What is a map but the delusion of safety….from poem, Maps, by Yesenia Montilla
Borders come and go. And that’s not a bad thing. Migrations have been happening since we left Africa. However in more recent times wars are what changes the cartographer’s ink.
We are a nation of immigrants. Some came shackled in chains, others came looking for change and were barely tolerated or ignored by an estimated 50 million native Americans already living in North America for centuries.
The prosperity or poverty of our continent can be seen in terms of European imperialism. America was an extension of the British Empire on the rise while Mexico was a function of a waning Spanish Empire. French and British enlightenment seeded us followed by migrations from Northern and central Europe and later the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe. To their detriment, the church in Mexico also played a large role allowing permanent residence only to Catholics until 1860.
Much has been said how America is stained by the genocide of indigenous people and slavery. And rightly so. There is a third leg to the stool which usually gets a short chapter in history books but is yet another blight and one which embodies the other two, conquest and bondage. It is our first foreign invasion which involved a sea blockade, amphibious landing and occupation of a capital. Namely, the Mexican War.
The map of the U.S. in 1836 was far different from the one of 1848. Our western edge was the Mississippi with states to the east and territories o the far side. As a result of the war we lost almost 20,000 men either through battle or disease. Many of our troops were illiterate immigrants right off the boat. Several hundred Irish even deserted and fought with the Mexicans (St. Patrick’s Battalion).
Mexico had the will but neither the treasury nor military might to defend their northern territory. What we called Manifest Destiny was to Mexico manifestly disastrous. President Polk’s administration has as their destination the Pacific coast and all the land west of Ole Man River.
The treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo ending the war not only crippled Mexico but also extended slavery leading ultimately to the Civil War. Mexico lost half its land as we grabbed over 525,000 sq. miles comprising California, New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming, Texas, Utah, Nevada and parts of Oklahoma and Colorado. Another 300,000 sq. mils was added at the same time as Great Britain ceded the Oregon and Washington territories and parts of Montana and Idaho.
The treaty also guaranteed citizenship to Mexicans who had lived in those territories we had gobbled up. In addition it was the beginning of the end for the Indians. We assumed responsibility for their extinction r removal.
It could have been otherwise. The war with Mexico was presided over by Pres. Polk who was elected in 1844 by a mere 30,000 vote plurality.. New York Democrats swung the election by upsetting Henry Clay.
The war with our southern neighbors was vehemently denounced by northern abolitionists such as Henry Thoreau whose essay of Civil Disobedience came out of his protest and brief incarceration over the issue. In addition Lincoln and John Q. Adams spoke out against the invasion on the floor of Congress. They both questioned the legitimacy of the conflict and excoriated Polk for his lies and duplicity in provoking and inflating a small border skirmish into a full-fledged war and land-grab.
This was probably the first of many such pretenses. Think Gulf of Tonkin in Vietnam and those imagined weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Anything to rally the troops.
There are no monuments in Washington to this national shame. Generals Zacc Taylor and Winfield Scott are not bronzed for pigeons to shit upon. Our cross border aggression could be considered the genesis of our immigration problem with Mexico. In a sense they are reclaiming their own stolen land assured them 170 years ago.