Texas: the troubled state

One of the most important moments in the history of the relationship between Mexico and United States was the annexation of Texas to the last one. This conflict was a major vehicle to war they fought in the middle of the nineteen century. The popularity of the Manifest Destiny through these years, the economic benefits that westward expansion could represent and the foreign interest, of Great Britain and France, had over this region were crucial factors to wage the war.

Since the Jefferson’s era the idea of expansionism became stronger because of the demographic and economic necessities. Then the purchase of Louisiana occurred and the problems to set up the boundary with New Spain began. The United States showed interest in the new territories and further west, because this marked the beginning of the raising goal: “from coast to coast”. So, some expeditions sponsored by the president Jefferson (like the Pike’s[1]) brought to New Spain a sense of worry because of the truly expansionism that could develop in American aggressive invasions.

Subsequently, in 1819, the Adams-Onís Treaty[2] was achieved to define the boundary with Louisiana[3] and to confirm the Texas territory for New Spain and Spanish Florida for the United States[4] (see Map I in the Appendix). Nevertheless, this was the first loss of territory though Texas had remained in hands of Spanish territory.

Likewise, the article five and thirteen of the Transcontinental Treaty, ratified by Fernando the Seventh in 1820, made more flexible the rules of commerce between both countries and the demographic flows began[5].

When Mexico concluded its Independence War, the central government knew that, since its colonization, Texas was a problem because of the large distance between them and because there wasn’t enough population[6]. In that case, Mexico approved to bring American families[7] to the state, but with some restrictions: be loyal to the Mexican government, learn the Spanish language and convert to Roman Catholic Church[8]. Also the new habitants were free to pay taxes during seven years and could import all what they needed (including slaves). In a few years, Mexican government recognized its diminished control in Texas and abolished immigration, especially the entrance of more slaves. But this was developed so far, turning the Mexican generosity (or maybe ingenuity) in a big diplomatic error.

The United States wanted to expand their territory westward to the Pacific Ocean. “[Americans] believed in the Manifest Destiny like they believe in religion”[9]; in fact, this idea was established in the major minds of the people since they recognized themselves a part of a nation. John O’Sullivan[10] wrote: “Our national birth was the beginning of a new history, the formation and progress of an untried political system, which separates us from the past and connects us with the future only”. He argued that Americans derived from many nations and, for that reason, they experimented a new type of management: the self-government, which was guaranteeing the liberty and equal rights.

In fact, it was not rare that Americans believed this divine will, because they knew since their arrived to the continent, that they meant to be different because the monarchy and the tyranny was so far. This could be deduced from the Mayflower Compact, where it was written that “in the presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a Civil Body Politick, for our better ordering and preservation, and furtherance of the ends aforesaid: and by virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws”[11]. Thereof, they believed that they were the “chosen people”, whom had the mission to spread democracy to the less fortunate (like Native Americans or other non-European people)[12], because they were born to be a great example of liberty and civil rights. Some years before, “Tocqueville anticipated this feeling on his studies about North American society, he said: It seems that they are destined by the divine will to determine the destiny of the half of the globe”[13].

Otherwise, behind the Manifest Destiny, people of North America were demanding more territory because of their demographic and economic conditions: the population grew and they required more land for homes and plantations. Thus, the purchase of territories was the most common way of proceeding[14]. They tried to apply that method with the Mexican government, but it failed because Mexico believed in the heredity of the ground as a symbol of national pride, therefore, the sale was considered to be indignation.

After the provisional Charter given to Austin, the United States interest for Texas grew up more and they insisted. “In 1827, President Clay sent a minister called Joel R. Poinsett to offer one million of pesos in return for Texas”[15] and a commercial treaty with exclusive benefits[16] for the North Country. But, the Mexican minister for external relationships, Lucas Alamán, pushed back the offer because he believe in the heritance of the Transcontinental Treaty and it was clear for him and his successors that the United States expansionism was a high risk, for the national production. Then, the new American minister, Powhatan Ellis, offered an apology because of the behavior of the last minister, but he hoped that the authorized settling of Americans was doing its work some few years later.

Again, this negotiation proved that Mexican government was in the right way, but it was very weak because of their internal conflicts (the new arising independence administration) and the lack of experience in foreign relationships. By the same time, in the United States was approved a Tariff of Abominations[17], which provoked an economic and political internal crisis[18]. Both situations, Mexican and American, produced certain advantages for the new American citizens of Texas, because of the financial benefits. Texas was seen like an economic paradise.


The Mexican Colonization Act gave land concessions, but with restriction to put up it for sale. However, anyone followed the rules. In fact, by 1829, “the [real] business would be done by the speculators and American banks that sold the grounds granted free.”[19] The cotton plantations experienced a resurrection and reflected the cultural patterns of southern United States town life, “many of the owners were the wealthier citizens of the urban communities [… and] a few of the Texan ranch families lived in the grandee style with many servants and retainers”[20]; these patterns meant the expansion and institutionalization of slavery.

Mexican government believed that the given privileges would persuade the foreigners to be loyal and made it an example of colonization for other regions. Meanwhile, some American politicians and newspapers advised the threat of southern power expansionism, which could bring the unbalance of power. The subsequent facts gave the account to the Americans. “In September 16, 1829, the president Vicente Guerrero celebrated the Mexican Independence with an Abolitionist of Slavery Act that, in fact, only still existed in Texas”[21]; therefore, this irritated the Texas population and they demanded their exemption from this Act, and the Mexican president yielded.

Suddenly, this slavery triumph brought to Texas more popularity and immigration increased[22]. The situation went out of Mexican control and the government suspended de Colonization Act and it tried to establish a customs system watched by an army[23], but the feeling of independence began to bloom untying a new debate in which not only they would take in hands of the two nearby countries, but also countries of the European continent as England and France.


The government of Texas argued that “when a government has ceased to protect the lives, liberty and property of the people, from whom its legitimate powers are derived, […] becomes an instrument in the hands of evil rulers for their oppression”[24]; and they denied continuing being part of a country, which its Federal Republican Constitution was not applied. “We then took up arms in defense of the national constitution. We appealed to our Mexican brethren for assistance. Our appeal has been made in vain. Though months have elapsed, no sympathetic response has yet been heard from the Interior. We are, therefore, forced to the melancholy conclusion, that the Mexican people have acquiesced in the destruction of their liberty, and the substitution therefore of a military government; that they are unfit to be free, and incapable of self-government. The necessity of self-preservation, therefore, now decrees our eternal political separation”[25]. Then, the Independence was the only solution that they accepted, but the Mexican government did not agree with that. For Mexico, the problem in Texas was not the lack of liberty, but the lack of sovereignty and capability to govern. Also, they knew that if Texas was obtaining its independence, sooner or later, it would be annexed to the United States; and Mexico wanted to stop the American expansionism, rejecting the recognition of that independence[26].

The president Jackson declared the United States neutrality[27] in this particular conflict between Texas and Mexico, but only because he wanted to avoid the increase of contradictions inside his country (see Map II in the Appendix). “American sentiment regarding suitable action became divided largely along a line that would later result in a deadly split. Antislavery Northerners wanted no annexed Texas, which would certainly become a slave state. Southerners tended to sympathize with Texas. Seeking to cool the smoldering slavery passions, chief executives in those days tried to avoid momentous issues involving that explosive question”[28]. Nevertheless, no matter the internal balance of power were threatened, the truly intentions of the United States were not to solve the problem with Mexico. Actually, there were some “unofficial versions” about the help it provided to the Texas insurrection, since before the Mexican independence[29], because the United States government knew that sooner or later, the westward expansion will continue from coast to coast.

Therefore, the Texas Independence was not considered a civil war. There were some foreign interests, besides the Mexicans and Americans that made it an international conflict. Great Britain and France saw United States expansionism like a threat, and they decided to intervene in alliance as mediators of the conflict. “Charles Elliot, minister of England in Texas and count Saligny, minister of France, made an offer to conciliate Mexico with Texas, which included: the Mexican acknowledgement of the Texas Independence, only if that State makes a compromise to maintain its sovereignty to avoid any annexation to the United States”[30]. And that was how the conflict was inserted in a “tense calm”, but not for long because in no more than three years the stage changed.

The United States brought a new expansionist president to the conflict, which was more radical than the last one. That president was James K. Polk and he would enforce the so disputed annexation. In other hand, England but especially France changed their speeches and began to force down Mexico with the payment of necessary loans and the forced use of services of transportation during the conflict[31]. Mexico saw all these reclamations ridiculous and, in the meantime, his president Santa Ana raised a centralist administration, which brought more instability and suspicion to Mexican population.


At all these circumstances, Texas was dissuaded and it did not hesitate to ask for his annexation again to the United States. Finally, in 1845, Polk managed the annexation at the House of Representatives of the United States[32] and declared the Republic of Texas, “acting in conformity with the wishes of the people and every department of its government, cedes to the United States all its territories, to be held by them in full property and sovereignty, and to be annexed to the said United States as one of their territories […] The citizens of Texas shall be incorporated into the Union of the United States, maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty and property and admitted”[33]. Mexico felt threatened more than any other moment, because the Mexican government saw this like treason and the foreign relationship of both countries were broken. The problems to define the frontiers between the new State of the Union and Mexico began (see Map III in the Appendix). The United States president, James K. Polk, “ordered an efficient military force to take a position between the Nueces and the Del Norte, [because he argued that United States] jurisdiction had been extended and exercise beyond the Nueces, and the truly boundary of Texas, since 1836, was the Río del Norte”[34], but Mexico demanded the Nueces River as the real boundary. Then, without any possibility of negotiation, in 1846, the United States declare the war to Mexico and, after two years of battles, force it to sell much more territory[35] at a very low price[36] through the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty, that fixed the boundary between this two countries as it stands today[37] (see Map IV in the Appendix).

Who was reponsible?

As a result of this war, Mexico lost not only Texas, also the half of its original territory. But the consequences of this “hot potato” named Texas carried on many losses for both countries. Some northern states of the United States saw this war like an act of intimidation by the south[38], and these opposite views inserted the country in the most heated internal conflict of its history, remembered as the Civil War.

As the Massachusetts legislature said, the conclusion is that “the war with Mexico [had] its primary origin in the annexation to the United States of the foreign state of Texas, while the same was still at war with Mexico”[39]. But trying to go further: which country did it lose more? Perhaps Mexico was the big loser, because it will never recover the lost territory; on the other hand, the United States, in spite of the painful wound caused by the Civil war, had a glorious recovery that supports the country as a first potency until our days. But the most significant question to answer is who were more responsible of that looses? This implies the difficult answer, because both countries were equally responsible. Mexico did not be capable to establish good negotiations. Since the beginning, they were ingenuous on having authorized the American colonization of Texas, instead of thinking about the advantages that the selling of those grounds might have brought, while they were constructing a federal strong government. Mexico could use the United States internal split to enforce their own institutions, but Mexicans were unorganized and divided too[40]; and the things occurred in the opposite. The southern states of the United States took advantage of “a weak, distracted neighbor”[41] and they used the time as a strategy in their favor to take, little by little, possession of a territory seemingly without a strong owner. But the entirely American nation had to pay the high price of their ambitious expansionism with a cruel Civil War. So, in this particular conflict, between Mexico and the United States nobody went out with absolute victory.

Primary sources

Second resources

  • BRINKLEY, Alan. The unfinished nation, USA: McGraw Hill, 2004.
  • “Chapter 5: Westward expansionism and regional differences”, Outline of U. S. History, Office of International Information Programs, United States Department <http://usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/histryotln/expansion.htm&gt;
  • CHIPMAN, Donald E. Texas en la época colonial, Spain: MAPFRE, 1992.
  • DE LEÓN, Arnoldo. The Tejano community, 1836-1900, USA: Southern Methodist University Press, 1982.
  • FUENTES Mares, José. Génesis del expansionismo norteamericano, Mexico: Colegio de México, 1984.
  • US-History’s interactive tool < http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h306.html&gt;
  • PRICE, Glenn W. Los orígenes de la guerra con México, Mexico: FCE, 1986.
  • VÁZQUEZ, Josefina Zoraida and Meyer, Lorenzo. México frente a Estados Unidos: un ensayo histórico, 1776-2000, Mexico: FCE, 2001.
  • WEEMS, John Edward. To conquer a peace: the war between the Unites States and Mexico, Mexico: Texas A&M University Press, 1988.


Map I. Adams- Onís Treaty[42]

Map II. Slave and free territories under the Compromise of 1850[43]

Map III. Boundary problems between Mexico and Texas (Nueces river and Río del Norte)[44]

Map VI. Actual boundary between Mexico and United States[45]


[1] CHIPMAN, Donald E, Texas en la época colonial, p. 307.

[2] This treaty is known as Florida Treaty or Transcontinental Treaty too.

[3] The boundary line shall begin on the gulf of Mexico, at the mouth of the river Sabine, in the sea, continuing north, along the western bank of that river; thence by a line due north, to the degree of latitude where strikes the Red river; then following the course of that river westward. Quoted in Adams- Onís Treaty, February 22, 1819.

[4] CHIPMAN, Donald E, Texas en la época colonial, p. 326.

[5] Adams- Onís Treaty, February 22, 1819.

[6] The Mexican population numbered approximately 2 240 in 1821 and increased to over 4 000 by 1936. Quoted in DE LEÓN, Arnoldo, The Tejano community, 1836-1900, p.4.

[7] The first provisional charter was given to Moses Austin in 1921. This included the authorization to establish 300 families.

[8] US-History’s interactive tool < http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h306.html&gt;

[9] The first on employing that term was a journalist of Washington in 1840. Quoted in FUENTES Mares, José. Génesis del expansionismo norteamericano, p. 14.

[10] He was a journalist from that time (1839), who hardly promoted the idea of the “chosen country”. Quoted in Documents relating to American Foreign Policy <http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/imperialism/readings/manifest.html>

[11] The Mayflower Compact, November 11, 1620.

[12] US-History’s interactive tool < http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h306.html&gt;

[13] PRICE, Glenn W. Los orígenes de la guerra con México, p. 15.

[14] Since the Ordinance line of 1763, the Louisiana purchase to France, and so on.

[15] VÁZQUEZ, Josefina Zoraida and Meyer, Lorenzo. México frente a Estados Unidos: un ensayo histórico, 1776-2000, p. 38.

[16] These were the treatment of “most favored nation” and the Santa Fe freeway with a U.S. guarantee. Quoted in ibid, p. 37.

[17] These were tariffs passed by John Quincy Adams, in 1828, to protect Northern manufacturers, leaving agricultural South poorer. Quoted in CHIPMAN, Donald E, Texas en la época colonial, p. 312.

[18] “John C. Calhoun had declared in his South Carolina Exposition and Protest that states had the right to nullify oppressive national legislation”, because of the Tariff of abomination and the Alien and Sedition Acts, which brought the roots of Civil War. Quoted in “Chapter 5: Westward expansionism and regional differences”, Outline of U. S. History, Office of International Information Programs, Unites States Department <http://usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/histryotln/expansion.htm&gt;

[19] VÁZQUEZ, Josefina Zoraida and Meyer, Lorenzo. México frente a Estados Unidos: un ensayo histórico, 1776-2000, p. 44.

[20] DE LEÓN, Arnoldo, The Tejano community, 1836-1900, p. 5.

[21] VÁZQUEZ, Josefina Zoraida and Meyer, Lorenzo. México frente a Estados Unidos: un ensayo histórico, 1776-2000, p. 45.

[22] “There were 5000 slaves in Texas by the time of the Texas Revolution in 1836. By the time of annexation a decade later, there were 30,000; by 1860, the census found 182,566 slaves — over 30% of the total population of the state.” Quoted in US-History’s interactive tool < http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h306.html&gt;

[23] VÁZQUEZ, Josefina Zoraida and Meyer, Lorenzo. México frente a Estados Unidos: un ensayo histórico, 1776-2000, p. 46.

[24] The Texas Declaration of Independence, March 2, 1836.

[25] Ibid.

[26] PRICE, Glenn W. Los orígenes de la guerra con México, p. 207-208.

[27] VÁZQUEZ, Josefina Zoraida and Meyer, Lorenzo. México frente a Estados Unidos: un ensayo histórico, 1776-2000, p. 51.

[28] WEEMS, John Edward. To conquer a peace, pp. 20-21.

[29] One example of this help was the Gutiérrez- Magee insurrection. José Bernardo Gutiérrez was a rebel, who fought against the New Spain forces. In Natchitoches, he obtained the cooperation of a graduated of the Military Academy of West Point, Augustus William Magee, who followed precise instructions from Washington to support the rebels. In 1812, both formed the North Republican Army. Quoted in CHIPMAN, Donald E, Texas en la época colonial, p. 321.

[30] PRICE, Glenn W. Los orígenes de la guerra con México, p. 215.

[31] VÁZQUEZ, Josefina Zoraida and Meyer, Lorenzo. México frente a Estados Unidos: un ensayo histórico, 1776-2000, p. 53.

[32] This could be reflected in the James K. Polk, War Message to Congress, May 11, 1846.

[33] The Treaty of Annexation, April 12, 1844.

[34] James K. Polk, War Message to Congress, May 11, 1846.

[35] “Art. 5. The boundary line between the two Republics shall commence in the Gulf of Mexico, three leagues from land, opposite the mouth of the Rio Grande, otherwise called Rio Bravo del Norte […] along the western line of New Mexico, until it intersects the first branch of the river Gila […] until it empties into the Rio Colorado; thence across the Rio Colorado, following the division line between Upper and Lower California, to the Pacific Ocean.” This vast territory would become the states of New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah, and significant parts of Wyoming and Colorado. Quoted in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, February 2, 1848.

[36] “Art. 12. In consideration of the extension acquired by the boundaries of the United States, as defined in the fifth article of the present treaty, the Government of the United States engages to pay to that of the Mexican Republic the sum of fifteen millions of dollars.” Quoted in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, February 2, 1848.

[37] “With the later sale of land through the Gadsden Purchase [know too as La Mesilla].” Quoted in WEEMS, John Edward. To conquer a peace, pp. 447.

[38] “It is a war against the free states. Regarding it as a war to strengthen the ‘Slave Power’ […] The lives of Mexicans are sacrificed in this cause; and a domestic question, which should be reserved for bloodless debate in our country, is transferred to fields of battle in a foreign land.” Quoted in Massachusetts legislature, Resolutions on the war with Mexico, 1847.

[39] Ibid.

[40] It is necessary to not forget the Mexican Independence context.

[41] Massachusetts legislature, Resolutions on the war with Mexico, 1847.

[42] VÁZQUEZ, Josefina Zoraida and Meyer, Lorenzo. México frente a Estados Unidos: un ensayo histórico, 1776-2000, p. 64

[43] BRINKLEY, Alan. The unfinished nation, p. 346.

[44] DE LEÓN, Arnoldo, The Tejano community, 1836-1900, p. 1.

[45] BRINKLEY, Alan. The unfinished nation, p. A-4.

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