Gadsden Purchase Of 1853

The Purchase That Brought Southern Arizona into The U. S.

It Changed the Landscape of The Southwest

Gadsden Purchase of 1853The Gadsden Purchase is one of the more interesting real estate deals made by the United States. Its sole objective was to enlarge the borders of the southwest United States. Doing that made it easier to build the Southern Pacific railroad.


In 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo established the boundary between Mexico and the United States. The border ran along the Gila River with all land to the south of the river belonging to Mexico.

James Gadsden was from South Carolina and the son of a revolutionary soldier, Christopher Gadsden. The senior Gadsden had been a statesman in South Carolina and soldier in the civil war. Both father and son held strong views on the rights of the southern states to govern themselves.

James Gadsden had also been a soldier under Andrew Jackson. His alliance with the many political figures of the time helps his political career. One such advancement was the appointment as the commissioner in charge of placing the Seminole Indians on reservations by President Monroe.

Railroads Moving West

James Gadsden had promoted railroads as the future for the south. His stanch promotion of railroads got him the position of president of the South Carolina Railroad Company.

Gadsden held a vision to create one railroad system from the patch work of small and individually owned railroad systems of the time. He dreamed of a transcontinental railway running from the southeast coast to the southwest coast. He felt having this railway system in place would tie the cities on the pacific coast commercially tied to the southern states instead of the northern states.

Unfortunately, to achieve that goal, the railroad would need to run through the U. S. territory that was north of the Gila River. That area was extremely mountainous and make the venture to expensive.

The most direct route for the railroad was south of the Gila River. Then part of Mexico. Undaunted, Gadsden set out to have the Federal Government acquire the land needed to build the railroad from Mexico.

The Deal With Mexico

With friends in high places inside the Government, Gadsden was able to receive an appointment as the U. S. Minister to Mexico by President Pierce. His instructions were to acquire enough land to build a railroad to the Gulf of California. He went to work immediately.

The territory to be acquired was basically a no man’s land in northern Mexico. In the mid 1800’s the area was hardly settled and experiencing frequent Indian raids.

Earlier in the history between the Federal Government and Mexico at the time, was the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, signed February 2, 1848.  This treaty had put closure to the Mexican war and ended Mexico’s claim to compelled to abandon its claim to Texas and the territory that would become New Mexico, Arizona, California, Colorado, Utah and Nevada.

Now, after the war and subsequent transfer of territory to the Federal Government, Mexico was in need of money.

Gadsden ceased the opportunity. In 1852 Gadsden agreed to pay Santa Anna, the Dictator of Mexico, $10,000,000 for a strip of territory south of the Gila River. The land included some 45,000 square miles in what now southwestern New Mexico and southern Arizona is. The purchase was finalized on December 30, 1853.

The Outcome

The Gadsden Purchase was so unpopular in Mexico that Santa Anna was over thrown as dictator and banished.

Gadsden was recalled as Minister to Mexico for mixing politics and domestic affairs. The up roar in the U. S. Government over the Gadsden Purchase stopped the Pierce administration from any further actions that would add more territory to the United States.

The territory acquired by the Gadsden Purchase in 1853 essentially completed the contiguous 48 states as we know them today.

Interestingly, Arizona petitioned Congress to be identified as a Territorial government that same year. One of the names suggested for the Territory was Gadsonia. Gadsonia is a Latin derivative for the name Gadsden.


The Gadsden Purchase expanded the southern boundaries of Arizona and New Mexico. The Southern Railroad was built and was key to settling the southwest.

Soon silver and gold would be discovered in southern Arizona and the territory would become one of the leading producers of silver, copper and gold. The gun fight at the OK coral in Tombstone AZ sparked the legend of Wyatt Erp.

Without the Gadsden Purchase, the second largest city in Arizona, Tucson, would be part of Mexico. With that, it is unlikely the University of Arizona would exist. With that, Kentucky may have won the 1997 NCCA tournament against ????.

How different the southwest would be today without the Gadsden Purchase?


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