US/Mexico History

Reading Time: 17 minutes

Mexico obtained independence from Spain and the Spanish Empire with the Treaty of Córdoba in 1821. It briefly experimented with monarchy, but became a republic in 1824. This government was characterized by instability, leaving it ill-prepared for international conflict when war broke out only two decades later, in 1846.

In the decades preceding the war, Native American raids in Mexico’s sparsely settled north prompted the Mexican government to sponsor migration from the United States to the Mexican province of Texas to create a buffer. However, the newly named “Texans” revolted against the Mexican government of President/dictator Antonio López de Santa Anna, who had usurped the Mexican Constitution of 1824, in the subsequent 1836 Texas Revolution, creating a republic not recognized by Mexico, which still claimed it as part of its national territory.

In 1845, the Texan Republic agreed to an offer of annexation by the U.S. Congress and became the 28th state in the Union on December 29 that year.

Mexico’s military and diplomatic capabilities declined after it attained independence from Spain in 1821 and left the northern one-half of the country vulnerable to the Comanche, Apache, and Navajo native Americans. The Comanche, in particular, took advantage of the Mexican state to undertake large-scale raids hundreds of miles into the country to acquire livestock for their own use and to supply an expanding market in Texas and the U.S.

The northern area of Mexico was sparsely settled and not well controlled politically by the government based in Mexico City. After independence, Mexico contended with internal struggles that sometimes verged on civil war and the northern frontier was not a high priority. In northern Mexico, the end of Spanish rule was marked by the end of financing for presidios and for gifts to Native Americans to maintain the peace. The Comanche and Apache were successful in raiding for livestock and looting much of northern Mexico outside the scattered cities. Northern Mexico was a violent and chaotic area due to the Indian raids. The raids after 1821 resulted in the death of thousands of Mexicans, halted most transportation and communications, and decimated the ranching industry that was a mainstay of the northern economy. As a result, the demoralized civilian population of northern Mexico put up little resistance to the invading U.S. army.

Distance and hostile activity from Native Americans also made communications and trade between the heartland of Mexico and provinces such as Alta California and New Mexico difficult. As a result, New Mexico was dependent on the overland Santa Fe Trail trade with the United States at the outbreak of the Mexican–American War.

The Mexican government’s policy of settlement of US citizens in its province of Tejas was aimed at expanding control into Comanche lands, the Comancheria. Instead of settlement occurring in the central and west of the province, people settled in East Texas, where there was rich farmland and which was contiguous to southern US slave states. As settlers poured in from the US, the Mexican government discouraged further settlement, with its 1829 abolition of slavery.

In 1836, Mexico was relatively united in refusing to recognize the independence of Texas. Mexico threatened war with the United States if it annexed the Republic of Texas. Meanwhile, U.S. President Polk’s assertion of Manifest Destiny was focusing United States interest on westward expansion beyond its existing national borders.

Mexican-American War, also called Mexican War, Spanish Guerra de 1847 or Guerra de Estados Unidos a Mexico (“War of the United States Against Mexico”), war between the United States and Mexico (April 1846–February 1848) stemming from the United States’ annexation of Texas in 1845 and from a dispute over whether Texas ended at the Nueces River (Mexican claim) or the Rio Grande (U.S. claim). The war—in which U.S. forces were consistently victorious—resulted in the United States’ acquisition of more than 500,000 square miles (1,300,000 square km) of Mexican territory extending westward from the Rio Grande to the Pacific Ocean.

Mexico severed relations with the United States in March 1845, shortly after the U.S. annexation of Texas. In September U.S. Pres. James K. Polk sent John Slidell on a secret mission to Mexico City to negotiate the disputed Texas border, settle U.S. claims against Mexico, and purchase New Mexico and California for up to $30 million. Mexican Pres. José Joaquín Herrera, aware in advance of Slidell’s intention of dismembering the country, refused to receive him. When Polk learned of the snub, he ordered troops under Gen. Zachary Taylor to occupy the disputed area between the Nueces and the Rio Grande (January 1846).

On May 9, 1846, Polk began to prepare a war message to Congress, justifying hostilities on the grounds of Mexican refusal to pay U.S. claims and refusal to negotiate with Slidell. That evening he received word that Mexican troops had crossed the Rio Grande on April 25 and attacked Taylor’s troops, killing or injuring 16 of them. In his quickly revised war message—delivered to Congress on May 11—Polk claimed that Mexico had “invaded our territory and shed American blood on American soil.”

Congress overwhelmingly approved a declaration of war on May 13, but the United States entered the war divided. Democrats, especially those in the Southwest, strongly favored the conflict. Most Whigs viewed Polk’s motives as conscienceless land grabbing. Indeed, from the outset, Whigs in both the Senate and the House challenged the veracity of Polk’s assertion that the initial conflict between U.S. and Mexican forces had taken place in U.S. territory. Further, legislators were at odds over whether Polk had the right to unilaterally declare that a state of war existed. Principally at issue was where the encounter had actually taken place and the willingness of Americans to acknowledge the Mexican contention that the Nueces River formed the border between the two countries. Active Whig opposition not only to the legitimacy of Polk’s claim but also to the war itself continued well into the conflict. In December 1846 Polk accused his Whig doubters of treason. In January 1847 the by-then Whig-controlled House voted 85 to 81 to censure Polk for having “unnecessarily and unconstitutionally” initiated war with Mexico.

Among the most-aggressive challenges to the legitimacy of Polk’s casus belli was that offered by future president Abraham Lincoln, then a first-term member of the House of Representatives from Illinois. In December 1847 Lincoln introduced eight “Spot Resolutions,” which placed the analysis of Polk’s claim in a carefully delineated historical context that sought to obtain a full knowledge of all the facts which go to establish whether the particular spot of soil on which the blood of our citizens was so shed was, or was not, our own soil at that time.

Ultimately, the House did not act on Lincoln’s resolutions, and Polk remained steadfast in his claim that the conflict was a just war.

Abolitionists saw the war as an attempt by the slave states to extend slavery and enhance their power with the creation of additional slave states out of the soon-to-be-acquired Mexican lands. One abolitionist who agreed with that interpretation was author Henry David Thoreau, who was incarcerated in July 1846 when he refused to pay six years worth of back poll taxes because he felt the U.S. government’s prosecution of the war with Mexico was immoral. Although he spent only a single night in jail (his aunt, against his wishes, paid the taxes, thus securing his release), Thoreau documented his opposition to the government’s actions in his famous book-length essay Civil Disobedience (1849), insisting that if an injustice of government is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.

When war broke out, former Mexican president and general Antonio López de Santa Anna (the vanquisher of the Texan forces at the Alamo in 1836) contacted Polk. The U.S. president arranged for a ship to take Santa Anna from his exile in Cuba to Mexico for the purpose of working for peace. Instead of acting for peace, however, on his return, Santa Anna took charge of the Mexican forces.

Following its original plan for the war, the United States sent its army from the Rio Grande, under Taylor, to invade the heart of Mexico while a second force, under Col. Stephen Kearny, was to occupy New Mexico and California. Kearny’s campaign into New Mexico and California encountered little resistance, and the residents of both provinces appeared to accept U.S. occupation with a minimum of resentment. Meanwhile, Taylor’s army fought several battles south of the Rio Grande, captured the important city of Monterrey, and defeated a major Mexican force at the Battle of Buena Vista in February 1847. But Taylor showed no enthusiasm for a major invasion of Mexico, and on several occasions he failed to pursue the Mexicans vigorously after defeating them. In disgust, Polk revised his war strategy. He ordered Gen. Winfield Scott to take an army by sea to Veracruz, capture that key seaport, and march inland to Mexico City. Scott took Veracruz in March after a siege of three weeks and began the march to Mexico City. Despite some Mexican resistance, Scott’s campaign was marked by an unbroken series of victories, and he entered Mexico City on September 14, 1847. The fall of the Mexican capital ended the military phase of the conflict.

Ultimately, infection and disease took many more U.S. casualties than combat did. At least 10,000 troops died of illness, whereas some 1,500 were killed in action or died of battle wounds (estimates of the war’s casualties vary). Poor sanitation contributed to the spread of illness, with volunteers—who were less disciplined in their sanitary practices than regular troops were—dying in greater numbers than the regulars. Yellow fever was particularly virulent, but other diseases—such as measles, mumps, and smallpox—took their toll too, especially on troops from rural environments whose immunities were less developed than those of their urban compatriots.

Polk had assigned Nicholas Trist, chief clerk in the State Department, to accompany Scott’s forces and to negotiate a peace treaty. But after a long delay in the formation of a new Mexican government capable of negotiations, Polk grew impatient and recalled Trist. Trist, however, disobeyed his instructions and on February 2, 1848, signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. According to the treaty, which was subsequently ratified by both national congresses, Mexico ceded to the United States nearly all the territory now included in the states of New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California, Texas, and western Colorado for $15 million and U.S. assumption of its citizens claims against Mexico.

Zachary Taylor emerged as a national hero and succeeded Polk as president in 1849. The war reopened the slavery-extension issue, which had been largely dormant since the Missouri Compromise. On August 8, 1846, Rep. David Wilmot of Pennsylvania attempted to add an amendment to a treaty appropriations bill. The Wilmot Proviso—banning slavery from any territory acquired from Mexico—was never passed, but it led to acrimonious debate and contributed greatly to the rising sectional antagonism. The status of slavery in the newly acquired lands was eventually settled by the Compromise of 1850, but only after the nation had come perilously close to civil war. When the Civil War came in 1861, many of the most-noteworthy generals on both sides had profited from their battle experience in the Mexican-American War, including Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee, Thomas (“Stonewall”) Jackson, James Longstreet, George Pickett, Albert Sidney Johnston, Lewis Armistead, and P.G.T. Beauregard, as well as Union Generals Ulysses S. Grant (who later called the Mexican War “one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation”), George Gordon Meade, George H. Thomas, and Joseph Hooker.

In Mexico the war discredited the conservatives but left a stunned and despondent country. It also reinforced the worst stereotypes each country held about the other. Normalization of relations after the war proceeded slowly.

What’s New For Social Security In 2021

Reading Time: 10 minutes

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As the new year is quickly coming upon us, for those that are receiving social security benefits, it’s worth taking a good look at what changes are going to be in store for the new year.

The good news is, you should be getting a raise due to the Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA). The 1975-82 COLA’s were effective with Social Security benefits payable for June in each of those years. Thereafter COLA’s have been effective with benefits payable for December.

The first COLA, for June 1975, was based on the increase in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) from the second quarter of 1974 to the first quarter of 1975. The 1976-83 COLAs were based on increases in the CPI-W from the first quarter of the prior year to the corresponding quarter of the current year in which the COLA became effective. After 1983, COLAs have been based on increases in the CPI-W from the third quarter of the prior year to the corresponding quarter of the current year in which the COLA became effective.

The actual formula used to determine your standard benefit – your primary insurance amount – always stays the same. The Social Security Administration adjusts your wages for inflation, figures out your average monthly wage during the 35 years your inflation adjusted wages are highest, and provides you with benefits equaling a percentage of that average, which is your Averaged Indexed Monthly Earnings (AIME).

Specifically, you’ll get benefits equaling:

  • 90% of your AIME up to a first “bend point”

  • 32% of AIME between the first and second “bend point”

  • 15% of your AIME above the second bend point

Bend points are income thresholds. And that’s where the change comes in. The bend points are going up next year as they do in most years. Specifically, the first bend point is going up from $960 in 2020 to $996 in 2021, and the second is going up from $5,785 to $6,002.

Next year’s bend points will apply only to a limited group of retirees. That’s because the bend points used to determine your benefits are those in effect during the year you turn 62. Those who turned 62 in 2020 received 90% of AIME up to $960; 32% of AIME between $960 and $5,785; and 15% of AIME above $5,785. But those who turn 62 in 2021 will receive 90% of AIME up to $996; 32% of AIME between $996 and $6,002; and 15% of AIME above $6,002. Those who turn 62 in 2022 will likely see even higher bend points, and so on each year.

These bend points are important, because they make the Social Security formula progressive. Lower earners get a larger percentage of their average wage replaced than higher earners do. But it’s also important that they go up each year to keep pace with inflation, otherwise lower earners wouldn’t get a large enough percentage of their income. In 1979, for example, the bend points were $180 and $1,085, which means that average benefits would be a whole lot smaller for the vast majority of Americans with an average wage of more than $180 per month.

Of course, while the bend points are going up, there are still many workers who won’t get benefits equaling 90% of all of their career average wages, since there are many people with an average above $996. While it’s important for every American to have supplementary savings to live on in retirement in addition to their Social Security benefit, those with higher average wages see a smaller percentage of their total income replaced. They must take that into account when setting their retirement savings goals.

Sadly, the news isn’t all good. If you’re under full retirement age (FRA) and you’re hoping to work and collect Social Security benefits at the same time, you could run into a problem in the form of the retirement earnings test (RET)

Under the RET, if you work when you’re under full retirement age for the whole year, you’ll temporarily forfeit $1 in Social Security benefits for every $2 earned above $18,240 in 2020 (or above $18,960 in 2021). If you’re under FRA for part of the year when you’re working, you’ll forfeit $1 in Social Security benefits for every $3 earned above $48,600 in 2020 (or $50,520 in 2021).  Once you’ve hit FRA, though, you can work as much as you want without worry.

The loss of benefits isn’t necessarily permanent. When you’ve reached your full retirement age, the Social Security Administration will calculate the number of months of missed benefits and credit you back any early filing penalties for those months. Since early filing penalties reduce your standard Social Security benefit amount by 5/9 of 1% per month for each of the first 36 months you claimed Social Security before FRA and an additional 5/12 of 1% for each month prior, getting credited back the penalties will raise your check amount slightly.

And over time, you’ll get back the money you missed out on if you live long enough. Still, the fact that working can lead to the loss of Social Security checks in the short term is a big problem if you were hoping to have both a paycheck and benefits to live on as a retiree.

There’s another issue as well, and it applies to everyone regardless of their age. If you work and your paychecks push your provisional income above $25,000 as a single tax filer or $32,000 as a married tax filer, part of your Social Security benefits will be subject to federal tax when they otherwise wouldn’t be.

Provisional income is adjusted gross income plus nontaxable interest income and 1/2 your Social Security benefits. Once it goes above $25,000 for singles or $32,000 for married filers, you’re taxed on up to 50% of benefits. And once it exceeds $34,000 for single filers or $44,000 for married joint filers, you could be taxed on up to 85% of your Social Security.

When you’re taxed on your benefits, that’s money you don’t get back. Of course, owing a bigger bill to the IRS isn’t reason enough to give up working if you like the job or need the money, nor is the fact that you may end up forfeiting some Social Security money under the RET.

But you do need to know that working could have these effects so you can be prepared for the loss of funds when setting your retirement budget. Otherwise, you may anticipate a higher household income than you end up with and that could get you into financial trouble.

Traits You Inherit From Mom And Dad

Reading Time: 13 minutes

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When we think about or discuss inherited traits from our parents, – believe it or not, we all get our traits from our parents and not because the earth is flat or because our neighbor wore a spaghetti strainer on their head – we tend to hear “He or She has your eyes, lips, cheekbones, etc. But what about all of the million other traits that no one thinks about.

Some of the other questions that we might ask ourselves is:

  • Why is my brothers hair line receding and mine is not?

  • Where did you get your button nose?

  • Did your dad pass on the curse of sneezing in bright sunlight?

  • Where did your baby’s red, curly hair come from when there hasn’t been a redhead in your family for generations?

While we ponder these things, the answer is not as simple as it might seem, and no, your mom or dad did not cheat on each other.

The science behind the genetics that are passed on to children – like so many things that I write about – would require volumes of books to break down all of the answers to some of life’s questions.

It’s nearly impossible to dichotomize exactly where each of your traits came from. We all know, that despite the many decades of research of DNA, there are still mysteries in each strand of DNA that are as large as the universe itself.

Most traits are influenced by many different genes and you inherit some from each parent, plus there’s the influence of your environment and the environment that your parents were in when you were conceived.

Just because you have a gene for a certain trait doesn’t always mean you’ll end up with it. Then there are traits people often assume are inherited but actually aren’t.

Still, it’s fun to ask those questions and while there aren’t many detailed answers, there are a few basic things genetics can tell you about the traits you inherit from your mom and those you got from our dad. But first, you need to know how inheritance works.

There are three main ways you can inherit traits from your parents:

  • First is through a dominant gene. If you inherit a dominant gene you will develop that trait. For example, eye color. If either of your parents have brown eyes, you likely will have brown eyes as this is a dominant trait.

  • Second is through a recessive gene. Both parents have to have the recessive gene for you to have that trait. For example, if you have green eyes then both of your parents must carry a gene for green eyes, even if their eye color isn’t green.

  • Third and more importantly, there are X-linked traits which are found only on the X chromosome and are passed on through the mother.

One of the questions you might ask yourself is: Why am I skinny when my parents are average or slightly above average weight:

  • It’s generally known that there are two types of fat in your body. Good brown fat and bad white fat.

  • The brown fat will increase your metabolism and help you maintain a healthy weight, and the white fat which tends to cause excessive weight gain, and in many cases will contribute to the development of disease if you have too much of it.

  • Everyone has some of each type but how much brown fat you have may be inherited from your mom. None the less, while mom may be helping you out with the brown fat, you can blame your dad for your white fat. How much fat you store, particularly around your organs may be partly determined by genes passed down from your father. Genetics aren’t destiny when it comes to your weight, your lifestyle choices play an even bigger part.

One of the many questions that I hear very often and have sometimes ask myself is: Why does my sibling have a fantastic memory and I can’t remember where I put my car keys right after setting them down.

It seems that if your mother has lower levels of serotonin, a brain chemical linked to mood, then you’re more likely to develop attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder later in life. The genes passed down from mom to kid that impact serotonin production also seem to influence your ability to focus.

Puberty. One of the most confusing times in a growing child’s life, leaving them to ask “Why!? What is this!?” Your voice is changing, your body is growing faster then you know what to do about it.

Puberty, and all the not-so-fun milestones that come with it, like acne, cracking voices, or getting your period while wearing white shorts, is a rite of passage many children go through on their way to becoming an adult. Both parents’ genetics play a large part in when exactly you start the big change but if you started puberty early, that may be due to a gene you inherit from your father.

Most concerting for women long before men is the question: Why do I have wrinkles on my face?

How well you age and how much you show it is determined on a cellular level by the accumulation of damage over your lifetime to your mitochondrial DNA. These are genes that you only get from your mom. Environmental factors like sun exposure, smoking, and an unhealthy diet can cause mtDNA damage but some of the damage can be inherited from your mother. The more mtDNA with mutations you inherit from your mother, the faster you age and the more it will show in traits like wrinkles and gray hair.

You, like everyone on the planet at some point in time have ask yourselves: Why am I or why do I get so moody at times?

Mothers can influence your mood in many ways and it’s not just by grounding you or serving lima beans three times a week. The structure part of the brain known as the corticolimbic system, which controls emotional regulation and plays a role in mood disorders like depression, is more likely to be passed down from mothers to daughters than from mothers to sons or from fathers to children of either gender. This may mean that daughters at least partly inherit their mood from their mothers.

Gender. Although we all know that we should be thankful for just being born to start with, this is still a question that at some point, you are going to ask yourself. Why was I born a boy or girl?

Obviously the genes from mom and dad determine the gender that you were born. But did you know that which gender genes you pass on may be inherited from your father? A man with many brothers is more likely to have sons, while a man with many sisters is more likely to have daughters.

Memory. As mentioned above, is something that we all think about from time to time.

It’s been known for some time that a family history of Alzheimer’s disease significantly increases the risk for developing the illness. Studies have found that the genetic risk primarily comes from your mother. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia later in life, affecting nearly six million people in America alone, so it’s important to know what factors increase your risk, including your mother’s medical history, so you can start taking steps to protect your brain health now.

For women, while growing up, dreaming about starting your own family in the house with a white picket fence, you have at some point in time ask yourself: Will I be able to have children and will they grow up healthy?

A woman’s fertility may be impacted by a gene she inherited from her father. In a normal egg cell, a part of the cell called the centrioles is eliminated as part of the natural development process. However, if the centrioles aren’t eliminated which is often due to a genetic dysfunction, passed on by her dad, then the woman is sterile.

Mentioned above, why does your hairline recede while your brothers does not?

We’ve all heard that when a man loses his hair is due to an inherited trait from his mom’s side. A study has proven that to be false. Researchers found 287 independent genetic signals that were linked to male-patterned hair loss and while 40 were only found on the X chromosome, meaning they were inherited on the maternal side, the rest were scattered throughout DNA inherited from both patterns. Interestingly, some genes associated with hair loss also seem to be associated with an increased risk for heart disease in men.

And last, but not least. If you have a high level of intelligence, you should be sending lots of flowers to your mother and be sure to include a very big thank you card.