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History, The Mexican War

Caste War, General Zachary Taylor, Maya people, Gadsden Purchase, Nueces River

In 1845 U.S. president James K. Polk sent diplomat John Slidell to Mexico to seek border adjustments in Texas in return for the U.S. governmentís settlement of the claims of U.S. citizens against Mexico, and also to make an offer to purchase California and New Mexico. The Mexican authorities refused to negotiate with Slidell. After the failure of this mission, a U.S. army under General Zachary Taylor advanced to the mouth of the Rio Grande, the river that the state of Texas claimed as its southern boundary. Mexico, claiming that the boundary was the Nueces River, to the northeast of the Rio Grande, considered the advance of Taylorís army an act of aggression and sent troops across the Rio Grande in 1846. Polk, in turn, declared the Mexican advance to be an invasion of U.S. soil, and the U.S. Congress declared war on Mexico.

Santa Anna, who had been deposed and exiled to Cuba in 1844, was called back to the presidency to attempt to save the republic. Mexican forces were defeated in battle after battle, however, and U.S. troops occupied much of northern Mexico by the end of the year. Mexico City fell in 1847, and Mexican forces surrendered soon thereafter. Under the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed in 1848, the Rio Grande was fixed as the southern boundary of Texas. Territory now forming the states of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming became part of the United States.

During the Mexican War, the Maya people of the Yucatan Peninsula had launched a major revolt against the white and mestizo population of the region. This struggle, known as the Caste War of the Yucatan, began in 1847 and was an effort to end the exploitation of the Maya and stop nonnatives from taking over communal Maya lands. The rebellion was largely defeated by 1853, and the war drove many Maya across the Yucatan Peninsula into remote regions of what is now the state of Quintana Roo. These eastern Maya maintained an independent state in the region until Mexicoís federal army occupied their land and subdued them in 1901.

Famine, disease, and battlefield casualties combined to kill at least 30 percent of the prewar population of the Yucatan Peninsula during the Maya revolt. The conflict also decimated the sugar industry of southeastern Yucatan, and induced much of the regionís remaining population to move to the northwest. In addition, the rebellion strained relations between the Maya and nonnatives throughout southern Mexico, resulting in more racially motivated conflicts later in the century.

After the Mexican War, Mexico was confronted with a grave reconstruction problem. Finances were devastated, and the prestige of the government, already weak, had diminished considerably. Santa Anna, who had been compelled to resign after the war, returned from exile in 1853 and, with the support of conservatives, declared himself dictator. Later that year, Santa Anna sold the Mesilla Valley in northwestern Mexico to the United States for $10 million. Known as the Gadsden Purchase, the deal clarified the New Mexico boundary and gave an additional strip of territory (now southern Arizona and a slice of southwestern New Mexico) to the United States. This was the last territorial transfer made by Mexico.

Early in 1854 a group of young liberals launched a revolt against Santa Anna; after more than a year of intense fighting, the liberal forces prevailed and took over the government. Santa Anna fled into exile, and liberal rebel leader Juan Alvarez became the provisional president of Mexico. The rebellion was the first event in a long, fierce struggle between the powerful conservative elites that had traditionally dominated Mexico and the liberals.

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