Saturday, December 13, 2008

From Colony to Superpower: Followup

It's been a slow blogging week with grading finals and all. So just a couple of quick points on Rob's review this week of the relevant From Colony to Superpower chapter on the 1837-61 period.

Rob speculates:

I'm actually inclined to think that British resistance on the Oregon question would resulted in the theft of more of Mexico by a frustrated US

Interesting, but I'm not sure I agree. There wasn't much stopping the U.S. from taking more of Mexico. We didn't take less because we were satiated. Rather, it was because we didn't want to incorporate too many brown people into the nation. Since Americans basically saw race as a black-white dualism (except for Indians who simply were in the way for most Americans), we didn't know where Mexicans fit. Clearly almost all Americans saw them as inferior. But could they be enslaved? No. Could they be equal members of American society? No. New Mexico was bad enough. New Mexico had a large enough population in 1848 to become a state, but it took until 1912. Zachary Taylor was interested in admitting New Mexico as a free state, but that died at the hands of the slaveholders. However, slavery was only part of the problem. Why didn't it become a state in 1865? Because there was a widespread belief that New Mexicans were not prepared to be Americans.

One of the great ironies of American expansionism is that we took over half of Mexico in part because of racism, but we didn't take over the other half because of the same racism.

Rob is also certainly correct about the importance of slavery for understanding the Mexican War. It was a mostly regionally supported war with significant northern opposition. It is more complicated than that, as Rob notes, but there's no question that it is almost impossible to interpret the Mexican War outside of the slavery context.

I have a lot of doubts about the long-term viability of an independent Texas. Texas was barely able to hold off Mexican reconquest. In 1842, Mexican forces briefly retook San Antonio for instance. Even if they had maintained independence after 1845, and I think even if the British had recognized Texas as an independent state, it would have aligned closely with the Confederacy in 1861 (assuming still that the Civil War would have happened at that time), and I think probably had merged with it. Then in 1865, it would have been officially annexed by the United States.