Western Expansion, Manifest Destiny, and the Mexican-American War

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Compare the acquisition of Texas and the Southwest to the annexation of Oregon.

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To effectively answer this question, let's first look at how the United States acquired each of these territories. The areas comprising Texas and the Southwest were originally claimed by the Spanish as part of Mexico. In the case of Texas, Mexico encouraged Americans to settle in this largely unpopulated region. Eventually, however, the Americans outnumbered the Mexicans, and they rebelled against Mexican authority. The Texans formed a separate country, the independent Republic of Texas, with Sam Houston as the first president. Their intention was always to become a part of the United States, but this was delayed by Congressional debate over whether Texas would be considered a slave state. Texas officially entered the Union on December 29, 1845.

The Southwest, which included parts of California, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah, was ceded to the United States at the end of the Mexican War under the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on February 2, 1848. The total area involved was 525,000 square miles, for which the United States paid Mexico 15 million dollars.

Although Spain and Russia had long given up claims to the Oregon Territory, the British and Americans squabbled about the boundaries of the area until the mid-19th century. The Oregon Treaty, signed on June 15, 1846, set the border between the United States and Canada at the 49th parallel, except for Vancouver Island, which the British retained. The portion on the United States side was divided into the Oregon Territory and Washington Territory in 1853.

We can see then that these three territories were all acquired by the United States during the same time period in the mid-19th century, mainly under the presidency of James K. Polk. However, the details of their acquisitions are starkly different. Texas first became an independent country and then joined the Union as a state. The Southwest was bought from Mexico after the Mexican-American War. The boundaries of the Oregon Territory were set with the British by treaty.

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The main difference is the method by which the territories were acquired. Both territories were annexed during the administration of James K. Polk, who ran a campaign that promised to expand the United States. The United States and Britain had shared the Oregon Territory, and it was during the Polk administration that the sharing relationship was dissolved and the United States became the sole owner of the territory.

The Texas border issue was a lot more contentious. Mexico refused to acknowledge the Republic of Texas since it was created after the nation's victory over Mexico at the Battle of San Jacinto. In 1845, Texas successfully applied for statehood. This led to bad relations between the United States and Mexico. Texas claimed the Rio Grande as the border of the new state, while Mexico claimed the more northerly Nueces River. Under Polk, the United States sent troops to the contested region and warships to block the Rio Grande—both actions which Mexico viewed as an act of war. The Mexican War of 1846–1848 ended in disaster for Mexico since it lost most of its northern territory. The United States gained the Southwest and California, and the Texas border issue was finally settled. The Mexican War was quite controversial in that many Whigs claimed that the war had been started by pro-slavery Southerners who wished to add more slave states to the Union.

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The main difference here is the means by which these territories were acquired, and who we were competing with for that territory.

The Oregon Country was acquired through treaty with the British, after a short period of harsh words between then President James K. Polk and the British government.  No shots were fired and a compromise treaty settled things permanently.

In the case of Texas, it was annexed by the United States for the primary reason of provoking Mexico into war.  To do so we annexed more than Texas, but all the way to the Rio Grande River, much further south, so Mexico would have no choice but to fight.  So this land was acquired through war.  the Mexican-American War lasted from 1846 - 48 and also ended by treaty, but this time it was signed at US gunpoint and a much larger chunk of land, the Mexican Cession, was seized than in the Northwest.

Still, it can be said of both territories that it got us to the Pacific Ocean as a nation, and achieved the long held goal of Manifest Destiny.

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