly payments for 5 years, starting April 1843. But after making 3 payments, Mexico stopped payments.

The U.S. was not the only country having problems dealing with Mexico. British diplomat Ashburnham said: “There is scarcely one foreign power with whom they have had any relation, which has not had more or less cause to complain of the iniquity and persecution to which its subjects here have been exposed;”(99E) Britain and France had used force, or the threat of it, to induce the Mexican government to pay claims on behalf of their citizens. The US was more patient with Mexico then it should have been - to the point that Mexico viewed our patience as weakness. Although the US had legitimate reasons to use military force against Mexico over the grievances, no president wanted a war with Mexico and Congress never pushed for one either.(99F) Polk did not want a war with Mexico. Had Mexico resolved the dispute over Texas, Taylor would not have been sent to the Rio Grande River to protect Texas from Mexico. 

Some critics claim US peace efforts were disingenuous - designed to fail. Actually it was the other way around. Mexico was disingenuous.

Polk did NOT want a war with Mexico

Polk had every reason to seek a diplomatic solution with Mexico. The U.S. Army was untested against a conventional army. The last time the U.S. Army faced off against a regular Army was the War of 1812, when they were routed by the British. Why would Polk fight a country with an untried army far from home over unfamiliar territory? Many foreign observers believed it would be nearly impossible to defeat Mexico - a nation of over 7 million people with many rugged mountains. The ability of Mexico to wage guerrilla war against our supply lines would prevent us from massing sufficient troops to defeat the Mexicans deep in their territory. Mexico could outlast the US without suffering disastrously, while the U.S. would have to wage an extremely costly war, raise a large army - at least 250,000 - and still not be able to defeat Mexico. Eventually the Americans would tire of the war, the never ending casualties, huge military spending and make peace on Mexico’s terms.(71)

If Polk was planning to go to war against a strong country like Mexico, he would have begun a massive build up for the military, but he did not.  Polk’s cabinet recommended an additional 2,600 men for the army and none for the Navy.(90) This is an inconsequential increase. 

The fact is the U.S. didn’t have to go to war to acquire California or New Mexico. The U.S. had thousands of immigrants moving west each year. Within a few years, California would have had a heavy majority of Americans and New Mexico would only be a few years behind. So why go to war, if population growth could accomplish the same thing without all the bloodshed and cost of a war?

Manifest Destiny?

This war was not a fulfillment of an abstract concept known as Manifest Destiny. Immigrants headed west for free land. Immigrants to Texas got one league (about 4500 acres) for free and immigrants to California got 11 leagues (about 50,000 acres) for free. If a settler bought unoccupied land in the U.S., you paid the federal government $1.25 per acre.(91) 

It’s important to recognize that Spain/Mexico, like many other countries, had their own version of “Manifest Destiny.” Spain’s “manifest destiny” was to conquer all of the New World (except for Brazil) for Spain and Catholicism. Incredibly, Spain wanted more then just the New World. In 1513, Vasco Balboa claimed the entire Pacific Ocean and all lands adjoining it for Spain. Although Balboa didn’t know it, he claimed modern day United States, Canada, Alaska, Siberia, Japan, Korea, China, The Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia - all for Spain. Many of Spain’s land claims were meaningless. It was really inevitable that Spain/Mexico’s “manifest destiny” would come into conflict with America’s more limited expansion. While Spain/Mexico was claiming land just to claim it - land they had a difficult time putting people on - the U.S. was expanding based on a growing population.

Texas was NOT the first state to secede from Mexico

Because of 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 in Guatemala City. The Union fell apart in 1838 and the five provinces became independent nations. So why hasn’t Mexico made an issue out of this over the past 190 years? Is it because they are fellow Spanish, whereas the northern territories came under control of those evil Anglo Americans? Are Mexicans racist? Just wondering.

Mexican leaders did use some racist rhetoric against Americans. For instance, General Mejia issued this declaration after Taylor informed him he was moving to the north side of the Rio Grande River: “For what Mexican worthy of the name can resign himself not to fight to the death and so to see his noble race under the detestable domination of the foreigner?”(92)

There was no American conspiracy to steal Texas away from Mexico.

Some historians contend that American settlers moved to Texas in the belief that sooner or later the US would annex Texas into the Union. While there is no doubt that some settlers had this in mind, this was a minority view.(24) To believe that thousands of poor immigrants moved to Texas as part of a vast conspiracy to steal Texas away from Mexico is ludicrous. Americans settled in Texas to start a new life because land was far cheaper then in the U.S. Most were content to live their lives peacefully in Mexico.(25)  This is easily proven as most Texans were so apathetic they didn’t join the revolt until Santa Anna’s Army was moving into Texas!(26) Had Santa Anna treated his prisoners humanely, the revolutionary zeal in Texas and the U.S would probably have waned.

The U.S. was neutral during the Texas rebellion, refusing to send US Army forces to help Texas. Although young men were recruited from the U.S. and supplies were purchased in the U.S., it was not the deciding factor in the surprise victory of Texas  over the Mexican Army at San Jacinto. If the U.S. had grand designs for acquiring Texas, the logical step would be to support the Texans since there was no reason to believe that Texas would be successful in their revolt without outside help.  

In addition, the minutes of public meetings, town councils, and committees of correspondence, as well as private letters, provide extensive proof that in early 1835 most people were content being citizens of Mexico.(27)

To claim that the Texas revolution occurred because of Anglo settlers conveniently ignores the fact that many states in Mexico rebelled against the central government in Mexico City and these states had few if any Americans. With the near constant rebellion of Mexican states, it just might be the fault of the government of Mexico. The revolt in Coahuila, Zacatecas and Texas was the direct result of Santa Anna establishing a dictatorship - not an issue contrived by Texans so they had an excuse to revolt. What made the Texas situation unique - and unforgiveable from Mexico’s point of view - was that the central government was defeated by an Anglo army.

Why Revisionist historians are wrong

With the same information available to everyone, why is there such a difference of opinion on who started the Mexican American War? The answer is revisionist historians, such as Howard Zinn, are politicians first and historians second - they pick and choose what information to include in order to ‘prove’ their storyline. ANY evidence that would support Mexico’s claim is given prominence but evidence that shows Mexico was guilty of starting the war is minimized or ignored.

It is a sad fact in today’s world that America has to be 100% perfect in any given situation or the U.S. position is suspect. If America is only 99% correct, then the doubters believe America is 100% wrong.  America’s adversaries can have huge inconsistencies in their arguments, but their position is always given the benefit of the doubt.  

Continue to "Mexican American War."

Return to: Causes of the Mexican American War of 1846