The Gadsden Purchase was a treaty between the United States and Mexico signed in 1854. The United States agreed to pay Mexico $10 million for nearly 30,000 square miles in the area below Arizona and New Mexico. The Gadsden Purchase enabled the United States to build the transcontinental railroad south and attempt to mend a broken relationship with Mexico.


Tensions persisted after the Mexican-American war ended in 1848, still disputing land and governmental funding. Mexicans wanted compensation for all the Native American attacks on Mexican soil because the US broke a treaty saying they would prevent such from happening (Guadalupe Hidalgo). The United States refused to comply, insisting compensation was not in the agreement. To make matters worse, American citizens illegally entered Mexico to perpetrate riots as an effort to gain territory. These conflicts aggravated the already unstable relationship between US and Mexico.

Due to the instability, the United States struggled to find an adequate area to construct the transcontinental railroad south. Land north of the Gadsden land was mountainous while the prospective land was flat with the potential to build a railroad connecting the southeast to the southwest.

Mexican officials forced Americans out of Mesilla Valley, claiming it was their own. US rebuked by declaring the land American soil. This sent Mexico over the edge and they responded by sending troops into Mesilla Valley. As an attempt to calm the situation down, President Franklin Piece recruited US Minster, James Gadsden to Mexico. He argued for a change between the United States and Mexican border with the transcontinental railroad construction in mind. Mexico agreed with Gadsden’s suggestions once a monetary settlement was discussed from the Native American feuds.

Finances were discussed in September of 1853. President Pierce instructed Gadsden on how much to negotiate through a messenger, Christopher Ward. Ward deceived Gadsden, and advised he include claims of the Garay party in the treaty, something Pierce never said. Santa Anna refused the proposal of a large piece of land but agreed on a smaller portion (45,000 sq. miles) along with claims relating to the Garay deal for $15 million. On December 30, 1853 the Gadsden Purchase was signed by Pierce and Santa Anna (Mexican president) but still needed to be ratified by senate.

Once the Gadsden Purchase hit the senate, many were oppossed. Anti-slavery senators and the Mexican people were in opposition to the initial boundaries put in place. They both saw the acquisition of land as another opportunity for more slave territory across the West. Some believed the treaty to be corrupt due to the private claims, giving the treaty a bad reputation. These objections led to the revision of the original Gadsden treaty. A revised treaty was signed that proposed the United States pay a reduced amount of $10 million and the land shrunk to 29,670 square miles. Mention of Native American conflicts and Garay claims were removed.

The Gadsden Purchase was officially signed on June 8, 1854. Citizens living in that area gained full US citizenship.
Border attacks from the US persisted and issues with monetary claims prolonged. Regardless, the Gadsden Purchase shaped part of the southern border and enabled the US to extend the transcontinental railroad south. Construction began for the Southern Pacific railway and it was completed in 1882, connecting the southeast to the southwest.


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The land was desirable for miners and ranchers and eventually the area was transformed due to mining camps and military posts. The residents created new trade linkages with Sonora, Mexico, which provided many necessary supplies. Texans began to explore this new territory finding it appealing as well with various grazing possibilities. The range cattle industry migrated westward along with all their problems. Poor management and carelessness resulted in devastating diseases for the livestock.

Sheridan Wilbur