A Glorious Defeat Mexico and Its War with the United States

Timothy J. Henderson

Hill and Wang

0809049678

9780809049677

Trade Paperback

240 Pages

$15.00

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The war that was fought between the United States and Mexico from 1846 to 1848 was a major event in the history of both countries: it cost Mexico half of its national territory, opened western North America to U.S. expansion, and brought to the surface a host of tensions that led to devastating civil wars in both countries. Among generations of Latin Americans, it helped to cement the image of the United States as an arrogant, aggressive, and imperialist nation, poisoning relations between a young America and its southern neighbors. In contrast with many current books that treat the war as a fundamentally American experience, Timothy J. Henderson offers a fresh perspective on the Mexican side of the equation. Examining the manner in which Mexico gained independence, Henderson brings to light a greater understanding of that country’s intense factionalism and political paralysis leading up to and through the war. Also touching on a range of topics from culture, ethnicity, religion, and geography, this comprehensive yet concise narrative humanizes the conflict and serves as the perfect introduction for new readers of Mexican history.

REVIEWS

Praise for A Glorious Defeat

"This book provides a primarily narrative history of the conflict between Mexico and the United States . . . Henderson's summary of early Mexican history develops a theme of disunity he then traces throughout the history of the war. Such structure is admirable. Also, he effectively intertwines domestic politics on both sides of the border with international relations to provide a smooth transition for readers who previously approached the topic using a more limited framework."—Irving Levinson, University of Texas, Pan American, American Historical Review
 
"The bulk of this book is given over the events leading up to the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848, providing keen insights into the varied causes of the war and how differences between how Mexico and the United States gained their independence impacted and escalated the war fervor . . . A Glorious Defeat is written primarily from the Mexican point of view, and in doing so, Henderson answers a question that often goes unanswered in most history books on the war written from the American viewpoint. 'Why did Mexico go to war against the United States?' . . . A Glorious Defeat includes copious endnotes along with an up-to-date and enlightening list of Suggestions for Further Reading. This list and the endnotes provide ample fodder for anyone interested in pursuing this intriguing subject in greater detail. In addition, A Glorious Defeat should be required reading in every college level Mexican or American history class that covers the period from around 1820-1861. This book is eminently readable and it will fascinate both academic readers as well as general readers with an interest in 19th century Mexican or American history, military history, or specifically, in the history of Texas, including the settlement of Texas by Anglo-Americans and the Texas Revolution along with the Battle of the Alamo, and surrounding events."—Herbert White, History in Review

"This book provides a primarily narrative history of the conflict between Mexico and the United States . . . Henderson's summary of early Mexican history develops a theme of disunity he then traces throughout the history of the war. Such structure is admirable. Also, he effectively intertwines domestic politics on both sides of the border with international relations to provide a smooth transition for readers who previously approached the topic using a more limited framework."—Irving Levinson, University of Texas, Pan American, American Historical Review

"A fine survey of the Mexican-American war of 1846-1848—as told from the Mexican perspective, which sets A Glorious Defeat apart from U.S.-centered coverages, which would depict Mexico as the victim of the of the war. Henderson here emphasizes Mexico's reasons for going to war with the U.S., offering chapters which approach the results from the Mexican perspective and considering why the U.S. did not annex Mexico. An intriguing discussion highly recommended for any collection strong in American or Mexican early history."—Midwest Book Review
 
"Lively, objective and highly accurate . . . Mr. Henderson's volume is remarkable for its clarity and concision . . . Few U.S. historians have attempted to examine the conflict that became the War of 1847, as the Mexicans know it, from the Mexican standpoint. In this slender, concise study, Timothy J. Henderson seeks to rectify that . . .  For an understanding of present-day problems with U.S.-Mexican relations, this volume is a good place to start."—The Dallas Morning News
 
"This pithy, searching account of why Mexico went to war with the United States, knowing that to do so meant almost certain defeat, is sure to empower specialists and new readers of Mexican history alike. Equally important, the volume demonstrates the War's critical role as a catalyst in plunging both nations into bitter civil wars and poisoning future relations between them. Pulling few punches in his assessment of American power and hubris, Henderson contributes meaningfully to a future collaboration among neighbors based on greater understanding and mutual respect."—Gilbert M. Joseph, Farnam Professor of History and International Studies, Yale University
 
"In a concise and readable historical narrative, Henderson lays bare the causes for this war that reflects so much about the two countries and relations between them. His book is almost as much about the present as it is about the past."—Sam Quinones, journalist and author of True Tales From Another Mexico
 
"A reliable and readable account of this much misunderstood war, which convincingly locates it within the broad sweep of American, Texan, and, especially, Mexican history."—Alan Knight, Oxford University
 
"Written primarily for lay readers and undergraduates, [this book] will also serve as a good overview for advanced students and specialists. A Glorious Defeat fills a gap in the literature and will be appreciated by all of these groups."—Library Journal

"The U.S. went to war against Mexico in 1846 for territory pure and simple. But why, asks Henderson, did Mexico go to war against the U.S.? The answers are suggestive—and valuable, inasmuch as the great majority of books on that war have not bothered to ask how the Mexicans felt about the enterprise. Henderson looks at Mexico's economic and social conditions: Independent of Spain 45 years after the U.S. declared independence from England, the nation inherited a wholly different approach to the law, the market and daily life from that of its northern neighbor, in particular the belief in mercantilism, a strongly planned central economy that specifically favored the rich. When Santa Anna took his troops to Texas to suppress the rebellion of a decade earlier, he had to pay for them out of pocket, since the federal treasury was all but bankrupt; yet, of course, his position allowed him to become a millionaire many times over, even by modern standards. Mexico's economic weakness, writes Henderson, was matched by difficult politics pitting pro-Enlightenment liberals against pro-Catholic conservatives, the handful of moderates enjoying almost no influence. All parties agreed, in principle, that a war against the U.S. was inevitable; as a noted general observed as early as 1827, 'The North Americans have conquered whatever territory adjoins them,' although his warning failed to spark an effort to modernize or otherwise prepare the army for that conflict. What would happen, many Mexican elites predicted, was that the war would forge a nation of Mexico, uniting Indians and creoles and giving a sense of common purpose. It did not work, Henderson notes: In the end, Mexico wound up ceding 55 percent of its land, and it would be politically unstable for decades to come. Some provocative side notes on why the U.S. did not annex Mexico—something that, Henderson observes, some gringos call for even today."—Kirkus Reviews
 
"A unique contribution to the literature of the era . . . As a result of the 1846-48 war with Mexico, the U.S. absorbed considerable territory, but, as explored in clear prose in this absorbing account, the ramifications of that armed conflict stretched, for both countries, well beyond territorial loss and gain in terms of aggravating sectional disputes (centered on the spread of slavery) within the U.S and darkening the Mexican-American relationship for a long time to come. The special quality of Henderson's study is twofold: first, how carefully he explains the antecedents of the war itself; second is the expansiveness of his view, focusing equal time on the Mexican political currents that drew that country into an impossible war and the political currents in the U.S. that compelled it into an insistence that war must occur. An important aspect of this dual view of the conflict is Henderson's systematic but fascinating appraisal of why the war progressed badly for Mexico and successfully for the U.S."—Brad Hooper, Booklist
 
"Henderson, on the faculty of Auburn University, offers a survey of the Mexican War from a Mexican perspective. Instead of the common depiction of Mexico as the victim of the U.S. and its racist Manifest Destiny, Henderson emphasizes Mexican agency in going to war, which reflected a profound sense of weakness. Mexico's revolutionary experience had produced a virulent factionalism based on divisions of race, class, region and ideology. The Texas revolt of 1836 only made it more clear that Mexico was too weak to populate, control and defend its northern territories, but that opinion was derided within Mexico. Instead, politicians of every stripe denounced the policies of their rivals. The only common denominator was that Texas must be reconquered, even if that meant war with overwhelmingly superior U.S. military and economic power. But the Mexican people remained largely indifferent—otherwise Winfield Scott's landing at Vera Cruz and his decisive march on Mexico City would have been impossible. Mexico, unable to pursue a pragmatic strategy of negotiation and compromise, suffered—and celebrated—a 'glorious defeat' that further unraveled a disunited nation."—Publishers Weekly

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BOOK EXCERPTS

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Tim Henderson is an associate professor of history at Auburn University, Montgomery, and the author of several books on Mexican history, including the soon-to-be-published The Mexican Wars for Independence.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Timothy J. Henderson

  • Timothy J. Henderson is a professor of history at Auburn University, Montgomery and is the author of several book on Mexican history.
     
     
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