Lasting from 1846-1848, the Mexican American War was fought between the United States and Mexico over a small land dispute in Texas. Despite its small origins, it eventually resulted in the invasion of Mexico. Though the war is seldom depicted in contemporary media, both the United States and Mexico as we know them exist, in part, as a result of this war.
The year is 1846. The Southern United States' plantation economy is becoming less and less practical as Europe gets more of its cotton from other sources, particularly India and to a lesser extent Egypt. Industry is driving more and more people north, and the balance between free and slave states is rapidly shifting. This only increases when the Oregon Territory is annexed. The answer: build a railroad from New Orleans to the Pacific coast, where many American expatriates already live. But the land in between is in the hands of a hostile Mexican government...
Meanwhile, European powers are developing spheres of influence in China, and the US government finds itself in need of a large Pacific port, and there's a big one in the Mexican province of Alta California, which everyone knows is much more valuable than the newly-annexed Texas. Unfortunately, relations with the British Empire are tense and there's a great fear that this will be their next conquest.
In 1845, President James K. Polk sent troops to the Nueces Strip, a minor, almost insignificant land claim on the Texan border with Mexico. Mexican troops attacked the area in 1846, giving the US an excuse to declare war shortly afterward.
Going to war was a major point of contention in the United States. Many Democrats (particularly in the South) supported the war, hoping that the new territorial additions would be slave-holding, while most Whigs and anti-slavery elements opposed it. A number of notable artists who opposed the war included Henry David Thoreau note and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
American forces quickly secured the northern Mexican territories, in what is now modern California and New Mexico, while at sea, the US Navy blockaded both coasts of Mexico. From there, they advanced into what is today northern Mexico itself, ultimately capturing Mexico City.
With the loss of many of its major cities, and facing internal strife as well, Mexico had no choice but to negotiate. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo gave the US a large area of former Mexican territory consisting of California and many of the modern-day southwest states, and set the Rio Grande as the border between the two countries.
Notably, it was a major factor in the eventual outbreak of the American Civil War, which is hugely popular in contemporary media. While disagreements over slavery and states' rights stretched all the way back to the founding of the United States, they really got volatile after the Mexican Cession suddenly left the country with huge tracts of newly acquired Mexican territory. With the United States steadily getting bigger, Northern abolitionists suddenly had a lot more reason to fear the expansion of slavery, while pro-slavery Southerners had a lot more reason to fight for the expansion of slavery.
See also Manifest Destiny.
Depictions in fiction
- In the Dear America series, Valley of the Moon, is the diary of Maria Rosalia de Milagros, who lives in Alta California in 1847. The novel primarily deals with Maria's personal life, but it also has bits about the early parts of the war when California briefly becomes a country.
- It must count for something that Zorro lives in California in the era before this war, i.e. California when it was under Spanish/Mexican rule. The Mask of Zorro is actually set on the eve of the Mexican-American War, while its sequel, The Legend of Zorro, picks up shortly after the war and is set on the backdrop of California becoming a state.
- Similar to the Zorro example, The Lone Ranger takes place in the brief interlude of Texas statehood prior to the war.
- In one of Sound Horizon's songs, "A Beautiful Starry Night", the protagonist's winding path at one point leads him right into the Mexican American War in 1846, where his knee is shattered from a musket wound.
- The 1999 Tom Berenger film One Man's Hero is about the Saint Patrick's Battalion.
- Serves as the backdrop during the first part of the North And South 1985 miniseries, where the two main characters are lieutenants fresh from West Point serving in this war. Even with the series focused on the American Civil War, it needed to set up their heroes in this war since most generals in the Civil War served first in Mexico.
- The war serves as the background for Ravenous (1999). The main character is a decorated war "hero", who for his cowardice is reassigned to a former Catholic mission, now adapted as a US military outpost in the freshly captured Sierra Nevadas.
- The main character of The Covered Wagon is a veteran of this war.