The day Mexico lost half of its territory and the black legend that was unleashed

On February 2, 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, by which Mexico "sold" half of its territory to the United States.

The day Mexico lost half of its territory and the black legend that was unleashed
The day Mexico lost half of its territory. Image: Wikimedia Commons

More than 150 years have passed, but the effects of what happened that day changed the history of Mexico forever. On February 2, 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, by which Mexico "sold" half of its territory to the United States.

With this agreement, the current states of California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, as well as part of Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming became part of the United States. The signing of this treaty also meant the end of the U.S. Intervention in our country and the end of one of the most painful chapters in Mexico's history.

"Mexico was forced to cede to the United States 2,400,000 square kilometers - a little more than half of its territory - in exchange for 15 million pesos. But the occupation troops did not abandon the city on that date: the ratification exchange took a long time to arrive and it was not until June 12 when the Americans left Mexico City for good", reads the book Once Upon a Time Mexico, by Alejandro Rosas.

The story of that loss was only the final point in a series of problems related to the abandonment of Mexico's northern territories after the country's Independence and the constant political conflicts that plunged the nation into chaos.

Contrary to popular belief, it was not Antonio López de Santa Anna who signed that treaty, but the then president of Mexico, Manuel de la Peña y Peña. President de la Peña did not make the treaty public until the next meeting of the Mexican Congress on May 7, 1848. The tragedy was already inevitable.

One of the conflicts was, for example, the union of Coahuila to Texas in 1824. Although a decade later most of these had been resolved, issues such as slavery and the installation of customs were still pending. U.S. citizens had been allowed to settle in the Texas territories with conveniences and were allowed to keep slaves, something Mexicans could not do. Since then, thousands of people in Texas began a movement for the state to be annexed to the United States.

"Texas fever had taken hold of the spirits of Americans and Texas clubs had been formed to recruit volunteers, raise money and buy weapons for the fight for freedom," says the book "Mexico versus the United States: a historical essay."

In 1836 Texas declared its independence from Mexico, but the rebels were repressed by Santa Anna. In the following years, the expansionist desires of the U.S. became evident and due to the tension on the border, President James Folk declared war against Mexico in 1846. The result was the U.S. invasion of Mexico, with the U.S. flag flying over the capital and the loss of half of the territory.

"The U.S. flag was raised over the National Palace. Its army occupied Mexico City from September 14, 1847, to June 12, 1848... With the presence of the invading army, the urban landscape of the country's capital changed radically," reads Rosas' book.

British historian Will Fowler investigated more than 17 years on Santa Anna's role in that decisive stage in Mexico's history. Thanks to his work, which was captured in the book Santa Anna, hero or villain? several myths and dark legends that have haunted the general for more than a century could be overturned.

According to Fowler, in an interview published by El Financiero newspaper in May 2018, the accusation of a "traitor" against Santa Anna is unfair. It is false that Santa Anna lost the war against the United States in exchange for money.

"He was an extremely nationalistic and patriotic man who defended the country from the Spanish and the French. What happened is that things went wrong for him: he lost the war and, for a change, he was corrupt. As a traitor, he has nothing".

According to the author, the myth that Santa Anna sold half of Mexico began to take shape when Congressman Ramón Gamboa started to spread such accusations. It was during the government of Benito Juarez that the image of Santa Anna as a "traitor" was further established.