Manifest Destiny & the Mexican-American War

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Discuss the motivations from both sides for the Mexican-American war of 1846-1848? Was Manifest Destiny the driving factor or was it something else?

The Mexican-American war fought between 1846 and 1848 remains a topic of much contention amongst modern historians. Differing accounts and conclusions of the war are often presented and one must remain pragmatic when analysing both primary and secondary sources regarding the war. There is a clear time line of events that led to the outbreak of the war, but there is one major event, and one minor action, which directly resulted in the declarations of war on both sides of the conflict between Mexico and the United States. Most scholars agree that the annexation of the Republic of Texas by the United States in 1845 set the stage for hostilities, but was not necessarily the spark that ignited the violence between the two nations. There was support for the war on both sides of the conflict, which tends to blur the notion of one nation being the aggressor over the other, but this essay will highlight motivations behind the war from both sides and will argue that U.S. economic ambitions and not Manifest Destiny played the most significant role in creating the Mexican-American War.

The origins of the Mexican-American war can ostensibly be immediately traced back to the westward movement of American settlers and the annexation of Texas in 1936. The Mexican-American war was a conflict that was precipitated by various interest groups in the United States. The reasons why these interest groups desired war are reflected in the aftermath of the war. This aftermath was a major US victory, which resulted in the annexation of a huge portion of land, covering the current states of California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and most of Arizona. These areas were annexed because they would have benefited the United States from an economical and strategic point of view, and they could be colonized the easiest without having American white settlers competing and intermixing with Mexicans, Indians and African Americans. The annexed territories were to have developed into slave states, as was the intent of the Southerners who pushed for the war, had it not been for the Civil War which erupted only 13 years after the annexation.

The annexation of Texas in 1845 created uproar in Mexico, who had not ever recognized Texas’ independence. In ten years as an independent republic Texas was recognized by the major nations of the world, most notably Britian and France, but not by Mexico. Mexican politicians promised that if the U.S ever annexed Texas it would mean war.

In Mexico itself, Thomas Henderson emphasizes that Mexican activity in going to war reflected a profound sense of weakness. Mexico's revolutionary experience had produced a virulent factionalism based on divisions of race, class, region and ideology. The success by Texas in 1836 only made it clearer that Mexico was too weak to populate, control and defend its northern territories, but Mexican politicians disparaged that opinion. Instead, they all denounced the policies of their rivals. The only common denominator was that Texas must be reconquered, even if that meant war with overwhelmingly superior U.S. military and economic power.

In any case Mexico was in not a good position to negotiate with the U.S. because of its instability. In 1846 alone the presidency changed hands 4 times, the war minister changed 6 times, the finance minister changed 16 times. As Mexican historian Miguel Soto explains: "Mexican public opinion and all the various political factions that aspired to or that actually shared in power at that time, had to, willingly or unwillingly, participate in a very belligerent attitude toward the war. Anyone who tried to avoid open conflict with the United States was treated as a traitor”. That was precisely the case of President José Joaquin de Herrera. At one time he, in a revealing effort to avoid war, seriously...
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