Such are the views I press upon the War Department ,together with liberality - may the utmost generosity in offering terms of peace; care in not alarming the jealousy of France & England.
In 1845, after the annexation of Texas, President Polk approached the Mexicans offering cash to settle the southern boundary of the United States as the Rio Grande River and obtain California. This offer was refused and Polk sent General Zachary Taylor into the disputed portion of Texas to physically support the...
In 1845, after the annexation of Texas, President Polk approached the Mexicans offering cash to settle the southern boundary of the United States as the Rio Grande River and obtain California. This offer was refused and Polk sent General Zachary Taylor into the disputed portion of Texas to physically support the U.S. claim. In April 1846, Mexican forces crossed the Rio Grande to establish their claim and engaged in a skirmish with American dragoons, killing some. Word of this reached Washington on May 9 and two days later Polk asked Congress for a declaration of war against Mexico, stating as his justification in the war message that the Rio Grande was the U.S./Mexico border and the Mexicans had invaded and “shed American blood on American soil.” Moreover, he wrote that the state of war already existed and the U.S. must rise to the occasion: “In further vindication of our rights and defense of our territory, I involve the prompt action of Congress to recognize the existence of the war, and to place at the disposition of the Executive the means of prosecuting the war with vigor, and thus hastening the restoration of peace.” At no time did Polk publicly offer land claims to the west of Texas as a justification for the war nor a precondition for peace. His diary indicates that he had determined to declare war on Mexico even absent the provocation, and that he would not stop short of western expansion, but historians have differed as to whether this was so.
At the outbreak of the war, Winfield Scott was general-in-chief of the armies of the United States. He remained in Washington dealing with Polk and his Secretary of War William Marcy, while General Taylor led American troops in the field. Scott was well aware of the thinking of the Polk administration, and regardless of what was stated for public consumption, knew its true intentions. Autograph Letter Signed, 6 pages, Washington, September 8, 1846, to South Carolina Senator William C. Preston, revealing that, at its very heart, the new war with Mexican was designed by the American leadership to lead to U.S. ownership of California and the other Mexican lands from Texas north. “…Tomorrow, I shall set out to make a short visit to my family – intending to be back in time to receive the first report of the movement of the army ‘much beyond the Rio Grande.’ But for the accidental presence of two mounted regiments of Texan militia draughts – reengaged for a second term of three months – Taylor would have no chance moving forward before the end of October. Until very lately, we, here, had no knowledge of that resource, and the horses on which we relied for the march – from Kentucky, Tennessee & Arkansas – are yet 4 or 5 hundred miles from the Rio Grande. My calculations (made in May) were all up the first instant. Taylor may commence his forward movement by the middle of the month. I shall not be permitted to join that army unless some disaster should occur & then only thro public clamor. None, I hope, will occur; but I hold myself ready for that service. Santa Ana, however favorable to peace, will not be at liberty to cede territory (this side of the Rio Grande, & say, north of the 36th parallel of latitude), before his power is well consolidated – nor then, unless pressed by formidable invasion. Hence, I suppose, we shall have [to] make arrangements to advance upon the vitals of Mexico much beyond Saltillo – besides occupying that point, Tampico, Chihuahua, Santa Fe, and the ports on the Pacific. All the northern Provinces hang loosely on the central government, & the blockade, alone, would be but little regarded. Such are the views I press upon the War Department ,together with liberality – may the utmost generosity in offering terms of peace; care in not alarming the jealousy of France & England. Etc, etc, etc. I give my own views freely; but do not ask for those of the administration. My business relations with the War Department are well enough, & I avoid all private intimacies. My professional advice is often neglected & as often silently requested – no one having the magnanimity to openly admit error.”
By the start of 1847, with Taylor's troops stuck in northern Mexico, Scott realized that American war goals could only be met by taking the war into the heart of Mexico. Beginning in February 1847, he amassed nearly 12,000 troops for a bold operation on both land and sea. Opposing him would be more than 20,000 Mexicans under the command of Santa Anna. Commanding the largest amphibious force in American history to that date, Scott captures Vera Cruz. Moving inland, he encountered 12,000 Mexican nationals at Cerro Gordo. In what was a textbook execution of a brilliant plan, Scott encircled Santa Anna's army and forced it to withdraw. He then took Mexico City in an action culminating in the assault on Chapultepec on September 13, 1847.
The capture of Mexico City clinched the outcome of war. The peace treaty, which was ratified on May 30, 1848, turned the entire Southwest over to the United States. The question of Texas was settled, and land comprising the present states of Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona and New Mexico became U.S. territory.
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