Engaging Neighbors: Defeating Mexico and Spain

Battle in the Mexican-American War in 1846.

Ever since the United States became an important military might, in the early 1800s, it has looked to expand its political influence around the world and win economic advantages.


One of the things the United States did to achieve the aforementioned political and economic gains, in the mid-19th century, was to venture west into what was then Mexican territory. The Mexican land that the Americans coveted stretched all the way from present-day Texas to California, and though scarcely populated, was considered particularly valuable due to its mineral riches. Mexico, as could be expected, opposed America’s expansionist plans, but lost the subsequent Mexican-American War, after which the entire corridor from Texas to California came under U.S. control. As a consequence, the minerals here would soon be mined by American companies, and the Spanish-speaking Mexicans who remained in the conquered territories would be made U.S. citizens.

Cuba and Puerto Rico

Half a century later, in 1898, the American government militarily intervened in support of the local Cuban and Philippine independence movements against colonial power Spain. When Spain later sued for peace, the United States, for being the strongest power to oppose Spain, gained direct or indirect control of all of Spain’s remaining Caribbean and Pacific colonies. This, as a result, led to Cuba having a U.S.-friendly government installed and the strategically located Philippines to becoming an American protectorate. The small, fertile island of Puerto Rico and the even smaller island of Guam, furthermore, as a result of the same peace treaty, became proper U.S. territory.

Bringing Puerto Rico and Cuba into the American fold in the late 1800s, as explained in the next chapter, was to greatly impact both the United States and the two U.S.-controlled Caribbean islands themselves during the upcoming 20th century.