1998-09-04 04:00:00 PDT CALIFORNIA; MEXICO -- THIS LABOR Day weekend in Sacramento, California begins to celebrate the Gold Rush and the drive to statehood. It will be a two-year observance, leading up to the Sesquicentennial in the year 2000. The weekend events will also usher in a statewide debate on the history of the Golden State. Some Chicano activists will allege that the U.S. "stole" the Southwest, including California, from Mexico. A reasonable look at the history gives lie to these assertions.
California statehood really began with the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo signed by the U.S. and Mexico. By this act, America increased its territory by two-thirds, including California and the land of six other Southwestern states, while Mexico was cut in half. In the history of our two countries, this surprisingly little-known treaty is a staggering event.
Despite the huge amount of territory involved in the treaty, only about 80,000 Mexicans lived in the whole Southwest. Furthermore, Mexico exercised little control over the territory. It was a country in turmoil. From 1821, the end of Spanish rule, through 1847, Mexico endured 50 military regimes, five constitutional conventions, three constitutions and most of the 11 different terms of leadership under the tragic president and general, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna .
In addition to the political instability, the racial and ethnic cleavages in the Mexico of this era are important to understand. When Santa Anna ended his last term in 1854, it marked the end of the rule of the conquistadors' descendants, those of Spanish descent born in what was then called New Spain. Called criollos, this group ruled Mexico after the overthrow of Spain in 1821. Prior to that, from 1521, Spaniards ruled directly under the authority of the crown.
The Spanish language and Catholic faith, perpetuated by the Spaniards and criollos, prevailed by conquest over the various Indian dialects and religions. The revolution in Mexico that began in 1810 was against Spain. It was led by the criollos with strong support from the Indians and the growing numbers of mestizos, those Mexicans of mixed Spanish and Indian ancestry. Their battle cry was "Death to the Spaniards! Long live the Virgin of Guadalupe!" It was not "Yankee go home!" nor an Aztec war cry.
The immediate cause for the Mexican-American War was a $3 million debt to America for damages done by Mexicans to Americans. The government of Mexico had agreed to pay, but was repeatedly in default. The American annexation of Texas in 1845, independent of Mexico since 1836, and the related Texas border disputes, were additional causes. But perhaps the real motivator was America's desire for California. The Mexican government spurned a cash offer of $25 million. President James Polk and others believed that if the U.S. did not acquire California, Great Britain or others might, since Mexico was unable to govern it.
Mexico drew first blood in an attack on American troops in disputed territory in Texas and the war was on. Less than two years later, American troops entered Mexico City and the treaty was signed. Despite winning the war, America paid $18 million for the territory. The U.S. also lost 13,000 lives, largely due to disease. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Our constitutional democracy, the rule of law, private property rights, freedom of religion, and the other characteristics of American government have been enormously appealing to our neighbors to the South. Over the past 150 years, the moral and legal authority of the U.S. to govern the acquired territory is, by any reasonable measure, unassailable. The treaty was, on balance, a good one for all concerned. Californians should be proud of their history and the creation of a place that so many have found so attractive.
Examiner contributor Michael Warder is vice- president of the Claremont Institute , a think-tank based in Claremont, California.<