U.S. Minister to Mexico James Gadsden, and three envoys of the President of Mexico General Antonio López de Santa Anna Pérez de Lebrón, signed the Gadsden Purchase, or Gadsden Treaty, in Mexico City on December 30, 1853. Santa Anna needed money to help defray expenses caused by the Mexican War and ongoing rebellions, so he sold land to the United States. The treaty, amended and finally approved by the U.S. Senate on April 25, 1854, settled the dispute over the exact location of the Mexican border west of El Paso, Texas, giving the U.S. claim to some 29,600 square miles of land, ultimately for the price of $10 million. The land is what is now southern New Mexico and Arizona.
U.S. President Franklin Pierce, influenced by Gadsden’s friend, Jefferson Davis, sent Gadsden to negotiate with Santa Anna for this tract of land. Many supporters of a southern Pacific railroad route, including Davis, believed that a transcontinental route which stretched through this territory would greatly benefit southern states should hostilities break out with the north.
The first transcontinental railroad was, however, constructed along a more northerly route by the “big four” of western railroad construction—Collis P. Huntington, Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker. A southern transcontinental route through territory acquired by the Gadsden Purchase was not a reality until 1881 when the tracks of the “big four’s” Southern Pacific met those of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe in the Territory of New Mexico.
- Search across Today in History on the terms Santa Anna and Jefferson Davis to learn more about two of the principals involved in the Gadsden Purchase. Search as well on Arizona or New Mexico for more information on the history of each of these states. Read, for example, about the Arizona Territory.
- Read accounts of the history of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Search on Southern Pacific and transcontinental railroad in “California as I saw It”: First-Person Narratives of California’s Early Years, 1849 to 1900.
- Search across the pictorial collections on Mexico, New Mexico, Arizona, or railroad for more images.
- Hispano Music and Culture of the Northern Rio Grande: The Juan B. Rael Collection documents the religious and secular music of Spanish-speaking residents of rural northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Until about twenty-five years after the Gadsden Purchase, the area’s remote location contributed to a chronic shortage of clergy, a vacuum filled by extraordinary Hispanic religious and ceremonial music: alabados(hymns), folk drama, wedding songs, and dance tunes such as the “Varsoviana (Varceliana).”
- Search on the term Jefferson Davis and railroad in the Transportation and Communication section of Maps to see a number of maps which were ordered by Davis, then U.S. secretary of war. See, for example, a Map of the Territory of the United States from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean signed by Millard Fillmore. These maps accompanied reports of explorations for a transcontinental railroad route. Also search on New Mexico or Arizona in Maps for additional representations of the topography of the southwest United States.