Americas Westward Expansion and Manifest Destiny

During the early years of the United States, many thought that expansion was vital to the young nations survival. Early states were strategically located along the eastern seaboard which allowed for trade to flow easily, however many started to question what profit may come out of the vast interior land that had yet to be explored. As the nation’s population was rapidly increasing, large cities such as Boston and New York city quickly became crammed and over populated. This overpopulation led to ideology that expanding the nation on a westward course could be useful and potentially profitable. Native Americans, however had already held this land for hundreds of years and strongly disliked colonials intruding upon it. As Americans began moving into the land and seeing how profitable the land could actually be whether through fur trade or through hunting and farming they began to feel like religion might have been the cause for their great success. This coined the ideas for what we know today as manifest destiny. According to the SAAM in their article Americanexperience.si.edu, the phrase manifest destiny originated in the nineteenth century, however the ideology was developed in the seventeenth century with the first European immigrants, more specifically, English Puritans or protestants. Manifest destiny, at its basic core refers to the ideas that one’s survival in America or on any new land in general was dependent on God’s approval. Although manifest destiny played a large role in the expansion of America, it simply would not have been as widespread if the things our founding fathers such as Thomas Jefferson did would have been complete. The Louisiana purchase made Americans eager to set out and explore after the discoveries of Lewis and Clark.

The Louisiana purchase, in 1803 nearly doubled all land that was previously owned by the nation. More importantly, however, was the new control over the Mississippi river. The transaction took place under president Thomas Jefferson, who believed that westward expansion was key to the nation’s health. Jefferson also believed that virtue played a major role in whether the small interior farms or not would succeed he wrote those who labor on earth are the chosen people of God’. While Jefferson believed that this expansion was vital, others whom opposed his administration claimed that this was a sign of greed and that the nation was already large enough.

Jefferson’s ideas that the farmers were the people of God spread, and most importantly encouraged many new people to move to the west whether it be the new immigrants or people who had been here since their childhood or even born here. Although some may have opposed the expansion, his ideas spread, even through politics which we see plays a big role in future administrations and policies. The ideas of manifest destiny and its role in westward expansion, also contribute greatly in the future of the nation through future political leaders. Many future leaders will push for expansion and believe once again that it is vital for the nations survival. The first major piece of evidence we see for this is from James Monroe in the Monroe doctrine. James Monroe, through this document is extremely close to making manifest destiny a policy. The policy that was created put European nations at notice that the United States would in fact defend other Western Hemisphere nations from further colonization.

Although the ideas of westward expansion were extremely widespread and mostly excepted, many issues remained. The debate over slavery, and whether it would be allowed in these new states or not was a force that many thought would shred apart the nation. The Kansas-Nebraska act allowed for the people of the new states to decide for themselves whether slavery would be permitted or not. When the act first passed, a huge wave of people rushed to the territory so that they could take their position on slavery. The war over slavery continued throughout the adding of new states and was deepened when the Republic of Texas was annexed through the Mexican War. The United states gained vast amounts of land throughout this war but most importantly the land of Texas. Another agreement with Britain gave the nation possession of a portion of the Oregon territory. Throughout all of this new land, dispute was still heavy on whether or not slavery should be legal or not there. This problem would not be completely solved until after the American Civil war and the passing of the 13th Amendment, which prohibited slavery.

The War of 1812, allowed Americans to freely move, once the war was over. Although the war was primarily fought between the British and American’s, the native American forces allied with the British to fight against the Americans. The United States wanted the British colonial holdings in Canada, which they did not get. Post war, the borders remained the same neither country truly won, however, there was a clear looser, the native Americans. A great native American ruler named Tecumseh who allied with the British was killed at the battle of Thames. The tribes power was greatly reduced and almost disappeared post war. The tribe was vulnerable to the Americans looking for expansion after the British forces broke their promises to help defend their territory and retreated to Canada. Prior to the war, American expansionist who were travelling west, were often attacked by native Americans. After the war, these tribes were either shrunk down in size so much that their force would not hurt settlers, or they were pushed further west. Either of the two allowed for further west land to be settled.

On May 28, 1830 president Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal act into law. The new law, had great impacts on the five majorly civilized tribes, the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muscogee-creek, and the Seminole. Until this act was passed, these five tribes were able to acts as independent nations, living on American soil. The acts put pressure on the Indian chiefs to move their tribes further west, if they did not do so, they would be forcefully removed from the territory. The first tribe to sign a treaty and remove themselves was on September 27, 1830, the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. The treaty removed all Choctaws east of the Mississippi river in exchange for some money, but primarily land in Oklahoma. The journey out of the occupied land into Oklahoma was brutal on the Indians, the journey is now referred to as the trail of tears. Tension between the Indians and settlers had always been present, however, in a time of a Gold-rush, such as the one in Georgia in 1829 pushed settlers over the edge and encouraged them into supporting the Indian Removal act. Many Indians who were forced into forts while settlers moved in died. The number, over 4,000 native American deaths in a relatively short period of time.

Another factor that weighed in on Americas expansion was the Oregon trail and territory. The area referred to as the Oregon territory is considered all land from the northern border of California into Alaska. The territory was so vital to the nation because it included a major port to the Pacific Ocean, and an outpost on the Puget sound. The land was formerly held by the Spanish, although they didn’t occupy the whole area, they did hold it. John Quincy Adams, dreamed that the nation would stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific and was willing to fight for that to become a reality. He threatened Spain and pressured them into signing the Transcontinental treaty. The treaty granted America land north of California and set the southern border on the northern border of California, however, it did not set a boundary of the northern border in present day Alaska. This treaty encouraged men and women to move west into the largely unsettled land that had just become acquired. Manifest destiny played a big role in this expansion as people migrated into the land and it proved to be profitable they gave all glory to God. The more profitable and successful the men and women became the more they truly believed they were destined by God to be profitable off of this new land. The territory was difficult to reach, since no transcontinental rail road had been put into place yet. The territory was most easily reached by four pathways which are the Santa Fe Trail, which led into the Southwest. The Overland trail into California, the Oregon trail into the northwest, and the Mormon trail that led into the Great Salt Lake, which is present day Utah, are the other three trails which proved to be the simplest ways to reach the western land. Although these trails were the only way to reach the land, they were very dangerous and brutal, with that in mind, the government started to discuss the possibility of a transcontinental railroad that could reach the western land. In the presidential election of 1844, James Polk won the presidency and on the forefront of his agenda was national expansion. In March of 1845, a British ambassador rejected Polk’s offer to divide Oregon on the 49th parallel. Polk was infuriated with his decision and demanded the entire territory and include northern reaches setting the border to the 54-40 line. This sparked resistance and ultimately pushed the forces to the verge of war, however, they were able to compromise and agreed to split the territory along the 49th parallel in exchange for navigation of the Columbia river.

Although the war of 1812 contributed greatly to America’s expansion, the Mexican-American war was more vital, because of the land it granted the new nation. Prior to the Mexican-American war, Texas had already won its independence from Mexico. Former president, John Tyler, was a great supporter of manifest destiny secretly sent a diplomat, John Slidell to Mexico City to talk about purchasing present-day reaches of land in California, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and many other states, when Mexican officials found out he was there to try and purchase land instead of compensating them for Texas, they quickly turned Slidell away and sent him home. The American government quickly realized that Mexico was not up for negotiating and realized that if they wanted this land they had to fight for it. Polk, then sent Zachary Taylor and a few of his troops to the Rio Grande which was considered the highly disputed southern border to pressure Mexico. On April 25, 1846, the United States troops encountered a Mexican force who killed 11 Americans and captured and held the rest. Polk, used this as the basis of his argument for congress to declare war upon the Mexicans. War was disputed, some thought this would allow for the southern president to expand slavery into any new territory acquired. On May 13, 1846, America was officially at war with Mexico. Early in the war, the United States was victorious throughout all battles. Although fighting had stopped much early with vast success by the Americans, it was officially over February 2nd, 1848, when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed. This treaty acknowledged Texas as its own entity, and ceded all present-day land of California, Nevada, and Utah. The treaty also gave the United States land that would contribute to the size of the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and even Wyoming for 15 million dollars.

The California gold rush may have been the biggest force that drove many Americans off of the eastern sea board to west of the Mississippi river all the way across the continent to the Pacific Ocean. Not only did Americans rush to find their fortune, but people from all over the world, from Mexico, Peru, the Pacific islands, and even Europe, most notably France. James Marshall was one of the first to find gold at the foothills of the mountains near present day Sacramento, California. Marshall wished to keep this a secret but word quickly spread through printed newspaper. Soon people from all over the globe would be rushing to this newly acquired land. An estimated 300,000 people had come to California in search of gold by 1855. In the year of 1849 alone, an estimated 90,00o people had come into the state searching for riches, they were given the nickname the forty-niners. The gold rush helped to develop a stable outpost for Americans wishing to settle in western land. It also helped develop a booming industry and allowed for great population growth and development of a new state. The gold rush, allowed California to transform from a military occupied Mexican territory into a state under the American government. California was granted official statehood in the compromise of 1850. California’s gold rush allowed for men to make many new discoveries and was a major outpost for the late Klondike gold rush. The Klondike gold rush spanned from reaches in Canada into present day Alaska. Over 100,000 men rushed into the area in search of gold, only one-third of the men finished the journey, and an even smaller percentage finding gold.

Although all of the following were extremely influential in the development of land west of the Mississippi river, the transcontinental railroad was the single most important. Without the transcontinental railroad, the new land would not have been populated in the same fashion. The transcontinental railroad allowed for men to travel with their families, most importantly women and children. The railroads allowed for Americans to settle the western land the same way the British did with their colonization patterns, in contrast the French and Spanish were only searching for riches when colonizing. In 1845, Asa Whitney proposed the idea of a railroad that could span across the United States, Whitney was a merchant who had recently traveled to Europe and experienced the ease of travel and transport on the rail cars. Congress liked the idea and eventually passed an act to help transportation in 1862. The plan was for the first of five future railroads to be developed. The Acts issued land grants and government bonds to the Union and Central Pacific railroads. In 1856, a bill was proposed based on the fact that the railroads would create a bond between eastern and western states during a time of war, this would also help during the Civil war. Although the acts were passed earlier and funding was available, work didn’t start until January of 1863. At this time, the Central Pacific started working on their rail lines in Sacramento, California. Work was slow due to a shortage of employees because of the civil war. Many of the Central Pacific railroad’s employees were Asian immigrants who were formerly in search for riches during the gold rush. The Union Pacific faced many of the same problems, they didn’t start working on their lines until December of 1863, in Omaha, Nebraska. Although they began working two years prior, the first rail hadn’t been laid until July of 1865. Since the company was off to a late start, they were able to corral more workers since the civil war had come to an end, many of their workers were veterans or Irish immigrants.

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Americas Westward Expansion and Manifest Destiny. (2019, Nov 18). Retrieved September 24, 2021 , from
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