What A Country
The Californios inhabit a country embracing four or five hundred miles of sea-coast with several harbours, with fine forests in the north; the waters filled with fish, and the plains covered with thousands of herds of cattle; blessed with a climate than which there can be no better in the world... In the hands of an enterprising people, what a country this might be.
By the mid-1840s, lured by reports of fertile soil and a healthy climate, some 3,000 American settlers had filed through the Sierra Nevada Mountains and down into California's Sacramento Valley.
The commander of all Mexican troops in northern California, Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, begged Mexico City for the soldiers he knew would be necessary to keep the Americans out. Vallejo belonged to one of the oldest Spanish families in the Americas: most of the Sonoma Valley -- a quarter of a million acres -- belonged to him.
But despite his position, the government ignored his pleas for troops. It seemed to Vallejo and his fellow Californios that Mexico City was as distant and arbitrary as it had been to the people of Texas. He now found himself embroiled in revolts and counter-revolts, and increasing calls for California's independence.
Finally, the leading Californios gathered in Monterey to discuss their future. One man favored annexation by France, since it was a Catholic country. Another thought California should join the British empire. Still others called for a Republic of California. Vallejo had come to a different conclusion.
To rely any longer upon Mexico to govern and defend us would be idle and absurd... Why should we shrink from incorporating ourselves with the United States, the happiest and freest nation in the world, destined soon to be the most wealthy and powerful?... When we join our fortunes to hers, we shall not become subjects, but fellow-citizens.
people of Texas have, with a unanimity unparalleled, declared that they
will be reunited to the great Republican family of the North... We are
cheered by the hope that they will receive us... and hail us welcome into
the great family of freemen.
For seven years, Sam Houston's hopes that Texas would become part of the United States had been thwarted by northern fears that Texas would tip the precarious balance of power toward the slave states.
Then in 1844, James Knox Polk was narrowly elected President. He was a humorless, hard-working democrat from Tennessee, utterly determined to expand the United States. With his support, and a compromise, deftly side-stepping the issue of slavery, the Republic of Texas became the thirty-eighth state in the Union. And Sam Houston was named its first senator.
Next, President Polk turned his attention to the Pacific Northwest. He threatened Britain with war unless it gave up its claim, then shrewdly negotiated an agreement that added what are now Oregon, Washington and Idaho to the Union.
But Polk was still not satisfied. He now wanted New Mexico and California, and when Mexico refused to sell the provinces, he used a border skirmish along the Rio Grande to persuade Congress to declare war.
The Mexican-American War lasted more than a year and a half -- a bloody struggle that cost thousands of lives and ended only when American troops finally stormed into Mexico City. In less than a dozen years, Mexico had lost half its territory; the United States had grown by more than a third.
In Texas, Juan Seguin, who had fought as hard as any man for independence, was falsely accused of being more loyal to Mexico than to Texas. He was forced to slip south across the border -- "To seek refuge," he mourned, "amongst my enemies."
And in California, Mariano Vallejo's dreams of a peaceful annexation ended when, at the outbreak of war in 1846, American squatters arrested him in his own house. Like many other new-made Mexican-Americans, he found himself an alien on his own native soil.
Our race, our unfortunate people, will now have to wander in search of hospitality in a strange land.... the North Americans hate us, their spokesmen deprecate us, and they consider us unworthy to form with them one nation and one society.
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