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This video library includes 24 short clips from the PBS/KERA documentary “The U.S.-Mexican War (1846-1848).” The clips are organized below according to the lesson plans and activities for which they are used. Most of these clips can also be accessed from the Interactive Timeline.
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- Two nations’ identities: Looking forward and looking back
The U.S. and Mexico have very different ideas of themselves as nations. The U.S. looks forward to a future as a “go-ahead” nation, enthusiastically expanding into the modern world, while Mexico looks back in time to its historical roots in the Spanish and Native cultures.
- Mexico in the shadow of its own history
Mexico is described as a nation “bound by the legacy of Spanish colonialism,” a place in which the present is “but a pale reflection of the past.”
- The American Indians: Protecting sacred land
The American Indians of the Southwest look neither forward nor backward to find meaning, but rather to their land. With a tradition of playing colonial powers off against each other, the Indians initially side with the Americans against the Mexicans during the war, but they ultimately face disastrous results.
- Manifest Destiny and American continental expansion
The idea of Manifest Destiny, a high-minded combination of idealism and racism, takes hold in the U.S. and drives Americans to expand their nation across the North American continent.
- The United States declares war on Mexico
President Polk signs a declaration of war against Mexico. He hopes to not only secure the border of Texas, but also to gain from Mexico the commercially valuable territories of California and New Mexico.
- Kearney's army marches west to conquer New Mexico and California
U.S. Colonel Stephen Kearny’s “Army of the West” marches from Kansas to New Mexico and California, with the mission of conquering the western half of North America.
- American entrepreneurs and the “mercantile conquest” of the Southwest
American businessmen come to New Mexico via the Santa Fe Trail and begin the “mercantile conquest” of what will ultimately become the southwestern United States.
- American settlers head west to seek prosperity in California
The isolated and sparsely settled Mexican state of California welcomes immigrants from other countries, particularly the U.S., to come live in its territory. Soon thousands of Americans travel west and try to make their fortune in California.
- The war and slavery: Some American voices of dissent
As the war drags on, some American anti-war sentiment, centered primarily around the issue of slavery, begins to grow. The vast majority of Americans, however, still strongly support “Mr. Polk’s War.”
- Looking back: A just war?
While the U.S. gained much from its defeat of Mexico, some see the war as leading inevitably to the American Civil War, while others like Ulysses S. Grant, who fought in the U.S.-Mexican War, regard it as “one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.”
- Mexico after independence: Much land, few settlers
After its long war of independence against Spain, Mexico has few resources to develop its faraway territories in what is now the western U.S. The U.S. wants to buy these lands, but out of national pride, Mexico will refuse to sell them.
- Mexico opens Texas to Americans who come to claim it as their own
Mexico opens up Texas to American immigrants, leading to a flood of new English-speaking settlers in the territory. Later, these Americans will be led by Sam Houston into a revolt against Mexico and President Antonio Lopéz de Santa Anna.
- Sam Houston's Texans avenge the Alamo and defeat Santa Anna at San Jacinto
After Santa Anna’s forces rout the Texans at the Alamo and Goliad, Sam Houston’s army defeats the Mexicans at the Battle of San Jacinto. Later, the Texans and the Americans will regard this as the birth of the independent republic of Texas, but Mexico will continue to claim Texas as its territory.
- Polk orders American troops into disputed territory
After a failed diplomatic mission, U.S. President Polk orders American troops to cross the Nueces River into disputed territory along the border of Texas and Mexico. This further inflames the conflict between the U.S. and Mexico.
- Mexican news stories lead to the downfall of President Herrera
The Mexican press has a direct impact on the war when it claims that Mexican President José Joaquîn de Herrera is about to sell the nation’s northern territories to the U.S. This leads to a shift in public opinion against Herrera and ultimately, the demise of his presidential administration.
- American news reporting promotes the war to an excited nation
The U.S.-Mexican War is the first American war to be covered by mass-circulation newspapers. The reporting and editorials of writers like Walt Whitman of the Brooklyn Eagle inspire much excitement among American readers and help to increase the recruitment of soldiers to fight the war.
- The Battle of Palo Alto and the death of Major Ringgold
Amidst great carnage, the U.S. defeats Mexico in the first battle of the war, the Battle of Palo Alto. One of the first American fatalities is Major Samuel Ringgold, who will later be remembered in a popular patriotic song.
- Patriotic songs and the “romance” of war
Sheet music and patriotic songs like “The Death of Ringgold” sweep the U.S., inspiring dreams of heroism among many young men who will later volunteer to join the war effort.
- The Gold Rush: Who got left behind?
The U.S. benefits greatly from the new lands won from Mexico in the war, most immediately by virtue of the California Gold Rush. Meanwhile, the Mexicans and Indians who have been living on the land for generations become at very best, “second-class citizens.”
- The Battle of Chapultepec and “Los Niños Héroes”
The Americans defeat the badly outnumbered Mexican forces in the Battle of Chapultepec. A group of young Mexicans (known as the “Boy Heroes of Chapultepec” or “Los Niños Héroes”) give their lives rather than surrender and are later remembered in a famous war memorial in Mexico City.
- President Truman visits the Chapultepec memorial
President Harry S. Truman becomes the first American President to visit Mexico City. He pays tribute to “Los Niños Héroes” at the Chapultepec memorial and tells Mexicans that “a strong nation does not have the right to impose its will, by reason of its strength, upon a weaker nation."
The following three clips are not explicitly cited in any of the lessons or activities, but can be used as supplementary resources. (They are also accessible from the Interactive Timeline.)
- Polk uses his inaugural address to advocate U.S. expansion
James K. Polk delivers his inaugural address, proclaiming that the U.S. must continue to expand and “extend the dominions of peace.”
- The U.S. angers Mexico by annexing Texas
The U.S. Congress votes to annex Texas. Mexico, which has never recognized Texas as an independent republic, protests this action, and its Minister to the U.S., Juan Almonte, breaks off diplomatic relations with the United States.
- Polk and Herrera: Diplomacy and disputed land
Mexican President Herrera is willing to accept a meeting with a U.S. envoy to discuss the question of Texas. However, when U.S. President Polk does send an envoy to Mexico, the mission is not to talk about Texas (which is regarded as a closed case by the Americans), but to talk about the purchase of the Mexican territories of California and New Mexico.