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The Mexican-American War Revisited

As tension simmers over Arizona’s tough new immigration law, we look back to beginnings, and the Mexican-American War.

A rendering of the 1847 Battle of Buena Vista, during the Mexican-American War. (Credit: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

In 1845, the United States annexed Texas. By 1846, the U.S. and Mexico were at war. By 1848, U.S. troops occupied Mexico City, and the United States of America were – by force of arms – vastly expanded into what had been northern Mexico. 

California, Arizona, Utah, Nevada – all were swept up under the red, white, and blue of the American flag. 

Today, as controversy boils over Arizona’s new immigration law and the U.S.-Mexico border is the scene of such turmoil, this history resonates again. 

This Hour, On Point: back to beginnings. History, immigration, and the Mexican-American War.


Robert Merry, former president and editor-in-chief of Congressional Quarterly, is author of “A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, The Mexican War, and the Conquest of the American Continent.” You can read an excerpt.

Marshall Trimble, Arizona’s state historian and author of numerous books about local and regional history, including “Roadside History of Arizona” and “Arizona: A Cavalcade of History.”

Read more about the War at the Library of Congress.


The history of the Mexican-American War remains alive south of the border. Below are photos from modern Mexican military ceremonies that commemorate six young Mexican cadets, “Los Ninos Heroes,” who refused to retreat in the battle of Chapultepec in 1847, during the Mexican-American War. For Mexicans, the battle has a symbolic power similar to that of the Alamo for Americans, and all Mexican schoolchildren learn the story. U.S. Presidents Harry S. Truman and Bill Clinton have visited the marble monument in Mexico City that pays tribute to the young cadets.

Mexican military cadets salute during a ceremony in Mexico City, Sept. 13, 2007, commemorating six Mexican military cadets who refused to retreat in the battle of Chapultepec in 1847 during the Mexican-American War, and fought to the death against superior U.S. forces. (AP)

Mexican President Felipe Calderon, left, escorted by an army honor guard and his top aides, arrives at a ceremony to commemorate the Mexican-American War and the "Child Heroes" or Heroic Cadets in Mexico City, Sept. 13, 2006. (AP)

The Heroic Cadets Memorial in Chapultepec Park, Mexico City. (Credit: flickr.com/jorgitou)

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  • http://www.filipinoboston.blogspot.com AKILEZ

    I think this will be a bad topic.
    MexiCali,Immigration and Zoro.

  • Loay

    Hope they mention the Saint Patrick’s Battalion. It was an unjust war and has lead to an unjust peace.


  • Don Diego Della Vega

    Zorro is spelled Z-O-R-R-O.


    Don Diego Della Vega Cho-cha. thank you for the enlightenment that’s a Filipino spelling.

  • http://www.filipinoboston.blogspot.com AKILEZ

    Mexicans ruled the Philippines for 300 years. A lot of Americans doesn’t know that. They think the Spaniards ruled the Pearl of the Orient but actually it was Mexicans. They never teach the Filipinos to speak Spanish and deprive the Filipinos of education but it changed all of that after The Tomasite landed in Manila to educate Filipinos with the English language.

    We still owe our freedom and education to the American people. But one person ever beat up a Mexican was Pound for Pound Manny Pacquiao and we got even.

  • jeffe

    Akilez do you post this stuff to get a reaction?

  • Peter Mackie

    Barbara Tuchmann/ The Zimmermann Telegram/ WWI/ Germany offers Mexico lost territory for alliance w/ Germany & Japan. Please discuss.

    Thank you -

  • Jim

    i am quite surprise that my US history classes rarely mentioned about US aggression against Mexicans and the invasion of Mexico. i wish we stop portraying the americans as the “good guys” in the history texts.

  • andrea

    The commenter on air is saying that by not teaching the Mexican history, that we “devalue” them as people. Well, doesn’t a person’s self esteem start at home? The low graduation rates have nothing to do with curriculum. That is bogus logic!



    Nope I am not looking for a reaction. just telling the world how Mexicans treated Filipinos and still going on in California in the 21st Century.

  • jeffe

    So you’re saying that it was Mexico that occupied the Philippines and not Spain. That is what you wrote. This is not the truth. Try to keep the facts straight in context to the history.

    The other comment about the relationship between Mexicans and Filipinos in this country is kind a generalization, don’t you think?


    Yes Ferdinand Magellan landed in Mactan island in 1521 was killed by a Moro chieftain Lapu-Lapu.

    Yes Spain discovered the Philippines but ruled buy Mexican priests. A lot of Spaniard landed in Mexico and started sending Mexicans to the Philippines instead of real Spaniards.

    Keep the facts straight? LOL, Aren’t you talking to A Filipino right now. I am Filipino and don’t tell me that Emilio Aquinaldo didn’t murder the LEADER of the Katipunan (A free Mason) Andres Bonifacio.


    Generalization oh please. How do you know? Are a Filipino?


    Just like what Jim said he never learned about those history in American text books not only that not even the 50 year rule of America in the Philippines is teach in American schools.

    That’s why a lot of Americans are so Naive about the Philippines. The land that America Colonized for 50 years.

  • JD

    It’s a sad indictment of our education system to see just how poorly people spell and think (or not as the case may be)–shows their level of education and/or motivation. That in turn reveals their level of ignorance on other matters as well. In the end we are left to read a load of old simplistic sophmoric drivel about how California etc was stolen from the Mexicans. At the end of the day does anyone seriously believe that anyone in the US would be better off if California, New Mexico and other states went “back” to Mexico? Mexico is a basket case–largely of its own making.


    In 1815, Spain took over direct control of the Philippines when the Mexicans started fighting for independence. The 250 years that Mexico governed the Philippines has given rise to the claim that the Philippines was indeed a colony of Mexico. Why not? All of the governor-generals — except Legazpi — during the Mexican administration of the Philippines were born in Mexico. Most of the soldiers, colonists, missionaries, and traders who went to the Philippines were born in Mexico. Mexicans were encouraged to migrate to the Philippines. They were promised land and wealth.

    The 250 years under direct Mexican authority has created a strong cultural link between the two colonies of Spain. The Galleon Trade thrived. It was the only trade route linking the Philippines and the other colonies of Spain. Each year, two galleons crossed the vast Pacific Ocean from Manila to Acapulco. It took one year for each galleon to complete a round trip.

  • DB


    The Philippines was part of the New Spain, together with Mexico, Florida, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. In 1810 Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica declare their Independence. In 1810 the US took advantage of this and took Florida from Spain.


    If the New Spaniards from Mexico treated bad the Philippines, my apologies, we certainly do not study this at school in Mexico.

  • Fernando Arnaiz

    Manifest Destiny is alive and well…
    But its no match against mexican population growth rate.
    We’ll win back those territories one brown baby at a time…Just you wait.

    From Mexico
    Fernando Arnaiz

  • paul

    Looks to me like you’re not settling for just ‘those territories’.

  • R Pegueros

    If the U.S. hadn’t been so determined to take this territory from Mexico; had the war been delayed even a couple of years, the California gold rush would have happened in Mexico and the entire history of the country, which had been impoverished by its War of Independence, 1810-21, would have been different. The American president was bound and determined to grab it and even invaded Mexico City to get it. They “paid” a pittance to settle Mexico’s claims. Might makes right, eh? Don’t dare talk about theft when the U.S. government is involved. Canada was lucky that the U.S. didn’t succeed in annexing it as a result of the War of 1812.

  • Bush’s fault

    Mexico is a failed state. The government is corrupt and feckless. The people of Arizona have taken off the gloves and challenged our own incompetent president and democrat administration to defend our borders as directed by law and the president’s oath of office. Americans are watching.

  • http://www.Genuine-Tourist.com Stephen Sardson

    I am listening to the program now on Tuesday at 7:25 PM. If you are monitoring emails, please request the speaker to comment on two things.

    1. Did the USA bully Mexico into a war at the alleged Texas border?
    2. The Heroes of Chapultepc are famous in Mexico as the last defenders of Mexico against the USA invaders. Please comment on their role and any importance from the the Mexico perspective.

  • O Kendall

    James Polk was an unknown man who actually did a lot for the country. He accomplished more than most other Presidents (add 1 million square miles of land, and I’m glad that there was finally a talk show about him.

  • O Kendall

    To the comment at 5:56:

    Even if Mexico had the gold rush, the USA somehow would have bullied their way into taking some of the money/gold.

  • OldHeathen

    Don’t forget, after the U.S.A WON the war, we PAID Mexico for the land.

    We did not have to do that, we could have taken all of Mexico if we had wanted to.

  • http://onpointradio.org Y. S. Lai

    Arazona is doing the right thing.
    We must up-hold the Law of the land.
    The Federal Government has failed to do its part.
    Arazona had to do this to keep things under control.
    All boarder states should follow suit.

    However, we need the workers.
    The Federal Government should issue Temporary Work Permits, renewed annually, to Employers who are responsible for all the aliens they hire and report to the appropriate authority just like Colleges & Universities do with foreign students.

    Permanent Residents & Citizenship must be given base on existing laws. A person who do not qualify as Permanent Resident or Citizenship may still come into the country on a Temporary Work Permit under a U. S. Employer.

  • joshua

    Polk was a terrorist. Anywhere else he would be called a dictator and a tyrant. He is the same as Hitler. He wrote letters demanding the genocide and extinction of the natives.

    patriotism is the virtue of the viscous. He is the red states incarnate–history of slavery and genocide. Nothing changes.

    ll America’s heroes are genocidal maniacs. Hmm..

  • Stacked

    America kicked Mexico’s ass. It has to about every 100 years. Mexico is so corrupt, that it can’t do anything but stew. “One brown baby at a time?” It’s not the majority that rules boy. It’s the ruthless. Try us and see. Screw Mexico! I relish an armed fight! It will turn out the same as it ever has. Mexico 0, USA 100. Just wait until we re-adjudicate the Immigration laws under a conservative President in 2012. “All born of illegals, remain illegals.”

  • shari

    the money paid for these mexican teritories was like a pennies. I was surpriced when Tom said, that they paid lot of money.—???
    the land taken does not justified the sum of money paid.

    when you calculate the acrage in all these states—–to the sum of money.
    How much was pay per acer???

  • Marc

    Hi Tom, It was a very interesting program. One thing I learned was that whilst slavery was ‘outlawed’ in Texas under Mexican rule, slavery was again legalized upon Texas independence (and I assume during its annexation to the USA). This fact caught my attention (it actually made me reflect quite a bit about the moral superiority that sometime is projected from the USA towards Mexico). Does anybody know if similar conditions occurred in any of the other states?


  • http://onpointradio.com Y. S. Lai

    Today the topic was on U.S. asault rifles getting into the hands of Mexican gang members. Some of the solutions were to have more gun control.
    I feel we are only working on the symptoms rather than on the cause of the problem. U. S. should go after the drugs users and reduce demands on drugs. It will cure the drug problem, the gang problem and many other problems on both side of the boarder.

  • http://OnPoint J Rigo

    This for you “Stacked”!

    You’ve been watching to many movies “Boy”! That’s about the only time you see white Americans “whuppin” anyone!
    Doesn’t happen in the boxing ring, does it? Doesn’t happen in football or basketball, does it? I guess you do alright on the battlefield when you have “smart bombs” doing the fighting for ya, or just far superior weaponry. Keep dreaming, real history is catching up with ya!!!

  • fuk u


  • eliot c


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