Mexico’s Disastrous Treaty With The US

Below is a discussion of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed today in 1848. Mexico ceded 500,000 square miles of territory, including California. That then was a dry, underpopulated region, however, the article fails to mention that gold was discovered near Sacramento in 1849. The rest, they say, is history.

War’s End

The Treaty of Guadalupe HidalgoTreaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

by Richard Griswold del Castillo

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the U.S.-Mexican War. Signed on 2 February 1848, it is the oldest treaty still in force between the United States and Mexico. As a result of the treaty, the United States acquired more than 500,000 square miles of valuable territory and emerged as a world power in the late nineteenth century.

Beyond territorial gains and losses, the treaty has been important in shaping the international and domestic histories of both Mexico and the United States. During the U.S.-Mexican War, U.S. leaders assumed an attitude of moral superiority in their negotiations of the treaty. They viewed the forcible incorporation of almost one-half of Mexico’s national territory as an event foreordained by providence, fulfilling Manifest Destiny to spread the benefits of U.S. democracy to the lesser peoples of the continent. Because of its military victory the United States virtually dictated the terms of settlement. The treaty established a pattern of political and military inequality between the two countries, and this lopsided relationship has stalked Mexican-U.S. relations ever since.

The treaty in draft form was brought to Mexico by Nicholas P. Trist, the U.S. peace commissioner, in the summer of 1847. In its basic form it called for the cession of Alta and Baja California and New Mexico, the right of transit across the Tehuantepec isthmus, and the Rio Grande as the southern border of Texas. In exchange the United States would pay up to $20 million to Mexico and assume up to $3 million in U.S. citizens’ claims against Mexico. In subsequent negotiations the demand for Baja California and the right of transit were dropped.

After the military campaign, which had resulted in U.S. occupation of most of Mexico’s major cities, the Mexican government agreed to meet with Trist to discuss peace terms. Just before negotiations were to begin, however, Trist received instructions from President James K. Polk ordering him to return to Washington, D.C. Trist, however, decided to stay on and meet with the Mexican representatives, even though he lacked official status.

Negotiations began in earnest in January 1848. The Mexican government, headed by the ad interim Mexican president Manuel de la Pena y Pena, quickly agreed to the boundary issues: Texas’s southern boundary would be the Rio Grande, the cession of Alta California would include the port of San Diego, and Mexico would give up its territory between Texas and California, with a boundary to be surveyed. Mexican peace commissioners Luis G. Cuevas, Bernardo Couto, and Miguel Atristain spent a good deal of time on various drafts of Articles VIII and IX, which dealt with the issues of property rights and U.S. citizenship for Mexican citizens in the newly ceded regions. The Mexican commissioners succeeded in amplifying the texts of the two articles. They also introduced Article XI, which gave the United States responsibility for controlling hostile Indian incursions originating on the U.S. side of the border. (Article XI proved to be a source of irritation between the two nations and was subsequently negated by the Gadsden Treaty of 1854.)

On his own initiative, Trist offered an indemnity of $15 million, judging that this would gain acceptance for the treaty among those who felt that the United States had already paid enough in “blood and treasure.”

Trist asking Mexico for peaceAfter reaching agreement on all these issues, Trist drew up an English-language draft of the treaty and Cuevas translated it into Spanish, preserving the idiom and thought rather than the literal meaning. Finally, on 2 February 1 1848, the Mexican representatives met Trist in the Villa of Guadalupe Hidalgo, across from the shrine of the patron saint of Mexico. They signed the treaty and then celebrated a mass together at the basilica.

Signing the treaty was only the beginning of the process; it still had to be ratified by the congresses of both the United States and Mexico. No one could foresee how the Polk administration would receive a treaty negotiated by an unofficial agent; nor could they know the twists and turns of the Mexican political scene for the next few months. In both the U.S. and Mexican governments there was opposition to the treaty. In the United States, the northern abolitionists opposed the annexation of Mexican territory. In the Mexican congress, a sizable minority was in favor of continuing the fight. Nevertheless both countries ratified the document. The signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo marked the end of a war and the beginning of a lengthy U.S. political debate over slavery in the acquired territories, as well as continued conflict with Mexico over boundaries.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo looms larger in the history of Mexico than in that of the United States. Partly because of the loss of valuable territory, the treaty ensured that Mexico would remain an underdeveloped country well into the twentieth century. Mexican historians and politicians view this treaty as a bitter lesson in U.S. aggression. As a result of the humiliation of the war and the loss of more than half of the national territory, young Mexicans embraced a reform movement, headed by Benito Juarez, governor of Oaxaca, who had opposed the treaty. In the 1850s the reformers came to power in Mexico vowing to strengthen the country’s political system so that never again would they be victims of U.S. aggression. Benito Juarez’s La Reforma was the start of a political and economic modernization process that continues to this day in Mexico.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo has had implications not only for relations between the two countries but also for international law. Interpretations of the provisions of the treaty have been important in disputes over international boundaries, water and mineral rights, and the civil and property rights of the descendants of the Mexicans in the ceded territories. Since 1848 there have been hundreds of court cases citing the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo as a basis for land claims, but few Mexican claimants were successful in retaining their land.

Since 1848 Native Americans and Mexican Americans have struggled to achieve political and social equality within the United States, often citing the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo as a document that promised civil and property rights. Although the treaty promised U.S. citizenship to former Mexican citizens, the Native Americans in the ceded territories, who in fact were Mexican citizens, were not given full U.S. citizenship until the 1930s. Former Mexican citizens were almost universally considered foreigners by the U.S. settlers who moved into the new territories. In the first half century after ratification of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, hundreds of state, territorial, and federal legal bodies produced a complex tapestry of conflicting opinions and decisions bearing on the meaning of the treaty. The property rights seemingly guaranteed in Articles VIII and IX of the treaty (and in the Protocol of Queretaro) were not all they seemed. In. U.S. courts, the property rights of former Mexican citizens in California, New Mexico, and Texas proved to be fragile. Within a generation the Mexican-Americans became a disenfranchised, poverty-stricken minority.


“Why the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq Are Politically Sustainable” and “Immigration and The Mexican View of Our History.”

I was surprised this morning to note that two posts had been linked-to from outside the US. The first of these Here deals with why the low KIA totals in those wars are the result in equipment improvements that keep soldiers alive but allow grevious injury.

The other post is “Immigration and the Mexican View of Our History.” Here Most Americans are ill informed of this history which is viewed by Mexicans the way a person from Alabama views the Civil War. This was explained to me by a Mexican lawyer in Mexico City. Take a look to better understand the Mexican point of view.  If this link doesn’t work, see ARCHIVES for May 3, 2013.

Tomorrow, I will be back on the baseball beat, as I want to see how the Royals do in Detroit and whether the Dodgers will lose again.

Immigration and the Mexican View of Our History

In a speech at the anthropological Museum in Mexico City on May 3, 2013, President Obama said it may seem that “we seek to impose ourselves on Mexican sovereignty,”  This sort of comment will pass over the heads of most Americans who are largely oblivious to our history with Mexico. However, it will hit Mexicans hard as they view the territorial limits of Mexico in the 1840s as their true limits and something they wish to recover. Mexicans view the “Mexican War (1846-1848)” like the Civil War is considered in Alabama; they call it “La Guerra de ’47.

I was also oblivious to this Mexican view until I had lunch with a Mexican law professor in Mexico City in July, 1985. At that time, I was studying Mexican Law as a student enrolled in a University of Houston program. During this lunch, the professor asked ,“What you think of this Chicano movement in your country?” I answered by saying, ‘I understand that there is a historical wave of immigration back and forth across the border reflecting job opportunities in the two countries. It is nothing of note.” He laughed at me as he said, “Boy, do you have this wrong. Here we call this La Reconquista (the reconquest) of old Mexico.” I was shocked by the comment and asked, in typical American bravado, And how do you suppose to do that?” He smiled and said, “The same way you did it to us.” I was floored as I quickly recognized that he meant that where illegal Anglo settlers moved into Mexican Texas in the 1830s and became strong enough to defeat Gen. Santa Anna’s troops at San Jacinto in 1836, illegal Mexicans would move into the United States. General Santa Anna made peace and ceded Texas to Sam Houston’s Texans. The  peace treaty has never been recognized by the Mexican government that claimed Santa Anna lacked authority, a plausible argument.  A map of Mexico in 1845 can be found here and it may surprise you.

Americans, in possession of Texas, now looked west and began to infiltrate Mexican California. John Fremont was the most famous “illegal.”. By 1845, tensions were intense and war was declared in 1846 over an incident where Mexican troops killed some Americans. The Mexican War, 1846-1848 found American troops in Mexico City and our Marines still sing of the “Halls of Montezuma” in their hymn. The war ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that gave the United States the Rio Grande border and ownership of Las Californias Norte that we now call California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of Wyoming and Colorado. The Gadsden purchase added to that in 1853 and the borders have not changed since then. The land shift has been dramatic, but is not recognized in the US. As I said, it is an important part of Mexico’s history and is something to which Mexicans pay attention.

My studies included Mexican land ownership laws. Now, no foreigner can have a clear title to land within 100 km of land borders with the US or Guatemala, or 50 km from the sea-coast. This is why foreigners never obtain a clear title to their condominiums in Acapulco, for example, but have to buy through a bank or Mexican citizen. I asked why this law was necessary and my professor said, “We’ve had a lot of trouble with foreigners on our borders in the past.” Sam Houston? I think so.

President Obama’s making reference to our imposing of sovereignty over Mexican territory seems to be recognizing that some Mexican claim remains. The law provides clear title obtained through conquest and treaty and that is the case here. but the reference to Mexico’s historical claims to the southwest is troubling as it may increase the tensions between the American and Mexican illegal immigrant populations. Then, when I read that the proposed immigration bill being considered in Congress may allow 30 million Mexicans to illegally enter the US, I’m very concerned that La Reconquista may actually be working, at least it is progressing very well up until now.