Instructions: Using the handout given in class, complete the web-quest using the information below.
At the time Spain granted independence to Mexico in 1821, the land now comprising the state of Texas was very sparsely populated. A prosperous province was greatly in the interest of Mexico and Mexico was also interested in creating a buffer zone between the Mexican heartland and the Comanche tribe. So, the Mexican government started to encourage the settlement of this land by Americans, but with a few rules. The American settlers were expected to become Mexican. All immigrants from the United States were by law forced to become Catholic. When the Mexican government outlawed slavery in 1829, it expected the Texans to follow suit. None of the conditions were met, and a great cultural war was underway.
Led by Stephen F. Austin, American settlers came in large numbers to Texas. By 1835, American settlers outnumbered the Tejanos (Mexicans) six to one. Tension began to grow between American settlers and the Mexican government over the specific issue of slavery. They were also unhappy with Mexico’s ruthless leader, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. The American settlers wanted greater autonomy, or more control over their own affairs. In the hopes of easing tensions, Stephen Austin journeyed to Mexico City in 1833. But Mexico's dictator, Santa Anna, was not the negotiating type. Austin was simply thrown in jail. Although he was released after 18 months, relations between the Texans and the Mexicans deteriorated. Finally in 1835, war broke out between Santa Anna's troops and a ragtag group of Texan revolutionaries. In 1836, Santa Anna completed the infamous siege on the Alamo.
Despite a 13-day holdout, the 187 Texans were crushed by Santa Anna's forces, which numbered 5000 strong. The deaths of commander William Travis, Jim Bowie, and Davy Crockett angered Americans as cries of "REMEMBER THE ALAMO!" rang throughout the land. Six weeks later, a large Texan army under Sam Houston surprised Santa Anna’s army at San Jacinto. Shouting “Remember the Alamo!” the Texans defeated the Mexicans and captured Santa Anna. The Mexican dictator was forced to recognize Texas’ independence and withdrew his forces south of the Rio Grande. On May 14, 1836, Santa Anna grudgingly recognized Texan independence. Between 1836 and 1844, Texas was known as the independent country of the Lone Star Republic.
Despite being an independent country, most Texans wanted to be annexed by the United States. They feared that the Mexican government might soon try to recapture their land. Many had originally come from the American south and had great interest in becoming a southern state. President Andrew Jackson saw trouble. Many Whigs and Abolitionists in the North refused to admit another slave state to the Union. Rather than risk tearing the nation apart over this controversial issue, Jackson did not pursue annexation while president. The Lone Star flag flew proudly over the LONE STAR REPUBLIC for nine years. Eventually, annexation was approved by Congress in 1845.
Congress admitted Texas to the Union in a joint resolution passed the day before Polk's inauguration. Mexico was outraged. Inclusion in the United States would forever rule out the possibility of re-acquiring the lost province. Furthermore, the official boundary was in dispute. Mexico claimed that the southern boundary of Texas, and therefore the United States, was the Nueces River. Americans, as well as the incoming President, claimed that the boundary of Texas was the Rio Grande River, much farther south. The territory between the two rivers was the subject of angry bickering between the two nations. Soon it would serve as the catalyst for an all-out war.
President Polk's true goal was to acquire the rich ports of California, which was still part of Mexican territory. He envisioned a lucrative trade with the Far East that would revolve around San Francisco and Monterey. Great Britain also had designs on the territory, so Polk thought he would have to act fast. He sent John Slidell to Mexico with an offer. The United States would pay Mexico a combined sum of $30 million for the Texan boundary of the Rio Grande, New Mexico territory, and California. The Mexican government was livid. They were not interested in selling the valuable territory. Instead they issued the highest diplomatic rebuke. They refused even to receive Slidell to hear his offer. The American President was enraged. He resolved to fight Mexico.
In July of 1845, Polk ordered GENERAL ZACHARY TAYLOR to cross the Nueces River with his command of 4,000 troops. Upon learning of Slidell's rejection, Polk sent word that Taylor should advance his troops to the Rio Grande River. From the standpoint of Mexico, the United States had invaded their territory. Polk hoped to defend the disputed area with armed force. He also knew that any attack on American troops might provide the impetus Congress was lacking to formally declare war.
Sure enough, in May of 1846, Polk received word that the Mexican army had indeed fired on Taylor's soldiers. Polk appeared before Congress on May 11 and declared that Mexico had invaded the United States and had "SHED AMERICAN BLOOD ON AMERICAN SOIL!" Anti-expansionist Whigs had been hoping to avoid conflict, but news of the "attack" was too much to overlook. Congress passed a war declaration by an overwhelming majority. President Polk had his war.
When war broke out against Mexico in May 1846, the United States Army numbered a mere 8,000, but soon 60,000 volunteers joined their ranks. The American navy dominated the sea. The American government provided stable, capable leadership. The economy of the expanding United States far surpassed that of the fledgling Mexican state. Morale was on the American side. The war was won relatively quickly.
At home, the Whigs of the north complained bitterly about the war. Many questioned Polk's methods as misleading and unconstitutional. Abolitionists rightly feared that southerners would try to use newly acquired lands to expand slavery. Antiwar sentiment emerged in New England much as it had in the War of 1812. Writer Henry David Thoreau was sentenced to prison for refusing to pay the taxes he knew were used to fund the war effort. His essay, Civil Disobedience, became a standard of peaceful resistance for future activists.
The MEXICAN-AMERICAN WAR was formally concluded by the TREATY OF GUADALUPE-HIDALGO in 1848. The United States received the disputed Texan territory, as well New Mexico, California, and Utah. This territory became known as the Mexican Cession (ceded land). The Mexican government was paid $15 million — the same sum issued to France for the Louisiana Territory. The United States Army won a grand victory. Although suffering 13,000 killed, the military won every engagement of the war. Mexico was stripped of half of its territory and was not consoled by the monetary settlement.
Three years later, Mexico sold more land to the United States in what became known as the Gadsden Purchase (southern New Mexico and Arizona) for $10 million. Acquiring these territories resurfaced the issue of slavery and whether it should expand in the west.