HB V

is older than it's ever been and now it's even older

8/13/2001

Forgotten moments in history


In American History, students have to remember the additions that added land on to the country called the USA. For most, this is a brief part of their early High School experience, to be crammed for on a test and then forgotten. For me, I wound up remembering everything. Land acquistions in general are very interesting to me. What other countries just add land, and have this addition as a celebrated part of their history? Not many. Expansion is a uniquely imperial act, and especially so in the case of the first installment of forgotten moments in history – the Gadsden Purchase (map included in that link, or click here for the full text of the treaty).

James Gadsden was an odd character, probably best described as a Southern Imperialist. He had originally gained renown in 1818 as the man who was supposed to convince the Seminole Indians in Florida to go to reservations. However, the Seminole had different plans and instead fought a bloody, protracted, nasty war that didn’t end until the US government treacherously abducted their leader and the rest retreated into the Everglades or went to the pathetic reservation lands in what is now Oklahoma. Gadsden associated himself politically with all of the big Southern issues, including slavery and the doctrine of nullification, which was the belief that states could nullify federal laws that they didn’t like. However, he would anger Andrew Jackson because of this particular proclivity of his and would be written out of the patronage during the Jackson administration. During his return to private life, Gadsden became president of the South Carolina Railroad. He began formulating a dream of tying together the Southern railroads, and when the US expanded after the imperialist Mexican-American War, he thought that it would be best to tie the West to the South, so that the South would influence the development of the West more than the North would. So he asked his engineers about the route the Southern transcontinental railroad route should take, and sure enough, the best way would be to go through the Mesilla valley, which still remained in Mexican hands.


Confusing the matter was the fact that the map that the 1848 treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (that is, the one that ended the Mexican war) was based on was substantially wrong. Gadsden then began agitating for a mission to buy this property, and because he was friends with one Jefferson Davis, who was Franklin Pierce’s Secretary of War, he wound up securing an appointment as minister to Mexico, primarily to make the deal. Gadsden negotiated the sale of the property for a mere $10 million, which is about $0.33 an acre, or really cheap. Signing the treaty in 1853 with Mexican dictator Santa Anna, both negotiators thought they were doing something good for their countries; Gadsden figured that with a Southern route secured for the transcontinental railroad, that there was a shot at extending slavery to the new Western territories. Santa Anna was desperate for cash and didn’t think any Mexican would be too pissed about the sale. Both were wrong.


Gadsden would only last as minister to Mexico until 1856, when he would be recalled for some breach of protocol. He died in 1858. The Southern Pacific Railroad, which was the inspiration for the purchase, became one of the bitter interregional Congressional struggles preceding the Civil War, and wound up not getting funded until after the war. It was completed in 1880. As for Santa Anna, he had survived politically through the Texas war of independence, the Mexican American war, but he couldn’t survive the political fallout of the Gadsden purchase. He was run out of Mexico, and went into exile in Coney Island, of all places. Santa Anna had one more gift to America, besides Texas and the Southwest, and it was chewing gum. Yes, Santa Anna brought a crapload of chicle with him to New York, and wound up selling it to a guy who popularized the stuff. So, next time you step in gum, think of Santa Anna.

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