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Neophyte Arizona Senator Calls For Acquisition of Mexican Territory

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This has less to do with the history of our city, but everything to do with the (almost) history of our nation.

Arizona had been admitted to the union only a few years earlier in 1912 and by the middle of the decade, the two new senators, Marcus Smith and Henry Ashurst, were strongly advocating to acquire Mexican territory south of their young state.

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Gadsden Purchase (Wikipedia)
Gadsden Purchase (Wikipedia)

The current border between Arizona and Mexico was set with the Gadsden Purchase in 1853, pushing the boundary farther to the south. The eventual agreement to acquire territory was far less land than the original goal. The agreed upon deal was  one of three proposed treaties between the neighboring countries.

The treaty was known simultaneously as the “skeleton” treaty, giving the current south portions of Arizona and New Mexico in exchange for $10 million in gold.

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One alternate proposal was to extend the existing southern horizontal border, below Sierra Vista, in a direct line to the Gulf of California in exchange for $15 million. This proposal would have given Arizona a port and ocean access.

The other was to start at a point south of El Paso, Texas and move west along the 31st parallel to the Gulf of California, including the entirety of the Baja California peninsula (i.e., Cabo would be part of America).

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Emperor Taishō of Japan (Wikipedia)
Emperor Taishō of Japan (Wikipedia)

Senator Ashurst wanted to revive the latter proposal, both for the benefit of his state and the union. This was partly driven by Manifest Destiny and expansionism, but it was also heavily influenced by geopolitical concerns. America, and especially its western states, were keeping their eyes on a rising power in the Pacific — the Empire of Japan.

Japan, a  technologically inferior and backwards country just 50 years earlier, was flexing its muscles in a big way. Less than a decade earlier, they had defeated the Russians in the first major 20th century war, significant because it was the first time an Asian country defeated a European nation in modern warfare. The formerly isolationist country was looking outwards in a big way with eyes on establishing colonies across the Pacific in Mexico.

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In the late 1890s, Japan was working, with the Mexican government’s full cooperation and encouragement, to establish agricultural settlements throughout Mexico. The eastward expansion of the Empire of Japan was a clear and present threat to the United States’ dominance over North America. On March 12th, 1916, the Washington Post printed an article discussing the potential acquisition being discussed.

The interesting fact leaked out yesterday that Senator Ashurst, of Arizona, backed by several Western senators, has urged President Wilson to renew negotiations with Mexico for the purpose of obtaining a small slice of the norther portion of Mexico. The plan proposed by the Arizona senator is in line with one of the treaties negotiated by James Gadsden, but which was not sent to the Senate by President Pierce. Under that treaty Mexico agreed to sell the United States all that territory lying north of the thirty-first parallel and the peninsula of Lower California.

In addition, and equally important, all the strategic naval bases, including Magdalena Bay, along the coast of the peninsula would pass into possession of the United States.

One political advantage of such a purchase would be the transfer to the United States of Magdalena Bay, where the Japanese are said to be colonizing.

It would give the United States control of the Gulf of California, straighten out the boundary line all along the south and throw over a comparatively narrow strip of the finest land in northern Mexico to American enterprise and capital.

in the waters of Lower California are said to be some of the finest fishing on the Pacific coast, which would afford another field for American industrial development.

The Google Map below highlights Magdalena Bay and the territorial region focused on by Ashurst.