Lonely Choices: The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Time We Took 55% of Mexico

February marks the anniversary of a peace treaty that literally changed the American landscape.  It was a treaty that ruined the career of its US negotiator, Nicholas Trist, but nevertheless, cements his name in history as fundamentally changing the shape of the United States as we know it. 

Records of the U.S. House of Representatives.
National Archives Identifier: 2127339

On February 2, 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was inked and ceded nearly 55% of what was then Mexico and are now parts of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Nevada and Utah, to the US for $15 million and an end to the fighting in the Mexican-American War. 

After three years of battles and numerous attempts to renegotiate the border with Mexican dictator, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, by September 1847, US troops finally defeated Santa Anna and the Mexican army and were occupying Mexico City.  

Let’s think about that for a second.  At one point, the US occupied Mexico City!! That is pretty phenomenal to consider.  I personally live in the Houston, Texas area and Mexico City is 936 miles away, which is a 17 hour car ride without stopping, in case you were wondering.

It’s an interesting part of our history that we don’t often think about.  That in a time before cars and airplanes, our troops, many of whom were likely from the northern states, had to go all the way down to Mexico City to fight a war.

Now at the time, US President Polk and other members of Congress, wanted not only the parts of Mexico delineated on the map shown above, but also wanted Baja California, and were willing to pay up to $30 million for the entirety of it. In Polk’s eyes, his negotiator, Nicholas Trist, who was the chief clerk of the US State Department at the time, betrayed his wishes and acted in defiance of the president when he sat down with the new Mexican government (sans Santa Anna) and negotiated a smaller amount of land for $15 million.  Polk had sent a message telling Trist to come back to Washington and abort the negotiations, but Trist carried on.

In a letter to his wife in December 1847, Trist said, “Knowing it to be the very last chance and impressed with the dreadful consequences to our country which cannot fail to attend the loss of that chance, I decided today at noon to attempt to make a treaty; the decision is altogether my own.”

Nicholas Trist, photo by Mathew Brady, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In fairness to Polk, it doesn’t make sense even today that Baja California is still a part of Mexico but is attached geographically to the US. However in fairness to Trist, he probably had a better idea of what it would take to get the deal done with the newly formed Mexican government.  As his quote above suggests, there were real consequences to delaying and real lives on the line. 

In the end, Trist was fired by Polk, yet Polk and Congress also ultimately decided to ratify the peace treaty to move it forward rather than reopen the matter.  The US ratified the treaty in March 1848; Mexico in May 1848 and US troops were pulled out of Mexico City by August 1848.

Trist never recovered politically even though he was married to Thomas Jefferson’s granddaughter and had served as his personal secretary.  He later supported Abraham Lincoln’s election, but had no role in his administration.  Despite his connections, he ended up back in his home state of Virginia, but was later appointed Postmaster General in Virginia during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant.

In December 1848 in an address to Congress, President Polk said of US/Mexican relations, “The amicable relations between the two countries, which had been suspended, have been happily restored, and are destined, I trust, to be long preserved.”

It’s interesting to think about what the US would look like today if Baja California had been procured and also interesting to think about Trist’s reasoning for taking the smaller portion.  Either way, the peace treaty made all of the difference in how the US would ultimately take shape.

For more resources on the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and it’s players, visit these resources:

Jackie Robinson: Born to Change the Game and the World

The last day of January each year marks the birth of one of the most influential athletes of all time, Jackie Robinson. Though his life was short– he died at the age of 53– his contributions to sports and his courage in being the first to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball in particular are enormous.  Robinson’s talents and work ethic go well beyond sports, however, he was also one of the first African American vice presidents in a major corporation.

Born in Georgia into a family of sharecroppers, Jackie was the youngest of five children and just about a year after his birth, his father left the family and Jackie moved with his mother to Pasadena, California.  Jackie’s older brothers were also incredibly accomplished and athletic and in fact, his older brother, Mack (Matthew), was a silver medalist at the 1936 Summer Olympics.  Mack broke the Olympic record for the 200 meter run in 1936, but still came in second to famed runner, Jesse Owens.  

Jackie Robinson at UCLA, Maurice Terrell, LOOK magazine, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Jackie was a star athlete at UCLA where ironically according to Wikipedia, baseball was his “worst” sport.  While in college, he won varsity letters in baseball, football, basketball and track. After spending time in the military during World War II and playing for various other leagues including the Negro baseball leagues and an international league, Jackie was signed by Ricky Branch, club president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers to first play for the Montreal Royals with the hope that he would be called up to play for the Dodgers after his first season.

He ended up playing one season in 1946 with the Montreal Royals before playing his first official major league game with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.  It is interesting to note that while Jackie Robinson is a household name, over in the American League at the exact same time, African American player, Larry Doby was also breaking the color barrier by playing for the Cleveland Indians.  Doby started about eleven weeks after Robinson and thus was the second African American to play major league baseball and somehow has been forgotten by history.  But Doby and Robinson helped each other and reportedly talked on the phone often about how to endure the criticism and harassment they each received.

Speaking about Ricky Branch on April 15, 1947, New York Times sportswriter, Arthur Daly said at the time, “he…has a ball club whose new first baseman is making a bit of history. That young man is Jackie Robinson, the first Negro in modern times to get a chance to become a big-leaguer.”

Later in the article, Daly mentions the “deft manner” that Ricky slid Jackie into the line up without trying to draw attention to him. 

Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn Dodgers, 1954, Photo by Bob Sandberg, Look photographerRestoration by Adam Cuerden, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

“It is merely an attempt to lighten the pressure on Robinson’s shoulders. In like fashion the Mahatma [Ricky Branch] waited until the Montreal Royals were in Panama before he ordered that Jackie be switched to first base. Yet nothing actually can lighten that pressure, and Robbie realizes it full well. There is no way of disguising the fact that he is not an ordinary rookie and no amount of pretense can make it otherwise.”

The pressure on Jackie to endure the taunting and protesting was immense, and that is in addition to the extraordinary pressure to play the game well. 

And of course there were supporters and opposers, and as pioneers always do, Jackie’s presence in the league not only challenged the game itself, but helped to bring change to all of the businesses associated with the league like the segregated hotels, training facilities and restaurants that baseball teams used.  It was an immensely large burden to bear, but Jackie persisted and changed so many things.

He famously said, “I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me… all I ask is that you respect me as a human being.”

An interesting fact that is often left out of historical discussions of this event is that Jackie brought in the crowds, and he also brought in a more integrated audience to baseball. According to Wikipedia, when “Robinson made his major league debut at the relatively advanced age of 28 at Ebbets Field before a crowd of 26,623 spectators, more than 14,000 of whom were black.”

And Jackie continued to draw in the crowds throughout his spectacular sports career.  

What I really found interesting about Jackie was his dedication to the game and to improving his performance.  He worked tirelessly with Hall of Famer “Gorgeous George” Sisler in 1949 to improve his batting.

Jackie’s baseball accolades are nearly too long to list, he earned the Rookie of Year Award for his performance in 1947 (awarded in 1948), was named Most Valuable Player in 1949 and to the All Star Team among many other awards both before and after these years including in 1955 when the Dodgers won the World Series and his induction as the first African American Player in the baseball Hall of Fame.

All in all, his major league career spanned 10 years, and when he retired in 1956, he took an executive position with Chock full ‘o Nuts as the vice president of personnel where he worked until 1964. He pursued many business and political interests and was also the first African American to serve as a news analyst for the major networks commenting on baseball.

Jackie, along with his brothers, suffered from diabetes at a time when the medications and treatments were not sufficient to extend his life.  He died early, in 1972, from complications of diabetes and heart disease. 

The greatest quote about Jackie’s life in my opinion came from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he described Jackie as, “… a pilgrim that walked in the lonesome byways toward the high road of Freedom. He was a sit-inner before sit-ins, a freedom rider before freedom rides.”

Cheers to you Jackie Robinson on your 102nd birthday, thank you for all that you contributed to our world.

Here are some resources to help you learn more about Jackie Robinson:

January 1915: The Creation of the Modern Coast Guard

It might seem perfectly perfunctory that the United States Coast Guard was formed on January 28, 1915 from the merger of the United States Revenue Cutter Services and the United States Lifesaving Service by then US President Woodrow Wilson’s signature on US Bill S2337 of the 63rd Congress, but if you dig a little deeper, you will find that this was necessary to keep some kind of coastal defense and life saving service afloat (pun intended).

United States Coast Guard Logo

In a very interesting and long article in the New York Times, dated January 31, 1915, we find that the Lifesaving Service was struggling to pay and maintain its officers and enlisted men, and the subsequent merger offered not only streamlined leadership, but also key services including longevity pay for re-enlistments, a pension, a clothing allowance (for uniforms, rubber boots and oilskins) and health services.  It also provided dependent pay for Coast Guard members killed in the line of duty and created a naval reserve.

In a letter, shared with the New York Times by the wife of former US Representative, Martin W. Littlefield (he represented New York in the House from 1911 to 1913), the wife of a life saver Captain from Maine, complains that they are seeking “ready money” on a claim for what looks like an injury.  “It seems hard,” she writes, “after the Captain has given his health and strength to the service for 30 years, that he should now be turned away like an old horse.”

Apparently, according to the article, previous to the creation of the modern Coast Guard, the life savers were only paid $65 dollars a month and were not paid at all when the stations were closed. Just so you know, the Internet is amazing, and I was able to find out that in today’s dollars, $65 per month would be worth just $1,670.33 per month.  (To see where I did my calculations, click here.)  That is not a livable wage for skilled work, then or now.

The bill creating the Coast Guard, which was apparently originally championed by Mrs. Littlefield, designated the Coast Guard as a part of the “military forces.”  The Coast Guard would operate under the auspices of the US Treasury Department in times of peace and could be co-opted into the US Navy during times of war when directed so by the President.

The newly merged organization brought together approximately 255 officers, 3,900 warrant officers and enlisted men, 17 regional commands, four depots, one academy, 25 cruising cutters, 20 harbor cutters and 280 lifeboat stations, according to Wikepedia.

Into the Jaws of Death taken by Coast Guard Chief Photographer’s Mate Robert F. Sargent and manned by Coast Guard crew, National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain

Of course the Coast Guard did join the Navy very shortly thereafter to assist with World War I.  The Coast Guard also assisted in every major conflict to come including World War II, and has performed critical life saving missions for countless domestic emergencies including the 1927 Mississippi River Flood, the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill clean up, the Great of Flood of ‘93 (1993 that is) and Hurricane Katrina to name a few. 

The Coast Guard embodies a very rich history of nautical expertise, critical life saving services and national defense.  Hat’s off to Mrs. Littlefield and all of the others who worked together to create an enduring and important institution.  I could probably write 500 more blogs on the Coast Guard and all of the roles it has played in history, and maybe one day, I will.

To learn more about the creation of the United States Coast Guard, visit these resources:

How California Got Expensive: Remembering the Gold Rush

While it took some time for the news of gold in California to make it all the way back to the President and Congress, the precious metal was actually discovered at Sutters Mill in Coloma, California on January 24, 1848.

California Gold Miners, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

US President, James K. Polk then announced the discovery in an address to Congress on December 4, 1848, nearly a year later and set off the greatest gold rush in history.  According to Wikipedia, nearly 300,000 people “rushed” to California to search for gold and were dubbed the forty-niners because they didn’t start coming en masse until 1849.

In his address to Congress, Polk says: “It was known that mines of the precious metals existed to a considerable extent in California at the time of its acquisition. Recent discoveries render it probable that these mines are more extensive and valuable than was anticipated. The accounts of the abundance of gold in that territory are of such an extraordinary character as would scarcely command belief were they not corroborated by the authentic reports of officers in the public service who have visited the mineral district and derived the facts which they detail from personal observation.”

On December 11, 1848, a few days after Polk’s announcement, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that “Already people have become California mad.” The article goes on to talk about all of the boats set to leave from New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore in search of “El Dorado.”

The Gold Rush helped San Francisco evolve from a tiny settlement of a couple hundred people to a city of about 36,000 in roughly three years.  The toll of the Gold Rush on indigenous peoples was, of course, terrible, many Native Americans were pushed from their homes to make way for the miners. 

Levi Stauss, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Additionally, while many miners made some profit, very few became enormously rich and many were just lucky if they came into contact with gold residue let alone big chunks of gold.  One study mentioned by Wikipedia suggested that the merchants providing services to the miners become more rich than the miners themselves. Levi Strauss, the inventor of blue jeans and founder of famous clothing company, Levi Strauss & Co., became incredibly wealthy from selling his tough work pants to the local miners and other workers in San Francisco.

The Gold Rush also gave California a nickname which stuck, the “golden state,” and also inspired the term the “California Dream,” which for many supplanted the idea of the “American Dream.”

It also kicked the area into high gear in terms of development, becoming a proper state and creating infrastructure for its newly growing population.

Polk told Congress that, “This abundance of gold and the all-engrossing pursuit of it have already caused in California an unprecedented rise in the price of all the necessaries of life.”

So basically, California got expensive and stayed that way.

Want to know about the California Gold Rush?  Here are some great resources to get you started:

HBD Benjamin Franklin: The Fun Genius

Few historical figures have as many talents and accomplishments as Benjamin Franklin.  He was born in January of either 1705 or 1706 in Boston, Mass in what was then the British colonies.  According to published sources, his impressive list of roles include: writer, printer, political philosopher, politician, Freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, humorist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat.

It’s impossible in the space of this blog to do them all adequate justice, so let’s hit on the key themes that ran throughout his life.  First and foremost, he was a writer and this served him well in all of his roles from printer to journalist to politician to inventor to scientist.  He was adept at getting the word out and loved to use pseudonyms for his writings.  When one thinks of the sheer enormity of his writings scratched out by hand using dipper pens and feather quills, the fact that he was a hard worker becomes abundantly clear.

He was also a busy body, and by that I mean a body perpetually in motion. He got a lot done, traveled extensively and was constantly experimenting.  Oh, to have been a guest at one of his dinner parties, especially the ones where he killed the turkey to be eaten with electric shock and cooked it on an electrical spit.  He wrote that this made the turkey “uncommonly tender.” He also humorously penned a series of essays called busy body in which he describes real busy bodies gossiping and such.

On that note, he was also very humorous.  So many of our favorite sayings actually came from his incredibly popular publication, Poor Richard’s Almanack, which is the business venture that made him the most money.  It was a yearly publication that had a circulation of 10,000 and ran from 1732 to 1758.  The almanack was published under the name Richard Saunders, but it was no secret that Benjamin Franklin was the author and featured humorous lines like “He that lies down with Dogs will rise up with Fleas;” “A True Friend is the Best Possession;” and “Haste makes waste.”

Franklin was also a largely self-made man, though it was clear that he had no problem drumming up investors in his businesses. He had no schooling past the age of 10, but was self educated and a voracious reader and the founder of the Library Company of Philadelphia, which was a subscription library where member dues were pooled together to purchase books for lending.  Today the Library Company of Philadelphia is a large and successful public research library. 

Although he was born in Boston, he spent much of his adult life in Philadelphia except for large amounts of time spent working in London on both scientific and diplomatic issues, and the years he served as the American Ambassador to France and Sweden.  

His many experiments and resulting inventions are legendary including the lightning rod- which was inspired by his efforts to conduct electricity- the Franklin stove, the glass harmonica and bifocal glasses.

Franklin held many public offices and participated in numerous political groups.  Most well known was his participation in the Second Continental Congress in 1775-1776 as the representative for the Pennsylvania Assembly where he was one of five authors of the Declaration of Independence.  According to his Wikipedia page, he is also, “the only Founding Father who is a signatory of all four of the major documents of the founding of the United States: the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Alliance with France, the Treaty of Paris and the United States Constitution.”  He also served as the Postmaster General of British America from 1753 to 1774.

Oddly, when I attended high school, we were made to read his essay, “Dialogue Between Franklin and the Gout.”  Therefore, I have always associated Franklin with the gout, which plagued him in his later years.  Here is a funny, brief excerpt from that essay:

FRANKLIN.  Eh! Oh! eh! What have I done to merit these cruel sufferings?

GOUT.  Many things; you have ate and drank too freely, and too much indulged those legs of yours in their indolence.

FRANKLIN.  Who is it that accuses me?   

GOUT.  It is I, even I, the Gout.

Certainly, if I had the chance to sit down with Benjamin Franklin, he might have something funny to say about my associating him entirely with the gout over his other notable achievements.

Benjamin Franklin died at the age of 84 in Philadelphia from pleurisy, an inflammation of the membranes in the lungs and chest cavity, and had over 20,000 attendees at his funeral.  

Here are some resources to help you learn more about Benjamin Franklin:

January 1935: The King of Rock and Roll is Born

Happy Birthday Elvis Aaron Presley! One of the most significant figures in music history was born on January 8, 1935 in Tupelo, a small town in northeastern Mississippi.  

He was preceded in life by a stillborn twin brother, and spent his early years with his parents, Vernon and Gladys, in a two-room, shotgun house built by his father.  He would get his first guitar around age 11 and would become obsessed with music, often playing at school.  

What a gift it is to find your talent and passion at such a young age and despite being told to give up on music by both school teachers and music professionals alike in his early years, Elvis pressed on. He began recording music around 1953, and the rest is in actuality history.

Many music greats including John Lennon, Elton John, Rod Stewart and Bruce Springsteen credit Elvis with inspiring them to create music.

In addition to making the famous statement that “Before Elvis, there was nothing,” Lennon also said, “Nothing really affected me until I heard Elvis. If there hadn’t been an Elvis, there wouldn’t have been The Beatles.” 

To really understand the magic of Elvis, you have to watch one of his early performances.  Youtube has several amazing videos of Elvis singing and dancing in 1956 including this video of Jail House Rock, and another of him singing Hound Dog on The Ed Sullivan Show. These videos really capture the energy and intoxicating nature of his performance style. So many have emulated him since that to our 2021 selves, it seems almost everyday, but when watching the videos, try to remember that he invented this genre, this was literally a first.

Of course, during the conversative social setting of the 1950s, Elvis’ dancing and singing was seen by many as lurid.  Elvis himself said of his style, “Some people tap their feet, some people snap their fingers, and some people sway back and forth. I just sorta do ‘em all together, I guess.”

As we know, his adult home, Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee has become a major tourist destination.  I visited Graceland during the late 1990s and I don’t think I was in a place to really appreciate it back then. I remember being shocked by the shag carpet and overly trendy 1960s-era furnishings.  I need to go back as a proven and seasoned adult to appreciate better what that home meant to him and to music.

Elvis died of a heart attack at a very young 42 years of age in 1977.  His excessive drug use was causative in bringing on an early death.  Had he lived, he would be a grandfather in his eighties today, and most certainly would have given us all waves upon waves of additional musical delight.

I think Dolly Parton, my own favorite musical legend, said it best, “If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then you have accomplished something. Elvis did that and more for me and so many others.”

Happy birthday to the one and only king.

Here are a couple of good resources to help you learn more about Elvis Presley:

January 1925: Nellie Tayloe Ross Becomes the First Female Governor in the US

Nellie Tayloe Ross, much like Miriam “Ma” Ferguson in Texas, found entry into the then male-dominated world of politics through her husband.  In Nellie’s case, her husband, William B. Ross, the sitting governor of Wyoming had recently died of appendicitis.  For Ma Ferguson, her husband had been removed from office through impeachment.

Nellie was asked by the Democratic party in Wyoming to run shortly after her husband’s passing and accepted, according to relatives, in part because she needed the job.  She was easily elected even though Wyoming at the time was a predominantly Republican state and she was subsequently inaugurated on January 5, 1925, just days before Ma Ferguson was sworn in.

Within her first few days of leadership, she shocked the New York Times when on January 16, 1925, she wore her hat and gloves while addressing the Wyoming legislature and “defied precedent.”

Her time as governor was short-lived.  She finished her husband’s term, and did her best to further the populist agenda he had introduced, which included, according to the  Wyoming State Historical Society, issues like spending cuts, state loans for farmers and ranchers, prohibition, school budgets, stronger bank regulation, funding for universities, safety for coal miners and for women in industrial jobs among several other pursuits. Nellie lost re-election in 1926, but that was not the end of her political career.  

A campaign card, from Gov. Ross’s 1926 re-election campaign. American Heritage Center.

In 1928-29, she moved to Washington to work full time as a Director at the Democratic National Committee, and helped to drive women to vote for presidential candidate, Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1933, Roosevelt appointed Nellie to a position as the Director of the Bureau of the Mint, which is a government agency responsible for printing and distributing currency.  She served in this role for the next 20 years having been appointed to three, five-year terms by Roosevelt and one, five-year term by his successor, Harry Truman.  She retired in 1953 and spoke and wrote widely until her death at 101 years old!

Some critics felt like Nellie did not do enough to help other women get ahead in politics, but whether she was as woke as she could have been, Nellie still seized opportunity when it fell in her lap and helped to break a key glass ceiling in the United States.

Want to know more about Nellie?  Here are some sites to visit: