Gadsden Purchase
(Southern border of Arizona & New Mexico)

 Gadsden Purchase, land purchased by the United States from Mexico in 1853. The land was named for the American railroad entrepreneur and diplomat James Gadsden. Adjoining the Mexican border, it comprises a narrow band of today's southern New Mexico and roughly the southern quarter of Arizona. The area is about 76,735 sq km (about 29,640 sq mi), bounded on the east by the Río Grande, on the north by the Gila River, and on the west by the Colorado River.

The purchase was necessitated by the misunderstandings arising from the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican War. Not only had the treaty defined the border between Mexico and the U.S. on the basis of an inaccurate map, but one article of it had also made the U.S. responsible for restraining marauding Native Americans on the frontier; this article had not been enforced, and Mexico claimed millions of dollars in damages.

The situation was further complicated by the fact that U.S. proponents of a southern transcontinental railroad considered the best route to the Pacific to be in the disputed area, through the Mesilla Valley (now in New Mexico). When Franklin Pierce became president in 1853, he repudiated the compromise achieved under President Millard Fillmore (in which Mexico retained the Mesilla Valley). Pierce sent Gadsden as minister to Mexico with instructions to purchase the needed territory and also Lower California if possible, for up to $50 million. Gadsden and the Mexican president, Antonio López de Santa Anna, whose administration was in financial need, negotiated a treaty on December 30, 1853. Under its terms Mexico was to cede a border strip in exchange for $15 million; the article pertaining to Indians was abrogated; and all claims for damages were cancelled.

The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty on April 25, 1854, only after a bitter debate, much of which centered on adding more slave territory to the U.S. The version ratified by the Senate lowered the payment to $10 million and reduced the territory acquired. The Southern Pacific Railroad was eventually built through the region. In Mexico the sale met with great opposition and contributed to the political downfall of Santa Anna.

  "Gadsden Purchase," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2001 © 1997-2000 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Return to The Road to Arizona