Treaties - Treaties acquiring territory

After the critical phase of revolution and gaining independence, American policy began to focus on the possibilities of the vast North American continent. In the category of territorial politics alone, the United States made fourteen major attempts to annex territory between 1800 and 1869. Four were unsuccessful (Cuba, the Dominican Republic, the Hawaiian Islands, and the Virgin Islands); one (the annexation of Texas in 1845) was settled not by a treaty but by a joint resolution. Eight of the remaining nine resulted in major treaties: four purchase treaties (Louisiana, Florida, parts of Arizona and New Mexico, and Alaska); three partition treaties concerning Oregon (1846); and a single peace treaty (Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848). Another, earlier peace treaty, that of Ghent (1814) did not involve territorial annexation.

The drafters of the Treaty of Ghent (December 1814), which ended the divisive war with the British begun two years earlier, were satisfied simply to restore the territorial status quo. News of the treaty did not reach Washington until February 1815, a delay that permitted General Andrew Jackson to prevent the capture of New Orleans in the meantime (8 January 1815). The Senate immediately approved the treaty, one of the most popular ever negotiated by Americans.

Territorial questions played a dominant role in American politics both before and after the Civil War. The territories in question were generally located on the North American continent and contiguous to previously annexed territories. (Alaska in 1867 and the Midway Islands seized in the same year were exceptions to this general rule.) Thus, the attempts or plans to acquire island territories—Hawaii, the Virgin Islands, Santo Domingo, even Cuba—were considered by many as immoral and not in accord with American tradition. Once the territories were acquired, generally by treaty, it was still necessary to occupy them, which often meant fighting and then negotiating with the indigenous inhabitants.

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