“Our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions. Yes, manifest destiny.”
— John O'Sullivan, editor of the Democratic Review
While the inhabitants of El Norte were busy tending to their crops, families and sheep, President James Polk, a Democrat, was giving his inauguration speech. On the night of his inauguration, he confided to the Secretary of the Navy that his main objective was the acquisition of California.
The border recognized by both the United States government and Mexico was the Nueces River (between Texas and Mexico), 150 miles to the north of the Rio Grande. A dispute over the recognized border was manufactured in order to pick a fight with a country that could not possibly defend itself against the United States.
On June 30, 1845, General Taylor was ordered “to proceed with his whole command to the extreme western border of Texas and take up a position on the banks of or near the Rio Grande; and he is to expel any armed force of Mexicans who may cross that river.”
Colonel Ethan Hitchcock wrote in his diary, “I have scarcely slept a wink, thinking of the needful preparations. I am now noting at reveille by candlelight and waiting the signal for muster ... Violence leads to violence, and if this movement of ours does not lead to others and to bloodshed, I am much mistaken.”
On March 28, 1846, General Taylor and his troops arrived to the Nueces River. The Mexicano inhabitants left their homes and crops to flee across the river to Matamoros. The U.S. Army immediately began to build a fort and faced all their cannons toward Matamoros. The only thing missing was an excuse to attack.
In April 1846, General Taylor’s quartermaster, Colonel Cross, vanished. His body was found 11 days later. Immediately, blame was placed on the Mexicanos. The day after Cross’s funeral (April 25), a patrol of Taylor’s soldiers were attacked by Mexicanos, 16 dead, others wounded, and the rest captured. General Taylor sent a message to President Polk: “Hostilities may now be considered as commenced.”
The battle cry quickly became, “American blood had been shed on American soil.” The Mexicanos reacted just as the United States wanted them to. Colonel Hitchcock wrote in his diary, even before those first incidents: “I have said from the first that the United States are the aggressors. ... We have not one particle of right to be here. ... It looks as if the government sent a small force on purpose to bring on a war, so as to have a pretext for taking California and as much of this country as it chooses, for, whatever becomes of this army, there is no doubt of a war between the United States and Mexico. ... My heart is not in this business ... but, as a military man, I am bound to execute orders.”
Not every American bought into the war. Congressman Abraham Lincoln of Illinois challenged Polk to specify the exact spot where American blood was shed on “American soil.”
Congressman Joshua Giddings of Ohio called it, “an aggressive, unholy, and unjust war.” He went on to say, “In the murder of Mexicans upon their own soil, or in robbing them of their country, I can take no part either now or hereafter. The guilt of these crimes must rest on others — I will not participate in them. ...”
There were also those who opposed the war but for very different reasons. Congressman Delano of Ohio was afraid of Americans mingling with an inferior people who “embrace all shades of color. ... a sad compound of Spanish, English, Indian, and negro bloods ... and resulting, it is said, in the production of a slothful, ignorant race of beings.”
The Rev. Theodore Parker of Boston criticized of the war while describing the Mexican people as, “a wretched people; wretched in their origin, history, and character, who must eventually give way as the Indians did. Yes, the United States should expand,” he said, “but not by war, rather by the power of her ideas ... the steady advance of a superior race, with superior ideas and a better civilization ...”
Volunteers who joined the war effort were promised victory, glory, $7 to $10 a month, and 160 acres of land. General Kearney advanced into New Mexico, and Santa Fe was taken without “battle.”
However, after the initial dust settled, there were many rebellions in El Norte that I will cover later.
Mexico surrendered. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in February 1848. The U.S. took modern day California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and part of Colorado, and Wyoming. The United States paid Mexico $15 million, which led the U.S. government to conclude that “we take nothing by conquest. ... Thank God.”
Rock Ulibarri is a local resident and educator. He may be reached at 505-440-9776.