Stealing Arizona ''fair and square''
May. 14, 2005
It's always entertaining to hear from readers who take the time to
respond to my cartoons.
A case in point was reaction to my drawing of May 13th, in which I pointed out
that, in a case of turnabout being fair play, we here in Arizona should be
speaking "Spanish Only" since the United States stole Arizona from Mexico in the
Rowdy reader reaction was swift in coming.
One wrote to say that the U.S. Congress, led by our president, declared war on
Mexico in 1846 because supposedly Mexican troops were the ones who started it
all by attacking a U.S. scouting party just north of the Rio Grande River.
"God, you're pathetic," the reader wrote.
He further noted that I had forgot to mention "the Gadsen Purchase which gave
Arizona and New Mexico their southern boundaries."
He ended his hysterical historical review by noting, "What a joke you are!"
Unfortunately, this same reader repeatedly misspelled "Gadsden Purchase" and
misidentified the U.S. president who backed Congress' declaration of war against
Mexico as "James Polka."
I wrote him back, thanking him for making my day.
Another reader, upset with the same cartoon, phoned to voice her irritation.
"You must be of Mexican descent," she snapped.
I replied, "No, I'm not " [my ancestors actually came to America from England
Besides, I added, "There are lots of Americans in this country who are of
Mexican descent. Why do you mention Mexican descent?"
The reader began yelling at me about how we should all be Americans first.
End of conversation.
A phone call followed from yet another raging reader.
Without so much as an introduction, the caller said, "So, are you the
I replied, "I am."
She blurted out, "Have you ever heard of the Gadsden Purchase?"
I started to answer that, yes, I had but she hung up before I could manage to
finish the sentence.
Still another reader gave me a jingle to burn my ear.
"You delight in always attacking America," he said, accusingly.
I asked him to give me evidence that this, in fact, was the case.
He didn't pony up, so I pressed him further.
He replied, "Let me clarify. You always attack America when it comes to Mexico."
Then he added, "You people always refuse to call them 'illegal aliens.'"
I asked him to to identify who he meant by "you people."
After hemming and hawing, he clarified himself again. "Some of you people, " he
Just who was "who," he didn't say.
So went much of my day.
Sensing that my cartoon readers might benefit from a basic history lesson, my
editor, Ken Western, suggested I write a little something for this blog about
how the U.S. managed to steal Arizona from Mexico via a tragic, unnecessary and
imperialistic war it launched against our southern neighbor from 1846 to 1848.
I was on deadline with a cartoon to do for the next day, plus had a luncheon to
attend for a departing staff member, but fortunately I had in my office a trusty
set of The World Book Encyclopedia.
That, along with some useful Internet links to the writings of a Mexican War
veteran, none other than Civil War Commanding General of the Union Army and
President of the United States Ulysses S. Grant.
It was enough for starters.
I got to work on a quick historical overview of America's territorial land grab
from Mexico - even though it made me late for lunch.
I recalled that a couple of readers had mentioned the "Gadsden Purchase"
which, they suggested, amounted to fair and just compensation from the United
States to Mexico for the Arizona Territory. In actuality, we simply mugged them
in order to take it from them.
The purpose of the Gadsden Purchase was to settle a post-war quarrel between the
U.S. and Mexico over where to draw the western boundary between the two
In this steal of a deal, the U.S. government bought up a strip of land that
included an area of over 29,000 square miles south of the Gila River in what is
part of present-day Arizona and New Mexico.
By the time the deal was sealed, the Mexican government was deep in bankruptcy.
Its president, Santa Anna, sold this valuable piece of property to the American
oppressors for a cool $10 million.
Unfortunately for Santa Anna, he chose to squander most of the money.
As a result, he lost both his presidency and his residency, ending up in exile
at the hands of angry Mexican politicians a mere year after the Gadsden treaty
was ratified by the U.S. Senate.
Defenders of the American war against the Mexicans would like you to believe
that the land we snatched was honorably won by us from them, then legitimately
sold to us by them.
In reality, at the time of the Mexican War, Arizona was Mexican territory.
It ended up being seized by the U.S. in an American-declared war launched after
U.S. troops entered Mexican territory in a blunt-force bid to extend the
boundaries of Texas to the Rio Grande River.
The war, started by the U.S. on questionable pretexts at best, grew out of
Mexico's defensive response to Texas' demand for territory that Mexico deemed to
be its own.
When Texas revolted against Mexico in 1835 and declared itself sovereign the
following year, the Mexican government refused to acknowledge Texas' claim to
Mexico warned the U.S. that it would sever diplomatic ties with Washington if
Texas was awarded statehood.
Under the administration of President James K. Polk (not Polka), who favored
Texas annexation and further U.S. expansionism, the Republic of Texas became an
American state in 1845.
True to its word, Mexico cut diplomatic ties to the U.S.
Now was America's chance to go for the gold.
Lusting for further territory by means of battling the weaker Mexican state,
America ignored opportunities to settle the dispute peacefully and instead
declared war on Mexico.
The U.S. Congress announced its hostile intentions after Mexican troops
understandably defended themselves in a contested southwestern border area
between Texas and Mexico marked by the Rio Grande River.
With a longing eye fixed on this particular locale, Texas had claimed its
territory be extended to the Rio Grande.
Mexico objected, insisting that Texas possessions never reached further south
than the Nueces River.
Despite what Texans say, the Mexican right to this disputed dirt was just as
legitimate as the Lone Star invaders' claim to ownership.
Enter Major General Zachary Taylor and 4,000 American troops.
Under orders from Polk, Taylor and his men advanced to the Rio Grande from the
Nueces in the spring of 1846.
In response, Mexico sprang a surprise attack on a small forward band of U.S.
cavalry that had moved into an area just north of the Rio Grande - and there
How dare they.
Two weeks later, claiming that Mexico had "invaded our territory and shed
American blood on American soil," Congress declared war on Mexico.
Rally 'round the flag, boys!
The U.S. land grab was on.
To make a long story short, the U.S. beat up Mexico.
In the war's aftermath, defenders of the holy sale have insisted that Mexico
agreed to award Arizona territory to the U.S. fair and square.
If you believe that, I've got a bridge in Mexico to sell you.
In reality, Mexico went along with the U.S. purchase of Arizona only after the
land had been forcibly and irretrievably ripped from Mexican possession.
By this point, a pummeled Mexico was in no position to reverse the deed - or the
Of course, the U.S. didn't want to be seen as too greedy, so it spun the story
that it had gone to war in an honest effort to collect on debts that Mexico had
refused to pay.
With the rowdy support of a bunch of hot-headed Americans, the U.S. government
invaded Mexico to forcibly collect some $3 million it said was
owed the U.S. for the loss of American lives and fortune after Mexico had won
its independence from Spain a quarter of a century earlier.
But wait, there's more.
And, what's more, it's more important.
What really was behind the U.S. drumbeat for war was the imperialist American
belief in a divinely-ordained "manifest destiny" - a conviction it used to
rationalize its continued military march westward.
In a nutshell (or cannon shell, as the case may be), the driving force behind
America's war on Mexico was an insatiable desire to add to its national land
By invading Mexico itself, the U.S. forced the Mexican government into accepting
the loss of Mexican territory - land the U.S. intended on wrenching from Mexico
in the first place.
Ultimately, an outgunned and militarily defeated Mexico was forced to swallow
the terms of the Guadalupe Hidalgo peace treaty.
In other words, Mexico resigned itself to accepting the treaty out of fear of
losing even more of its territory to the American invaders.
And, oh, what a haul it turned out to be.
America's war booty eventually totaled over a half-a-million square miles of
spankin' new real estate.
Finally, defenders of America's unjust war against Mexico argue that Mexico
started the fight, then ended up getting (and losing) what it deserved.
Enter Ulysses S. Grant.
Grant, a veteran of the Mexican War who served under Commander Taylor, begged to
differ - big time.
He saw the U.S. invasion of Mexico for what it actually was: an American-hatched
conspiracy to acquire empire.
It was a prize, he lamented, for which the U.S. was destined to pay dearly.
In his memoirs (and this puts a final period on a particularly ignoble American
period of manifest militarism,) Grant wrote scathingly:
"Generally the officers of the army were indifferent whether the annexation [of
Texas] was consummated or not, but not so all of them. For myself, I was
bitterly opposed to the measure and to this day regard the [Mexican] war, which
resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker
nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European
monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional
"The occupation, separation and annexation were, from the inception of the
movement to its final consummation, a conspiracy to acquire territory out of
which slave states might be formed for the American Union."
"It is to the credit of the American nation, however, that after conquering
Mexico, and while practically holding the country, in our possession, so that we
could have retained the whole of it, or made any terms we chose, we paid a round
sum for the additional territory taken, more than it was worth, or was likely to
be to Mexico. To us it was an empire and of incalculable value, but it might
have been obtained by other means. The Southern rebellion was largely the
outgrowth of the Mexican war. Nations, like individuals, are punished for their
transgressions. We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive
war of modern times."
Steve Benson is editorial cartoonist for The Arizona Republic.