Historical Overview of Mexican-american War


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The Mexican-American War is a military conflict between the United States and Mexico in 1846-1848. In Mexico, the war is called as the North American intervention or the War of 47. In the Uited States, it is known as the Mexican war. The Mexican-American War has not been as well studied as many others wars that Americans fought. It was an offensive war that the United States started in order to acquire territory (Block 5). One of the several anomalies of the aforesaid war is that historians of the two countries have never shown any great interest in what their counterparts across the border have to say – as though each national mind were mind up and not to be bothered by facts from the other direction (Clark 215). The problem of Mexican-American War is still urgent to be analyzed and the following work shows some of the very important historian facts of the War analyzed in monographs of B. Devoto, Hubert Howe Bancroft, Edvard D. Mansfield, Matt M. Matthews, and Roswell S. Ripley. However, main focus of the work will be on the analysis of the periodicals of both countries in order to study how the information was lightened out and differed in two different regions. Media and, especially periodicals, played a major role in the Mexican-American War as they were the main source of sharing information with the public. It was a great way to influence on public opinions as well as to hide the “truth”. In addition, the Mexican-American War made a powerful impact on language and culture in both countries, which the last section of the following analysis demonstrates.

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Monographs of such American historians as B. Devoto, Edvard D. Mansfield and Matt M. Matthews were studied in order to discover major reasons of the beginning of the Mexican-American War. Most of the historians claim that the reason for the War was the desire of the ruling democratic party and one of its leaders, President James Polk, to annex New Mexico and California to the territory of the United States. Only Edvard Mansfield, whose work is the earliest (1849), does not concern this fact at all. In his view, the Mexican-American War was the natural result of the Mexican invasion of Texas. The author does not question the fact that the border between the two States was on the Rio Grande, and it was the duty of the American government to protect this land (365). This point of view can be explained by the Patriotic upsurge that reigned in the soul of the author, as he was the eyewitness of the victorious war for his homeland, the United States of America. However, for other authors, whose works are written much later, such an interpretation of events is not so unambiguous ‒ they all question the legitimacy and validity of the demands of the United States to the territory between the rivers Nueses and Rio Grande.

The best reason for such dual interpretation of the status of these lands was revealed by Matt Matthews in his monograph, Mexican War:

Santa Anna agreed and, on 14 May 1836, signed a public version of the Treaty of Velasco as well as a private version. In the latter rendition, Santa Anna promised to lobby the Mexican Government for Texas independence. The Treaty of Velasco also designated the Rio Grande the new border between Texas and Mexico. But the new conservative government in Mexico refused to ratify the agreement (11).

Hence, the situation arose that Mexico claimed that its border extended along the river Nueses. After the clash of Taylor’s troops with the Mexicans at the Rio Grande, this lack of agreement subsequently enabled President Polk to assert that Mexico invaded their territory and shed “American blood on the American soil”.

Most of the historians point out that the words about the accession of the foreign but attractive territories sounded even during the election campaign of the future President James Polk and his Democratic Party. Bernard Devoto points out that Americans wanted the lands of Texas and Oregon, as well as almost unknown area that was called New Mexico and California. He does not deny that there was a “conspiracy of slavery” that meant that it was the beginning of the war for the expansion of the territory of slavery. But the northerners, in his opinion, were less interested in the policy of expansion to the South:

…the eyes and ears of the North are full of cotton … let the North earn money, and you can do whatever you want with the country (The year of decision of 1846 209).

Thus, Devoto claims that the President Polk only responded to the requests of the American society, as well as pedantically fulfilled its election promises. Devoto considers one of the bases of the expansionist policy of the government of James Polk as “fear that Europe could set the limit for the further development of a young country” (210). This statement can be regarded as a fear of the the United States to see Mexico under the strong influence of European countries or in great dependence on them. It is difficult to say how fair these fears were. 

Monographs of such American historians as Roswell S. Ripley and Hubert Howe Bancroft were studied in order to discover the character of the War. In 1850, a two-volume work, The War with Mexico, written by Major Roswell Sabine Ripley was published in New York and London. The author served during the war with Mexico in the headquarters of Generals Zachary Taylor and Gideon Pillow. In the book, Ripley represents a wide variety of the hostilities that unfolded in the vast expanses of the North America that was from the shores of the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. The author, in addition to his own impressions, used a fairly wide range of governmental documents and journalistic articles from the American, Mexican periodicals. Ripley’s The War with Mexico considered Polk’s election as the President and its proclamation of an expansionist program to be “the popular will” (vol. 1 53). He disapproved of the abolitionists who sympathized with the Mexicans in their War against the United States. Ripley, like Mansfield, argued that the desire of the Polk to resolve disputes through peaceful negotiations was regarded by Mexicans as a sign of weakness. However, comparing the armies of both countries, Ripley praised the Mexican soldiers, describing them as resistant, hardy and brave soldiers. Mexican soldiers, to his opinion, would have b een on the same stage of power with American ones if they had a wise leadership. Futhermore, Ripley gives an inquisitive assessment the Commander of the Mexican army, General and President Santa Ana. Ripley believed him to be an energetic and capable General; he admired his ability to raise a large army in a short time, although it was not so easy to find funds for this in Mexican conditions (vol. 2 173).

Describing the struggle of the Mexican guerillas and national uprisings in New Mexico and Upper California, Ripley acknowledged that the war against the United States gave rise to “the national enthusiasm” in Mexico. Justifying the overall policy of the American government, Ripley condemned the methods of secret transactions of bribery and bribes that the Polk and his agents often used in negotiations with Mexican leaders seeking a Treaty on the transfer of the territory. The author wrote with indignation about the soldiers and officers of the United States army who “disgraced their own country with their behavior” (vol. 1 87).

The works of a prominent historian Hubert Bancroft (1832-1919) were also important for the study of the history of Mexico and the history of territorial expansion of the United States. Bancroft has accumulated a huge documentary material from both the American and Mexican sides, he collected many manuscripts, among which there was the personal chancery of the American Consul in Monterey (1844-1846), Thomas Larkin, who was considered as a secret agent of the United States government. Bankroft published in 1874-1890 multivolume work History of Mexico on the history of Mexico and the territories that departed from it to the United States of America. His extensive collection of documents is now owned by the University of California. In his writings, Bancroft condemned the war against Mexico. He wrote that the American war against Mexico was “the result of a well-considered and calculated plan of robbery by a stronger power” (vol. 5 307). Bancroft considered Mexico as a victim of fraud slave owners and those who sought to territorial gains. Bankroft’s views largely coincided with the point of view of the Whigs and abolitionists, who had previously criticized the policy of the Polk’s government and the President himself, accusing him of waging the unconstitutional war to expand the slave-owning territory.

The Mexican-American War provided the emerging cheap, tabloid-style newspapers in the United States with an excellent opportunity to demonstrate news enterprise. It was the first foreign war to be covered extensively by American correspondents, and the most newspapers made expensive, elaborate arrangements to have their reports carried back to the United States. By combining pony express, steamships, railroads, and the fledgling telegraph, the press established a two-thousand mile communicating link that repeatedly beat military couriers and the American mail with the Mexico news.  

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