Westward Expansion

Westward Expansion The Westward Expansion has often been regarded as the central theme of American history, down to the end of the19th century and as the main factor in the shaping of American history. As Frederick Jackson Turner says, the greatest force or influence in shaping American democracy and society had been that there was so much free land in America and this profoundly affected American society. Motives After the revolution, the winning of independence opened up the Western country and was hence followed by a steady flow of settlers to the Mississippi valley. By 1840, 10 new western states had been added to the Federal union. The frontier line ran through Iowa, Missouri and Arkansas on the western side of the river.

All parts of the valley except Wisconsin and Minnesota were well populated. Thus a whole new section had been colonized with lasting effects on the American institutions, ideals and ways of living. The far west was the land of high mountains, deserts, strange rock formations, brilliant colors and immense distance. Fur trade with Europe had now become a lucrative business and the fur traders became the pathfinders for the settlers. Migration was now possible by the discovery of paths over which ox-driven carts could be driven through seeking mountains and across the western desert. People wanted to move away from the overcrowded cities and this led to the migration into the uninhabited lands.

Increased transportation like roads, railroads and canals and their construction created a demand for cheap labor making it easier for people to get jobs now, in contrast with the cities where there was unemployment. The pioneer movement for 70 years after the revolution roughly represented the form of 3 parallel streams, flowing westwards from New England, Virginia and South Carolina. The first pioneer groups tended to move directly westward. Thus the new Englanders migrated into western New York and along the shores of the great lakes, Virginians into Kentucky and then into Missouri and the South Carolinians and Georgians into the gulf territories. Throughout the settlement of the Mississippi valley, most pioneers did not travel long distances and as a territory had been occupied, families would move into the adjacent one.

There were boom periods of great activity, during which million acres of land were sold, alternated with depression periods during which there was little further expansion of the frontier and many disappointed pioneers even backtracked from the west to the east. When the treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, the Americans had thought that they had enough land between the Atlantic coast and the Mississippi river. Yet in 1803, by the Louisiana Purchase, the area of the United States doubled and not long after, it was augmented by the half-purchase-half-conquest of Florida. By the end of 1820, as many as 6 states were created, east of Mississippi-Indiana (1816), Mississippi (1817), Alabama (1819), Maine (1820) and Missouri (1821). By the 1830s, the frontier line had been carried to Iowa, Missouri and Arkansas-about one-third of the way across the continent.

By the 1840s, the expansionist policy, typified by the Manifest Destiny doctrine, became very strong with many sections willing to go to war to acquire more land. Slavery became a bone of contention between the Northern and southern states with the control of the senate in question. The South wanted expansion to increase slave states, the North to keep the balance with free states and the West wanting expansion to increase their land. The antagonism between the North and the South sees the beginnings of sectionalism leading to the civil war later. The spirit of equality becomes a banner with which the expansionist policy was proclaimed. Phases Of Development Before the 1830s, most sections of the west passed through the same phases of development in a regular order.

The first white men to usually enter a new area were the hunters and fur trappers, who had extraordinary skills to open up a new path through wilderness, finding food for themselves and dealing with the Indians. These men explored the country and brought news of its resources back to the east. In many regions, the second phase was cattle ranching while some also passed through the mining phase. Parts of Missouri and Wisconsin, for example were settled by lead miners. Behind the cattle ranchers or miners came the first farmers, who were often squatters with no legal title to land.

They were frequently restless and were impatient of the restrictions of civilised society, and were not interested in making permanent houses. Many of them, had a habit of moving every few years and would follow the frontier land as it carried further into the west. Once a new area had been opened up and shown to be fertile, it would soon attract men of sober and ambitious type, who had much more capital and more farming techniques and wanted homes where they could settle for the rest of their lives. They brought with them the habits of civilizations. They developed trade, established churches, schools and newspapers and set up institutions of government. The Federal government then assumed responsibility for guiding each area through the territorial stage until it was ready for statehood. But there were many parts of the west, where the white settlers provided for their own government, by the democratic methods long before the legal establishment of territorial institutions.

Thus the society became more diversified once small towns sprang up to meet the economic, political and cultural needs of the population. In those cases that did not afterwards become urban and industrial, this represented the final stage. Geographic factors also caused some variation in this usual pattern. Some mountain regions never passed beyond the squatter stage, while fertile countries, such as the black belt of Alabama and Mississippi, were sometimes settled, at the start, by men of more ambitious type. Geography also determined the order in which different regions were occupied. The early pioneers mostly preferred to make their homes in forest country or close to it, for they needed timber for shelter and warmth and also for fencing.

The forest regions were therefore settled in advance of the open prairies. By the 1830s, the frontier line had been carried into Iowa, Missouri and Arkansas. Immediately west of the Mississippi valley was the Great Plains, which after 500 miles sloped into the Rockies. The plains had a lot of wildlife with nomadic and highly warlike Indian tribes. Beyond the Great Plains, the way westwards was through the South pass between two immense mountain systems.

The Spanish territories of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and California, including parts of Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming were passed onto the newly established Mexican government in 1821. But the Spanish had only made settlements in New Mexico and parts of Texas and California, so the rest of the areas were ripe for expansion. To the north of California, the area of Oregon was to be occupied jointly by the Americans and the British according to the Anglo-American convention of 1818. From 1804 till 1807 and after 1812, the Federal government sent a number of exploring parties to the far west. This area was labeled as the “Great American desert”.

And so the American government during the 1820s and the 1830s believed that the west might appropriately be left to the Indians and were willing to promise that they could keep it in perpetuity. A more important role in expansion to the west was played by the fur trappers. They were the first white people to cover most of the western territories and find routes suitable for pioneer settlers. Between 1807 and 1835, the trappers penetrated into the mountains with intensive exploration and exploitation of the mountain country and discovering routes that helped establish the fur trade as well as open up the west for expansion. Overland trade with Mexico also helped in the knowledge of the far west. The trade route from Missouri to Santa Fe and later upto California resulted in the Americans establishing contacts with New Mexico and California which prepared the way for annexation.

Texas and California It can be assumed that the northern parts of Mexico would have eventually come under the control of the United States as the Mexicans did not colonize them, there was no effective sovereignty and American settlers would have resulted in American annexation. That the annexation occurred by force can be seen as the augmentation of an aggressive American nationalism and the Mexicans refusal to sell the land and inability to develop it. Mexico achieved independence in 1821 with the installation of a constitutional government but from 1824 to 1857, the country was dominated by the army and chronic military revolutions. The earliest of the northern parts of Mexico to come under the control of Americans was Texas. In 1823, Stephen Austin secured authorization from the Mexican government to colonize the area.

The Mexican government was hoping for the quick settlement and mexicanisation of the area. By 1830, around 30,000 Americans were settled in Texas with local self-government. At the same time, the Mexican government barred any more Americans from settling in Texas. The dictatorial government meant negotiation was impossible and in March 1836, a convention of Texans issued a formal declaration of independence, drafted a constitution and chose Sam Houston as commander-in-chief of their army. The Texans were hoping for annexation by the Americans but the question of slavery meant the Lone Star Republic remained a republic.

In 1844, a motion to make Texas a part of the United States failed but it became the main platform for the next presidential elections. James Polk won on the party platform of “reannexation” of Texas and “reoccupation” of Oregon. In 1845, a joint resolution was passed by Congress and Texas finally became a part of the United States. Polk now had to get Mexican consent to the annexation of Mexico and fix the boundary line, which the Texans said was Rio Grande while the Mexicans insisted on Nueces. Mexico had also defaulted on the repayment of the debt of 2 million dollars.

This made Polk order the American army under General Zachary Taylor to occupy the disputed boundary region. Mexican troops were also ordered to hold the same region and when a clash between the two armies occurred in 1846, Congress declared war. The Northeast, under the leadership of Emerson, Thoreau and James Russell opposed war, as they feared slavery. The planters of the South wanted Texas but knew that New Mexico and California were unsuited for slavery and so wanted limited expansion while the people of the West wanted war for expansion. Texas was soon conquered and with California being taken in 1847, the American annexation of the Far West was complete. A treaty was signed in 1848 whereby Mexico ceded Texas with the Rio Grande boundary, New Mexico, California and the rest of the western territories.

The United States would pay Mexico 15 million dollars and assumed its debt of 3.25 million dollars. The treaty was ratified by the Senate. The settlement of California was accelerated by the Californian Gold Rush, when gold was discovered in 1848. In 1849, elections were held in California and California asked Congress for admission to the confederation. California became a state in 1850. Oregon The settlement of Oregon was preceded by lot of propaganda, which was nationalistic in nature led by Kelley and later Wyeth.

Religious missions, from Methodist to Presbyterians and Congregationalists and Catholic, all tried to settle this area and they were the first permanent American settlements in Oregon and became the centers of agriculture and cattle-raising. The great migration began in 1841 and was stimulated by the depression of 1837 with people with some capital hoping to make a fresh start. By 1845, there were 6,000 Americans in Oregon, and the United States government tried to make the 49th parallel as the boundary without success. The fur trade had since declined in this area so the British agreed to the 49th parallel as the boundary in a treaty in 1846 and thus, American sovereignty was established over the area covered by Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Utah The Mormon Church under the able leadership of Brigham Young settled the area south of Oregon and by 1847 had settled the area of Utah.

Immediate Problems after the War The new acquisitions meant that problems like transportation had to be tackled. A canal across Panama was planned but this didnt materialize for many …

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