Latino Studies The Treaty Of Guadalupe Hidalgo
Guadalupe T. Luna
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 February 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0110


The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo legally identified as the Treaty of Peace, Friendship, Limits and Settlement concluded the United States–Mexico war in 1848. Escalating war expenditures and sacrifices pressured both nations to conclude the war. In yet another attempt of peace, in 1847 President Polk sent Nicholas Trist with a projet of a proposed treaty under an injunction of secrecy to Mexico. During the Treaty’s negotiations, nonetheless President Polk recalled Trist to the United States and thus stripped him of legal authority to broker an agreement. Trist nonetheless continued negotiations with Mexican Commissioners Luis P. Cuevas, Jose Bernardo Couto, and Miguel Atristain, and on 2 February 1848, in the Villa of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Querétaro, Mexico signed the treaty. Notwithstanding his anger toward Trist, on 23 February 1848, President Polk submitted the proposed treaty to the Senate for ratification. Ratification incurred with ensuing amendments and removal of Article X of the treaty that would have protected landholders who had not perfected their interests of ownership but for the interruption of military hostilities. With a final vote 38 to 14 on 16 March 1848, the Senate forwarded the treaty to Mexico. During its ratification, the Mexican Congress objected to the removal of Article X, causing the United States to respond with the Protocol of Querétaro that confirmed its removal was not intended to violate any property rights of those remaining in the annexed territories. Mexico ratified the treaty on 30 May 1848, with its final transfer between both nations occurring on 30 July 1848. The treaty pledged to establish peace and friendship with reciprocal benefits to both nations and to reside as good neighbors. The treaty annexed approximately 525,000 square miles to the United States, incorporated those remaining and contractually tethered the United States and Mexico. Several treaty articles protect the property, liberty, and religious rights of those incorporated in the territories. Several articles expedite commerce and military withdrawal, Indian incursions, and recognition of Indian pueblos. Additional articles established geographical boundaries and compensated Mexico fifteen million dollars for war expenditures. Yet others exempt duties from military supplies and provide for the protection of citizens in the event of military excursions in both nations. The treaty’s historiography remains sporadic but its relevancy remains vibrant encompassing property rights, natural resources, American Indians, religion, and numerous additional issues with consequences extending beyond the present period.

General Overviews

The treaty’s historiography is intermittent, and at its centennial the war and treaty also failed to receive attention. Comparative studies of the treaty are also infrequent with non-Mexican authorities dominating scholarship such as Peter Harstad. This lack of sustained scrutiny promotes a legacy mired with misrepresentations authors employing secondary and imprecise sources that fault Mexico for the war and its territorial losses. It also fails to recognize how the treaty is supported or criticized in Mexico such as De La Peña y Peña 1989. Since its ratification and into the present, land use activists, scholars, and others criticize the United States for failing to honor its contractual obligations under the treaty. The rapid dispossession of property with legal historian Malcolm Ebright and others asserting fraud, conflicting legal rulings that transferred communal access to private landholders, land rings, and attorney actions obligate accountability. Acuña 2010 reports that many remaining in the annexed territories thereafter confronted violence and discrimination and did not garner the constitutional rights promised in the treaty. Weber 1976 further asserts that more sophisticated questions on the treaty encompassing race, class, and gendered studies, and the treaty’s impact on the entirety of annexed territories remains unaddressed. Against such considerations the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo has witnessed interest from newer generations of scholars in historical studies employing critical theoretical constructs including Griswold del Castillo 1990 (cited under Textbooks). In legal studies newer treaty interpretations are also employing critical jurisprudential methods, and through archival records, historical documents, correspondence, recording property documents, or case law, they offer new directions of inquiry on the treaty’s application and the consequences on those remaining in the annexed territories such as Luna 1998 (cited under Property and Land in Article VIII and Article IX). This scholarship challenges prevailing dated norms of the treaty’s history and long-ignored judicial rulings harmful to its communities. The treaty’s sesquicentennial anniversary also witnessed renewed interest seeking acknowledgement, accountability, and a more precise interpretation of its provisions. Congressional hearings and the US General Accounting Office also produced reports offering a few options for the aggrieved. The reports nonetheless relied on faulty reasoning in declaring the treaty was not self-executing and that the United States did not breach the treaty underscore the Benavides and Golten 2008 analysis of the report. Such characterization is inconsistent with international and domestic case law as well as early land grant law employed in the former Spanish territories that included Florida. The report further failed by promoting flawed reasoning that declared the treaty was not self-executing and as such the United States had not violated the rights of the former property owners. Countering congressional reports with primary evidence, community scholars and activists repeated their pleas for accountability and restitution over losses of communal lands. With rare exception the treaty is again threatening to lapse into obscurity, but its legacy of discrimination, causal linkages to property, human rights, the environment, natural resources, and other issues disallow its disappearance long into the future.

  • Acuña, Rodolfo. Occupied America: A History of Chicanos. 7th ed. New York: Harper Collins, 2010.

    This is the definitive text on the conquest of Mexico’s northern territories. Employing a critical historical construct the author reinterprets the destabilizing influences of Mexico’s economy from foreign investors and impact. An analysis of the treaty and impact on the annexed territories against the material and economic gains to the United States are also examined.

  • Benavides, David, and Ryan Golten. “Righting the Record: A Response to the GAO’s 2004 Report Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo: Findings and Possible Options Regarding Longstanding Community Land Grant Claims in New Mexico.” Natural Resources Journal 48 (2008): 857–926.

    This article counters a US General Accounting Office Report that analyzes the loss of communal land from its grantees notwithstanding the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The article provides direct evidence that the report is faulty including how law was employed to dispossess the beneficiaries of communal land grants.

  • De La Peña y Peña, Manuel. “An Address in Support of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.” In The View from Chapultepec, Mexican Writers on the Mexican-American War. Translated and edited by Cecil Robinson, 101–112. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1989.

    A negotiator of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo representing Mexico, the author defends his position to terminate the war with a peace agreement. If the war continued, the author feared additional harm and suffering on the Mexican Republic including the loss of the whole country, which further justified a peace agreement.

  • Ebright, Malcolm. Land Grants and Lawsuits in Northern New Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994.

    The author addresses the loss of land grants in New Mexico through harmful legal rulings stemming from the betrayal of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The land acts are compared with the land grant process in Florida, revealing the omission of key provisions from the land grant process in New Mexico. In addition, evidentiary rules were skewed to deny communal land grant holders the process of law.

  • Harstad, Peter T., and Resh W. Richard. “The Causes of the Mexican War: A Note on Changing Interpretations.” Arizona and the West 6 (1964): 289–302.

    The authors analyze the lack of treatment the war garners from historians at the centennial of the Mexican War with a critique of the scholarship produced up to the time of this article. Until the war is investigated more completely, young scholars as the authors assert are also left to one popularly cited text notwithstanding its deficiencies.

  • Luna, Guadalupe T. “Legal Realism and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo: A Fractionalized Legal Template.” Wisconsin Law Review 2005 (2005): 519–555.

    The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is examined through a jurisprudential philosophy identified as legal realism and illustrates how jurists through US law subverted the treaty’s intent and purpose. Primary evidence, an array of disparate legal rulings, and archival research of recording documents and the land claims process illustrate breaches of the treaty.

  • US General Accounting Office. Findings and Possible Options regarding Longstanding Community Land Grants in New Mexico. GAO-04-59. Washington, DC: US General Accounting Office, 2004.

    This final report provides a history of the treaty, communal land grants, and Article X. Report resulted from assertions of land grant heirs and descendants that the United States did not honor the treaty including a Supreme Court decision that reinterpreted international, domestic, and land claims law with long-term harmful consequences. Remedial options are offered, but reliance on less than precise legal rulings offset the report’s recommendations.

  • Weber, David J. “Mexico’s Far Northern Frontier, 1821–1854: Historiography Askew.” Western Historical Quarterly 7 (1976): 279–293.

    DOI: 10.2307/967083

    The author criticizes the treaty’s historiography as “unbalanced, ethnocentric, and incomplete.” Calls for more “sophisticated” questions regarding Indian–white relations, “social mobility, class analysis, or demographic patterns,” including comparative treatment. This is a solid basis to study issues germane to the treaty with application into and beyond the present.

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