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[Detail] Discovery of the Mississippi: By Ferdinand De Soto

Columbus and the Early Explorers | Treatment of Indians | Rival Land Claims | Spain, Mexico, and the United States

Spain, Mexico, and the United States

Spain’s support of the Anglo-American colonies during the American Revolution did not produce lasting cordial relations. The United States was interested in securing free navigation of the Mississippi River, and the right to deposit goods at New Orleans before shipment abroad, as well as establishing the Florida border; these issues were resolved in the 1795 Treaty of San Lorenzo. Within a short time the agreement became null and void when Spain returned Louisiana to the French. Upon purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the region, whose boundaries had not been well established in the treaty. Examine the maps of the Lewis and Clark expedition, as well as the map of Zebulon Pike’s later expedition into New Spain.

Conflicts over the Florida boundary of the Louisiana Territory persisted, and Spain and the United States entered into discussions to resolve the conflicts. Spain, preoccupied with revolutions in Latin America and U.S. military excursions into west Florida, agreed to the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819, but withheld ratification until 1821. The treaty, often referred to as the Transcontinental Treaty, turned Florida over to the United States and established the boundary of the Louisiana Territory.

  • What were the issues between Spain and the United States that ruptured diplomatic relations following the American Revolution? Where these conflicts inevitable? If not, what could have been done to prevent them?
  • When Zebulon Pike mapped the interior provinces of New Spain, he was exploring Spanish territory on behalf of the U.S. government. Why do you think he was sent on this expedition? How do you think Spain reacted to Zebulon Pike’s expedition into the interior provinces of New Spain? Do research to confirm or disprove your hypotheses about the reasons for Pike’s expedition and the Spanish reaction.
  • Looking at maps from 1694 to the early 1800s, what general statement can you make about Spain’s land holdings in North America?

After Mexico gained independence from Spain, confrontations between Mexico and the United States continued on the frontier. The United States declared war on Mexico in May 1846; within a month, instructions were sent for a military reconnaissance from Fort Leavenworth to San Diego:

…You will repair, without delay, to Fort Leavenworth, and report yourself and party to Colonel Kearny, 1st dragoons, as field and topographical engineers of his command.

…Anticipating that the route of Colonel Kearny's command would be through unexplored regions, your suggestions required, that in all cases where it did not interfere with other and more immediate military demands of the service, the attention of myself, and the officers assigned to duty with me, should be employed in collecting data which would give the government some idea of the regions traversed.

The column commanded by Colonel Kearny, to which we were attached, styled “The Army of the West,” to march from Fort Leavenworth, was destined to strike a blow at the northern provinces of Mexico, more especially New Mexico and California.

From “Notes of a Military Reconnoissance, from Fort Leavenworth, in Missouri, to San Diego, in California”

  • Why was the Corps of Engineers sent to accompany General Kearny’s Army of the West?
  • Why was the U.S. government interested in the collection of data about the southwestern frontier?
  • How did this exploratory expedition compare to the previous Lewis and Clark and Pike expeditions?

In 1848, the war ended, with Mexico ceding some 500,000 square miles to the United States. Interested in acquiring still more land for a southern railroad route across the continent, the United States adjusted the boundary with Mexico in 1853 by the Gadsden Purchase. The following year Secretary of War Jefferson Davis ordered a map to accompany reports on a proposed railroad route. It was not until after the Civil War that the United States constructed a railroad along the Mexican border to California.

In 1898 the United States went to war with Spain. The collection includes a strategic map of the war showing the troops and naval vessels available to the United States and to Spain.

  • How did the War Map Publishing Company, which produced the map, characterize the war? If the map had been produced in Spain, how might the war have been characterized?
  • According to the directions, how was the map to be used? Do you know of any similar maps today, provided to track events in the War on Iraq, for example?
  • Why is the Philippines shown on the map? What does its inclusion show about how the role of the United States in world affairs changed in the second half of the 19th century?