Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

Due to our recent site migration, we were unable to present this piece on the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The 170th Anniversary of the final day of the treaty’s negotiations occurred on February 2, 1848.

It had been 635 days since the Mexican War’s first set battle at Palo Alto. Now the time had come to end it. Since Winfield Scott’s forces captured Mexico City the previous September, negotiators had met to discuss the treaty that would end the war. While Scott’s men continued to garrison the city, the peace-makers met just outside of it in the smaller village of Guadalupe Hidalgo. On February 2, 1848, the negotiators would meet one final time in the old Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe to sign their names to a treaty that would bring peace to the two nations.

The Basilica had been finished in 1709, dedicated to the spot where, Mexicans claimed, the Virgin Mother made four appearances in 1531. Its importance to the Mexican people was tantamount and Nicholas P. Trist, negotiating for the United States, knew that. He wrote that the site for the treaty was “the most sacred on earth, as being the scene of the miraculous appearance of the Virgin, for the purpose of declaring that Mexico was taken under her special protection.”[1]

Through January of 1848 Trist and the Mexican contingent met in Guadalupe Hidalgo, debating through the issues. The Mexican envoys “insisted on a host of demands fundamentally at odds” with Trist’s position, as historian Robert Merry writes.[2] Trist stuck to his position and knew his future depended on his negotiating the treaty; Polk had recalled the ambassador the previous October but Trist, upon hearing of his recall, simply ignored the order.

Eventually, the two sides came to an agreement they could each sign. As the Mexican delegates made their way into the Basilica, one of them said to Trist, “This must be a proud moment for you; no less proud for you than it is humiliating for us.” The American simply responded, “We are making peace, let that be our only thought.” Though Trist did not show his emotions, he “viewed the war as a shameful display of naked American power,” and later wrote to his family, “Could those Mexicans have seen into my heart at that moment, they would have known that my feelings of shame as an American was far stronger than theirs could be as Mexicans.”[3]

With the signatures on the parchment, the officially designated Treaty of Peace, Friendship, Limits and Settlement between the United States of America and the Mexican Republic was all but finalized pending ratification by both countries. It soon became known as the far quicker to say Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

At the end of all the negotiations, the treaty had twenty-three articles, with one of them being eventually stricken out. Arguably though, the most important article for the Polk Administration was Article V, which finally and resolutely set the boundary between the United States and Mexico as the Rio Grande River. No longer would there be disputes about the Rio Grande or the Nueces Strip. Furthermore, Article V continued with the boundary line, stripping from Mexico and giving to the U.S. all or part of what would become the states of California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico, and firmly establishing Texas’ boundary. At the end of it all, the entire land mass came to 525,000 square miles, nearly doubling the size of the United States and shrinking Mexico to half of its antebellum mass.[4]

For all of that land, Trist agreed to conditions that would have the United States pay $15 million, plus interest, in yearly installments of $3 million. In addition, the U.S. also agreed to pay off claims of American citizens against Mexico dating to before the war. This figure of $18 million, as historian John D. Eisenhower points out, approaches the initial $25 million that ambassador John Slidell was permitted to offer for purchase in 1845. Slidell had been denied as an ambassador, however, and instead war came. In that two-year war, from 1846-1848, the United States spent about $100 million on the Mexican War.[5]

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo made its way to Washington. President Polk, furious as he was with Nicholas Trist for the ambassador ignoring his recall orders, was nonetheless pleased with the end result. Polk got his land, and his boundary, and the expansion he had promised during his election campaign in 1844. The treaty passed through the Congress quickly, ratified along political lines—pro-war Democrats and expansionists overpowered anti-war Whigs and those who saw the war as little more than a way to spread an American slave empire. (More on that later.)

Similarly ratified by Mexico’s government, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo became effective on May 30, 1848. That meant, per Article IV, the United States had three months for “The final evacuation of the territory of the Mexican Republic, by the forces of the United States.” After two years, the war was over. People like Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, and Thomas J. Jackson would be going home.

But with that completion, the question became: Now what?

The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, where the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed. (Wikipedia)

Land acquisitions for the United States following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (Wikipedia)


Land acquisitions for the United States following the Treaty of the Guadalupe Hidalgo. (Wikipedia)

[1] Message from Nicholas Trist to Sec. of State James Buchanan.

[2] Robert W. Merry, A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, The Mexican War, and the Conquest of the American Continent (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009), 424.

[3] Merry, 426; Amy Greenberg, A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), 259.

[4] Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

[5] John S.D. Eisenhower, So Far From God: The U.S. War With Mexico, 1846-1848 (New York: Random House, Inc., 1989),369-370; Justin Smith, The War with Mexico, Vol. II, (New York: MacMillan, 1919), 267.