On April 25, 1846 a border dispute escalated into full-fledged war between the United States and Mexico. A small American unit of Dragoons was attacked and captured just north of the Rio Grande in Texas, which had recently been annexed by the United States. This incident was called the “Thornton Affair” after the American dragoon commander, Cpt. Seth Thornton.
The Mexican-American War can be traced back to 1836, when the mostly Anglo-American population of Texas revolted and broke away from the Mexican Government. The newly formed Republic of Texas would operate on its own for nearly a decade, under constant threat of being invaded by Mexico.
For the United States, the situation with Texas was also of grave national concern. While annexing Texas would most likely come with a declaration of war by Mexico, * the larger problem was that European powers, especially Great Britain, were trying to take Texas for their own.
When Texas was finally annexed at the end of President John Tyler’s term in office, tensions immediately rose between Mexico and the United States, and the biggest source was the location of the border.
In the Texas Revolution, the Mexican general and president, Santa Anna, was captured at the battle of San Jacinto. He was forced to give up all territory up to the Rio Grande. However, the Mexican government never recognized that border and declared it to be the Neuces River.
The United States tried to maintain the border at the Rio Grande, and the army was sent to that border as soon as Texas was annexed. Mexico then rushed its own troops to the border. A confrontation was nearly inevitable.
After the Thornton affair, the United States declared war on Mexico.
In a speech before congress, Polk said of Mexico:
Upon the pretext that Texas, a nation as independent as herself, thought proper to unite its destinies with our own, she has affected to believe that we have severed her rightful territory, and in official proclamations and manifestoes has repeatedly threatened to make war upon us for the purpose of reconquering Texas. In the meantime we have tried every effort at reconciliation. The cup of forbearance had been exhausted even before the recent information from the frontier of the Del Norte. But now, after reiterated menaces, Mexico has passed the boundary of the United States, has invaded our territory and shed American blood upon the American soil. She has proclaimed that hostilities have commenced, and that the two nations are now at war.
The Mexican-American War turned out to be a huge success for the United States as Gen. Zachary Taylor defeated Mexican armies in the northern part of Mexico, and Gen. Winfield Scott followed in the footsteps of the great conquistador, Hernan Cortes, and fought all the way to, and eventually conquered and occupied, Mexico City via his landing in the port city of Veracruz.
The eventual peace treaty was quite favorable to the United States. Texas, the Southwest territory and California were all accepted as rightfully belonging to the United States.
Unfortunately, there are whole host of misconceptions about the Mexican-American war today. Many see the war as unfair and unjust. Some of this is due to the modern conditions of Mexico and the United States, and some have to do with the internal political squabbles during the time of the war.
At the time of the Mexican-American War, Mexico much more powerful in relation to its northern neighbor, and many European observers thought that Mexico would defeat the United States because it had a larger officer corps and a strong military. Also, anti-war sentiment in the North was intense because it was clear that Texas would enter the Union as a slave state, giving further power to the South.
In his memoirs, Ulysses S. Grant, who fought in the Mexican-American War, said, “I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day, regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.”
Grant, Abraham Lincoln and most other Northerners disapproved because of the internal political impact. Despite the partisan anti-war sentiment, the United States did have many legitimate causes for war against Mexico.
President Polk also said of Mexico in his declaration of war speech that “solemn treaties pledging her public faith for this redress have been disregarded.”
American merchants had been harassed by corrupt Mexican officials for years and the Mexican government had done nothing about it. The Mexican government was highly unstable and in large part, corrupt , and the nature of the Mexican government directly affected American citizens.
“A government either unable or unwilling to enforce the execution of such treaties fails to perform one of its plainest duties,” Polk said.
The truth is that the people who live in the former Mexican territories that were taken by the United States live a much better life than they would under Mexican rule. There is no better proof of this than the droves of Mexican citizens that risk their lives to cross illegally into U.S. southern states every year.
If Mexico has ever had a legitimate grievance to attack the U.S. it perhaps may be now more than 1846. Operation Fast and Furious, which was a catastrophic operation carried out by the Obama Administration, illegally and secretively shuffled guns to Mexican drug cartels. These drug cartels murder Mexican citizens on a daily basis and are intentionally subversive to the Mexican government.
According to popular legend, the Mexican president of the late 19th century, Porfirio Diaz, said of his country’s problems, “¡Pobre México! ¡Tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca de los Estados Unidos!”
In English, the phrase is, “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.”