When James K. Polk won the Presidential Election of 1844, it was an indication that the expansionist policies of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson may be repeated during Polk’s tenure as president, which would bring up more questions about the issue of slavery and its expansion. Like Jackson before him, the expansion westward and the acquisition of new land would come at the price of the people who inhabited the land. Polk would first make demands of the British government in Canada, wanting to extend the border of Oregon north to acquire more land. A negotiation was struck between the two nations, though many northerners believed that Polk’s administration did not push hard enough to extend the border into Canada because it would not produce lands for slaveholders, as Polk was a politician born in North Carolina and serving as Governor of Tennessee. He was more involved, however, in annexing Texas into the United States. Texas had many Americans in it, and after Texas declared its independence, something the Mexican government did not recognize, Texas was willing to join the United States and America was willing to take it. The Mexican government did not accept the boundaries America set for itself, and tensions escalated when Polk extended the border further into Mexico.
Polk, as well as many Americas, did not respect the Mexican government or its people because of the air of racial superiority that the white Americans felt towards other races: the American Indians they continuously pushed westward out of their lands, the blacks they enslaved, and now the Mexicans that had committed the perceived atrocities at the Alamo turning the war for Texan Independence. The irony of the Texan War for Independence was that Americans moved from the south and settled in Mexico, modern-day Texas, and once the Americans were there in a large concentration they wanted to break away from Mexico. The attacks and the last stand of the Texans at the Alamo resonated in America because it was the idea of “savage Mexicans” attacking whites that were only vying for their independence the way America had less than a century before. When Polk ordered troops across the Rio Grande River, what Mexicans believed was their land, future-president Zachary Taylor was attacked by Mexican troops. In May of 1846 Polk came before Congress to ask for permission to go to war with Mexico, which he was permitted. Was followed was nothing short of a superior power attacking an inferior government in an attempt to gain more land after provoking war.
Zachary Taylor invaded modern-day California and New Mexico, running along the Rio Grande River and defeating Mexican troops led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Taylor defeated Santa Anna at Buena Vista in Mexican Territory. Though American troops were outnumbered, as they were for the early campaigns of Zachary Taylor, they used their superior artillery to defeat and scatter Santa Anna’s troops. This victory was one of the most significant battle of the war for Taylor as his last, securing the northern territories of Mexico for the American troops. From here, Stephen Kearny led his troops into New Mexico, conquering both this and securing California, where he would serve as governor in the future. The “Bear Flag Republic”, or Americans in California similar to the immigrants who moved into Texas, aided Kearny in his conquest of Mexico. In securing these areas, Winfield Scott then invaded into the heart of Mexico. Here, the tactical and military power of the American troops under Scott was truly seen.
Scott continuously scattered Santa Anna’s troops all the way until the battle in Mexico City. Here, Winfield Scott defeated Santa Anna and took over Mexico City. With the relatively easy conquest of another country’s capital city, America had successfully invaded the weaker Mexico while losing less than two thousand troops during battle. Because of the ease of this war and the fact that the participation of many of the same officers would be seen again in the American Civil War, the Mexican War is seen as the “dress rehearsal” for the Civil War. With the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848 the dress rehearsal was officially over. Mexico was forced to cede territories to the United States with the Rio Grande River now dividing the two. Mexico also had to pay all of the debts and claims of the United States, around fifteen million U.S. dollars. The war was significant because gold would be discovered in California less than a year later, producing a gold rush. The lands ceded by Mexico also brought up questions, particularly as to whether or not these new lands would be used to expand slavery and how northern states would attempt to balance this power of representation in Congress.
John Eisenhower’s “So Far From God: The U.S. War with Mexico, 1846-1848”