This week in history: The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ends the Mexican-American War

By Cody Carlson

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 5 2014 5:05 p.m. MST

International Bridge I, foreground, and International Bridge 2 cross the Rio Grande at Laredo, Texas. A treaty between Mexico and the United States, signed Feb. 2, 1848, established the border as the Rio Grande.

Eric Gay, AP

On Feb. 2, 1848, the United States and Mexico signed the "Treaty of Peace, Friendship, Limits and Settlement between the United States of America and the Mexican Republic," known commonly as the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The treaty ended the Mexican-American War and established the current border between the two nations.

The Mexican-American War began in 1846 after a border dispute between Texas and Mexico. Many prominent Americans opposed the war, such as Whig congressman Abraham Lincoln and former president John Quincy Adams. The Mexican-American War played into the increasing North/South divide that would eventually tear the nation apart during the Civil War. Many Northerners feared that if the United States won the war against Mexico, it would strengthen the Southern slave states.

In its opening stages, General Zachary Taylor led U.S. forces into northern Mexico from Texas and proved victorious in multiple battles. Mexican President and General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna suffered a crushing defeat from Taylor's forces at the February 1847 Battle of Buena Vista. In March, General Winfield Scott landed at Veracruz, Mexico City's chief port on its eastern shore. After marching up Mexico's national highway toward Mexico City, Scott encountered the entrenched position of Santa Anna and his army at Cerro Gordo.

Rather than fight the Mexicans head on, Scott was able to outflank the Mexican positions by moving his force through what many had considered to be impassable terrain around it. His chief scout who located a trail around the Mexican army was a young captain of engineers, Robert E. Lee. Outflanked, the Mexicans retreated toward Mexico City, where a series of battles ultimately ended in the U.S. victory.

Confident of victory from the beginning, President James K. Polk dispatched diplomat Nicholas Trist to negotiate an end to the war on favorable terms for the United States. A staunch Democrat, Polk selected Trist not only for his ability in the realm of diplomacy, but also for his Democratic credentials. A Virginian, Trist had married a granddaughter of Thomas Jefferson and had served for a brief period as a secretary to President Andrew Jackson. Surely Trist was man who knew how to toe the party line.

Trist arrived in American-occupied Veracruz in May 1847 and forwarded a letter to Scott, whose army was dealing with events at Cerro Gordo. Uninformed of Trist's mission beforehand, the ever-suspicious Scott believed that the diplomat had arrived to usurp the direction of the war. This reflected the fact that Scott, a Whig, had political ambitions and feared that President Polk was trying to eclipse the general's battlefield success by diplomatic maneuver. In any event, both Scott and Trist suffered from no shortage of ego, and their relationship remained rocky for several months.

By summer, Trist had taken ill and a surprisingly compassionate Scott sent the diplomat jars of guava marmalade, which happened to be Trist's favorite. The two began to work together and by August 20, with the gates of Mexico City before him, Scott sent a demand to Santa Anna to send peace commissioners to negotiate with Trist. Though the Mexicans broke off the initial round of talks, American military power and their own declining position ensured that they were soon resumed.

About the time Trist began to negotiate in earnest with the Mexican commissioners, Polk began to believe that the diplomat had strayed too far from his instructions. Additionally, the newly formed cordiality between Scott and Trist perhaps further soured the president on his chief negotiator. Polk instructed Secretary of State James Buchanan to send a letter recalling Trist from Mexico and publicly stated that he had recalled Trist before an address to Congress in December.

Meanwhile, the ever-unstable Mexican government saw a couple of regime changes, and new commissioners negotiated with Trist. With the Mexicans not yet aware of his recall and wanting to wrap up a treaty before he was forced out of his position, Trist stated that a treaty must be signed by the first of February 1848.

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