[Back to the Unit Five Summary]
Viewpoints of the Mexican War

The following are textbook excerpts examining the causes of the war between Mexico and the United States often referred to as the Mexican War by American historians.  Consider how the American textbook excerpts differ in content, tone and emphasis from the Mexican textbook excerpts.  Then examine the primary source quotations that follow. What do the textbook excerpts and the primary source quotations indicate about the causes of the Mexican War?  What do the textbook excerpts indicate about history and the difficulties one encounters in trying to understand the past?

American Textbooks:

"Many Americans in Mexico had lost their property or had been injured because the Mexican government could not keep order.  Mexico had paid some of the claims of these Americans but stopped such payments when Texas was admitted to the Union.  That event brought the two nations to the verge of war.  The people of Texas declared that their territory extended as far south and west as the Rio Grande.  The region which they had actually settled, however, was not so large.  As soon as Texas entered the Union, the United States sent an army under General Zachary Taylor to take up a position on the north bank of the Rio Grande with orders to hold the country for the United States.
Meanwhile, President Polk developed a plan he thought would solve the whole matter to the satisfaction of both Mexico and the United States.  Polk knew that the vast region which now includes California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and part of Colorado contained very few Mexicans, although it was part of Mexican soil.... There seemed little chance that Mexico would be able to fill it with settlers.  Polk offered to buy that broad and almost empty country for a good price and also to relieve Mexico from paying any more of old claims of Americans against the [Mexican] government.  The government of Mexico, though poor, was too proud to sell.  The Mexicans refused even to listen to PolkÝs plan.  Meanwhile, some Mexican soldiers crossed to the North side of the Rio Grande, and a fight occurred between some of them and some of TaylorÝs troops.  This fight brought on the Mexican War."

      ­ Casner and Gabriel, Exploring American History

"The trouble lay in the question, where is the boundary between Mexico and Texas?  Mexico said that it was on the Nueces River; Texas said that it was the Rio Grande.... The space between the river was almost uninhabited.... Although Mexico had some justification for her claim, so also had Texas. President Polk sent Zachary Taylor with American troops clear down to the Rio Grande; that is to the farthest edge of the disputed area.  A fight resulted between American and Mexican troops.  Then President Polk sent a message to Congress saying that Mexican soldiers had invaded American territory and killed American troops on American soil.  He asked Congress to declare war on Mexico."

     ­ Tryon, Lingley, Morehouse, The American People and Nation

Mexican Textbooks:

"The prosperous development of the American Union further encouraged the... acquisition of larger territory.  The North-Americans succeeded in getting Florida, Louisiana and Oregon with but little effort.  However, the rich, fertile and extensive province of Texas excited their greediness.  The government made itself the agency of these desires and first proposed to Spain and then to Mexico to purchase that territory.
These offers having been rejected, the American government resorted to a more perfidious policy.  It defended the insurrection of the settlers [of Texas] against the Mexican government.... Texas, having made itself free... the United States annexed it in such an outrageous manner that our minister in Washington, Don Manuel E. Gorostiza, asked for his passport and left the United States.
The Congress of the United States approved this scandalous robbery of land, and the government, not yet satisfied, gave the territory further extension by asserting that the Rio Bravo was its boundary.  By means of this brutal stratagem, supported by might, they wished to make people believe that Mexico was the assaulter while she was being mutilated contrary to al rights.
For this reason war was declared.... A treaty was entered into on February 2, 1848, by virtue of which Mexico ceded to the United States, Texas, Upper California, New Mexico, and the northern parts of the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Tamaulipas.  Mexico received in return fifteen million dollars....
Mexico lost in this war a third of her territory.... This rich acquisition of the United States is not going to erase the blot of iniquity which has been written into the pages of her history by this invasion."

    ­ Prieto, Lessons in National History (translated from Spanish)

"The result of that war was lamentable not only for our country but also lamentable for the reputation of the Americans.  The despoliation which we suffered was qualified as a real robbery even by citizens of that country.... [Wars] cost, also, much bloodshed which, when poured out in order to serve injustice and oppression, does not pay at all, for it does not even receive the applause of history."

   ­ Sherwell, Second Course in National History (translated from Spanish)

Primary Source Quotations on the Mexican War:

Document A
Source: The Illinois State Register

"Shall this garden of beauty be suffered to lie dormant in its wild and useless luxuriance?.... Myriads of enterprising Americans would flock to its rich and inviting prairies; the hum of Anglo-American industry would be heard in valleys; cities would rise up on its plains and sea coast, and the resources and wealth of the nation shall be increased to an incalculable degree."

Document B
Source: Ashbel Smith, (former) Sec. of State of the Texas Republic

"The Mexican War is part of the mission of the destiny allotted to the Anglo-Saxon race on this continent.  It is our destiny, our mission to Americanize this continent.... The sword is the great civilizer"

Document C
Source: Congressional Globe

"I believe we should be recreant to our noble mission, if we refused acquiesced in the high purposes of a wise Providence.  War has its evils.  In all ages it has been the minister of wholesale death and appalling desolation; but however inscrutable to us, it has been made, by the Allwise Dispenser of events, the instrumentality of accomplishing the great end of human elevation and human happiness.... We must march from Texas straight to the Pacific Ocean, and be bounded only by its roaring wave... It is the destiny of the white race, the Anglo-Saxon race..."

Document D
Source: U.S. Representative David Wilmot
"We are fighting this war for Texas and the South.... For, this, sir, Northern treasure is being exhausted, and Northern blood poured on the plains of Mexico.... Slavery follows in the rear of our armies.  Shall the war power of our government be exerted to produce such a result?  Shall this government... lend its power and influence to plant slavery in these territories?"

[Back to the Unit Five Summary]