The Mexican-American War was a mid-nineteenth century military conflict that resulted in substantial land gains for the United States. The purpose of the present sample historical essay is to provide a general overview and analysis of the Mexican-American War. As with every instance when a client orders a sample historical essay from Ultius, this work is expository in nature. The essay will begin with background context, primarily focusing on the Annexation of Texas.
Then, it will proceed to consider the key points within the Mexican-American War. After this, the essay will analyze the rationales for the conflict and the validity of those rationales; and finally, the essay will reflect on the potential ongoing implications of the Mexican-American War for current relations between the two nations that were involved.
History essay on The Mexican-American War: The annexation of Texas
In order to understand the context of the Mexican-American War, it is necessary to talk about Texas. The region of Texas, which was originally a part of Mexico, declared independence as a nation in the year 1836. Mexico was at first itself a territory of Spain, and American settlers sought permission from Spain to develop land within the region of Texas. When Mexico become independent, these negotiations were conducted with the government of Mexico; but this quickly led to serious conflicts, as the Americans within the region of Texas began to outnumber the native Mexicans in the region.
As Mexican immigration in the early republic increased, the situation escalated into military conflicts including the famous Battle of the Alamo. Major figures involved in this conflict included Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston, after whom major cities within present-day Texas are of course named. In any event, on the 2nd of March of the year 1836, “Texas’ revolutionary government formally declared its independence from Mexico” (History, paragraph 5). This began Texas’ decade as a sovereign and independent nation.
After Texas declared independence from Mexico, it began to seek annexation by the United States: that is, it sought to cease to be an independent nation and instead become an American state. This was a key catalyst for the emergence of the hostilities between Mexico and the United States during this time. From the Mexican perspective, Texas had declared independence and departed from Mexico primarily because American settlers, in a manner reflective of the removal of Native American Indians, overwhelmed the Mexican residents of the region; and the fact that Texas then sought to formally become a part of the United States added a great deal of insult to injury, as it were. Texas was formally annexed by the United States in the year 1846; and this was also the year in which the Mexican-American War began.
Key points in the Mexican-American war
The key Mexican general in the Mexican-American War was Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, and the key American general was Winfield Scott. The specifics of the various battles that occurred during the conflict would surpass the scope of the present essay, which seeks to primarily fulfill the function of an overview. In broad terms, what can be said is that the American armed forces met with success after success, to the point that at the end of the conflict, they were marching on Mexico City itself. And by that point, the Mexican armed forces were prepared to fully accept defeat. As the extensive US-Mexican War section of PBS.org states:
In the early hours of September 14 , instead of having to fight his way through town, Scott instead received a delegation of Mexican politicians who surrendered the city unconditionally. The U.S. army that had begun the campaign to capture Mexico City in early March now marched triumphantly to the national plaza, victorious at last. (paragraph 3)
In short, the Americans won this war in a rather spectacular fashion.
Battles of the Mexican-American War Source: Thoughtco.com
Major campaigns, dates and the victors of the Mexican-American War.
|1. The Battle of Palo Alto||May 8, 1846||U.S.|
|2. The Battle of Resaca de la Palma||May 9, 1846||U.S.|
|3. The War in the West||June, 1846||U.S.|
|4. The Battle of Monterrey||September 21-24, 1846||U.S.|
|5. The Battle of Buena Vista||February 22-23, 1847||U.S.|
|6. The Siege of Veracruz||March 9-29, 1847||U.S.|
|7. The Battle of Cerro Gordo||April 17-18, 1847||U.S.|
|8. The Battle of Contreras||August 20, 1847||U.S.|
|9. The Battle of Churubusco||August 20, 1847||U.S.|
|10. The Battle of Molino del Rey||September 8, 1847||U.S.|
|11. The Battle of Chapultepec||September 12-13, 1847||U.S.|
The Mexican-American War was formally concluded by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. This treaty reflected the fact that Mexico had unconditionally surrendered to the United States. As Christopher Minster has written, the treaty:
Ended the conflict and ceded vast Mexican territories to the USA for $15 million and forgiveness of certain Mexican debts. It was a coup for the Americans, who gained a significant part of their current national territory, but a disaster for Mexicans who saw roughly half of their national territory given away. (paragraph 1)
There is a certain irony in the fact that while the conflict originally began over control of just the territory of Texas, the Americans won more—and the Mexicans lost more—land than either nation had really anticipated or bargained for. The United States actually won the entire stretch of land from Texas to California.
Rationales for the Mexican-American war
It would be almost impossible to understand the Mexican-American War without considering the ideology of manifest destiny. In short, this ideology consisted of the proposition that it was the natural fate of the United States to stretch from sea to shining sea, or to occupy all of the North American land from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans. This may seem rather obviously self-serving at the political level. As Scott has made clear, though, the ideology was actually rooted in real religious conviction:
But Manifest Destiny was not simply a cloak for American imperialism and a justification for America’s territorial ambitions. It also was firmly anchored in a long standing and deep sense of a special and unique American Destiny. (paragraph 2)
In short, the American people of the time did in fact sincerely believe that they were called by God for a special purpose, in a not un-similar sense to how the people of Israel were called in such a way within the Bible.
This ideology is necessary for understanding both the annexation of Texas in particular and the more general territorial conquest of Mexico in general. From the perspective of the ideology of manifest destiny, Mexico was standing in the way of the American fulfillment of the nation’s divine mandate; and as such, Americans were not only justified in taking but also had a positive duty to take land from Mexico (Griswald de Castillo 31).
Mexico, incidentally, had been suffering fom major political instability since gaining their independence in 1824. This began in an implicit way through Americans settling in the region of Texas, which after all was why Texas eventually switched hands from Mexico to the United States; and it proceeded in an explicit way over the course of the Mexican-American War, through which the United States sought to push its advantage to the fullest and essentially grab as much Mexican land as possible. This is why the Mexican-American War has also sometimes been called—and perhaps with greater objective accuracy—the Invasion of Mexico.
The Mexican-American war and manifest destiny
In this context, whether one believes that the American rationale for war was justified would seem to hinge entirely on whether one does, in fact, believe in the proposition that the United States was fulfilling a divine mandate by going after Mexican land. Although in-line with creation myths from around the world, from a strictly secular and political perspective, such a move could only be called unscrupulous at best. However, the very nature of a religious belief is such that it makes little sense to a person standing outside the circle of belief.
The ancient Jews, for example, clearly believed that they as a people had a special calling from the Lord, with many of their political decisions hinging on this thoroughly religious premise; and of course, many people today still believe in the Bible and see nothing wrong with this state of affairs. Similarly, if one actually believes in manifest destiny, then there would seem to be nothing irrational or even immoral about the United States going for a land grab. Indeed, from that perspective, the truly immoral thing would have been to not do that and thereby fail to live up to the nation’s divine mandate.
This land is your land, this land is my land
Insofar as one rejects manifest destiny as a self-serving mythology, though, the only conclusion that could be drawn is the American decision to go after Mexican land was deeply immoral in nature. Moreover, it is also unclear whether that decision was fully justified by the contemporary law of the land within the United States itself. The issue of expansion and annexation in United States foreign policy is still a hot topic for debate today. For example, Baude has argued that it was probably unconstitutional for the United States to pursue the annexation of Texas:
A power to annex foreign territory is too important to be inferred through the Necessary and Proper Clause. Because the Constitution does not enumerate a congressional territorial-acquisition power, Congress therefore disregarded great-powers limitations in annexing Texas . . . through joint resolution” (paragraph 4).
However, this would be nothing new for the United States: President Jefferson had previously gone against even his own views on the Constitution in order to make the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon. It would thus seem that the siren song of manifest destiny has always been too alluring for the United States to resist.
Ongoing international implications from the Mexican-American war
From a present-day perspective, it would be easy for most to imagine that the United States has always geopolitically looked the way it does. But this is obviously far from the case. As the blogger, Sharp Iron has pointed out, the territories acquired by the United States as a result of the Mexican-American War include the current states of: Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California.
Land Gained by the U.S. in the Mexican-American War Source: Synonym.com
The gain of land for the United States was truly huge; and correspondingly, the loss of land from the Mexican angle was also colossal.
Most present-day Americans have, with the nonchalance of the winner, likely forgotten about this. On the other hand, most present-day Mexicans probably still remember this, and it is probably an ongoing cause of resentment between the United States and Mexico—a resentment that confuses Americans, for the simple reason that they do not remember what it was all about.
Moreover, it is worth considering whether the religiously inspired doctrine of Social Darwinism and manifest destiny is still alive and well within the present-day United States, except expanded to the global arena this time around. Since World War II and then the end of the Cold War, the United States has clearly emerged as the strongest nation on the planet; and the foreign policy of the United States clearly indicates that the nation aspires to a kind of global hegemony at not only the political but also the economic and the cultural levels.
It is not difficult to see the ongoing trace of the ideology of manifest destiny in this situation and in these aspirations. When the United States was still less than half of its current size, it was already dreaming of stretching all the way to the Pacific Ocean; and with the Mexican-American War, this dream came true. It would seem that the United States is still dreaming big in this regard. However, the current crisis within the presidential race would seem to raise questions about whether the United States does, in fact, have the material and cultural resources to continue on with this posture of greatness.
In summary, the present sample essay has consisted of an overview and analysis of the Mexican-American War written per the Ultius MLA-style guidelines for in-text citations. A key point that has been made here is that the American rationale for the conflict was strongly driven by the ideology of manifest destiny, and that whether one believes that the war was justified or not is likely to hinge on whether one is in fact a believer in this ideology of American exceptionality and greatness. Moreover, it has been suggested in this sample history essay that the implications of the Mexican-American War reach into the present day. This is true not only in terms of antagonism between Mexico and the United States but also in terms of the United States’ ongoing belief in its own exceptionality and greatness.
Like what you read? Check out this essay on Cesar Chavez, a Mexican-American civil rights activist and leader.
Baude, Will. “‘Great Powers’ and the Unconstitutionality of the Annexation of Texas and Hawaii.” Washington Post. 22 Feb. 2015. Web. 7 Jun. 2016. unconstitutionality-of-the-annexation-of-texas-and-hawaii/>.
The Bible, King James Version.
Griswald de Castillo, Richard. “Manifest Destiny: The Mexican-American War and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.” Sw. J.L. & Trade Am. 31.5 (1998): 31. Print.
History. “1836: Texas Declares Independence.” n.d. Web. 7 Jun. 2016. .
Minster, Christopher. “The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.” About Education, 15 Feb. 2016. Web. 7 Jun. 2016. Treaty-Of-Guadalupe-Hidalgo.htm>.
PBS. “Battles of the War.” U.S.-Mexican War 1846-1848. Author, n.d. Web. 7 Jun. 2016. .
Scott, Donald M. “The Religious Origins of Manifest Destiny.” National Humanities Center, n.d. Web. 7 Jun. 2016. .
Sharp Iron. “Why in the World Would Mexicans Dislike the United States?” n.d. Web. 7 Jun. 2016. mexicans-dislike-the-united-states/>.