From Sea to Shining Sea: A Brief History of Mexico’s Northern Territory

Front Page, Local history

     The history of Mexico’s northern territory is, in the most literal sense, brief. Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821. By 1848, northern Mexico, which consisted of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado was ceded to The United States.

     Though it is not well-remembered, the new Mexican Republic (finalized in 1824) lacked citizenship in the north. Most Mexicans lived near Mexico City and could not be persuaded to move up to the northern provinces. Still, the Mexican government believed it needed a loyal presence if they hoped to secure the entirety of their new country. By the time they created their first federal constitution in 1824, Mexican officials had determined that they could entice Anglo-American settlers to give up their American citizenship, become Catholic, learn Spanish, and commit to becoming a part of the Mexican culture in exchange for ultra-cheap land in Texas. Empresarios like Stephen F. Austin began taking large land grants to recruit and settle hundreds of American families in Texas at the cost of about 12.5 cents per acre, a price that was only about 10% the cost of land being sold in America at the time. There were even greater price incentives for those who were willing to marry into the Mexican culture and have children.

     Between the years of 1821-1830, the Anglo-American presence in Texas exploded, eventually leaving Tejanos (Texans of Mexican descent) outnumbered by Americans to the tune of about 10 to 1. In 1828, Mexico sent a government official – General Manuel Mier y Teran – to the Texas colonies to check in and see that their new American counterparts were living lives that were loyal to the Mexican Republic. To little surprise, he found that English was the dominant language, and a genuine loyalty to Mexico was lacking.

     “As one covers the distance from San Antonio de Bejar to this town, he will note that Mexican influence decreases until arriving (in the colonies) where he will see that it is almost nothing… The ratio of Mexicans to foreigners is 1 to 10… It could not be otherwise than that from such a state of affairs should arise an antagonism (conflict) between the Mexicans and foreigners… Therefore, I am warning you to take timely measures. Texas could throw the whole nation into revolution…” – General Manuel Mier y Teran

     In 1830, Mexico decided they had seen enough, and they attempted to close the border in Texas to prevent any further immigration of Americans. They attempted to enforce new laws and new taxes (under the Law of April 6th, 1830), but it was too late; the Anglo population who had once been referred to as Texicans had begun to simply call themselves Texans. The Texas Revolution broke out in 1835, and in less than a year, Mexico lost Texas in another mythically-charged story of the underdog.

     In 1845, just 10 years after the Republic of Texas was born, America coined the term Manifest Destiny to implore the U.S. government to adopt Texas as a state in the union. Texas was accepted that winter as the 28th state. Convinced that America had devised a plan to steal Texas, Mexico furiously threatened war, and in the spring of 1846, The Mexican-American War began in a dispute over the southern border of Texas. Evidence suggests that American president, James Polk, consciously lured Mexico into the fight so that he could fulfill his presidential promise – Manifest Destiny. In 1848, after 2 years of fighting, the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo ceded Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California to the United States. In the same year, gold was struck in Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California, which marked the beginning of the famously lucrative California Gold Rush – a race for wealth of which Mexico reaped no benefit.

     In the Spanish culture, when land is gained, it is never to be ceded – not sold, and certainly not stolen. In 1832 – the same year in which Santa Anna became the president of Mexico, and several years before northern Mexico became Southern America – General Manuel Mier y Teran lay down on his sword in a fit of depression that stemmed from what he perceived to be the beginning of the end of his country. Perhaps Teran’s suicide expresses such a generalized sentiment. And though much more could be said about the loss of Mexico’s northern territory, one may suffice to say that, in the end, it was the unchecked, open borders in Texas that provided America with opportunity to proliferate, expand, and conquer nearly half of the Mexican Republic.

     In 2016, in the wake of an upset election in the U.S., perhaps Trump’s wall – be it virtual or literal, tall or small – is not the answer to the illegal immigration problems that face America today. But in flashing back on an important time in early Mexican history, it might be fair to conclude that Mexico wishes they had taken illegal immigration a bit more seriously than they did in the 1820’s.

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Dumb and Dumber Economics: A Middle School Guide to the Federal Debt Crisis

Front Page, National Scene, Opinion/Editorial

DUMB and DUMBER

     As a history teacher, my job is to spin all kinds of otherwise dead-and-gone facts into middle-school friendly topics.  I suppose you might say that my interest in creativity is not only spurred on by a love for the arts, but also from the day-to-day challenge of turning boring information into relevant and interesting lessons for teenagers.  The curriculum this week in 7th-grade Texas History landed my classes on “The Principles of Republican Government”, a rather riveting subject that almost always opens the portal into Ben Stein’s high school Econ course in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. “Republican Government”, mind you, is not meant to be the lopsided view of politics that it has become in the adult world, but rather a factual study of the type of government that was so intricately constructed by our Founding Fathers.  As part of the teaching, students are required not only to identify the principles that make-up a republic, but they are also required to understand the strengths and potential weaknesses of said principles.  When writing a lesson plan, I always attempt to call on my right-brain with the hope that it might prevent my left-brain from hijacking the classroom and turning Santa Anna’s Siesta into a History Alive! project, complete with desk-drool and a scathing red-mark on the forehead.

     As I sat thinking about all the points that needed to be covered, my brain stumbled (or digressed) onto the problem of national debt, a pickle all too pertinent to our republic. Being a movie-lover, I was immediately reminded of Dumb and Dumber.   Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne have an arguably fortuitous run-in with a briefcase full of cash – ransom dollars, “blood money.”  Lloyd and Harry have no idea that by holding onto the briefcase, they are putting their lives in danger.  Instead, they celebrate their good luck with a run of brash and unbridled spending.  New suits, new cars, a new life on the rise… Lloyd and Harry hit it big and weren’t looking back.  But, how would they repay the owner of the briefcase whose money they had “borrowed” and spent? “IOU’s!”

Lloyd: “That’s as good as money, sir. Those are IOU’s. Go ahead and add it up. Every cent is accounted for…”       

     “Every cent is accounted for,” he assures. Ironically enough, Dumb and Dumber were echoing the same thing Uncle Sam has been echoing to the American people for decades. In fact, every cent to the tune of nearly 19 trillion dollars is accounted for.  What does that mean as far as repayment goes?  Nothing. A s of the time of this writing, the U.S. government is set to collect 3.4 trillion dollars in revenue in 2016.  The federal budget is slated to cost roughly 3.9 trillion dollars, adding about a half-trillion more dollars to an already unfathomable debt crisis.

US-national-debt-GDP-graph

     While the latest figures are in fact an improvement when compared to previous years (e.g. 2010 deficit: 1.29 trillion dollars), there is no solution in sight, and no presidential candidate or any other elected official is talking about this Herculean elephant-in-the-room.  Instead, they continue borrowing money from a wide variety of cash sources, not the least of which includes printing new money through the Federal Reserve (also known by its American euphemism: “quantitative easing”), an action resulting not only in the devaluation of American money, but one that also accrues debt for the number of dollars printed alongside the interest charged by the fed for the printing service.

     As a lover of history and the arts, I realize I am the diametric opposite of a mathematician, but you don’t exactly have to be Euclid to see that America’s budgetary model is designed for failure. As the 2016 election closes in, the U.S. will wrap up one of the most interesting presidential races the country has ever seen.  And while it is difficult to back any candidate for fear that he or she may be leading the electorate astray, I find myself more and more inclined to focus on the economic issues, looking for the person who seems most fit to redirect the methods with which we collect and spend money.  While certainly debatable and important, most weighty social issues, tend to trail behind the primary impetus for governmental policy: money.  As goes the economy, so goes society (for the most part).

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