About the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

Opponents of Official English often cite the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, claiming that the Treaty grants to Mexican-Americans (and, by extension, to all Hispanics) the “right to maintain their language and culture.” See, e.g., Griswaold del Castillo, “The Chicano Movement and the Treaty,” THE TREATY OF GUADALUPE HIDALGO: A LEGACY OF CONFLICT 152 (Univ. of Oklahoma Press: 1990). Such claims are false: the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo does not even mention linguistic or cultural rights.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. It was ratified by the United States and by Mexico, and took effect on May 30, 1848. The Treaty ceded certain territories to the United States and enumerated the following rights for Mexicans then residing in ceded territories: within one year, they could elect to “retain the title and rights of Mexican citizens” or “acquire those of citizens of the United States”; they retained property rights even if they elected not to become U.S. citizens; and those electing U.S. citizenship had “all the rights of citizens of the United States, according to the principals of the constitution.”

Portions of Article IX of the Treaty were not ratified by the United States Senate. One of the non-ratified portions would have explicitly respected the “relations and communications between the Catholics living in the [previously Mexican] territories, and their respective ecclesiastic authorities, … although such authorities should reside within the limits of the Mexican Republic, as defined by this treaty.” The subsequent “Protocol of Queretaro,” dated May 26, 1848, clarified that in its place the Senate substituted the more general language from Article III of the 1803 “Treaty of Louisiana,” which provided: “The inhabitants of the ceded territory shall be incorporated into the Union of the United States, and admitted as soon as possible …; and in the mean time they shall be maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty, property, and the religion which they profess.” Five years later, in Article V of the “Gadsden Treaty,” the UNited States and Mexico further clarified their mutual understanding: “All the provisions of [Art. IX] of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, shall apply to the territory ceded by the Mexican Republic …, and to all the rights of persons and property, both civil and ecclesiastical, within the same, …”.

Nowhere in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the Protocol of Queretaro, the Treaty of Lousiana, or the Gadsden Treaty are non-English linguistic or cultural “rights” of the formerly-Mexican citizens, or their descendants, living in the United States, even mentioned. The drafters of each did not want to create a special class of citizens; rather, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, among other purposes, simply ensures that the new citizens would have the same rights as other citizens of the United States.

In 1986, opponents of Proposition 63, which made English the official language of California, cited the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in opposition to official English. The Attorney General of California examined their claims to special linguistic rights under the Treaty and declared:

The treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo contains no mention of either Spanish or English…. An examination of the relevant provisions of the Treaty and the case law interpreting them indicates that their purpose was only to ensure that Mexican nationals residing in the ceded territories at the time of the treaty could acquire U.S. citizenship…. [The provisions] do not purport to give such persons any rights above those of other U.S. citizens.

Office of the Attorney General of California, News Advisory, October 9, 1986.

There is thus no basis for the assertion that official English laws would violate the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (or any other treaty or law). Since that Treaty addresses neither linguistic nor cultural rights, it has no relevance in the debate over English as the official language of the United States or any State.