On this day in 1853, James Gadsden, the U.S. minister to Mexico, and Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the president of Mexico, cut a deal that turned over some 30,000 square miles of what is now part of southern New Mexico and Arizona to the United States.
The treaty, known as the Gadsden Purchase, was signed in Mexico City. It settled a lingering dispute over the demarcation of the border west of El Paso, Texas, by setting the final boundary between the two nations.
Jefferson Davis, the secretary of war under President Franklin Pierce, had authorized Gadsden to negotiate with Santa Anna for the land. It called for the United States to pay Mexico $15 million, or about $150 million in today’s dollars, although the purchase price was later cut to $10 million.
U.S. industrialists saw the need for a railroad linking the South with the Pacific Coast that skirted Western mountains. In also sensing an opportunity to build a key railroad through the region, Gadsden drove a hard bargain. At the time, the Mexican economy was going through a rough patch. The Mexicans desperately needed the money, leaving Santa Anna in a weak negotiating position. Still, the bargain revolted many Mexicans and led to Santa Anna’s downfall.
Gadsden was the grandson of American Revolutionary patriot Christopher Gadsden. In 1823, after a career as a U.S. Army officer, he was commissioned to help move Seminoles westward to reservations. While president of the South Carolina Railroad Co. from 1840 to 1850, he advocated construction of a transcontinental railroad via a southern route.
In 1861, capitalizing on the purchase, the chief figures behind the drive to build railroads through the West — Collis Huntington, Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins and Charles Crocker — formed what became the Southern Pacific branch of the Central Pacific Railroad.
Written by Andrew Glass for Politico, December 30, 2015.
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