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This Day in History: US annexes California from Mexico

May 27, 2014 - 8:59am
The land now called Los Angeles was officially given to the U.S. in May 1848.

For senior group tours looking to head on the Rose Parade and Coastal California Tour, the giant street parade and array of must-see attractions in sunny California are nothing short of captivating. Yet to think that less than two centuries ago the Golden State was not even part of the U.S., but rather belonged to Mexico territory, may seem somewhat shocking. The dream of moving out West to the paradise along the Pacific Coast had not yet been born. All of it would be written in the pages of history as on May 30, 1848 - one year before the gold rush - California along with neighboring land was ratified by the U.S. and Mexico to officially become a state in the United States of America.

Mexican-American War
The annexation all stemmed from the Mexican-American War, which took place from 1846 to 1848. The war had started because of a dispute over whether Texas was part of American or Mexican claim. After conflict with Mexican President Jose Joaquin Herrera, U.S. President James Polk ordered troops to occupy the disputed area between the Nueces and the Rio Grande. The troops were met with the first attack in the war, signaling the official commencement of the battles.

In response, the U.S. sent its army to the heart of Mexico and captured several cities, which they then occupied. Following several sieges including Monterey and Buena Vista, the army marched on Mexico City, the capital and stronghold of the country. The fall of the Mexican capital marked the close to the military phase of the conflict.

Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, officially titled the Treaty of Peace, Friendship, Limits and Settlement between the United States of America and the Mexican republic, is the peace treaty that formally ended the Mexican-American War. It was signed in 1848 in the Villa de Guadalupe Hidalgo, now a neighborhood of Mexico City. After the defeat of Mexico's army, the U.S. occupation of most of Mexico's major cities - including the fall of the capital - Mexico began negotiations to hand over a heap of land, amounting to more than 500,000 square miles of valuable territory - nearly half of Mexico's national territory.

The Mexican government, then led by an interim president Manuel de la Pena y Pena, accepted the boundary divides: California would include the port of San Diego, Texas's southern border would be the Rio Grande, and Mexico would give up its territory between Texas and California. In return, the U.S. paid $15 million to the southern country, with a man named Nicholas P. Trist drawing up the treaties in English while Mexican peace commissioner Luis Cuevas translated one into Spanish. In February, representatives from both countries signed the treaty and then celebrated a mass together at the basilica.

Ratifying the Treaty
But the signing was only the start of the process. It still had to be confirmed by the congresses of both Mexico and the U.S., which at that time was led by president James Polk. Despite the twists and turns and backlash from opposing parties in each nation, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was ratified on May 30, 1848. The official treaty gave the U.S. California, parts of Nevada, Utah, Arizona and Colorado in return for $15 million, solidifying the role of the U.S. as a world power in the late 19th century.

Interestingly, Mexicans who lived in those annexed areas had the choice of relocating to Mexico or receiving American citizenship with full civil rights; more than 90 percent of them remain. To put things into perspective, it makes sense that now, 168 years later, many of the cities in California still hold their Spanish names - Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego, to name a few.

Historic Landmarks
Senior travel groups can visit the sites where Americans fought. There was a military encounter in San Pascual, what is now the San Pasqual Valley community of San Diego, where the U.S. Army and a smaller force of marines were weakened by the Mexican regime. The Battle of Rio San Gabriel in January 1847 took place at a ford of the San Gabriel River, at what are today parts of the cities of Whittier, Pico Riviera and Montebello, roughly 10 miles south-east of downtown Los Angeles. This battle was one of the decisive actions of the California campaign of the Mexican-American War.

One could argue that the American dream of moving out west for the paradise of California began after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. Today, plan a senior group travel soak in the sunny hills of California, the festive parades and the hustle and bustle of city life.