September 18, 1998


The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo: 150th Anniversary

And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye

Shall not vex him. But the Stranger that dwelleth with you shall

Be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as

Thyself, for ye were strangers in the land of of Egypt. . .

-Leviticus 19:33-34

By Robert Quintana
and Daniel Munoz

On February 2, 1848, in the villa of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed ending the Mexican-American War and ceding over half of Mexico's territories to the United States. The Treaty ended a bloody conflict and doomed the Mexican people to eternal poverty.



A U.S. Map before the Mexican-American War.

According to Herman Baca, Chairman of the Committee of Chicano Rights and a preeminent advocate on Mexican-American human rights, "…Iif you take a look back to the genesis of our problems that we face today you can trace them to the signing of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo."

Historians note that the Mexican-American War can be traced back to November 1835. The northern part of the Mexican State of Coahuila-Tejas declared itself in revolt against Mexico's new centralist government headed by President Antonio López de Santa Anna. In February 1836, Anglo Texans declared their territory to be independent and that its border extended to the Rio Grande rather than the Rio Nueces that Mexico recognized as the dividing line.

Although the Texans proclaimed themselves citizens of the Independent Republic of Texas on April 21, 1836, following their victory over the Mexicans at the Battle of San Jacinto, Mexico continued to consider Tejas a rebellious province that they would reconquer someday.

In 1845 Mexican President Jose Joaquin Herrera rejected America's overture to negotiate the Texas dispute. In December 1845, the U.S. Congress voted to annex the Texas Republic and soon sent troops led by General Zachary Taylor to the Rio Grande (regarded by Mexicans as their territory) to protect its border with Mexico.

America was looking to expand its territories and looked to the dispute over the boundaries of Texas as their opportunity.

Land Grant maps drawn by Stephen F. Austin in 1829, 1833, and 1836 showed that the Nueces River and not the Rio Grande, was the boundary between Texas and Mexico. The idea of the Rio Grande as a boundary dates back to the Louisiana Purchase that supposedly defined the Texas border extending to the Rio Grande.

With Mexico defending their territory and the U.S. looking to expand, inevitable it led to clashes, which provided the rationale for a congressional declaration of war on May 13, 1846.

The treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was was the last stage of negotiations for peace.

On August 22, 1847 the U.S. Army was on the outskirts of Mexico City and a more formal and open stage of negotiations was established between General Scott and General Santa Ana and an Armistice was established.

The Armistice came and went with no movement on either side. The day after the Armistice ended, General Scott marched into Mexico City and fought the bloodiest battle of the war at Molina del Rey. General Santa Anna fled with his army and resigned as President. General Winfield Scott captured Mexico City in August 1847

Mexican officials and Nicholas Trist, President Polk's representative, began discussions for a peace treaty that August. On February 2, 1848 the Treaty was signed in Guadalupe Hidalgo. Its provisions called for Mexico to cede 55% of its territory (present-day Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas, and parts of Colorado, Nevada and Utah) in exchange for fifteen million dollars in compensation for war-related damages to Mexican property.

Other provisions stipulated the Texas border as the Rio Grande river, protection for the property and civil rights of Mexican nationals living within the new border, U.S. promise to police its side of the border, and compulsory arbitration of future disputes between the two countries.

When the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty in May, it deleted Article X guaranteeing the protection of Mexican land grants.

After the treaty was signed, Mexican citizens had a choice, either they could go back to Mexico as the Mexican government wished or they could remain as U.S. citizens, under the protections that the Treaty granted. In other words, they were granted civil rights under the U.S. Constitution. It made sense for most Mexicans to stay given the fact that these were their lands that they had settled and developed over a period of many years.

Articles eight and nine of the treaty were particularly important in their decision to remain as U.S. citizens. The articles affected some 100,000 Mexicans in the territory and included a large number of Hispanicized and nomadic Indians who had been granted citizenship under the Mexican Constitution. Mexican landholders would have their property inviolably respected and would be maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty and property.

After the treaty had been ratified and put into effect, the state constitutional convention agreed that the Mexicans remaining were not American citizens but would require further action by Congress to become United States citizens. And when the gold rush started there was conflict between the Yankees and the Californians over land. The Mexican Ambassador to Washington protested the treatment of Mexican miners, and the violation of their property and civil rights, invoking the protection of the treaty.

The Mexican government failed to show specific evidence that native citizens were deprived of property and civil rights in violation of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and in the People vs. de la Guerra, that status of Mexican citizens was defined. Basically the United States Supreme Court granted citizenship to Mexican Nationals, thus ending the struggle of many Californians who were trying to keep their citizenship and property. The United States Supreme Court interpreted the treaty to the convenience of the United States and violated the rights of many Mexicans and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

In violation of the treaty, the California State constitutional convention denied native Indians full citizenship depriving them of all protections that were specified in the Treaty. The Indian population in a state of decline by more 100,00 in just two decades and became victims of murder, slavery, land theft, and starvation.

"Despite countless number of violations of the internationally recognized document, the treaty remains in force", according to historian Richard Griswold del Castillo. "The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo has remained a viable part of the U.S. system of laws, having been interpreted again and again by the federal and state courts ... The treaty has not effectively protected the civil and property rights of Mexican Americans but it did serve to fuel the political movement of the 1960s and 1970s," wrote Griswold del Castillo in "The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo: A Legacy of Conflict."



Richard Griswold del Castillo, professor of Mexican American studies at San Diego State University.

Recently, in a book published by the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, Griswold del Castillo continues to talk about the role that the Treaty continues to play in the lives of Mexican Americans and increasingly in the lives of Native American Indian groups who were also recognized in the treaty.

"In July of 1980, at the Sixth Annual Conference of the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) meeting at Fort Belnap, Montana, a resolution was introduced by native delegates to support the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and Mexican American rights to self determination," wrote Griswold.

"The IITC helped to bring the plight of those peoples, protected under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to the world. In 1984, the IITC representatives presented the Chicano and Indian positions on the treaty before the 40th session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland." Said Griswold del Castillo.

"In 1986, the IITC hosted the first National Encuentro on the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo at Flagstaff, Arizona. During the three-day meeting, attended by over 100 representatives of Chicano organizations and Indian tribes, commitments to form alliances leading to subsequent planning meetings in Denver, Colorado and Jemez Springs, New Mexico the next year were agreed upon. . In 1987, for the first time, a delegation of Chicanos spoke before the U.N. on the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and contemporary problems facing Chicanos." Noted Griswold.

"Despite the malicious treatment and disregard fueled by greed, today, the Treaty still lives." said Herman Baca, Chairman of the Committee on Chicano Rights.

"The Treaty's importance is severely overlooked and needs to be studied more by those persons of Mexican descent who wish to understand their current situation. If you were to line up 100 Chicanos, with some degree of political sophistication, and ask them about the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, less than two would know what the document is," he contends.

"El Tratado de Guadalupe Hidalgo was our genesis, or birth into this society, and today's problems have everything to do with the initial signing of that Treaty. If you take on contemporary problems and you want to understand why things are the way they are, go back in time, ultimately, you arrive at the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo," said Baca.

Baca believes that the treaty can still be used in the courts to battle current injustices like Prop. 227. "The state of California does have every right to control their educational system for blacks, for persons of European descent and for Asians, but not for our people. The treaty protects our culture, religion, and language. If Pete Wilson wanted to outlaw the Catholic religion for others, he can do that, but not for Mexicans.

"The Indians have used their treaties to secured rights — water rights, fishing rights, bingo and gambling. If they can do it why can't we," ask Baca. "We have to salvage what we can."

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