Mexico Views Manifest Destiny, 1821-1846: An Essay on the Origins of the Mexican War. By Gene M. Brack. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1975. Note on Sources. Index. 194 pages. $12.00.
Reviewed by Dr. Oakah L. Jones, Adjunct Professor of History, Florida State University, Canal Zone Branch (Panama), author of Pueblo Warriors and Spanish Conquest(1966) and Santa Anna (1968).
During the past twenty years there have appeared more than a dozen major publications pertaining to the general topic of Manifest Destiny and more specifically the background causes of the Mexican War, known to Mexicans as “La guerra norteamericana.” The present work adds to this growing bibliography by concentrating upon the growth of ill-feeling of Mexicans toward the United States in the quarter century preceding the outbreak of hostilities between the two countries in 1846. There is no doubt that this hatred of one for the other was a major cause of the war.
Dr. Gene Brack’s first book is derived from his doctoral dissertation at the University of Texas. He is currently Associate Professor of History at New Mexico State University. The book is based largely upon intensive research in such sources as Mexican newspapers and contemporary pamphlets printed in the period from the independence of Mexico to the outbreak of the war with the United States. The author believes that Mexican newspapers are “the single most important source of information concerning Mexican attitudes” (p. 185) toward the United States. Whereas newspapers may be commonly recognized as a source for historical research, they must be used with extreme care as any modern reader of them today will agree for they always tend to stress the sensational and advance particular viewpoints, while ignoring mundane and contradictory points of view. Dr. Brack’s research is based primarily on materials consulted in the Latin American Collection at the University of Texas and the Bancroft Library, in addition to those of the Biblioteca Nacional and Hemeroteca Nacional in Mexico City.
The author’s thesis is that the initial dual feeling in Mexico of admiration and fear of the United States gave way gradually to a single attitude of distrust and hatred for Mexico’s northern neighbor. This was due largely to the Texas issue and particularly to the desires of norteamericanos to expand their territorial limits at Mexico’s expense. The work itself contains an introduction and a lengthy conclusion, but its heart is composed of three major portions of text, showing the development of Mexican attitudes from early ambivalence to animosity and finally to a demand, not shared by all, for war. Supplementing this text are chapter notes, an excellent descriptive note on source materials, and an index.
That the Texas issue and Manifest Destiny were causes of the war between Mexico and the United States has been long accepted by historians of both the United States and Latin America. Thorough investigation of news media and public documents north of the Río Grande has shown that Manifest Destiny was at its height during the decade of the 1840s, especially during the election of Polk to the presidency. The present work endeavors to do the same by consulting Mexican materials of the same period. Although the result may portray the feelings of a politically-conscious, educated minority, it by no means should be assumed that this hatred and bellicose attitude could be found among the Mexican public at large.
The reader may question a few observations of the author in his essay. He repeatedly mentions the “more powerful, rich, and stable” (p. 15) characteristics of the United States in the 1820s. Perhaps this may have appeared true to Mexicans, but in relation to the rest of the world, particularly the European powers, it hardly was the case. The text leaves one with the general impression that the United States was indeed powerful and wealthy before the middle of the nineteenth century. The author also observes that Mexican newspapers of the 1830s criticized South Carolina’s actions in the nullification controversy largely because Mexicans favored the “American union” (p. 59), whereas it would seem more feasible that Mexican centralists who dominated most of the decade were simply expressing their continued opposition to any federalist or regionalist doctrine, be it expressed by part of the United States or by a Mexican state. Concerning one episode of Mexican history, the Spanish invasion of 1829 and the resulting expulsion of peninsulares, Professor Brack somewhat confuses the reader by twice citing an erroneous date of 1828 (pp. 54, 57) and later the correct one (p. 84).
Nevertheless, these are only minor criticisms. In general, the work accomplishes what it sets out to do by depicting the growing attitude of hatred among Mexican public officials toward what José María Tornel described as the “Colossus of the north.” (p. 84) Unfortunately, the book is badly over-priced for its length and contents. This will doom it from the standpoint of the general public and historians of areas other than Latin America and the Southwestern United States. Those who believe that anti-U.S. feeling in Latin America is essentially a phenomenon of the twentieth century should be awakened to the hostility of Mexicans a century earlier, principally the result of Manifest Destiny in the United States.