to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English.
In the middle of the eighteen forties, the
United States offered to buy California from Mexico. The government of Mexico
refused to negotiate. American President James Polk felt that the use of force
was the only way to make Mexico negotiate. So, in the spring of eighteen forty-six,
he ordered American soldiers to the Rio Grande River. The Rio Grande formed
part of the border between the United States and Mexico.
This week in our series, Larry West and
Maurice Joyce tell about the conflict between the United States and Mexico.
General Zachary Taylor commanded the
American force. He sent one of his officers across the river to meet with
Mexican officials. The Mexicans protested the movement of the American troops
to the Rio Grande. They said the area was Mexican territory. The movement of
American troops there, they said, was an act of war.
For almost a month, the Americans and the
Mexicans kept their positions. Then, on April twenty-fifth, General Taylor
received word that a large Mexican force had crossed the border a few
kilometers up the river. A small force of American soldiers went to
investigate. They were attacked. All were killed, wounded, or captured. General
Taylor quickly sent a message to President Polk in Washington. It said war had
The message arrived at the White House on
May ninth. A few days later, President Polk asked Congress to recognize that
war had started. He asked Congress to give him everything he needed to win the
war and bring peace to the area. A few members of Congress did not want to
declare war against Mexico. They believed the United States was responsible for
the situation along the Rio Grande. They were out-voted. President Polk signed
the war bill. Later, Polk wrote:
"We had not gone to war for conquest.
But it was clear that in making peace we would, if possible, get California and
other parts of Mexico."
Many Americans opposed what they called
"Mr. Polk's war." Whig Party members and Abolitionists in the North
believed that slave-owners and southerners in Polk's administration had planned
the war. They believed the South wanted to win Mexican territory for the
purpose of spreading and strengthening slavery.
President Polk was troubled by this
opposition. But he did not think the war would last long. He thought the United
States could quickly force Mexico to sell him the territory he wanted. Polk
secretly sent a representative to former Mexican dictator Santa Ana. Santa Ana
was living in exile in Cuba. Polk's representative said the United States
wanted to buy California and some other Mexican territory. Santa Ana said he
would agree to the sale, if the United States would help him return to power.
President Polk ordered the United States
navy to let Santa Ana return to Mexico. American ships that blocked the port of
Vera Cruz permitted the Mexican dictator to land there. Once Santa Ana
returned, he failed to honor his promises to Polk. He refused to end the war
and sell California. Instead, Santa Ana organized an army to fight the United
American General Zachary Taylor moved
against the Mexicans. He crossed the Rio Grande River. He marched toward
Monterrey, the major trading and transportation center of northeast Mexico. The
battle for Monterrey lasted three days. The Mexicans surrendered.
Then General Taylor got orders to send most
of his forces back to the coast. They were to join other American forces for
the invasion of Vera Cruz. While this was happening, Santa Ana was moving his
army north. In four months, he had built an army of twenty thousand men. When
General Taylor learned that Santa Ana was preparing to attack, he left Vera
Cruz. He moved his forces into a position to fight Santa Ana.
Santa Ana sent a representative to meet
with General Taylor. The representative said the American force had one hour to
surrender. Taylor's answer was short: "Tell Santa Ana to go to hell."
The battle between the United States and
Mexican forces lasted two days. Losses were heavy on both sides. On the second
night, Santa Ana's army withdrew from the battlefield. Taylor had won another
Other American forces were victorious, too.
General Winfield Scott had captured the port of Vera Cruz and was ready to
attack Mexico City. Commodore Robert Stockton had invaded California and had
raised the American flag over the territory.
Stephen Kearny had seized Santa Fe, the
capital of New Mexico, without firing a shot. Still, the war was not over.
President Polk's "short" war already had lasted for more than a year.
Polk decided to send a special diplomatic representative to Mexico. He gave the
diplomat the power to negotiate a peace treaty whenever Mexico wanted to stop
A ceasefire was declared. But attempts to
negotiate a peace treaty failed. Santa Ana tried to use the ceasefire to
prepare for more fighting. So General Scott ended the ceasefire. His men began
their attack on Mexico City. The fighting lasted one week. The government of
Mexico surrendered. Santa Ana stepped down as president. Manuel de la Pena y
Pena -- president of the supreme court -- became acting president.
On February second, eighteen forty-eight,
the United States and Mexico signed a peace treaty. Mexico agreed to give up
California and New Mexico. It would recognize the Rio Grande River as the
southern border of Texas. The United States would pay Mexico fifteen million
dollars. It also would pay more than three million dollars in damage claims
that Mexico owed American citizens.
The terms of the treaty were those set by
President Polk. Yet he was not satisfied with just California and New Mexico.
He wanted even more territory. But he realized he probably would have to fight
for it. And he did not think Congress would agree to extend the war. So Polk
sent the peace treaty to the Senate. It was approved. The Mexican Congress also
approved it. The war was officially over.
The United States now faced the problem of
what to do with the new lands. President Polk wanted to form territorial
governments in California and New Mexico. He asked Congress for immediate
permission to do that. But the question of slavery delayed quick congressional
action. Should the new territories be opened or closed to slavery. Southerners
argued that they had the right to take slaves into the new territories.
Northerners disagreed. They opposed any further spread of slavery. The real
question was this: did Congress have the power to control or bar slavery in the
Until Texas became a state, almost all
national leaders seemed to accept the idea that Congress did have this power.
For fifty years, Congress had passed resolutions and laws controlling slavery
in United States territories. Northerners believed Congress received the power
from the constitution. Southern slave owners disagreed. They believed the power
to control slavery remained with the states.
There were some who thought the earlier
Missouri Compromise could be used to settle the issue of slavery in California,
Oregon, and New Mexico. They proposed that the line of the Missouri Compromise
be pushed west, all the way to the Pacific Coast. Territory north of the line
would be free of slavery. South of the line, slavery would be permitted.
Everyone agreed that governments had to be
organized in the territories. But there seemed to be no way to settle the issue
of slavery. Then a senator from Delaware agreed to be chairman of a special
committee on the question of slavery in the new territories. The Senate
committee included four Whigs and four Democrats. North and South were equally
represented. Within six days, the committee had agreed on a compromise bill.
That will be our story next week.
Our program was
written by Frank Beardsley. The narrators were Larry West and Maurice Joyce.Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our
programs are online, along with historical images, at voaspecialenglish.com.
Join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- an American history
series in VOA Special English.
is program #73 of THE
MAKING OF A NATION