Day By Day

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

This Day In History

Today of course is "Groundhog Day", the day when the natives of the "Land of Stinging Gnats" [better known as Punxsutawney, PA] gather at a sacred site, "Gobblers Knob", to pay homage to a local deity ("Phil, the magic groundhog") who, they believe, can predict or perhaps even control the weather. Anthropologists report that in the course of the rituals worshipers consume mind-altering substances and many are clad in tribal colors of black and gold signifying their adherence to the "Steelers" cult. The origins of "Philism", as some call it, are obscure, but it may have once had something to do with animal fertility rites or perhaps a solar cult imported from even more primitive parts of the world. According to news reports Phil emerged from his subterranean lair early this morning and decreed to the assembled multitude that there would be six more weeks of winter weather. A harsh judgment indeed.

On this day in 1848 the United States and Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which ended the war between the two countries. The terms of the treaty were harsh. Mexico gave up all claims to Texas and additionally sold a vast tract of land, comprising more than half a million square miles [basically the land between Texas and the Pacific] to the U. S. A. for a mere 15 million dollars, but it could have been worse. Democrats in Congress were pushing for the complete annexation of Mexico.

The treaty itself was negotiated under bizarre terms. Nicholas Trist, Chief Clerk of the State Department, came to an agreement with Mexican negotiators against the instructions of his president, James K. Polk, who had already recalled him and wanted even more concessions from Mexico. Despite this insubordination Polk agreed to send the draft treaty negotiated by Trist on to the Senate for ratification. There it was amended, eliminating a provision that would have required the United States to honor existing Mexican land grants and delaying the time period in which the newly acquired territories would be admitted to the Union. This amended treaty was finally ratified by both the American and Mexican legislatures.

The treaty was controversial in both countries. Mexico was concerned that the United States would not recognize the rights, including property rights, of Mexicans living in the ceded territory. This was the subject of continuing negotiations between the two countries for several years. In the U. S. A. anti-slavery Whigs objected to the acquisition of territories that could in the future become slave states. During treaty negotiations David Wilmot, an anti-slavery congressman from New York had tried to introduce legislation [the "Wilmot Proviso"] that would have banned slavery from the territories, but that was rejected by the full house. Rejection of the proviso remained a sore point for anti-slavery activists for years thereafter and was displayed by them as evidence that the American republic was being subverted by an aggressive "slave power". You can read more about the treaty at the Library of Congress website here.