Lecture 10: The Mexican War


The Mexican War of 1847-48 is important to our study for two reasons. First, it was the means by which the United States acquired vast territory from Mexico. Second, it is one of the most misrepresented of American wars, serving the mythic purposes of a variety of people and points of view. Undeniably, it was a war of conquest, but often its effects obscure its causes.


Outline of Lecture


We begin with a broad concept, Manifest Destiny, the idea that it was the destiny of the US to span the continent. We examine two distinct, but related events, the Texas Revolution and the Mexican War. And we look for direct causes and circumstances of the latter conflict, including nationalism and political intrigue.

The Texas Revolution

Was there really such a thing? The argument here is that the so-called Texas Revolution was part of a larger revolution having to do with democracy and dictatorship in Mexico. We begin our story with Anglo-American colonization of Texas and carry it through to Texan victory at San Jacinto.

Causes of the Mexican War

Manifest Destiny was a powerful sentiment in American life, and President Polk was its vehicle. The direct causes of the war, however, center on Texas. The US annexed the Republic of Texas; Mexico was determined to re-conquer Texas; there was going to be war.

The War and Its Consequences

At the beginning, the smart bets were on Mexico. The remarkable campaigns of Zachary Taylor, Stephen Watts Kearny, and Winfield Scott, however, produced not only decisive victory but also vast territorial acquisitions for the US. This conquest was codified in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

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15. Future Prospects of the United States


Tocqueville is a profound commentator on the nature of democratic societies; he also is frequently a prophet. Yes, I know, he misses on some of his calls, but prophecy is a high-risk profession, and as prophets go, he's got a pretty good slugging percentage. This chapter is a great example.


·         Why is it that the Anglo-Americans are to possess all of North America?

·         What will be the nature and characteristics of the Anglo-American civilization?

·         Comment on Tocqueville's prophecies about Anglo-American expansion and Anglo-American dominance of the continent in the light of—

o   the northward migration of Hispanic cultures.

o   the North American Free Trade Agreement.

·         What do the futures of the United States and Russia have in common? How do they differ? What is the cause or force behind their common destiny?


When the Mexican War began, the US was deeply divided, some seeing the workings of Manifest Destiny, others the hidden hand of a slavocracy conspiracy. A neat collection of primary documents reflecting sentiment of the time—specifically that of Congressman Abraham Lincoln—is the National Archives suite of pages entitled "Lincoln's Spot Resolutions."

Film Review

The Alamo

The lecture talks about the different views of what happened at the Alamo. Generally these lapse into stereotypes. This film treatment, however, leaves room for ambivalence.

Book Review

Merk, Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History


Brear, Inherit the Alamo


Griswold del Castillo, The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo


Lander, Reluctant Imperialists