About this database
This database is the work of David McKenzie, a History Ph.D. student at George Mason University. It is a class project for History 698: Digital History Techne, also known as "Clio 3." I plan to continue working on it after the semester has ended, as I see this database as a basis for future research.
The database provides information about claims filed by U.S. citizens against Mexico before 1846, when the two countries went to war. The resolution of the claims proved a minor issue in drawing the two countries to war, and became a part of the war's resolution: The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo included not only $15 million for the United States's official purchase of northern Mexico, but $3.2 million to resolve the claims filed against Mexico.
Before the war, though, as claims against Mexico mounted, the two countries formed a commission to adjudicate the claims. Meeting in Washington in 1841 and 1842, the commission included Mexican and U.S. members, with an "umpire" representing the King of Prussia. The umpire resolved different verdicts between the U.S. and Mexican judges. The database, as of the end of 2012, only contains claims heard by that first commission.
The United States formed a second commission after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to hear further claims and dole out the money to resolve claims that the United States assumed under the treaty. The database will contain information about claims heard by this commission in a future incarnation.
The documentation submitted for the claims files (part of Record Group 76 at the National Archives) is extensive--sometimes multiple boxes for one case. Claimants submitted as much documentation as they felt would help their cases. The documentation--including memorials, letters, ship manifests, and invoices--provides insight into U.S. activities in Mexico, and how relations between the two countries played out on the ground.
That is the reason I created this database: to track not just the claims themselves, but information about them, and what they can tell us. As such, I include not only financial information and synopses of the cases, but information about the location of the incidents, home ports of the ships, ship names, etc. In the future I hope to add more demographic information about the claimants, as well, to provide further insight into the U.S. citizens who interacted with Mexico.
These cases have been little used in the historiography of the leadup to the U.S.-Mexican War. The main work in which they have been used is a phenomenal dissertation by Dr. Peter Jonas, who wrote about the claims and, specifically, the process of resolving them. This database, and any further work I do from it, is indebted to Dr. Jonas, not only for laying the groundwork with his dissertation, but the guidance he has already kindly provided me in using these files. He painstakingly compiled a list of the claims, claimants, and amounts in his dissertation; my goal is to build upon his work with further information about the claims and activities of U.S. citizens in Mexico, and to further relate the information in the claims files to other information about interactions between the people of the United States and Mexico before they went to war in 1846.