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Was the Mexican-American War an Exercise in American Imperialism?

The Mexican-American war was one of the 19th century’s most historical but controversial conflicts in the history of America. The result of this war has long been debated and until today, no one wants to take the responsibility on who causes this war and who is to be blamed for the consequence. Historians have embarked on different historical facts and theories which resulted in many conclusions.

Most scholars think that the root of this war was not actually America’s protecting its sovereignty but an act of tyranny against other nation. Still the question looms. The result of this war, however, was one great loss for Mexico and this is the losing of Texas to America. Was this another case of America’s imperialism by employing force to conquer another country’s soil or a just case of misunderstanding between two neighboring countries that have different ideologies?

Historians Rodolfo Acuna and Norman Graebner present their answers. According to Acuna, the 19th century Anglo-American government created Manifest Destiny. Manifest Destiny was an American government program to empower the President of the American Republic and provide him the power to order his government to conquer lands and widen its territories. Among the countries that are included in the manifest are mostly North American countries. Mexico was one of these North American countries that are connected by land to America.

Since it was the period of colonization and America was still launching its influence and dominance to other countries, Americans were made to believe that it is their duty to spread their religious responsibility over other nations and spread out their democracy and so colonizing lands by any means was thought to be their accountability. Acuna said that in order for America to do its so called “obligation” it must start its operation by forbidding North American countries to gain more lands that are near American territories.

Since Mexico is near America and Texas an extension of its territory, Texas became a disputed territory. From then on America wanted to have Texas as part of its union of territories. But something is blocking American’s plan. The Treaty of Guadalupe was established between America and the union of Spanish countries to respect and preserve each other’s territories and borders. Mexico belongs to these Spanish countries and so Texas as one of its territories must be free from colonization by any other country. Incidentally America does not want to recognize the treaty and dream to have Texas whatever the consequence.

US President James K. Polk has devised a plan to resolve the problem. Polk ordered his negotiator Nicholas Trist to negotiate with Mexico with the intention of breaking the treaty by buying Texas from Mexico. But Mexico is not to let any of its land be bought or taken away by the relentless America. Incidentally, President Polk without any legal option to use ordered his troops to force their way in and captured Texas. This was the beginning of the war between the two countries. But American historian Norman Graebner is saying it differently.

Accordingly, the Manifest Destiny is not actually the root of the war. He said that it was the lack of diplomatic relations and misunderstanding between the two neighboring nations which led them to war. He explained that America tried to buy Mexican lands and that includes Texas so that America has the chance to increase the size of its nation. America has indeed offered 1 million dollars to Mexico for Texas but the latter refused. Since Texas was closely linked to America, Mexico did not put any restriction on migration of Americans in Texas.

However, the influx of migrants and negating the government of Mexico infuriates the government of Mexico. The relentless incoming of migrants made Mexico to wage war against these migrants. President Polk ordered his troops to protect Americans inside Texas and so a war ensued. However, Acuna is supporting his claim that the US indeed has its plan to conquer Texas from the beginning. He said that this plan was conceived even during the time of former US President Thomas Jefferson. Accordingly, Jefferson was quoted that the only way to conquer Texas by America is through the waging of war.

And so it happens that when Mexico stood a steady position not to give up Texas, President Polk began drafting declarations of war and made war campaigns against Mexico. Graebner, however explained that the US has declared war on Mexico because the Mexicans were invading US territories and killing Americans on their way. He further said that although America made an effort to avoid war against Mexico, the Mexican government continued its attack on American people especially those who are inside Texas. The attack to the Americans led President Polk to request the US Congress to promulgate the declarations of war against Mexico.

But Acuna insisted that the US waged war to Mexico to get Texas by force and this clearly shows a grave conduct of American imperialism. He said that Mexicans regardless of their poverty are peaceful and morally abiding citizens unlike the Americans who are arrogant and racist. Graebner finally say that although war has made Texas to be the casualty, America has the right to gain lands that would further protect its borders and territories (Sharkbait, 2008). Following the track of history, the Mexican-American war began in April 25, 1846 and ended in February 2, 1848.

Since Mexican historians attested that the war was an act of imperialism on the part of the Americans, we have to study the details of war. Americans who were living in Texas in 1835 does not want to recognize Mexican President Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana’s government. They rebelled against it and rejected any government parties that come to Texas. The rebellion forces President Santa Ana to lead his Mexican army to stop the rebellion. But General Sam Houston was tasked to protect the Americans against Santa Ana’s troops. Eventually, General Houston covered and captured the overall state of Texas.

With lack of forces and no further option Santa Ana was forced to sign a treaty recognizing Texas as an independent state with an independent government but still an integral part of Mexico. The Mexican Congress rejected the treaty but the treaty was imposed and Texas had its independence for ten years. Although Texas gathered recognition from France, Great Britain and Belgium as an independent state, Mexico abhorred that status believing that Texas must be under the government of Mexico. In 1845, President Polk offered Mexico to annex Texas to America but Mexico refused.

With America’s diligence to acquire Texas, Mexico has threatened to wage war against the Americans if they persist. But since Texas was an independent state and has adapted to American colonization, it has accepted the US offer and on December 29, 1845, Texas became the member of the US Union of States. Mexico was furious and prepared for war. But the Americans already anticipated such reaction. With orders from President Polk, Brigadier General Zachary Taylor moved his army into Rio Nueces and Rio Grande to prepare for the war. The Mexicans became more enraged and condemned America’s show of might and force inside their territories.

Although Taylor said he was there to protect his people and not to make war, he warned the Mexican troops not to fire a single shot to his men or it would be the start of war. The Mexicans hated to see American troops in their own territories and with the leadership of Mexican General Mariano Arista, his troops crossed the Rio Grande and attacked the American troops. That raid on April 25, 1846 caused the killing of 14 American soldiers and capturing a number of prisoners. This attack was the beginning of the Mexican-American War. Unfortunately, the war that was first induced by the Mexicans was not destined to be won by them.

America has send army volunteers to secure the area and mass numbers of forces came to Texas and Mexico. On March 9, 1847, other regiments were added to the forces of Taylor which formed the “Army of Invasion”. This army covered the shore of Buena Vista and with the Americans covering all sides of the area the Mexicans have nowhere to run. Hundreds of troops from the forces of Santa died while protecting Buena Vista. Eventually President Santa Anna was captured. Mexico has no leader to lead its people and in mid 1847, American troops marched inside the Capital of Mexico City and captured Chapultepec, the fortress of Mexico.

Santa Anna was put to exile and on February 2, 1848, President Polk signed the treaty stating Texas as part of the US territory. Two days later, he presented Texas to the Americans as its newly acquired state. Until this day, many see that the annexation of Texas to the US was a symbol of force and imperialist act of America against a helpless and small nation as Mexico (Lipps, 2008). What made most people think that America uses its power to acquire Texas comes from many American analysts themselves.

The history of succession among US presidents like Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson and then James K. Polk showed that even Louisiana also underwent the same pressure before being annexed to America. Incidentally, these past presidents believed that Louisiana has all the qualities to be part of the Union and so asserted themselves to acquire it. Louisiana was then an independent nation that runs its own government. These ideals of these great presidents provide the conclusion that America has the habit of claiming lands and building its empire to strengthen and widen its colonization.

As an evidence of another American imperialism, Florida and Oregon were originally not part of the US but because of the persevering force of an American empire, these states were forcibly became members of the union of states. Within the seventy years of colonization on North American land, the US population exploded from below four million to twenty-five million. Once the land has been colonized, it would be populated by those who are ready to cultivate the land for agriculture. Thus many think that colonization and empire-building comes from the people who want to secure their lives and their future.

The history of American Imperialism started in 1782 and underwent three phases. The first phase was the acquisition of the continental landmass which covers the Atlantic to the Pacific side of the globe. This acquisition happens to cover Canada and part of Mexico. The second phase is the offshore acquisition and this includes Alaska, Hawaii, Philippines, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and then the Caribbean and the Pacific region. The third phase was the modern non-territorial empire of the Cold War and post-Cold War periods which the US maintains around the world.

An example of this empire is the designation of American embassies to different parts of the world while it builds its military power over nations it has won in war. Thus the history of American imperialism is based on the use of military power as its ideological habit of colonialism (Nugent, 2007). People assumed that James Polk’s administration forces the occurrence of the Mexican-American war. But as it was previously mentioned, it was not only Texas that has suffered the same consequences but other states as well.

Oregon, Washington and California were the first colony to be ceded to the US. Their conquest were all presided by the past US presidents. Polk and Jackson believe in the “manifest destiny” or the right of the US to expand its territory through any ways and means. Polk concentrated on acquiring Texas to expand further the United States’ domain. While other people say that Polk’s conquest has contributed to the development and industrialization of America, many insist that such act emphasized clearly the signature of American Imperialism (Woods, 2004).

Conclusion: History has voiced itself out by emphasizing America was indeed an imperialist country not only because it has wage war on Mexico to claim Texas but because it has shown records of events in America’s manner of conquest. The manifest destiny was the proof that indeed president Polk planned to get Texas and though America has succeeded in expanding its nation by colonizing other states does it really deserved to be called the land of freedom and democracy? America has earned its reputation as a habitual “imperialist” and we have a lot to do to alter this image.

On the case of the Mexican-American war, this war will forever symbolizes the fault of America in its method of strengthening its nation. Fortunately, things have changed today. American people are now more liberal and compassionate towards other nation. They have learned to criticize their own government if there is an extra territorial activity being waged by their powerful nation and the world is now beginning to believe that America indeed is becoming the land of freedom and democracy. .


Lipps, A. H. (2008).Prelude to the Civil War: The Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. Journal. Retrieved from http://www. wartimecollectables. com/zartmexicanwar. htm NUGENT, W. (2007). The American Habit of Empire, and the Cases of Polk and Bush. The Western Historical Quarterly, 38. Number 1. Sharkbait (2008). American Imperialism in the Mexican War. Journal. Retrieved from http://www. progressiveu. org/012128-american-imperialism-mexican-war Woods, S. L. T. (2004). Tribute to Native Son of Tennessee. Journal. Retrieved from http://www. amazon. com/review/product/0805069429? filterBy=addFiveStar

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