David J. Weber, Book Review Editor
North America Divided: The Mexican War, 1846-1848. By Seymour V. Connor and Odie B. Faulk. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971. Bibliography. Index. Maps. 300 pages. $7.95.
Reviewed by Ramón Eduardo Ruiz, Chairman of the Department of History, University of California, San Diego. Among Professor Ruiz’s numerous books and articles on Latin America is The Mexican War: Was It Manifest Destiny? (1963).
Historians write books for many reasons. Some revise previous interpretations, others open new paths, while a majority simply repeat old views and prejudices. Seymour V. Connor and Odie B. Faulk fall into the last category. They have written a book that purports to accomplish two goals: to demonstrate that Mexico must be held responsible for the War of 1848 and to prove that Justin H. Smith, author of the two-volume work on the Mexican War, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1920, still remains the bible on the subject. In the opinion of Faulk and Connor, their study merits the title of revisionist history because, as they claim, recent historiography, by placing the blame for the War on the United States, distorts the facts.
Faulk and Connor are mistaken on both counts. With one or two exceptions, American historians have embraced uncritically the myths that Smith called facts more than four decades ago. Further, no scholar has put together a serious study of the Mexican War since Smith published his books in 1919. Even the obvious neglect of the War by historians has passed virtually unnoticed, a fact acknowledged by the authors. In itself, that mystery merits serious discussion — if not the War itself.
In casting stones at the ghosts of nonexistent revisionist historians of the War (perhaps the target is the lonely Glenn W. Price?) and blessing Smith anew, the authors bless a host of misconceptions that should have been laid to rest decades ago: the Mexican belief in the superiority of their military, the heroic defense of the Alamo before “vastly superior forces” (p. 13), the validity of claims of American citizens against Mexico in the era before 1840, the unimportance of Polk’s interest in California as a cause for hostilities, and the logic of Texas’ claim to the Rio Grande boundary. To buttress their opinions, Faulk and Connor employ descriptive words that leave little doubt in the mind of the “un” American reader as to where their feelings lie. Mexicans are “patriotic zealots” (p. 27) when they react to the American annexation of Texas; when President Tyler signs the joint resolution for the acquisition in 1845, Almonte, the Mexican representative, “screamed”, and “demanded his passport and stormed out of Washington” (p. 20); and Goroztiza’s opinions are a “diatribe against the United States” (p. 18). The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo stripped Mexico of half of its territory, but, if we can believe the authors, it left intact the “honor of Mexico” because “It had not been necessary to beg for terms.”
Despite their strong views on the War, Faulk and Connor do not use footnotes and rely completely on previously published works. In short, the strength of their book lies not in the text, which merely repeats the story popularized by Smith and fellow believers, but in the 91 pages of analytical bibliography at the end of the study. However, a true “revisionist” study of the War requires careful study of Mexican archival sources not included in the bibliography.