After the United States annexed the Republic of Texas in 1845, tensions between the US and Mexico reached a fever pitch.
A dispute emerged between the two countries. Mexico claimed that its border with the US ended at the Nueces River, while the US claimed that its border ended on the Rio Grande.
To relax tensions, then-President James K. Polk sent diplomat John Slidell on a mission to Mexico City to settle the Texas border dispute with Mexico. In addition, Slidell was instructed to offer to buy California, New Mexico, and the land close to the disputed southern border of Texas from Mexico for roughly $30 million.
Mexican President José Joaquin Herrera caught wind of Slidell’s plan and refused to meet with him.
Slidell warned Polk that Mexico’s refusal to negotiate might require a show of military force on the US’s part. US forces under the leadership of General Zachary Taylor were subsequently sent to the disputed zone between the Rio Grande and Nueces Rivers.
On April 25, 1846, Mexican forces crossed the Rio Grande and opened fire on Taylor’s forces, reportedly killing 16 of them. In response to this attack, Polk asserted that Mexico had "invaded our territory and shed American blood on American soil."
The US ended up declaring war on Mexico on May 13, 1846, and proceeded to invade it.
Once the war was underway, some politicians in the US were skeptical of Polk’s pro-war narrative.
A first-term Whig congressman by the name of Abraham Lincoln began asking uncomfortable questions. Lincoln believed that Polk got the US into this conflict under false pretenses.
"Show me the spot where American blood was shed," Lincoln boldly proclaimed in opposition to Polk’s war. The Illinois representative subsequently introduced eight "Spot resolutions" to challenge this war.
Lincoln’s stance was unpopular with his constituents, which earned him the nickname of "Spotty Lincoln."
The Illinois congressman’s opposition ended up being futile.
American forces defeated the Mexican army and captured Mexico City in September 1847, and the Mexican government was forced to surrender.
After multiple rounds of negotiations of, the war came to an end on February 2, 1848, the day the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed.
As a result of this treaty, the US gained an additional 525,000 square miles in land, which included territory that spanned all or parts of what is modern-day Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.
Further, Mexico renounced its claims to Texas and recognized the Rio Grande as America’s southern boundary.
The US paid Mexico $15 million and it agreed to settle all claims US nationals made against Mexico.
The way the US was pulled into the Mexican American War has been a subject of great debate and likely a model for getting the country into future wars.
False flag tricks would later be used to get the US into the Spanish-American War (1898) and the Vietnam War (1954-1975).
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