The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 was negotiated with Santa Anna by Nicholas P. Trist, the chief clerk of the State Department, and gave America the area from California to Texas for only $15 million plus a United States promise to assume the claims of Americans against the Mexican government. This gave America the prize of California, which it had sought before, as well as respect from foreign nations, particularly Britain, that looked down upon the American military as week and ineffective. The war had a downside, however, it created more conflict over slavery, and basically trained American troops for the bloody battlefields of the Civil War. Although it had many costs that only escalated the divide between the north and the south, the Mexican War was beneficial to American because it increased its land by one third and gave it much needed respect for a relatively small cost.
The biggest and most lasting benefit of the Mexican war was the significant land gain that was achieved by Nicholas P. Trist in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The area that stretched from Texas to California accounted for about one half of all Mexican land increased America’s land by around one third, which was a significant gain considering the relatively small cost, which ended up being around 13,000 American troops and $15 million for the land, plus a promise by the American Government to assume all American claims against Mexico. The biggest prize of the new land was California, which President James Polk had unsuccessfully attempted to buy from Mexico before the outbreak of war.
Aside from giving America more room to grow, the gain in land meant that America stretched roughly from coast to coast, enhancing the spirit of manifest destiny that America had a mandate from God to cover the land all the way to the west coast. The incredible enthusiasm for this dramatic change in America’s size is shown in the Democratic Washington Daily Union after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, when a journalist wrote “They will be stripped, too, of a large portion of their territory. They may be stripped of more, if they should wantonly insult us again. Will not the lessons they have learned operate as a “security for the future?.”
A second benefit of the Mexican War is the respect that America gained from other nations such as Britain and France. The United States had not been in a major war since 1812, and the growing American military was as of then regarded by most European nations as too weak and inexperienced to survive a major conflict with Mexico. Aside from the War of 1812, America had not been involved in a war with a major power, meaning that the soldiers of the Marine Corps, founded in 1798, and graduates of West Point, founded in 1802, were relatively untested and inexperienced.
America’s rejoicing over finally proving their military is shown in an article from the Democratic Washington Daily Union, which says “The London Times, in 1845, flattered the national vanity of the Mexicans with the hope that we should not be able to send men enough to encounter their troops…their vanity deceived them.” America’s victory in the Mexican War meant that it was now regarded as a major military power, and a force to be reckoned with by any nation that provoked it.
Military growth in the Mexican War also had a downside, however, the fact that it essentially served as a training ground for the troops that would fight in the Civil War. Soldiers and officers, such as Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant gained priceless field experience during the Mexican war, that they would put to good use during the Civil War against their opponent. Though the American military as a whole became much more experienced as a result of the Mexican War, this experience probably only made the battlefields of the Civil War more bloody.
One temporary cost of the Mexican War is the internal conflict that it created within the United States over both the justification for the war, and for the possible growth of slavery in the land captured from Mexico. Many northerners feared that the Mexican war was a southern conspiracy created in order to grab more land in the south for slavery, and this opinion created strong opposition to the war in some areas. This opposition is shown by a resolution from the Massachusetts Legislature which condemns the war and uses strong words to try to stop it as it says, “Resolved, that such a war of conquest, so hateful in its objects, so wanton, unjust, and unconstitutional in its origin and character, must be regarded as a war against freedom, against humanity, against justice, against the union, against the Constitution, and against the Free States.” The Mexican War, and its eventual outcome, not only brought the issue of slavery yet again to the surface, it also forced the north and the south to debate the possibility of allowing slavery into the newly acquired territory. Debate over slavery during this period usually elicited powerful emotions about their stance from both the north and the south, and proved to be an extremely divisive issue, meaning that the Mexican War created a still greater divide between the north and the south.
America achieved a great deal with the Mexican war for a relatively small cost. Though it is doubtful that many people thought they would gain a great deal of land from the war, America ended up adding about one third of its existing area, expanding it all the way to the west coast in most areas. The cost of this, however, was training American soldiers for the bloody battle fields of the Civil War and creating still more internal conflict over slaver, which in turn helped escalate the situation into the Civil War. Despite this, from an objective viewpoint, the Mexican war was extremely beneficial to America, and added a great deal to the nation both in size and in respect, making it an ultimately worthwhile war.