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What Was the Gadsden Purchase?

Diane Goettel
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Gadsden Purchase, which is known as Venta de La Mesilla in Mexico, is a region of land inside of what is now the southern part of the states Arizona and New Mexico. The land in this purchase includes the land west of the Rio Grande and south of the Gila River. The United States purchased this land, which is 45,535 square miles (76,770 square kilometers), in 1853 from Mexico. Although the initial purchase was signed in Mexico in 1853, an altered purchase was signed the following year by President Franklin Pierce. The Gadsden Purchase was also ratified by the United States Senate at that time.

The Mexican-American War ended in 1848. However, disputes along the border between the United States and Mexico continued even after the war. The land that was eventually included in the Gadsden Purchase had been used in a proposal for a southern transcontinental railroad route. At the time, however, the area where the tracks were to be laid still belonged to Mexico.

In order to iron out the problems with the railroad route, President Pierce sent James Gadsden to Mexico to negotiate a purchase of the land in question, hence the name “Gadsden Purchase.” James Gadsden was the United States Minister to Mexico. In addition to holding this post, he had personal interest in the development of the transcontinental railroad. On 30 December 1853 Gadsden came to an agreement with Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the Mexican President.

However, the price of the land was to create trouble. When Gadsden negotiated with Mexican government officials on the price of the land, the price was set at ten million US dollars (USD). However, when the Gadsden Purchase documents were returned to Washington, the United States Congress refused to pay more than seven million USD. When this allotted amount arrived in Mexico City, one million was missing. In the end, Mexico only received six million USD for the land outlined in the Gadsden Purchase.

The final treaty issued regarding the Gadsden Purchase included permission for the United States to build a canal across the Isthmus of Tehuantapec. This Isthmus represents the shortest stretch of land between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean. This transoceanic canal was never created. The land purchased for the United States in the Gadsden Purchase still serves as part of the American border, as it has not expanded or receded since that time.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Diane Goettel
By Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount Vernon, New York with her husband, Noah. They are the proud parents of a Doberman Pinscher named Spoon. Specialties: book editing, book marketing, book publishing, freelance writing, magazine publishing, magazine writing, copywriting,"
Discussion Comments
By hangugeo112 — On Jan 10, 2011

I think that the US is not obligated to deal with Mexican border gangs, but nevertheless, a good and open immigration policy would prevent immigrants from having to pursue desperate measures such as dangerous border crossings, which often include being pillaged and raped by such gangs. I also think that immigrants have always formed a necessary part of this nation, which is why most of us are here. The least we can do to make up for a bloody history of violence against nations such as Mexico is to offer them a chance at a new life here, and perhaps with such hospitality they may be more inclined to naturalize.

By BigBloom — On Jan 09, 2011


Interesting point, since this article points to the fact that many of the areas these immigrants are traveling to used to be a part of Mexico and were either forcibly seized by the US or were purchased in sham agreements like the Gadsden Purchase.

By Leonidas226 — On Jan 08, 2011


I don't think that the US has any obligation to allow illegal immigrants into the US or to guarantee their safety. They are stealing jobs and refusing to adapt to American culture or learn English.

By BigBloom — On Jan 06, 2011

If the transcontinental railroad was built on this site it would no doubt have required a lot of supervision due to border gangs and conflict between the US and Mexico. To this day, many gangs roam the border and prey on travelers to and from Mexico. The US, although capable of making the border safer, has done little to deal with these gangs, but instead comprises another barrier to Mexican entry to the US.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount...
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