The Gadsden Purchase (known in Mexico as Venta de La Mesilla, “Sale of La Mesilla”) is a 29,670-square-mile (76,800 km²) region of present-day southern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico that the United States purchased via a treaty signed on December 30, 1853 by James Gadsden, American ambassador to Mexico at that time, The purchase included lands south of the Gila River and west of the Rio Grande which the U.S. acquired so that it could construct a transcontinental railroad along a deep southern route, which the Southern Pacific Railroad later completed in 1881/1883. The purchase also aimed to reconcile outstanding border issues between the U.S. and Mexico following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the earlier Mexican–American War of 1846–1848. It https://stampaday.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/gadsden-purchase-map-1.jpgwas the last territorial acquisition in the contiguous United States to add a large area to the country.
In January 1845, Asa Whitney of New York state presented the United States Congress with the first plan to construct a transcontinental railroad. Although Congress took no action on his proposal, a commercial convention of 1845 in Memphis took up the issue. Prominent attendees included John C. Calhoun, Clement C. Clay, Sr., John Bell, William Gwin, and Edmund P. Gaines, but it was James Gadsden of South Carolina who was influential in the convention’s recommending a southern route for the proposed railroad. The route was to begin in Texas and end in San Diego or Mazatlán. Southerners hoped that such a route would ensure southern prosperity while opening the “West to southern influence and settlement.”
The Mexican-American War (1846-1848) ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (Tratado de Guadalupe Hidalgo), officially entitled the Treaty of Peace, Friendship, Limits and Settlement between the United States of America and the Mexican Republic, on February 2, 1848, in the Villa de Guadalupe Hidalgo (now a neighborhood of Mexico City). The treaty called for the U.S. to pay $15 million to Mexico and to pay off the claims of American citizens against Mexico up to $3.25 million. It gave the United States the Rio Grande as a boundary for Texas, and gave the U.S. ownership of California and a large area comprising roughly half of New Mexico, most of Arizona, Nevada, and Utah, and parts of Wyoming and Colorado. Mexicans in those annexed areas had the choice of relocating to within Mexico’s new boundaries or receiving American citizenship with full civil rights. Over 90% chose to become U.S. citizens.
However, the treaty left issues affecting both sides that still needed to be resolved: possession of the Mesilla Valley, protection for Mexico from Indian raids, and the right of transit in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
Southern interest in railroads in general, and the Pacific railroad in particular, accelerated after the conclusion of the Mexican–American War. During the war, topographical officers William H. Emory and James W. Abert had conducted surveys that demonstrated the feasibility of a railroad’s originating in El Paso or western Arkansas and ending in San Diego. J. D. B. DeBow, the editor of DeBow’s Review, and Gadsden both publicized within the South the benefits of building this railroad. Gadsden had become the president of the South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company in 1839; about a decade later, the company had laid 136 miles (219 km) of track extending west from Charleston, South Carolina, and was 3 million dollars in debt. Gadsden wanted to connect all Southern railroads into one sectional network. He was concerned that the increasing railroad construction in the North was shifting trade in lumber, farm and manufacturing goods from the traditional north-south route based on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to an east-west axis that would bypass the South. He also saw Charleston, his home town, losing its prominence as a seaport. In addition, many Southern business interests feared that a northern transcontinental route would exclude the South from trade with the Orient. Other Southerners argued for diversification from a plantation economy to keep the South independent from northern bankers.
In October 1849, the southern interests held a convention to discuss railroads in Memphis, in response to a convention in St. Louis earlier that fall which discussed a northern route. The Memphis convention overwhelmingly advocated the construction of a route beginning there, to connect with an El Paso, Texas to San Diego, California line. Disagreement arose only over the issue of financing. The convention president, Matthew Fontaine Maury of Virginia, preferred strict private financing, whereas John Bell and others thought that federal land grants to railroad developers would be necessary.
The Compromise of 1850, which created the Utah Territory and the New Mexico Territory, would facilitate a southern route to the West Coast since all territory for the railroad was now organized and would allow for federal land grants as a financing measure. Competing northern or central routes championed, respectively, by U.S. Senators Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, would still need to go through unorganized territories. Millard Fillmore established a precedent for using federal land grants when he signed a bill promoted by Douglas that allowed a south to north, Mobile to Chicago railroad to be financed by “federal land grants for the specific purpose of railroad construction”. To satisfy Southern opposition to the general principle of federally supported internal improvements, the land grants would first be transferred to the appropriate state or territorial government, which would oversee the final transfer to private developers.
By 1850, however, the majority of the South was not interested in exploiting its advantages in developing a transcontinental railroad or railroads in general. Businessmen like Gadsden, who advocated economic diversification, were in the minority. The Southern economy was based on cotton exports, and then-current transportation networks met the plantation system’s needs. There was little home market for an intra-South trade. In the short term, the best use for capital was to invest it in more slaves and land rather than in taxing it to support canals, railroads, roads, or in dredging rivers.
TheTreaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo had provided for a joint commission, made up of a surveyor and commissioner from each country, to determine the final boundary between the United States and Mexico. The treaty specified that the Rio Grande Boundary would veer west eight miles (13 km) north of El Paso. The treaty was based on the attached 1847 copy of a twenty-five-year-old map. Surveys revealed that El Paso was 36 miles (58 km) further south and 100 miles (160 km) further west than the map showed. Mexico favored the map, but the United States put faith in the results of the survey. The disputed territory involved a few thousand square miles and about 3,000 residents; more significantly, it included the Mesilla Valley. Bordering the Rio Grande, the valley consisted of flat desert land measuring about 50 miles (80 km), north to south, by 200 miles (320 km), east to west. This valley was essential for the construction of a transcontinental railroad using a southern route.
John Bartlett of Rhode Island, the United States negotiator, agreed to allow Mexico to retain the Mesilla Valley (setting the boundary at 32° 22′ N, north of the American claim 31° 52′ and at the easternmost part, also north of the Mexican-claimed boundary at 32° 15′) in exchange for a boundary that did not turn north until 110° W in order to include the Santa Rita Mountains, which were believed to have rich copper deposits, and some silver and gold which had not yet been mined. Southerners opposed this alternative because of its implication for the railroad, but President Fillmore supported it. Southerners in Congress prevented any action on the approval of this separate border treaty and eliminated further funding to survey the disputed borderland. Robert B. Campbell, a pro-railroad politician from Alabama, later replaced Bartlett. Mexico asserted that the commissioners’ determinations were valid and prepared to send in troops to enforce the unratified agreement.
Article XI of the 1848 treaty contained a guarantee that the United States would protect Mexicans by preventing cross-border raids by local Comanche and Apache tribes. At the time the treaty was ratified, Secretary of State James Buchanan had believed that the United States had both the commitment and resources to enforce this promise. The U. S. Army had posted nearly 8,000 of its total of 11,000 soldiers along the southwestern boundary, but they could not halt the 75,000 or so native nomads in the region from attacking swiftly and taking refuge among the hills, buttes, and arroyos in a landscape where one’s enemies could be spotted twenty or thirty miles away.
In the five years after approval of the Treaty, the United States spent $12 million ($320,000,000 today) in this area, and General-in-Chief Winfield Scott estimated that five times that amount would be necessary to police the border. Mexican officials, frustrated with the failure of the United States to effectively enforce its guarantee, demanded reparations for the losses inflicted on Mexican citizens by the raids. The United States argued that the Treaty did not require any compensation nor did it require any greater effort to protect Mexicans than was expended in protecting its own citizens. During the Fillmore administration, Mexico claimed damages of $40 million ($1,100,000,000 today) but offered to allow the U.S. to buy-out Article XI for $25 million ($660,000,000 today) while President Fillmore proposed a settlement that was $10 million less.
The Franklin Pierce administration, which took office in March 1853, had a strong pro-southern, pro-expansion mindset. It sent Louisiana Senator Pierre Soulé to Spain to negotiate the acquisition of Cuba. Pierce appointed expansionists John Y. Mason of Virginia and Solon Borland of Arkansas as ministers, respectively, to France and Nicaragua. Pierce’s Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, was already on record as favoring a southern route for a transcontinental railroad, so southern rail enthusiasts had every reason to be encouraged.
The South as a whole, however, remained divided. In January 1853, Senator Thomas Jefferson Rusk of Texas introduced a bill to create two railroads, one with a northern route and one with a southern route starting below Memphis on the Mississippi River. Under the Rusk legislation, the President would be authorized to select the specific termini and routes as well as the contractors who would build the railroads. Some southerners, however, worried that northern and central interests would leap ahead in construction and opposed any direct aid to private developers on constitutional grounds. Other southerners preferred the isthmian proposals. An amendment was added to the Rusk bill to prohibit direct aid, but southerners still split their vote in Congress and the amendment failed.
This rejection led to legislative demands, sponsored by William Gwin of California and Salmon P. Chase of Ohio and supported by the railroad interests, for new surveys for possible routes. Gwin expected that a southern route would be approved — both Davis and Robert J. Walker, former secretary of the treasury, supported it. Both were stockholders in a Vicksburg-based railroad that planned to build a link to Texas to join up with the southern route. Davis argued that the southern route would have an important military application in the likely event of future troubles with Mexico.
On March 21, 1853, a treaty initiated in the Fillmore administration was signed in Mexico that would provide joint Mexican and United States protection for a 300-mile (480 km)-wide right-of-way across the 125-mile (201 km)-wide Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico. The idea of building a railroad here had been considered for a long time. In 1842 Mexican President Antonio López de Santa Anna sold the rights to build a railroad or canal across the isthmus. Mexico sold the canal franchise, without the land grants, to A. G. Sloo and Associates in New York for $600,000 ($17,000,000 today). In March 1853, Sloo contracted with a British company to build a railroad and sought an exclusive contract from the new Franklin Pierce Administration to deliver mail from New York to San Francisco. However, Sloo soon defaulted on bank loans. At the same time that this treaty was received in Washington, Pierce learned that New Mexico Territorial Governor William C. Lane had issued a proclamation claiming the Mesilla Valley as part of New Mexico, leading to protests from Mexico. Pierce was also aware of efforts by France, through its consul in San Francisco, to acquire the Mexican state of Sonora.
Pierce recalled Lane in May and replaced him with David Meriwether of Kentucky. Meriwether was given orders to stay out of the Mesilla Valley until negotiations with Mexico could be completed. With the encouragement of Davis, Pierce also appointed James Gadsden to negotiate with Mexico over the acquisition of additional territory. Secretary of State William L. Marcy gave Gadsden clear instructions: he was to secure the Mesilla Valley for the purposes of building a railroad through it, convince Mexico that the U.S. had done its best regarding the Indian raids, and elicit Mexican cooperation in efforts by U.S. citizens to build a canal or railroad across the isthmus of Tehuantepec. Supporting the Sloo interests was not part of the instructions.
The Mexican government was going through political and financial turmoil. In the process, Santa Anna had been returned to power about the same time that Pierce was inaugurated. Santa Anna was willing to deal because he needed money to rebuild the Mexican Army for defense against the United States, but he initially rejected the extension of the border further south to the Sierra Madre Mountains. He initially insisted on reparations for the damages caused by American Indian raids, but agreed to let an international tribunal resolve this. Gadsden realized that Santa Anna needed money and passed this information along to Secretary Marcy.
Marcy and Pierce responded with new instructions. Gadsden was authorized to purchase any of six parcels of land with a price fixed for each. The price would include the settlement of all Indian damages and relieve the United States from any further obligation to protect Mexicans. $50 million ($1.4 billion today) would have bought the Baja California Peninsula and a large portion of its northwestern Mexican states while $15 million ($430,000,000 today) was to buy the 38,000 square miles (98,000 km²) of desert necessary for the railroad plans.
“Gadsden’s antagonistic manner” alienated Santa Anna. Gadsden had advised Santa Anna that “the spirit of the age” would soon lead the northern states to secede so he might as well sell them now. The Mexican President felt threatened by William Walker’s attempt to capture Baja California with 50 troops and annex Sonora. Gadsden disavowed any government backing of Walker, who was expelled by the U.S. and placed on trial as a criminal. Santa Anna worried that the U.S. would allow further aggression against Mexican territory. Santa Anna needed to get as much money for as little territory as possible. When Great Britain rejected Mexican requests to assist in the negotiations, Santa Anna opted for the $15 million package.
The treaty was signed in Mexico City on December 30, 1853, establishing the border as “Beginning in the Gulf of Mexico, three leagues from land, opposite the mouth of the Rio Grande, as provided in the 5th article of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo; thence, as defined in the said article, up the middle of that river to the point where the parallel of 31° 47′ north latitude crosses the same; thence due west one hundred miles; thence south to the parallel of 31° 20′ north latitude; thence along the said parallel of 31° 20′ to the 111th meridian of longitude west of Greenwich; thence in a straight line to a point on the Colorado River twenty English miles below the junction of the Gila and Colorado rivers; thence up the middle of the said river Colorado until it intersects the present line between the United States and Mexico.” The new border included a few miles of the Colorado River at the western end; the remaining land portion consisted of line segments between points, including 32.49399°N 114.813043°W at the Colorado River, west of Nogales at 31.33214°N 111.07423°W, near the Arizona-New Mexico-Mexico tripoint at 31.332099°N 109.05047°W, the eastern corners of NM southern boot heel (Hidalgo County) at 31.78378°N 108.20854°W, and the west bank of the Rio Grande river at 31.78377°N 106.52864°W.
Pierce and his cabinet began debating the treaty in January 1854. Although disappointed in the amount of territory secured and some of the terms, they submitted it to the Senate on February 10. Gadsden, however, suggested that northern senators would block the treaty in order to deny the South a railroad. Although signed by Pierce and Santa Anna, the treaty needed a 2/3 vote in favor of ratification in the US Senate, where it met strong opposition. Antislavery senators opposed further acquisition of slave territory. Lobbying by speculators gave the treaty a bad reputation. Some senators objected to furnishing Santa Anna financial assistance.
The treaty reached the Senate as that body focused on the debate over the Kansas–Nebraska Act. On April 17, after much debate, the Senate voted 27 to 18 in favor of the treaty, falling three votes short of the necessary two-thirds required for treaty approval. After this defeat, Secretary Davis and southern senators pressed Pierce to add more provisions to the treaty including:
- protection for the Sloo grant
- a requirement that Mexico “protect with its whole power the prosecution, preservation, and security of the work [referring to the isthmian canal]”
- permission for the United States to intervene unilaterally “when it may feel sanctioned and warranted by the public or international law”
- a reduction of the territory to be acquired by 9,000 square miles (23,000 km²) and dropping the price from $15 million ($395,722,222) to $10 million ($263,814,815).
This version of the treaty successfully passed the US Senate April 25, 1854, by a vote of 33 to 12. The reduction in territory was an accommodation of northern senators who opposed the acquisition of additional slave territory. In the final vote, northerners split 12 to 12. Gadsden took the revised treaty back to Santa Anna, who accepted the changes. The treaty went into effect June 30, 1854.
While the land was available for construction of a southern railroad, the issue had become too strongly associated with the sectional debate over slavery to receive federal funding. The effect was such that railroad development, which accelerated in the North, stagnated in the South.
As originally envisioned, the purchase would have encompassed a much larger region, extending far enough south to include most of the current Mexican states of Baja California, Baja California Sur, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Sonora, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas. The Mexican people opposed such boundaries, as did anti-slavery U.S. Senators, who saw the purchase as acquisition of more slave territory. Even the sale of a relatively small strip of land angered the Mexican people, who saw Santa Anna’s actions as a betrayal of their country. They watched in dismay as he squandered the funds generated by the Purchase. Contemporary Mexican historians continue to view the deal negatively and believe that it has defined the American–Mexican relationship in a deleterious way.
The purchased lands were initially appended to the existing New Mexico Territory. To help control the new land, the U.S. Army established Fort Buchanan on Sonoita Creek in present-day southern Arizona on November 17, 1856. The difficulty of governing the new areas from the territorial capital at Santa Fe led to efforts as early as 1856 to organize a new territory out of the southern portion. Many of the early settlers in the region were, however, pro-slavery and sympathetic to the South, resulting in an impasse in Congress as to how best to reorganize the territory.
The shifting of the course of the Rio Grande would cause a later dispute over the boundary between Purchase lands and those of the state of Texas, known as the Country Club Dispute. Pursuant to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the Gadsden Treaty and subsequent treaties, the International Boundary and Water Commission which was established in 1889 to maintain the border, and pursuant to still later treaties its duties expanded to allocation of river waters between the two nations, and providing for flood control and water sanitation. Once viewed as a model of international cooperation, in recent decades the IBWC has been heavily criticized as an institutional anachronism, by-passed by modern social, environmental and political issues.
The residents of the area gained full U.S. citizenship and slowly assimilated into American life over the next half-century. The principal threat to the peace and security of settlers and travelers in the area were raids by Apache Indians. Fort Buchanan protected the area until it was evacuated and destroyed in July 1861. The new stability brought miners and ranchers. By the late 1850s, mining camps and military posts had not only transformed the Arizona countryside; they had also generated new trade linkages to the state of Sonora, Mexico. Magdalena, Sonora, became a supply center for Tubac, wheat from nearby Cucurpe fed the troops at Fort Buchanan, and the town of Santa Cruz sustained the Mowry mines, just miles to the north.
In 1861, during the American Civil War, the Confederate States of America formed the Confederate Territory of Arizona, including in the new territory mainly areas acquired by the Gadsden Purchase. In 1863, using a north-to-south dividing line, the Union created its own Arizona Territory out of the western half of the New Mexico Territory. The new American Arizona Territory also included most of the lands acquired in the Gadsden Purchase. This territory would be admitted into the Union as the State of Arizona on February 14, 1912 — a month following the State of New Mexico’s admission to the Union on January 6, 1912 — the last area of the Lower 48 States to receive statehood.
The area was characterized by rapidly growing boomtowns, ongoing Apache raids, smuggling and cattle rustling across the United States-Mexico border, growing ranching operations, and the expansion of new technologies in mining, railroading, and telecommunications.
In the 1860s, conflict between the Apaches and the Americans was at its height. Until 1886, almost constant warfare existed in the region adjacent to the Mexican border. The illegal cattle operations kept beef prices in the border region lower and provided cheap stock that helped small ranchers get by. Many early Tombstone residents looked the other way when it was “only Mexicans” being robbed.
Outlaws derisively called “Cowboys” frequently robbed stagecoaches and brazenly stole cattle in broad daylight, scaring off the legitimate cowboys watching the herds. Bandits used the border between the United States and Mexico to raid across in one direction and take sanctuary in the other. In December, 1878, and again the next year, Mexican authorities complained about American outlaw cowboys who stole Mexican beef and resold it in Arizona. The Arizona Citizen reported that both U.S. and Mexican bandits were stealing horses from the Santa Cruz Valley and selling the livestock in Sonora, Mexico. Arizona Territorial Governor Fremont investigated the Mexican government’s allegations and accused them in turn of allowing outlaws to use Sonora as a base of operations for raiding into Arizona.
In the 1870s and 1880s, there was considerable tension between the rural residents who were for the most part Democrats from the agarian Confederate States and town residents and business owners who were largely Republicans from the industrial Union States. The tension culminated into what has been called the Cochise County feud, or the Earp-Clanton feud, which ended with the historic Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and Wyatt Earp’s Vendetta Ride.
The Southern Pacific Railroad from Los Angeles reached Yuma, Arizona, in 1877, Tucson in March 1880, El Paso in May 1881, and this completed the second transcontinental railroad in December 1881. The portion in Arizona was originally largely in the Gadsden Purchase but the western part was later rerouted north of the Gila River to serve the city of Phoenix. The portion in New Mexico runs largely through the territory that had been disputed between Mexico and the United States after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo had gone into effect, and before the time of the Gadsden Purchase. The Santa Fe Railroad Company also completed a railroad across Northern Arizona, via Prescott, Winslow, Flagstaff and Kingman in August 1883.
The remainder of the Gila Valley pre-Purchase border area was traversed by the Arizona Eastern Railway by 1899 and the Copper Basin Railway by 1904. Excluded was a 20-mile (32 km) section 33.1°N 110.6°W in the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, from today’s San Carlos Lake to Winkelman at the mouth of the San Pedro River, including the Needle’s Eye Wilderness.
The section of US Highway 60 about 20 miles (32 km) to the northwest, between Superior and Miami via Top-of-the-World, takes an alternate route (17.4 road miles) between the Magma Arizona Railroad and the Arizona Eastern Railway railheads on each side of this gap. This highway is well north of the Gadsden Purchase. Given the elevations of those three places, at least a 3% grade would have been required.
Scott #1028 commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Gadsden Purchase was issued in Tucson, Arizona, on December 30, 1953. The 3-cent stamp’s overall design features a scene showing a pioneer group in their ox-drawn covered wagon. Shrubs and cactus plants native to that area are shown on a characteristic terrain. Forming a background for the scene is a map sharply defining the border of the area purchased. All lettering on the map area is dark Gothic. The Gadsden Purchase Territory, prominently white in color, carries the wording “1853 Gadsden Purchase” arranged in three lines, in dark modified Roman. Appearing in the lower left corner of the stamp is the wording “3c US Postage” in dark Gothic.
The stamp is 0.84 by 1.44 inches in dimension, arranged horizontally in a single outline frame, printed by the rotary process by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, electric-eye perforated 11×10½, and issued in sheets of fifty. The color of the stamp is brown (copper shade). A total of 116,134,600 stamps were printed.