Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo: Terms & Summary

Instructor: Adam Richards

Adam has a master's degree in history.

The Treaty of Guadalupe- Hidalgo was the document that ended the Mexican-American War. Learn about the terms included in the treaty as well as its impact on the sectional crisis in the United States.

A Magnificent Victory

The Mexican-American War was fought for a period of two years, 1846-1848, between the United States and Mexico. The United States generally dominated the conflict with successful campaigns led by General Zachary Taylor and General Winfield Scott. By September 1847, the United States had gained the upper hand in the war when General Scott captured and occupied Mexico City. Upon capture, General Santa Anna abdicated as president and the Mexican government capitulated. The United States seized the opportunity to expand the nation by entering into negotiations with a defeated Mexico.

Negotiating a Peace

The United States' swift and decisive victory in the Mexican-American War encouraged talks about Manifest Destiny to reignite within the nation. Expansionist Democrats demanded that all of Mexico be ceded to the United States in order to enlarge the country (of course we know that Democrats wanted more land to expand slavery). President James K. Polk did not, at first, buy into the expansionist argument. Instead, he sent a delegation to Mexico to officially terminate the war and formally acquire specific pieces of Mexican territory under what became known as the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo.

The United States delegation included General Winfield Scott and Nicholas Trist, who was the chief clerk in the State Department. Trist originally drew up a peace agreement that ended the war with Mexico and agreed to pay up to 20 million dollars for California and the New Mexico territory. Since most of Mexico was occupied, the nation had little choice but to accept Trist's terms. However, before Trist could finalize an agreement with Mexico, President Polk recalled his chief negotiator to the United States. Polk succumbed to the expansionist pressure and wanted Trist to acquire more land from Mexico. Unfortunately for Polk, Trist refused to return to the United States.

Instead, Trist arranged and signed a peace treaty with interim Mexican president Manuel de la Pena y Pena that included a number of provisions. First, the war officially ended between the two countries. Second, the United States-Mexico boundary in Texas was set at the Rio Grand River (future boundaries along the New Mexico territory were determined by the Gadsden Purchase of 1853). Third, the United States agreed to pay 15 million dollars for California and the New Mexico and Utah territories, as well as assumed 3 million dollars-worth of Mexican debt. Finally, Mexicans that resided in the newly acquired American territory were given the option to stay or leave. If they chose to stay, they would be granted citizenship as well as voting rights; however, the protection of their property was not guaranteed.

Territory Acquired by the United States via Mexican Cession
Mexican Cession

Without hesitation, the interim Mexican government officials accepted the terms. On February 2, 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was signed by Mexican and American officials. The next step was ratification of the agreement by Congress.

Congressional Ratification

The signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was a much easier task than its ratification. President Polk was greatly disheartened by Trist's defiance against his wishes to acquire more in the settlement. Yet, he decided to send the treaty to Congress anyway to avoid any political backlash and end a largely unpopular war.

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