The northern border as seen by José María Irigoyen from Chihuahua

Learn more about José María Irigoyen's observations about the problems of his locality.

The northern border as seen by José María Irigoyen from Chihuahua
The image used to illustrate this article is a free interpretation made by the AGN's subdirection of diffusion.

In the 19th century, a letter warned Santa Anna of the neglect of the northern region by the central government, the conflicts between settlers and native groups, as well as the possible consequences of the potential loss of the territories of Texas, Alta California, and New Mexico. Learn more about José María Irigoyen's observations about the problems of his locality.

During the 19th century, the territorial limits of Mexico underwent important changes about the formation of our nation-state due to the tension between the local and central powers, but also due to the tension of the assertion of the sovereignty of neighboring nations, sometimes in a more diplomatic way and other times by force. In these circumstances was the northern region, slowly and sparsely populated during the viceregal period.

At the end of 1834, José María Irigoyen, after discussions with local authorities, wrote to then President Antonio López de Santa Anna to communicate his concern for the country's public problems regarding the border and the territory, as well as the achievement of regional political objectives in the face of the advance of conservative forces. This documentary evidence is preserved in the General Archive of the Nation (Archivo General de la Nación, AGN).

We must remember that Santa Anna had assumed the presidency a short time before, after aligning himself with the conservative interests that rejected the liberal reforms promoted by the government of Valentín Gómez Farías, had dissolved the Congress, and invalidated the previously proclaimed laws. In this way, we must also recognize that Irigoyen sought to place himself amid the political upheavals that were shaking the country and to recover part of what had been lost in the previous period.

This character, a witness of the country's border situation, pointed out that attention should be paid to that region since it was neglected due to the various internal problems that were occurring in the Republic. In particular, he pointed out that the troops in charge of guarding the borders had been transferred to the interior of the territory, while the few that remained were in a deplorable state because they did not have the resources to sustain themselves.

Considering the above, Irigoyen believed that this situation could be taken advantage of by the Americans to seize the territories of New Mexico, Alta California, and Texas. By then, the imperialist policy of the United States was well known, which is why the politician and professor from Chihuahua recalled that one of the projects of that country was to continue expanding until reaching the coast of the Pacific Ocean, an idea that was openly supported through the doctrine of manifest destiny, which was summarized in a search for the colonization of the Anglo-American or white race over the territory of America, regardless of the violation of the sovereignty of other nations and the extermination of the native indigenous groups.

Another factor that Irigoyen emphasized about the attitude that the neighboring country to the north had taken on the border area was to take advantage of the indigenous groups in U.S. territory by allowing the acquisition of modern firearms, which exacerbated the already complicated tensions between the northern communities and the natives of that region. This situation was not only denounced by our key witness, but also by the Mexican government, which since 1825 had requested the U.S. authorities to "discontinue the sale of arms to the Indians", demands that would be ignored by that government.

This position came to be interpreted by Irigoyen, and others, as a way of destabilizing the Mexican border states, which on several occasions had to face many better-armed tribes, which, when they took the weapons from the Mexican forces, ended up destroying them instead of taking them.

Thus, in evoking the fear of barbarian incursions, the danger of the potential appropriation of the territory by the U.S. government, and the defense of national integrity, Irigoyen regretted that in the previous period the troops stationed in the region had been withdrawn as a factor that accentuated the concerns. For this reason, he thanked Santa Anna for having taken the measure of "actively waging war" against the towns in the north, although he insisted on seeking measures applicable to the state of Chihuahua.

Therefore, he proposed that Coahuila, Sonora, and Durango cover the respective part of the border and requested the provision of prompt economic resources to Chihuahua, as well as the authorization to request loans to the merchants temporarily for that purpose, although seeking not to compromise the state in the face of the recurring frauds of the moneylenders at the time.

In the file, we do not find the answer received from López de Santa Anna. But what is certain is that the conflictive situation between the Mexican forces and the indigenous peoples of the north that Irigoyen managed to communicate in those years would later be taken advantage of by the U.S. government when it pointed out that Mexico was a weak nation to take over the states of New Mexico and California.

This U.S. expansionist sentiment materialized in 1848 with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The document established the new territorial limits between the two nations, as well as the political responsibilities of the United States of America to control the indigenous tribes of the north, as established in Article XI. However, this would not be the case because the Indian tribes that had remained in the northern part of the Rio Grande were forced to move more and more towards the Mexican border due to the process of colonization and extermination that the Anglo-Americans initiated in the lands of these indigenous peoples.