As of December 31, 2014, I retired from full-time teaching in Humboldt State University's Department of History. While this website will remain online, it is no longer maintained.

History 383 – Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer

Mexican Occupation and American Conquest

PLEASE NOTE: Next class meeting, Thursday, September 10, you will work in groups to create possible questions for the upcoming exam. Please bring your lap top, notes, and/or anything that you will need to help you develop some thoughtful essay questions about what we have learned in Unit I.

Introduction: Last time we met, we learned about the colonization of California by the Spanish.Map of Mexico in 1823 We concluded that Spanish California was not the pastoral land celebrated in romantic legend and romanticized history. We learned instead that California

Today, we are going to learn some further details about California at the end of Spanish rule and then continue our story by learning how California fared under Mexican rule.

But first, let's take a look at the map of Mexico as it appeared in 1821. What do you notice? Mexico was a HUGE country in 1821. But in just 25 years, the Mexican government would lose almost half of all its territory - the territories of Alta California and Neuvo Mexico, as well as the Mexican states of Sonora, Chihuahua, and Texas. Further, the the majority of the Mexicans living in these former Mexican territories and states will gradually lose possessions of most of their lands under the governance of the newly created American states of California and Texas.

Imperialism was again the culprit. But this time the imperialists were not the Spanish. They were the Americans.

Goals for today’s discussion:

  1. To understand the political evolution of life in California under Mexican political control.
  2. To examine the economy of Mexican California
  3. To examine the effects of Mexican rule on the California Indian population
  4. To trace the various movements of foreigners into Mexican California - especially those of the Americans.
  5. To learn about the origins of the Bear Flag Republic.
  6. To examine a chronology of how the Mexican-American War and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo culminated in the American conquest of California.
  7. To understand the consequences of the Mexican-American War.
  8. To brainstorm some possible approaches to addressing the questions on the upcoming Unit Exam.

Goal #1: To understand the political evolution of life in California under Mexico Map of Mexican Alta Califonria in 1848

When Mexico gained its independence in 1821 and finally had the time to look at their northern territory in Alta California, it found a land that had been badly governed by the Spanish in which two groups controlled all the power - wealthy Spanish ranchers, the Californios - and the mission padres. Thus, the political question for new the Mexican government became - how could they change this power structure? The first attempt came in 1824 with a new constitution that established the Federal Republic of Mexico which was a dramatic change from autocratic rule under the Spanish. Under the new government, California became a territory - not a state - and territorial governors were appointed by Mexican authorities.

Nevertheless, the Mexican government worked to achieve at least three political goals in California territory:

Let's examine each of these goals and the consequences:

As the timeline below indicates, it was not until the Mexicans came to power in California that secularization took place in ernest.


So what did secularization under Mexican rule accomplish?

In summary, the economic goals of the Mexican government met with mixed success:

Goal #2: To examine the economy of Mexican California

The demise of the missions dramatically altered California's economic development. While the missions had controlled the growing cattle industry, under Mexican rule, Image of hide and tallow trade that appeared in 1840 publication of "Two Years Before the Mast"cattle-raising and the marketing of beef and hides fell to the rancheros and soon became the central factors of economic life.

Under both the Spanish and Mexican governments, not everyone benefitted from economic improvement. This leads us to our next discussion topic for today - the effects of Mexican rule on California Indians.

Goal #3: To examine the effects of Mexican rule on the California Indian population

In 1823 when the Mexican Republic flag replaced the Spanish flag in California, little immediate change in Indian policy occurred. This began to change, however, as a growing body of colonial leaders deeply resented the monopoly of Indian lands and the unpaid Indian labor enjoyed by the padres in the missions.

What developed from this new condition were guerrilla Indian bands made-up of former mission Indians and interior tribesmen from villages devastated by official and unofficial Mexican paramilitary attacks and slave hunting raids. Eventually a significant number of these interior groups joined together to form new conglomerate tribes - some of which began systematic efforts to re-assert their sovereignty by widespread and highly organized campaigns against Mexican ranchers and government authority in general.

Those Indians who did not stay on their land or go back to their tribes, quickly became a source of cheap labor to the rancheros with whom they worked for subsistence food and shelter. On a typical Calfornia rancho there were between 20 and several hundred Indian workers. Although they were legally free, in practice they were bound in a state of servitude as long as the ranchero cared to hold them. We can see this in the 1841 observations of a visiting U.S. naval officer who reported that the rancheros valued an Indian's life scarcely more than "'that of one of the wild cattle" and that Mariano Vallejo "is frequently said to hunt them." (Rawls and Bean: 68)

In short, Mexican rule, like that of the missions and pueblos during the Spanish era, contributed to the continuing destruction of California Indian society. Ironically, the increasingly aggressive Indian raids on the rancheros and other Mexican settlements, further contributed to California being the poorly managed and badly neglected stepchild of Mexico.

Goal #4: To trace the various movements of foreigners into Mexican California - especially those of the Americans

Painting of California mountain men

Beginning in 1822, three types of foreigners began immigrating into California: foreign businessmen, mountain men, and frontier settlers:

The mountain men blazed the trails that opened California to the east, they publicized the trails and wonders of California on the American frontier, and they led the first groups of Americans over the Sierra into California. And one of the first and most famous was Jedediah Smith who in 1826, led the first group of United States citizens - 17 fur trappers - over the Sierra Nevada and through the Mojave Desert to Mission San Gabriel. Smith then traveled to San Diego seeking permission to trade and hunt beaver. The governor detained him for six weeks, then released him with instructions to leave California the way he had entered. Instead, he moved into the San Joaquin Valley where he trapped until April 1827. He eventually made the first recorded journey by land up the coast of California and into Oregon.

In summary, these foreign movements into California were but one more example of how the Mexican government was losing control over its province. It had passed a series of laws limiting immigration and requiring all those who did immigrate to become citizens and convert to Catholicism. These laws were not reinforced and even worse, some Americans were able to get substantial land grants without following any of the legal guidelines. Thus, foreign immigration would be one of the final ingredients contributing to the breakdown of the Mexican government and the beginning of a rebellion known as the Bear Flag Revolt.

End of 9/8 discussion

Goal #5: To learn about the origins of the Bear Flag Republic.

At the same time that individual Americans began migrating to California, the U.S. government demonstrated interest in the Mexican territory. Thus began the first of several efforts to incorporate California into the increasingly expanding boundaries of the U.S.

1835 - President Andrew Jackson offered Mexico half a million dollars for San Francisco Bay and the territory north of it. The President wanted the Bay as a port for American trade and whaling in the Pacific.

1838-1842 - Lieutenant Charles Wilkes led a U.S. sponsored naval expedition to California to chart the waters and observe conditions. The expedition included a large party that went overland from Oregon to San Francisco through the Sacramento Valley.

1842 - Daniel Webster proposed a deal in which the U.S. would pay debts the Mexican government owed to the British in return for Texas and part of California and Oregon as far north to the Columbia River.

In September, the commander of the American Pacific Squadron received a false report that the U.S. was at war with Mexico and that Mexico intended to cede California to Great Britain rather than have it fall into American hands. He promptly sailed to California because one year earlier, he had been instructed to do so in case of war with Mexico. He landed at Monterey on October 18 and the next day, demanded a peaceful surrender. On October 20, the surrender was concluded, the American flag was raised, and the American sailors marched ashore to the tunes of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "The Star Spangled Banner." His proclamation that California was now occupied by the Americans lasted one day when he realized he had been misinformed.

1843-44 - Congress published John C. Fremont's "Report and Map" which guided thousands of overland immigrants to Oregon and California from 1845 to 1849.

1845 - After coming into office, President Polk confided to his Secretary of the Navy that aquiring California was one of his most cherished goals. Thus, the U.S. offered Mexico $40 million for Upper California and New Mexico. Polk sent an agent to California to try to persuade them to declare their independence from Mexico and seek the protection of the U.S.

1846 - In April, Mexican Governor Jose Castro proclaimed that the purchase or acquisition of land by foreigners who had not been naturalized as Mexicans "will be null and void, and they will be subject (if they do not retire involuntary from the country) to be expelled whenever the country might find it convenient." Rumors began to spread that Castro's edict would soon be enforced, and that the California Indians had been encouraged to burn the crops of foreigners.

On June 14th, a band of armed Americans rode into Sonoma, raised a homemade flag with a bear and star - the "Bear Flag," and proclaimed the creation of the Bear Flag Republic under American control. The words "California Republic" appeared on the flag and their actions were later called the "Bear Flag Revolt." The Americans then woke up General Mariano Vallejo who commanded the northern garrison for Mexico, and demanded that he surrender. After some muddled negotiations, Vallejo agreed and was promptly arrested and hauled off to Sutter's fort to be imprisoned.First Bear Flag

On June 23, John C. Fremont - who had returned to California earlier in the year - arrived with sixty soldiers and took command in the name of the U.S. Fremont, however, was acting without orders.

On July 2, when part of the Pacific naval squadron entered and captured Monterey Bay, Californians learned that the U.S. had formally entered into war with Mexico on May 13th. Commodore John Sloat raised the American flag on July 7, and on July 9, the U.S. flag was raised at Sonoma and Yerba Buena and at Sutter's Fort on July 11. The Bear Flag Republic ceased to exist after 26 days and the U.S. Army took control of California.

Little is actually known about the Bear Flag Revolt. The following, however, seems to be the agreed upon origins:.

Goal #6: To examine the chronology of the origins of the Mexican-American War

For almost 200 years, immigration has been a problem between Mexico and the United States. Our story begins in 1821 when two important events occurred: Mexico finally won its independence from Spain and almost at the exact same time, a small group of Americans become interested in immigrating to the Mexican state of Texas. For the next 25 years, Americans were involved in a struggle over Texas - a struggle that was eventually won by the North Americans and brought California into the United States.

1821 Moses Austin - an American - received a grant from the new Mexican government to establish a colony of 300 American families in Texas. Each family could purchase up to 170 acres for agriculture and another 128 acres for stock raising - a total of 298 acres. The government asked 12-1/2 cents per acre, tax free. The grant stipulated that all settlers must be Catholics or willing to convert to Catholicism; that all public transactions must take place in Spanish; and that all immigrants had to relinquish their US citizenship and take an oath of loyalty to Mexico.

1822 300 families arrived under the leadership of Moses' son - Stephen Austin. (Moses died before being able to immigrate.)

1823 The Mexican government passed a law prohibiting the sale or purchase of slaves, requiring that the children of slaves be freed when they reached fourteen, and mandating that any slave introduced into Mexico by purchase or trade would also be freed.

1824 The American population in Texas exceeded 2,000 plus an additional 450 slaves. They lived in isolation, largely excluding themselves from the 3,000 Mexicans.

1825 The Mexican government began worrying about the increasing number of American immigrants and asked for an investigation of how colonization was proceeding in Texas.

1829 The investigation found that most Anglo Americans had refused to become Mexican citizens, had largely isolated themselves from Mexicans, and perhaps most troubling - the immigrants had ignored the slave reforms passed by the state.

1830 Mexico passed a law prohibiting further American immigration into Mexican territory. Americans, however, ignored the immigration law and continued to cross the border.

1832 Texas prohibited worker contracts from lasting more than ten years.

1834 On June 12, Santa Anna, the new Mexican President, dissolved Congress and immediately formed a new centralized government - a dictatorship backed by the military. Several states openly rebelled against the changes - including Texas. Map of texas land grants

1835 Santa Anna revoked the Constitution and began centralizing and consolidating his power. As protests spread across Texas, Mexican officials blamed the Anglo settlers for the discord, noting that they continued to live in isolation from Mexicans and had not become citizens.

1836 Americans had become the dominant population in Texas; there were 38,000 American settlers and about 5,000 slaves, versus 7,000 Mexicans living in Texas. Additionally, the settlers held title to several huge land grants - grants that encompassed over half of the entire state of Texas.

1838 Map showing disputed Texas borderSam Houston invited the U.S. to annex Texas, but Congress declined. Why? Mexico refused to recognize Texas independence and the Whigs (advocates of federalism) felt annexation would bring war with Mexico. Further, the northern Whigs did not want another slave state entering the Union.

1845 Shortly after James Polk assumed office as the President of the United States, he convinced Congress to annex Texas with the southern border set along the Rio Grande. Texas was admitted to the union as a slave state. But admission had not been easy. The United States Congress passed - after much debate and only a simple majority - a Joint Resolution for Annexing Texas to the United States.

1846 On February 19, Texas was admitted to the United States as a slave state. Mexico immediately cut off relations with U.S. and insisted that Texas’s southern boundary was the Nueces River, not the Rio Grande which was 130 miles to the south. President Polk responded by ordering American troops under General Zachary Taylor to the disputed territory - the border area between the Nueces and the Rio Grande Rivers. The U.S. government declared it had no choice but to go to war with Mexico.  Mexican forces crossed the Rio Grande to attack the U.S. army and on May 11, 1846, the U.S. was at war with Mexico. Cold Call: Fourth cold call on required viewing -Watch the movie The Mexican-American War at (1 hr. and 28 minutes).

1948 - War with Mexico ended on February 2 with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in which Mexico ceded California and other territories to the U.S. - half of its total land.

Goal #7: To examinethe consequences of the Mexican-American War

For the United States:

  1. The U.S. acquired a colony that was 1 million acres (almost 50% of all Mexican territory) and contained rich farmlands and natural resources such as gold, silver, zinc, copper, oil, and uranium.
  2. With the acquisition of the Northern Territories of Mexico, the U.S. became a hemispheric power - largely because of the new ports in California that would facilitate economic expansion across the Pacific.
  3. Almost 30% of all American troops who fought in the war died. More than 16,000 lives were lost. More than 5,800 Americans were killed or wounded in battle, 11,000 soldiers died from diseases, and others eventually died from their war injuries.
  4. U.S. spent between $75 and $100 million dollars.
  5. Many 21st century historians argue that the Mexican American War was the first American War of conquest - or as some have even stated, a war in which the U.S. "bullied" a weaker power to gain new territory by conquest.
  6. Historian Brian DeLay in The Mexican American War states the major consequence of the war in this way:

    " ... the Mexican American War ... does not fit well with our idea of what American history is all about. We like to structure our history around important wars ... and we remember these wars as conflicts where we were attacked by an aggressor. And this aggressor had particular designs on things central to who we are - our liberties, our fundamental freedoms - but through enormous sacrifices, we overcame the odds and drove back this threat. And the Mexican War does not fit this pattern."

  7. For Sam Haynes, the author of a biography on President Polk, the war is even more significant:

    "The Mexican American War represents a fundamental moral dilemma for the United States. Is the U.S. going to be a good nation or is it going to become a great nation? Is it going to become a nation that will protect the sovereignty of neighboring nation states, or a nation that will aggressively pursue its own self interests?" ( James K. Polk and the Expansionist Impulse.)

For Mexico, the war was a series of tragedies -Political cartoon about occupied Americalargely because the war was fought almost entirely on Mexican soil.

  1. Mexico lost half of its nation - and all of Alta California..
  2. Besides the thousands of military and civilian deaths during battles, the war left tens of thousands of orphans, widows and disabled.
  3. Some cities suffered great losses and destruction due to artillery shelling and small-arms gunfire.
  4. The nation's economy was severely disrupted by the naval blockade and movement of thousands of troops across the land, as well as the steep decline in agricultural and mineral production caused by the massive conscription of peasants.
  5. The political instability during and immediately after the war led to a new despotic regime and eventually to another civil war.
  6. The Mexican population suffered severe psychological damage and their national dignity and honor were shattered largely due to the humiliation of having their capital and much of the country occupied by enemy troops and the horror of a peace treaty that cost Mexico half of its national territory. Consequently, a deep and long-lasting feeling of resentment toward Americans arose within much of Mexico.
  7. The Mexicans who now lived in the United States - what many began to call "Occupied America" - did not fare well.

California offers a tragic illustration of the Mexican dispossession of land. It all began in the early 1820s when the new Mexican government came to power. Over 800 large tracts of California land had been granted to Hispanic and some Anglo-American settlers. Most grants were not accurately surveyed and mapped, which made the claims difficult to prove when California passed into American hands in 1848.

Rodolpho Acuna in Occupied America makes it clear how devastating the California Land Act was to the Californios:

"The California Land Act gave Anglo-Americans an advantage and encouraged them to homestead Mexican-owned land. Its ostensible purpose was to clear up land titles, but , in fact, it placed the burden of proof on landowners, who had to pay exorbitant legal fees to defend titles to land that was already theirs ... Hearings were held in English, which put Spanish-speaking grantees at an additional disadvantage ... The Land Act, by implication, challenged the legality of Mexican land titles. it told land-hungry Anglo-Americans that there was a chance that Californios did not own the land. The squatters then treated the ranchos as public land on which they had a right to homestead. They knew that local authorities would not or could not do anything about it. They swarmed over the land, harassing and intimidating many landowners." (p. 115)

And what were the consequences on the Mexican land owners in California?

Goal #4: To brainstorm some possible approaches to addressing the questions on the upcoming Unit Exam

I would like to encourage your input on possible questions for the upcoming Unit I exam on September 15. So, working in groups of five, please do the following:

  1. Select someone from each group to write down the questions and another person to present them to the class as a whole. Make sure all of your names are on the list of questions, which will be submitted at the end of class today.
  2. Groups 1-4 will take 15 minutes to develop two possible essay questions. These must be thoughtful questions - ones that ARE NOT DESIGNED FOR YOU TO REGURGITATE WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED, BUT RATHER TO HAVE YOU REALLY THINK ABOUT AND ANALYZE THE CLASS DISCUSSIONS AND REQUIRED READINGS. Furthermore, at least one of them must be tied to one of more of the course themes which are posted on the screen.
  3. Groups 5-8 will take 15 minutes to develop two possible essay questions. These must be thoughtful questions - ones that ARE NOT DESIGNED FOR YOU TO REGURGITATE WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED, BUT RATHER TO HAVE YOU REALLY THINK ABOUT AND ANALYZE THE CLASS DISCUSSIONS AND REQUIRED READINGS. Furthermore, at least one of them must be tied to one of more of the course themes which are posted on the screen.

Conclusions -Mexican Occupation and American Conquest

  1. The Mexican Era of California - a 25-year period extending from 1821-1846 - ended similarly as had the Spanish Era:
  2. Several things, however, distinguished this 25-year period from the previous years:
  3. The rancho economy, like those of the missions and pueblos during the Spanish era, contributed to the continuing destruction of California Indian society.
  4. By the time of the Bear Flag Revolt, the Mexican government had lost control over its territory. Thus, American immigration was the final contributor to the breakdown of the Mexican government. The revolt was the natural consequence of a large, rowdy, American population living within a poorly administered and enfeebled territory.
  5. By the end of the Mexican-American War when California was officially ceded to the United States, California was a deeply divided society - politically, socially, and economically. When gold was found seven days before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, California's new-found wealth would contribute to these divisions.
  6. During the Early California period characterized by European exploration and white contact with California, a pattern arose.

This pattern will continue to evolve during our next unit of study - "Building and Modernizing American California."