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The Borderlands

Mexican perceptions during the War

by Jesus Velasco-Marquez

When U.S. diplomat John Slidell left Mexico in 1846 without accomplishing his mission - mostly because of the form in which his credential had been issued and because of the pressure the Mexican press placed on its government in opposition to Slidell's mission-U.S. forces under the command of Gen. Zachary Taylor advanced to the Rio Bravo. This act was considered an open transgression on the territorial integrity of Mexico (since Mexico had long considered the Nueces River the border of Texas) as well as a violation of the Treaty of Limits signed on 12 January 1828. Hence, Mexican public opinion demanded the protection of that territory, a stand supported by the government of Mariano Paredes y Arrillaga. This led to the first encounters between the U.S. and Mexican armies, at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. After these battles, U.S. president James K. Polk requested and got a declaration of war by Congress.

When Mexicans learned of the U.S. declaration of war, the U.S. occupation of Matamoros, and the blockade of the Mexican ports of Tampico and Veracruz, the Mexican press questioned whether the U.S. government was really pursuing the defense of its territory and the redress of supposed offenses, as President Polk had stated. From Mexico's point of view the U.S. government was using these as excuses to take possession of territory that rightfully belonged to Mexico.

The general opinion among Mexicans was that Mexico was a weaker nation that was in danger of being oppressed by the United States; hence, Mexico was fighting for its survival against the unlawful acts of usurpation and injustice. The war, they said, had been started by the United States, and Mexico had no recourse but to defend itself.

In July 1846, the Mexican congress adopted a resolution for the national defense. By then U.S. occupation of New Mexico had begun and U.S. naval forces had taken strategic positions in California. The opinion in Mexico was not only that justice and law were on its side but also that the integrity and security of Mexico were in danger.

On 8 August 1846, President Polk asked for an appropriation of $2 million to buy the territory in dispute, as well as California and New Mexico; this makes clear that his real purpose in declaring war on Mexico was territorial acquisition. When Polk's appropriation bill became known in Mexico, the newspaper El Republicano commented that the statements made by the U.S. government were proof that the real goal was to take more territory from Mexico and that a war initiated with that intent was unjust and barbarous and its promoters should be considered enemies of humanity.
On 3 March 1847 the U.S. Congress approved, after a long debate, an appropriation bill of $3 million to allow the president to conclude a treaty of "peace, limits and borders" with Mexico. One month later Nicholas P. Trist was appointed U.S. commissioner to negotiate with Mexican authorities. By then a new offensive, under the command of Gen. Winfield Scott, had begun to invade the territory between the port of Veracruz and Mexico City. Again, the opinion in Mexico, shared by the public and the government, was that Mexico should not sign a peace with ignominy. Even after the first communications had taken place between Trist and Mexican authorities, and despite all the military defeats experienced by Mexican forces, EI Diario del Gobierno on 8 July 1847 stated,

. . . [The peace] that now could be accorded between the Mexican Republic and that of North America, would be humiliating to the first, and would gain to her, in the years to come, a dishonor among the rest of the nations, as well as domestic evils of such magnitude, that Mexico soon would be again theater of war and would disappear from the catalogue of the free and independent peoples. . . .

After the Battle of Churubusco, when it became evident that armed resistance was futile, Mexican public opinion started to favor a negotiated end to the war, although it never accepted that the war had been just. The Mexicans always considered that they were fighting for their territorial integrity and their national security against the unjust territorial expansion of the United States. Also some Mexican journalists and political leaders, particularly the moderates and conservatives, emphasized the cultural and religious differences between Mexico and the United States. Hence, they saw Mexican resistance as a defense of Catholic and Latin culture against Anglo-Saxon Protestant encroachments. Finally, from a legal point of view, Mexican public opinion, during the entire war-even after the signature and approval of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo-was that Mexico had defended the principles of international law and that the U.S. invasion had been a war of conquest.