RESEARCH

When the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo concluded the U.S. War with Mexico and ceded nearly two-thirds of stolen Indian lands above the Río Bravo to the Euro American nation, Washington embraced a new dilemma: ensuring swift state control over its newly-acquired territory. Government officials emboldened the army with posse comitatus, or “power over the land,” to penetrate the region and patrol its boundaries through an unprecedented expansion of military bases.[1] As New Mexico territorial Colonel E.V. Sumner wrote in his narrative of fort selections, “[border] posts have all been selected, with a view to cultivation as well as the defense of the frontier…both as it regards discipline and economy.”[2] These federal installations existed independently of the Western towns already settled, tasked to help shape, albeit artificially, Western visions of road and house building in addition to animal husbandry. After 1848, however, the number of military bases increased by 300 percent. By 1857, Washington already established 138 federal forts west of the Mississippi, eighty-eight more than it founded fourteen years earlier.[3] Through this policy, state intervention assured a swift migration of armed forces into the U.S. southwest. Yet, this national deployment also ushered in state agents of Euro American descent into a racially-diverse borderlands.

Digital Borderlands is a visual footprint of the impacts of military bases in the U.S. since 1848. How have they impacted notions of citizenship, immigration law, land tenure, and processes of racialization?


[1] The role of the Army in engaging domestic social disorders remained ambivalent and therefore, legal, until the passing of 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibited the federal army from domestic policed intervention. See Posse Comitatus Act, June 18, 1878, ch. 263, §15, 20 Stat. 145, 152; President Jefferson’s 1807 Insurrection Act initially stated that the army could be used for “lawlessness, insurrection, and rebellion.” For more, see the Insurrection Act of 1807, ch. 39, 2 Stat. 443 (current version at 10 U.S.C. §§ 331-335 (2000)).
[2] Colonel EV Sumner to Major General R Jones, Military Correspondence (24 Oct 1851). Located in the Abbott Fort Union Volume, Special Collections Library, New Mexico Highlands University, Volume 1, 137.
[3] Edward M. Coffman, The Old Army: A Portrait of the American Army in Peacetime, 1784-1898 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 58.