Event Date: February 2, 1848
Diplomatic agreement formally ending hostilities between the United States and Mexico signed on February 2, 1848, in a village outside Mexico City called La Villa de Guadalupe Hidalgo. In addition to bringing the Mexican-American War to an official close, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo established the majority of the new U.S.-Mexican border.
Treaty negotiations to end the Mexican-American War commenced during the final months of the fighting, after Antonio López de Santa Anna, commanding general of the Mexican army and president of Mexico, agreed to a mutual cease-fire—the Armistice of Tacubaya—with U.S. major general Winfield Scott on August 22, 1847. The first round of talks began 10 days later, on September 1, when a four-man Mexican delegation composed of José Bernardo Couto, Miguel Atristain, General Ignacio Mora y Villamil, and former president José Joaquín Herrera met with the principal U.S. negotiator, Nicholas P. Trist. Although the armistice broke down and was abrogated on September 6, these initial meetings established talking points for future treaty negotiations. The points included U.S. annexation of Southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico; the status of Mexican peoples in newly acquired American territories; the location of the Texas-Mexico border; and the state of American citizens’ land claims against the Mexican government. Disagreements regarding the Texas-Mexico border ended the first round of talks. Mexican leaders refused to recognize the Rio Grande as the border between Texas and Mexico, instead claiming the Nueces River farther north.
The cease-fire lasted for less than a month. In an effort to pressure Mexican leaders back into negotiations, Scott lifted the cease-fire and advanced American military forces into Mexico City on September 13, 1847. Escaping the city, Santa Anna resigned the presidency in disgrace on September 16 and named Manuel de la Peña y Peña as his successor. Regional chaos ensued as rural insurgents and irregular troops carried out insurgency operations against the American occupation forces. The fighting proved especially violent and bloody as insurgents struck U.S. Army supply trains and escort units traveling between Veracruz and Mexico City.
In light of popular uprisings around Mexico City, both American and Mexican diplomats sought to end the war with all due haste. The heavy cost of the war, mounting political opposition to the fighting, and adverse publicity all helped push Washington back to the negotiating table. By late 1847, the cost for the American government to continue combat operations in Mexico was running $22 million a year. President James K. Polk also faced rising congressional hostility to the war among a bipartisan coalition of Whigs and conservative Democrats.
A government shutdown prevented Mexican leaders from reopening treaty talks until late November 1847. Peña y Peña was president in title only, unable to establish a congressional quorum at the temporary national capital of Querétaro, 100 miles north of Mexico City. Mexican legislators remained starkly divided over whether to continue the war against American military forces or to secure a treaty. Finally, on November 11, 1847, the Mexican Congress elected General Pedro María Anaya as interim president. General Anaya appointed Peña y Peña as minister of foreign relations and named Couto, Atristain, and Luis Gonzago Cuevas as peace commissioners. Treaty negotiations now appeared ready to reopen.
In Washington, however, Polk had grown increasingly disgusted with the stalled diplomatic talks. The president had received no word of the initial Santa Anna–Scott cease-fire settlement between October and early November 1847. Consequently, Polk dispatched a series of letters through U.S. secretary of state James Buchanan to Trist that recalled the chief U.S. negotiator to Washington and replaced Scott with Major General William O. Butler. On November 24, immediately after reading the letters, Trist notified the Mexican government that he had been recalled, and that preparations were under way for him to leave the Mexican capital.
Trist, however, ignored the presidential recall to Washington. Receiving assurances from Peña y Peña and the Mexican government that U.S. territorial demands would be met, Trist reopened treaty negotiations on January 2, 1848. U.S. and Mexican diplomats met for one month and reached agreement in principle over a series of provisions that eventually found expression in the final treaty.
The Mexican government agreed to the United States’ annexation of lower portions of present-day California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. In turn, the U.S. government agreed to pay $3.25 million to assume all insurance claims levied by American citizens against the Mexican government and to pay $15 million to the Mexican government in war damages.
Debates concerning the political border between the United States and Mexico ended when Article V established the Rio Grande as the boundary between Texas and the northern Mexican provinces. Additionally, Mexicans who remained in the territories gained by the United States during the war became immediately eligible for American citizenship and retained religious liberty as well as personal property security.
On February 2, 1848, Mexican negotiators and Nicholas Trist signed the treaty in the village of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Trist then dispatched James L. Freaner, his longtime friend and a war correspondent for the New Orleans Delta, to deliver the treaty to Secretary of State Buchanan. Freaner arrived in Washington late in the evening of February 19. After debating and amending its articles and provisions, the U.S. Senate ratified the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo by a vote of 38–14 on March 10, 1848. Opposition over U.S. Senate amendments made to civil and property rights for former Mexican citizens, however, postponed Mexican congressional ratification until late May 1848. The Mexican Chamber of Deputies eventually voted 51–35 in favor of its ratification on May 19, 1848, and the Mexican Senate ratified the treaty with a vote of 33–4 on May 30, 1848.
In its final form, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo exemplified both the diplomatic triumphs and the increasing political turmoil that American leaders confronted throughout the 19th century. Following the Mexican-American War, the United States appeared to have fulfilled much of its Manifest Destiny policy by annexing large tracts of land across the North American Southwest and along the Pacific Ocean. Indeed, the dream of a nation stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific had finally been realized.
Movement into these newly acquired territories, however, shattered close to 30 years of domestic political peace by reopening the heated sectional debate about whether to allow slavery in new territories. In light of its ratification on both sides of the Rio Grande, the ambiguous wording that remained in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo provoked numerous border disputes that ultimately led to the Gadsden Purchase in 1853, which once and for all settled border questions in the Southwest.
For Mexico, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was a devastating psychological blow. The military defeats of the war and the loss of territories enshrined in the treaty constituted nothing less than a national trauma. This was especially true for the elites, as political and military leaders challenged one another on the best way to revive their country. Mexico itself fell into a long period of turmoil, civil war, and foreign intervention. New leaders eventually came to the fore, however. They drove out the foreign invaders, united their country, and established the foundations of a modern state.
Anaya, Pedro María de; Arizona; Buchanan, James; Butler, William Orlando; California; Colorado; Congress, Mexican; Congress, U.S.; Couto, José Bernardo; Cuevas, Luis Gonzaga; Freaner, James L.; Frémont, John Charles; Gadsden Purchase; Herrera, José Joaquín de; Manifest Destiny; Mexican Cession; Mexico, Occupation of; Mora y Villamil, Ignacio; Nevada; New Mexico; Peña y Peña, Manuel de la; Politics, Mexican; Politics, U.S.; Polk, James K.; Rio Grande; Santa Anna, Antonio López de; Scott, Winfield; Slavery; Texas; Trist, Nicholas Philip; Tacubaya; Utah; Veracruz.
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