Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

“There shall be firm and universal peace between the United States of America and the Mexican Republic, and between their respective countries, territories, cities, towns, and people, without exception of places or persons.”

Summary Overview

In May 1846, the Mexican-American War officially began. Spain and the United States had signed a treaty regarding the boundaries between the Spanish colony of Mexico and the United States, which Mexican leaders honored when they gained independence. However, with Texas’s annexation to the United States, there were issues regarding the western border of that state. President James Polk sought territorial expansion and pressed the issue, resulting in the beginning of hostilities. Although the United States forces had won all the major battles and virtually every confrontation when US diplomat Nicholas Trist arrived in mid-1847, the Mexican government refused to negotiate. However, toward the end of 1847, after another series of military defeats, including the American occupation of Mexico City, representatives of a new Mexican government accepted the invitation to negotiate and quickly reached an agreement to end the war. The treaty not only granted the United States’ desire for all the territory west of Texas (known as the Mexican Cession), it set the framework for United States–Mexican relations for decades to come.

Defining Moment

The United States’ granting of statehood to Texas in 1845 set the stage for the Mexican-American War. Mexico had never fully accepted the independence of the Republic of Texas, declared in 1836. Mexico asserted that the territory of Texas stopped at the Nueces River, while Texas claimed territory farther south and west with the Rio Grande as the border. During the process of the United States annexing Texas, Mexico broke off diplomatic relations but did not declare war. President Polk ordered troops into Texas and then subsequently into the territory between the Nueces and the Rio Grande. In April 1846, a month after the American forces arrived in the disputed territory, Mexican cavalry attacked a small American scouting party. General Zachary Taylor then began to push south, forcing the Mexican troops out of the disputed area and, within five months, capturing Monterrey, a major city in northeastern Mexico. While Taylor, facing stiff opposition, continued to move slowly south, General Winfield Scott convinced Polk to order most of the forces to go with him and invade Mexico through Veracruz, with Mexico City as the ultimate goal. Because the American forces were split into two armies, Taylor’s and Scott’s troops were always outnumbered. However, in spite of this, both continued to be successful on the battlefield. The plan to capture Mexico City succeeded, and on September 14, 1847, just under six months after the campaign started in Veracruz, Scott was in the Mexican capital.

Appointed in April 1847 to negotiate a peace treaty with Mexico, Nicholas Trist traveled to Veracruz and accompanied General Scott’s army. When the opportunity arose for discussions with Antonio López de Santa Anna, the Mexican president and general, Santa Anna would not grant major concessions. In October 1847, Santa Anna was deposed, and the new government was open to negotiations with Trist. That same month, Polk decided to recall Trist to Washington. In mid-November, Trist received the orders to return but refused to leave and instead continued negotiating. In January 1848, an agreement was reached, and the treaty was signed on February 2. While Polk was upset that Trist had not followed his orders, Polk did read the treaty and saw that it accomplished most of what he wanted (though the treaty gave the United States about 55 percent of Mexico, and Polk had desired more.) Polk was ready for the war to end, so he accepted the pact and sent it to the Senate for ratification. The treaty and the war established that the United States expected to hold the superior position in its relationship with Mexico. This was the case for many decades and, to a certain extent, is still reflected in American foreign policy.

Author Biography

Born in 1800, in Charlottesville, Virginia, Nicholas Philip Trist was the son of Hore Browse Trist and Mary Louisa Brown Trist. His father was given the post of customs agent in Natchez, Louisiana, by President Thomas Jefferson when Trist was quite young. After finishing his formal education at the College of Orleans, Trist traveled to Monticello, where he met his future wife, Jefferson’s granddaughter Virginia Jefferson Randolph. Trist briefly attended West Point but left to seek sufficient resources to marry. In 1823, following his mother’s death, he began formal law studies with Jefferson and, a year later, married Virginia, with whom he had three children. After assisting Jefferson as a private secretary until Jefferson’s death, Trist used his connections to obtain a post in the State Department.

From 1828 to 1833, Trist was a clerk in the State Department, except for a short period when he was a private secretary to President Andrew Jackson. He was then posted to Havana, Cuba, for eight years. During this time, his work as US consul received mixed reviews due to his strong support of slavery and questions regarding whether he was forging documents for slave traders. Although he returned to Washington under a cloud, he continued work with the State Department. In 1845, President Polk appointed him chief clerk, which, at that time, was the State Department’s second-highest position. He served as chief clerk until April 1847, when he was sent by Polk as his personal envoy to the Mexican government to negotiate a peace treaty. This was to be the high point of Trist’s career. Traveling toward Mexico City from the Gulf Coast with General Scott, Trist and Scott were able to negotiate a temporary truce in late August when American forces were poised to capture Mexico City. Because the Mexican government would not make any serious concessions, that round of negotiations failed. Scott captured the city, and Trist was then able to enter into negotiations with a new Mexican government. Because the August negotiations were not successful, Trist was officially recalled to Washington by Polk. Trist refused to go, writing a sixty-one-page letter in response. Trist and the Mexican negotiators were able to draw up the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which eventually was accepted by both governments, after some amendments by the United States Senate.

When Trist returned to Washington, Polk, who by then had formally fired Trist, refused to pay him for his expenses or for his last several months of work. Trist never recovered financially from this setback, but was able to obtain clerical work at a railroad. In 1871, he was finally paid back wages for his work negotiating the treaty and was appointed postmaster of Alexandria, Virginia, by President Ulysses S. Grant. Trist died on February 11, 1874.

Document Analysis

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was an exhaustive attempt to outline the steps that should be taken not only to end the Mexican-American War, but also to create a stronger peace in the future. Nicholas Trist and the three Mexican negotiators clearly understood the balance of power between the two nations. However, Trist limited American demands to the goals that had been outlined prior to the war, as well as giving the Mexicans some assistance in rebuilding after the war. The impact of a country’s losing more than half its territory cannot be minimized. However, the fact that neither President Polk nor Nicholas Trist listened to Americans who desired to annex all of Mexico indicated that their understanding of Manifest Destiny did not include incorporating all of North America into the United States. Although the United States Senate felt free to make changes to the document, and some provisions of the treaty were not upheld for Mexicans who became American citizens, the main points of the intergovernmental relationship were met by both nations. The relationship reflected in this treaty made possible the Gadsden Purchase, a roughly 30,000-square-mile area occupying present-day southern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico, acquired from Mexico in late 1853.

Obviously, the initial paragraph in the extract above was not a part of the original treaty, since it contains information about the ratification process by the United States after the treaty was signed on February 2, 1848. The designation of this treaty as a “Treaty of Peace, Friendship, Limits, and Settlement” is an attempt to describe the full content and intent of the agreement. It is more than a statement that the war was finished. As with most treaties, this one is better known by the designation of where it was signed, Guadalupe Hidalgo. From the time it was signed, it took just over a month for the United States Senate to amend and ratify it. These changes were referred to the Mexican ambassador to the United States, and he tentatively approved them. The statement “ratified by president, March 16, 1848” indicates that President Polk had accepted the changes made by the Senate. While this was happening, Mexico was formally approving the treaty as well. The meeting with Mexican leaders in Querétaro was to fulfill article 23, which states that representatives of the two governments would meet to exchange formal copies of the ratified treaty. Since the United States had made unilateral changes to the treaty (even though they had been provisionally accepted by the Mexican ambassador), a second agreement had to be drawn up to reflect these changes and to represent formal acceptance of them by the Mexican government. Thus, the Protocol of Querétaro was drawn up by representatives of the United States and the Mexican minister of foreign affairs. The points in the protocol each address one of the changes by the United States. The first is that the original article 9 (civil rights) was deleted and article 3 of the Treaty of Louisiana (Louisiana Purchase) was substituted. The protocol states that the United States “did not intend to diminish in any way what was agreed upon by the aforesaid article IX.” Similarly, the United States claimed that in deleting article 10, it did not intend to take away the “grants of land made by Mexico.” Finally, Mexico was assured that the deletion of the last part of article 12 did not change any rights Mexico had with regard to the money that the United States was going to pay. The formal acceptance of these three changes by the Mexican foreign minister made it possible for the agreement to go into effect immediately, without the Mexican government having to repeat its ratification process.

The preamble to the treaty identifies its goal, the nations that were party to the agreement, and who had been authorized to negotiate on behalf of the two nations. The United States of America and the United Mexican States (also called the Mexican Republic) had “a sincere desire to put an end to the calamities of the war which unhappily exists between the two Republics and to establish Upon a solid basis relations of peace and friendship.” Thus, Trist and the Mexican representatives had authority from their two governments to make a formal agreement with the intention of creating an enduring peace. They sought to create a situation in which their countries could live together “as good neighbors.”

Article 1 states the reason for the agreement: “firm and universal peace” between the two nations was the intent of both. Prior to the war, there had been military threats from both sides. Mexico had threatened war if the United States annexed Texas, which Mexico still claimed, and President Polk had put forward for the United States the idea of Manifest Destiny and began taking appropriate actions to ensure the fulfillment of this idea. Although Polk’s campaign slogan of “Fifty-Four Forty or Fight” was directed toward the British, with whom he peacefully negotiated an agreement regarding Oregon territory, his campaign had made it clear that he had a similar goal of extending the United States to California. Because of the rebellion in Texas, there had not been a firm peace between the United States and Mexico for more than a decade.

The three articles not printed in this text (2, 3, and 4) all dealt with the disengagement of military forces, leaving Mexican military supplies and fortifications intact, reestablishing civilian rule, and a timely withdrawal of American troops from Mexico. While most of the moves were to be “at the earliest moment practicable,” the withdrawal from Mexico City was to occur within a month from the time the military commander had been notified that the peace treaty had been ratified by both countries. Provisions for mutual support were a part of the treaty; for instance, if the American forces were not able to be withdrawn from the tropical ports on the Gulf of Mexico (Veracruz) by the “sickly season” (May through October), the forces would move inland away from the cities, as protection from the tropical diseases.

Article 5 outlined the new borders between the United States and Mexico. In many ways, this was the most important article in the treaty, as the lack of clarity regarding Texas’s borders had initiated the war. It was clear from the descriptions of the new border that none of the negotiators had firsthand experience in that region. They did not even know if the Rio Grande had one or more channels where it entered the Gulf of Mexico or if the Gila River intersected the western border of New Mexico. In terms of the territory that had precipitated the war, the Texas border was set where the United States said it should be, at the Rio Grande. In places where there was uncertainty, reference maps were identified as authoritative for the treaty. In a region that had neither been formally surveyed nor mapped in detail, it was not easy to identify the border clearly. Thus, in the third paragraph of this article, provision is made for a joint surveying team to be appointed in order to identify and mark the boundary between the United States and Mexico. What the surveyors identified, following the directions in the first two paragraphs of this article, would stand as the border and be “religiously respected by each of the two republics.” The surveyors did discover that the city of El Paso was actually about a hundred miles west of where the negotiators had assumed it was located, resulting in a dispute until the Gadsden Purchase was negotiated.

Article 6, not printed in this text, details the rights of American ships and boats to free transit through the Gulf of California and up the Colorado River to reach American territory. Prior to the damming of the Colorado and Gila Rivers, it was possible to navigate the sixty miles to what is now Yuma, although the city never developed into a seaport. Examining all possibilities, the treaty also states that if a road or railroad were built close to the Gila River by either country, it would be a cooperative venture to serve both nations. Similar considerations are contained in article 7, which states that rivers forming the boundary between the two nations would be open to navigation by both. However, as the land on each bank belonged to the respective nations, this freedom of movement did not apply to the “landing upon one of their shores.” These articles were changed by the Gadsden Purchase’s movement of the border further south.

Articles 8 and 9 refer to the rights given to Mexican citizens who would live in the United States as a result of the transfer of more than 525,000 square miles of territory west of the state of Texas. These articles of the treaty were the ones least observed by various jurisdictions in the United States, as the property of many former Mexican citizens was not respected. Article 8 gives Mexican citizens now in United States territory one year in which to decide whether they wanted to retain Mexican citizenship or accept American citizenship. The default was for them to become American citizens. If they chose to return to Mexico, they were free to dispose of their property and take “the proceeds wherever they please.” This article also grants the right of property ownership in the United States to Mexican citizens “as if the same belonged to citizens of the United States.” Article 9 was shortened by the US Senate, to bring it into greater conformity with the laws for all other territories. The shortened article 9 is a basic statement that the territory would become states in accordance with the laws governing this process, and in the meantime, the people would have “the free enjoyment of their liberty and property, and secured in the free exercise of their religion without restriction.” The deleted text included a guarantee that they would keep any rights they had under Mexican law, rights matching those given to people in the former Louisiana or Florida territories; a guarantee regarding the freedom for religious officials “in the discharge of the offices of their ministry”; and a statement that Catholics in the new American territories would have free access to and unhindered communication with Catholic officials in Mexico.

Article 10 was deleted from the treaty but is printed here at the end of the excerpt above. Even though the Protocol of Querétaro states that “suppressing” this section did not “annul the grants of lands made by Mexico in the ceded territories,” this was actually the intent of many who supported this change. In California, the very large haciendas (estates) granted by the Spanish and Mexican governments were not respected by the American settlers. In addition, during the decade between Texas obtaining its independence and its annexation to the United States, land grants had been made in that territory by the Mexican government. This article would have mandated that Texas and the United States respect these grants, some of which would have conflicted with deeds issued by Texas. Thus, for logistical reasons in Texas and by the desires of Americans more generally, article 10 was stricken by the Senate. The Protocol of Querétaro was a simple way of getting the treaty wording accepted by the Mexican government. While the American negotiators may have believed that the protocol would be supported in Washington, it was never really implemented by the US government.

The last article printed in this text, article 11, had to do with the predominant American Indian tribes in the region acquired by the United States. The Comanche confederation and two Apache tribes had become major problems for Mexico. Spain had made peace with most of the tribes in the eighteenth century, but that was not seen as applying to Mexico. Thus, since the 1820s, thousands of people had been killed and the economic ventures of the Mexicans had suffered greatly. Because the American settlers were willing to trade for the cattle and horses the American Indians had taken in their raids, many Mexicans believed the Americans were encouraging the American Indians to continue their raids on Mexican settlements. Since the traditional homelands of the tribes would become part of the United States, they became the problem of the United States. As such, the United States promises that “all such incursions shall be forcibly restrained by the government of the United States.” This was easier to put into a document than to carry out. Many historians believe that this was the only positive thing to come out of the war for Mexico. In the first few years after the war, almost three-quarters of the US Army was assigned to this task, with limited success. Mexico was demanding more protection and/or reparations. When the treaty for the Gadsden Purchase was being negotiated, the United States paid Mexico to accept the negation of article 11.

Not printed in this text, article 12 states that the American government would pay Mexico fifteen million dollars for the land being acquired and gives a schedule for the payments. (This was less than half the money that had been offered prior to the war.) In addition, article 13 states that the United States will assume payment to United States citizens for American court judgments that had been made against Mexico, a sum of no more than $3.25 million, according to article 15. Article 14 states that no further claims could be made, and article 15 clarifies the process for paying the claims.

Article 16 allows both countries to “fortify whatever point within its territory it may judge proper.” The next article renews an 1831 commerce treaty. Article 18 clarifies that money or goods sent to Mexico to support American troops would not be subject to any Mexican taxes. On a related topic, article 19 describes how taxes should be applied to nonmilitary goods that came into areas of Mexico not occupied by American forces during the war, and article 20 deals with the importation of goods between the time the treaty is signed and is ratified. Article 21 promises that if any “disagreement shall hereafter arise between the Governments of the two republics,” they would try to resolve their differences peacefully. Article 22 lists certain rules that would be followed if another war were to break out. The final article, article 23, deals with the ratification and notification process for the treaty.

Trist and his Mexican counterparts strove to make certain that all contingencies were covered in the treaty. It passed this test in that President Polk—who, when he received it, had already fired Trist and was looking for any flaws—accepted the treaty and sent it on to the Senate. The Mexican officials had very little choice in the major provisions of the treaty. The most important point was that the treaty did end the war, on terms desired by the United States, and allowed the United States and Mexico to enter into a more peaceful, if not always harmonious, relationship.

Essential Themes

The Mexican-American War had come about because both the United States and Mexico had pushed toward the brink, allowing one small skirmish to result in a full-blown war. President Polk had tried to negotiate for the desired territory, while constant turmoil in the Mexican government did not allow for any substantive negotiations. Once the war started, the United States forces pushed back the Mexican army until Mexico had no real choice but to negotiate. For the United States, the most important point in the treaty was Mexico giving up any claim to the land from the eastern border of Texas to the Pacific coast in California. This is outlined in article 5, and the ceded territory contained everything that Trist had been told to request, from the Rio Grande to San Diego. While ending the war as soon as possible was essential and peaceful relations with Mexico were important, the key point in the treaty was what is known as the Mexican Cession, the territory acquired by the United States. Manifest Destiny, as envisioned by American leaders, was not to be stopped for any reason. Other points in the treaty, such as the rights of Mexican citizens in the new territories and property and commercial rights, represented items similar to what had been outlined in previous annexation treaties. Although it is doubtful that the US government agreed to these provisions without intending to fulfill all its obligations, these were of substantially lower importance than the territory. Since the ratification of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the two nations have not only peacefully coexisted, but have developed closer cooperation across many areas of mutual concern.

  • Griswold del Castillo, Richard. “Appendix 1: The Original Text of Articles IX and X of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Protocol of Querétaro.” The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo: A Legacy of Conflict. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1990. 179–82. Print.
  • Ohrt, Wallace. Defiant Peacemaker: Nicholas Trist in the Mexican War. College Station: Texas A & M UP, 1997. Print.
  • “Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo; February 2, 1848.” Treaties and Conventions between the United States of America and Other Powers since July 4, 1776. Washington: GPO, 1871. Avalon Project. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.
  • U.S.-Mexican War: 1846–1848. KERA, 14 Mar. 2006. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.
Additional Reading
  • Bloom, John Porter, ed. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, 1848. Las Cruces: Yucca Tree, 1999. Print.
  • Mahin, Dean B. Olive Branch and Sword: the United States and Mexico, 1845–1848. Jefferson: McFarland, 1997. Print.
  • Merry, Robert W. A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War, and the Conquest of the American Continent. New York: Simon, 2009. Print.
  • “Milestones: 1830–1860.Office of the Historian. Bureau of Public Affairs, United States Department of State, 2010. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.
  • Schroeder, John H. Mr. Polk’s War: American Opposition and Dissent, 1846–1848. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1973. Print.

Categories: History