The Gadsden Purchase, 1853

December 30, 1853 – The Gadsden Purchase: The United States buys land from Mexico to facilitate railroad building in the Southwest.

Tied up in the negotiations that sent South Carolinian James Gadsden to negotiate with Mexican President Santa Anna (of Alamo “in”-fame), was the relatively new concept of “manifest destiny,” the festering conflict over slave v. free states, the desire for a transcontinental railroad and much more, worthy of several volumes.

In the years following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which had ended the Mexican-American War in February 1848 and gave the United States much of the West and Southwest, there was still conflict over ownership of the Mesilla Valley in what is today’s south-central New Mexico, and over continuing Apache raids from U.S. territory into Mexico. Though the United States had agreed to stop such raiding, such would continue largely unabated until the 1886 surrender of Geronimo.

The treaty that Gadsden negotiated, which offered $15 million for 45,000 square miles, wasn’t exactly what the Pierce administration wanted, but as it discussed the deal in January, it decided to forward the proposal to Congress.  The Senate took up debate in February, at the same time its attention was directed toward the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and it was ready for a vote in April.  While a majority of senators voted for the deal, it didn’t get the two-thirds majority required for treaty approval.

A revised version, paying out $10 million for 29,670 square miles, would be approved, and the president signed it into law June 8, 1854.

Within a few years, American settlers were beginning to flow into the Gadsden Purchase area, mingling with the Native Americans and Mexicans who were already there.  In most cases, the interaction was peaceful, though the Apaches would soon start resisting the American advance just as they had resisted the Mexicans.  In November 1856, the Army was directed to develop Fort Buchanan on Sonoita Creek in today’s southern Arizona to protect miners who were developing the silver resources of the are.  It would be from this point, about five years later, that a drama would play out that would put a previously peaceful leader of the Chiricahua Apaches, Cochise, on the warpath.  But that’s another story for another time.

Today, the land south of the Gila provides numerous resources, cultural attributes and wonders, just as every part of the country boasts.  Much of the nation’s copper, for example, is mined in this region.  In 1853, copper was not in that great of demand and the resources of the territory were not known.

A railroad through this part of the country, by the way, wouldn’t be completed until 1881.  The great dreams of a transcontinental railroad were delayed time and again, by events great and small, including the Civil War, and the first linkup would have to wait until 1869, a full two decades after the gold rush that made the road so desireable.

The United States 3-cent stamp commemorating the centennial of the Gadsden Purchase (Scott No. 1028) was issued in Tucson, Arizona, on Dec. 30, 1953.  The stamp was printed by the rotary process, electric-eye perforated and issued in sheets of 50.  An initial printing order of 110 million stamps was authorized.

(with thanks to Gary Dillard)

gadsden purchase - usa



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