Today in History, December 30: 1853 –
The Gadsden Purchase. The last major expansion of continental US territory takes place when US Ambassador to Mexico James Gadsden and Mexican President General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna sign a treaty giving over a large segment of what is now New Mexico and Arizona from Mexico to the US for 15 million dollars to facilitate a southern US railroad, because a more northern route was too mountainous. The story seems pretty plain. But as I researched it, I found more and more intrigue and drama to be involved.
Gadsden was an ardent slavery proponent, sent on this mission by then US Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to negotiate the agreement on behalf of President Pierce. Gadsden and Davis, of course, shared views that more slave holding states should be added to the Union.
This was a point of major contention in the Congress, which debated the treaty extensively for those very reasons. Santa Anna, having lost badly in the war for the independence of Texas (Tejas) and the Mexican-American War, had been in and out of office repeatedly. Ironically, he was willing to sell additional Mexican territory to the United States so that he could afford to fund a Mexican army to defend against…the United States.
This last purchase established the current continental boundaries of our nation. Primarily because southern business interests didn’t want to depend upon a northern railroad route to ship their goods to California, not trusting the Yankees in this pre-Civil War era.