Text of Video Narration

Review of early geographic growth of USA

Let us go back 230 years in the history of the United States. The initial thirteen colonies clung to the Atlantic coast, limited by the English Proclamation Line of 1763 from expansion west. The Revolutionary War changed this, and in the peace treaty of 1783, England ceded her holdings west to the Mississippi River. Twenty years later, in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson doubled the size of the country again by purchasing Louisiana from France. It is at this point that our story begins. This program will show the expansion west to the Pacific Ocean and the completion of the continental United States. The dominant event in this expansion is the Mexican War, which took what is now the southwest of the United States from Mexico.

To the north of the new nation was Canada, ruled by Great Britain. A treaty in 1818 established the 49th parallel, or latitude, as the border west to the Rocky Mountains. Beyond that lay the Oregon country, left to be explored and settled by citizens of both nations. Two other nations had claims on the Oregon country. Russia had established a small presence on the north coast, while Spain had a huge presence to the south, which included most of Central and South America as well as the American southwest. A treaty was negotiated with Spain in 1819. The 42nd parallel was agreed upon as the northern limit to Spanish dominion. As this treaty was being negotiated, Spanish America was in revolt, and only had five years left to live.

Flashback:Cortez conquers Tenochtitlan

The Spanish Empire in the Americas had been founded three hundred years earlier, in 1521, when Spanish conquistadores, led by Hernan Cortez, conquered the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, which was located on a island in a lake approached by causeways. This Aztec ritual center is now Mexico City.

Flashback:Spanish colonies in the southwest

For 250 years today's American southwest was under Spanish rule. The area was sparsely populated, largely by native American Indians still untouched by the white man. The highest development of the Indians were the Anasazi pueblos, and it was in this area that Spain established New Mexico, founding Santa Fe in 1609, two years after Jamestown was founded in Virginia. One hundred years later, settlements were started in Texas to offset the French presence at the mouth of the Mississippi. San Antonio remains from these efforts. Finally, the coast of California was developed, to offset the advance of Russia down the north coast. San Francisco was founded in 1776.

Latin American and Mexican independence

In the early 1800's the flames of revolution spread throughout Latin America, ignited by the American and French revolutions, and fanned by the take-over of Spain in 1808 by Napoleon. All the Spanish colonies of South America had been liberated by 1824. But, unlike the earlier American revolution, which unified the English colonies, the Spanish American revolutions fragmented South America. Only Brazil achieved independence from Portugal with relatively little violence, and only Brazil remained unified.

The Mexican revolution paralleled those in South America. It began in 1810 with a priest, Miguel Hidalgo, leading a revolution for the rights of the lower classes, the Indians and slaves. Through political manipulation by her upper class, Mexico became an independent nation in 1821.

Growth of Texas

Unlike Spain, Mexico opened her borders to trade with the United States. She also allowed in settlers, if they became citizens of Mexico and converted to the Roman Catholic faith. Most Americans settled in the largest northern province of Mexico, called Texas, a land with a soil as fertile as any in America. The first settlers were led by Stephen Austin, who founded a colony on the Gulf coast in 1821. Initially, Mexico encouraged the settlement in Texas, but soon religious and cultural differences, and conflict over slavery, which was declared illegal in Mexico in 1829, prevented the peaceful growth of Texas under the Mexican government.

Mexico banned further colonization in 1830. Trouble followed. Mexican strongman General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna sent in federal troops in 1835, but the American settlers defeated them at San Antonio, and forced the Mexican army to withdraw beyond the Rio Grande river.

The Alamo and the Texas Revolution

By 1836 Texas was in full revolt. Santa Anna was equally determined to regain control of his runaway province. He raised an army of 6000 men and, together with his lieutenant Urrea, he invaded Texas. When Santa Anna reached San Antonio, he found 150 Texans holding the mission building of the Alamo. Commanded by William B. Travis, and including Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, these frontier men refused to surrender to the Mexican army. The Texans fought fearlessly for two weeks, throwing back wave after wave of Mexican troops. Finally the Mexican army forced open the gates and overran the Alamo's defenders. All the Americans were killed, including Crockett, Bowie, and Travis.

A few days previously, a convention had drafted a declaration of Texan Independence, adopted a flag, and made Sam Houston the new republic's military commander. Two weeks later, the Mexican troops under Urrea captured 300 Texans at Goliad. Santa Anna ordered all these American prisoners-of-war to be shot.

Santa Anna's army advanced eastward with Texas settlers fleeing before it. Sam Houston managed to keep an army of 800 men retreating east. At San Jacinto, Houston quickly turned and attacked the Mexicans, catching Santa Anna by surprise. The battle was over in eighteen minutes, with the Texans winning. The Mexicans lost about 600 men, while the Texans lost only nine. Santa Anna was taken prisoner.

With this victory Texas won its independence. Santa Anna recognized the new republic, agreeing to the borders of the original Mexican province. The Texans ratified their new constitution, legalized slavery, elected Sam Houston president, and declared that the Texas republic included all the land north of the Rio Grande river, back to its source in today's Colorado, and including Santa Fe and much of New Mexico.

Texas applied to Washington for annexation to the United States, but the northern states in Congress refused to admit another slave state. Upon reflection, Mexico withdrew her recognition of the Lone Star Republic, but she was too involved in internal conflict to attempt to regain her lost province.

Polk and the expansion west

James K. Polk of Tennessee was elected President in 1844, running as a Democrat on a platform promising to annex Texas and occupy Oregon. Texas itself had begun discussions with England to end slavery and join the British Empire. This possibility caused Congress to vote for annexation just as Polk's term began in 1845. Texas accepted this offer and became the 28th state of the Union, by far the largest, since Congress accepted the disputed Texas boundaries. Mexico could not stomach this blatant land-grab of her territory, and she broke diplomatic relations with the United States.

Preparations for war with Mexico

Now began a classic example of how a democracy can be marched into war by a determined President. The Mexican war should be studied for this, if for no other reason. The bone of contention between the two nations was the disputed area, claimed by both Texas and Mexico. In July, 1845, after Texas had formally accepted annexation, Polk ordered a detachment of regular army under General Zachary Taylor to occupy a position on the Nueces river, the southern most boundary of Texas which was recognized by Mexico. Taylor chose Corpus Christi, at the mouth of the Nueces, as this base camp. Supposedly he was there to protect the new state against possible Mexican assault. Throughout the winter he awaited further orders.

Mexico signaled a willingness to talk. Polk sent an envoy, John Slidell, to Mexico City to obtain recognition of the Rio Grande border. Secretly, Slidell would offer 25 million for California, the prize Polk really wanted for the United States. At the same time, Polk was negotiating with the British for all the Oregon country, up to the frontier with Russia. He forced the issue by putting a bill through Congress limiting the joint occupancy to one more year.

Even in the face of war, Mexico underwent the sixth revolution in seven years, placing a military faction under General Parades in charge. He refused to meet with Slidell or make any deal with the Americans. Hearing of this rejection, and increasingly concerned that Mexico might sell California to Great Britain, Polk ordered Taylor further south, crossing 150 miles into the disputed area, to establish himself on the Rio Grande. A Mexican army faced him on the opposite bank. On April 25th an American scouting party was ambushed by the Mexicans. Eleven Americans were killed. This was the incident Polk was looking for. On May 11, 1846, he sent a stern war message to Congress: "After reiterated menaces, Mexico has passed the boundary of the United States, has invaded our territory and shed American blood on American soil."

Congress declared war after only two hours of debate. It is clear now that Polk baited Mexico into war over the Texas boundary in order to get California, after concluding Mexico would not sell California. He created a provocative situation which led to violence, blamed the violence on Mexico, and in the heat of the moment got Congress to declare war. Then the people accepted the war as fact.

Dissident voices

Not everyone went along with the plan. In New England there was little support for a war which would gain more slave states. Henry Thoreau made his private protest by refusing to pay the state poll tax. He spent a night in jail, and later justified his action in his essay on civil disobedience.

Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846 after the war started, but he protested the legality of the war in a series of resolutions which questioned whether the initial incident had in fact occurred on American soil. He was not reelected.

In the Mississippi valley and in the South, volunteers rushed to enlist to rally 'round the flag and take Mexican land for America! Soldiers in the regular U. S. Army, such as this captain, were supplemented by short-term volunteers from the states, particularly Texas.

Acquisition of the Oregon Territory

Four weeks after the declaration of war, as the United States prepared for a war on its southern border with Mexico, Great Britain offered a compromise on Oregon in the north: to simply extend the 49th parallel as the border. President Polk accepted this obvious solution, and the Oregon Territory was added to the United States.

Kearny and the conquest of New Mexico

The initial American strategy was to blockade the coasts of Mexico with ships of the U.S. Navy, and to occupy the northern provinces of Mexico, which were believed to be ready to revolt against their central government. A number of offenses were set in motion. A small army at Fort Leavenworth was placed under the command of Stephen Kearny. His orders were to occupy Santa Fe and if possible, proceed to California.

Kearny's troops followed the Santa Fe Trail across the Great Plains. Then they proceeded south into the mountains, just east of their first objective. Upon hearing that the American army was nearby, the Mexican forces in Santa Fe slipped away. Santa Fe was captured without a shot fired. Having conquered New Mexico, Kearny divided his forces to move on. He took 300 men and proceeded down the Rio Grande, making a show of force, and then turned west to California. He left Alexander Doniphan behind with the majority of his troops. Doniphan proceeded south to pacify the war-like Indian tribes in southern New Mexico. He met a Mexican army near El Brazito, but it offered little resistance. Then he began a long march into Mexico.

Stockton and the conquest of California

Events had already begun in California which would result in its separation from Mexico. Preview This story begins at Sonoma, a small village just north of San Francisco. Here an ambitious explorer, John C. Fremont, son-in-law of President Polk's chief henchman in the Senate, Senator Benton from Missouri, led a small group of men, some seen here, to stage a mini-revolt and declare California a republic. They raised the Bear Flag, which became the current state flag. This crude mimic of the earlier Texas revolution led many later to suspect the hand of President Polk. In any case, news of the Sonoma revolt prompted the U.S. Navy to seize the main port of California at Monterey, and declare California under U.S. rule. San Francisco was quickly subdued. Commodore Robert Stockton took over naval operations and proceeded down the coast, capturing Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, which at this time was the capital of California, and San Diego.

The only problem was with Los Angeles. The Californios at Los Angeles revolted and forced the American navy to abandon Southern California. The Californios were horsemen of the finest quality. They banded together under Andres Pico, brother of former governor Pio Pico, to protect their traditional and romantic way of life.

Stockton reestablished himself at San Diego. Kearny arrived from New Mexico after a difficult passage on the Gila river. As he neared San Diego, the Californios fell on him at San Pasqual, killing or wounding one third of his men. Kearny made it to San Diego with his remaining men, and a combined force of army and navy personal, led by Stockton and Kearny, moved up the coast to recapture Los Angeles.

The Americans advanced to the San Gabriel river. Here they were set upon by the Californios. Artillery fire was exchanged between the two sides. The Californios charged bearing lances, but accurate fire by the Americans held them off, and they retired. The next day the Americans advanced to the Los Angeles river. They held themselves in a hollow square, the classic defense against cavalry. The Californios charged, but they were driven off by American fire-power for a second time. This was enough for the Californios. They surrendered Los Angeles, and a treaty was signed at Cahuenga, bringing the citizens of California into the Union without regard for their past.

Zachary Taylor and the war in northern Mexico

Zachary Taylor carried the major part of the early war. Known as "old rough and ready" by his men, Taylor was a popular and brave leader, if not a great military strategist. At the same time that Kearny was subduing New Mexico and California, Taylor fought major battles in Mexico. We left him at the beginning of the war on the Rio Grande. Before the declaration of war was signed, Taylor's army had already fought two battles. At Palo Alto, 2500 Americans faced 4000 Mexicans, but the Americans had superior artillery and fire-power, and at Palo Alto and again at the following battle at Resaca de la Palma, the American army prevailed. The Mexican army retreated south, into the interior. Taylor crossed the Rio Grande and headed up river, making his way toward Monterrey, the capital of northeast Mexico.

The Mexican army beat him there. By the time the Americans arrived, Mexico was ready for battle on favorable ground. The battle for Monterrey raged fiercely for three days, but after intense street fighting the Americans finally won the city. Taylor allowed the Mexican army to withdraw, a decision much criticized by President Polk.

Mexico was in desperate straits. Santa Anna had been exiled to Spanish Cuba; he now returned after making a deal with Polk to work for peace. Once reestablished in Mexico City as the country's dictator, he betrayed Polk, raised an army of 20,000 men at San Louis Potosi, and marched north to destroy Taylor. In early 1847 Taylor's and Santa Anna's forces met at Buena Vista. This was the biggest battle yet, and the Americans almost lost. Repeated thrusts by Mexican cavalry on Taylor's well fortified positions were repulsed. Both armies came out badly damaged. But in the morning Santa Anna was gone, leaving the Americans to claim victory. Meanwhile Doniphan moved from New Mexico down towards Chihuahua. After a heavy artillery duel he captured the city, one week after the Buena Vista battle.

The Americans now held all of Northern Mexico, but the Mexican government would not surrender. It appeared necessary to march directly on the capital, Mexico City, to attain a decision.

Winfield Scott and the conquest of Mexico City

Winfield Scott, general-in-chief of the U.S. Army, had a plan to end the war. While Scott was not as popular as Zachary Taylor with his men or with the American people, he was a brilliant strategist, one of the most capable soldiers this country has every produced.

Scott prepared to march on Mexico City from Veracruz, the same route followed by Cortez 300 years earlier. He disembarked from New Orleans and gathered forces at the Rio Grande and at Tampico, which had been occupied by the U.S. Navy. At Tampico he prepared amphibious forces totaling 10,000 men. He then sailed to a point just south of Veracruz. The U.S. Navy began bombardment of the city. Civilian deaths at Veracruz soon dwarfed those at the Alamo. Scott's men came ashore and occupied the city. Then they proceeded into the interior of Mexico. Though it was only 200 miles to Mexico City, the trek would take six months.

Scott's troops initially met resistance at the fortified pass of Cerro Gordo. The Americans outflanked the Mexicans, and they retreated. The Americans then pushed on to Puebla. The Mexican cavalry skirmished with them, after which Santa Anna withdrew his forces to Mexico City. Scott remained three months in Puebla to receive replacements. Then the Americans trekked on to the continental divide, 10,000 feet above sea level, overlooking Mexico City.

Scott's troops approached Mexico City. Reconnaissance units discovered that the main road was blocked by a fortified hill. The Americans withdrew. A series of daring reconnaissances revealed a passable trail around Lake Chalco. The Americans arrived at a point eight miles south of Mexico City. After losing an initial battle, Santa Anna ordered his troops to withdraw to the inner defenses of the city. An American brigade struck and scattered one arm of this withdrawal. Hot pursuit of American columns converged on the fortified bridgehead of Churubusco. Here an intense battle was won by the Americans. After a brief armistice, the Americans continued their onslaught at Molina del Rey, just west of Mexico City. Molina was a blood bath. Five days later the Americans stormed their last obstacle, the fortified hill of Chapultepec, heroically defended by the boy cadets of the Mexican military school. This ancient castle, existing from Aztec times, held the "halls of Montezuma." Scott's troops pushed through the causeways to the capital, stopping at the western gates. In the morning Santa Anna was gone. The Americans occupied the capital. The war was over.

Geographic results of the Mexican War in the southwest

The U.S. Army occupied Mexico City for almost six months before a peace treaty was signed at Guadalupe Hidalgo, a town just north of the capital. The United States acquired California and New Mexico, as well as Texas. Mexico was given 15 million dollars as compensation for half her land area. As this treaty was being signed, gold was discovered in California, thus fulfilling California's promise as the land of plenty. In 1850 California was admitted as a state. In the same year Congress purchased the New Mexico area of greater Texas for 10 million dollars. Despite this loss, Texas remained the largest state in the Union. In 1853 the United States paid 10 million dollars to Mexico for the Gadsden Purchase. This completed the boundaries of the continental United States.

At the same time as the Mexican war, the Mormons, persecuted in the east, trekked across the continent to settle in the valley of the Great Salt Lake. Nevada was made a state in 1864. The Mormon settlement became the state of Utah in 1896. New Mexico was admitted in 1912, as was the state of Arizona.

What happened to the major participants

James K. Polk quit after one term, exhausted. The first dark horse candidate for President, the results of his single term in office make him one of the least liked but most important of the Presidents. Despite Polk's efforts, Zachary Taylor succeeded him as President in 1848. Taylor ran without making a single speech. He was the fourth distinguished soldier in the office and the first to have no political experience whatsoever. He died in office in 1850.

Winfield Scott was dismissed by Polk after the peace treaty was signed, partly to keep him out of the Presidential race. Under his brilliant military leadership an extremely competent officer corps was unintentionally trained for both sides in the coming Civil War. Robert E Lee, Ulysses S Grant, Jefferson Davis, "Stonewall" Jackson, and others were Scott and Taylor's junior officers in the Mexican war. The tactics they learned in Mexico were used again and again in the terrible fields of the Civil War.

What happened to Mexico; present relations with the USA

Mexico lost half her land but only two per cent of her people in the Mexican American war. This left a bitter taste. A monument to the seven military cadets who killed themselves for Mexico is a reminder. The people of Mexico have had a negative view of the United States ever since this war of conquest.

Mexico's course in history has been a different one from that of the United States. Revolution after revolution occurred in her early years, but these involved her entire people and all the races, not just the ruling class, as in America. Benito Jaurez led Mexico in the later 1800's. He was a full-blooded Tarascan Indian. How long will it be before a Native American is President of the United States? These internal conflicts culminated in the Great Revolution of 1910 to 1917, led by Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa.

Today Mexico is the United States second largest trading partner. Yet friction remains, especially over the issue of immigration. As the Latino population in the American southwest increases, an area which for hundreds of years was under Spanish or Mexican rule, the shared values of these two great neighboring nations will have to overcome their history of conflict.