Westward expansion in the United States to California was crucial in the late 1800s, but how did we travel all the way west to California from the East? The answer to that is the transcontinental railroad. The transcontinental railroad was a train route across the United States created in 1869. Two railroad companies were involved in the making of this extensive project, the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific. The Union Pacific railroad company built the railroad from the east while the Central Pacific built from the west and they met in the middle. Theodore Roosevelt was the president of the United States at this time and he called this movement, the great leap Westward. This quote is very accurate because this was in fact, a great leap westward.
The cause of westward expansion was Manifest Destiny. Manifest Destiny was a belief that expanding the United States through the American continents was justified. This belief wanted to move the United States west to the Pacific Ocean. After the Civil War was over was when the United States purchased Alaska. By purchasing Alaska, it renewed the concept of Manifest Destiny. What really renewed the concept of Manifest Destiny, was when the United States went to war with Spain and annexed the state of Hawaii. John L. O’Sullivan was the man who first wrote about the term Manifest Destiny. He did not think that these two words would be so powerful in the near future. The Manifest Destiny term can be used to describe everything that helped move towards westward expansion, especially in the following paragraphs.
The migration westward actually started before the American colonies won their independence during the Revolutionary War. The settlers who were migrating westward did not go very far west, but just to the states of Kentucky, Tennessee and parts of Ohio. The biggest debate during the 19th century was slavery. The government was debating to continue slavery and expand it to westward areas, or to completely abolish it. The Kansas-Nebraska act gave the privilege of states to decide for themselves how they wanted to go about slavery. On December 6, 1865, the 13th amendment came about. This amendment completely abolished slavery in the United States. If slavery was happening in any states, it was illegal.
The Louisiana Purchase happened in 1803 when President Thomas Jefferson purchased Louisiana territory from France. This purchase caused France to be completely removed from North America. This also helped the United States gain double the area of America including New Orleans and places along the Mississippi River. France owned around fifteen states in the United States, along with two parts of Canada. Jefferson sent people to France’s territories to purchase, but France actually offered their entire territory for just fifteen million dollars. The states that the United States gained during the Louisiana Purchase was Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, parts of Minnesota and Louisiana. They also gained parts of the northeastern part of New Mexico along with South Dakota, Northern Texas, parts of Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado.
The first piece of gold was discovered in California in 1848. This sparked a wave of people who wanted the treasure for themselves. Many people poured into the area. The California Gold Rush was a huge contribution for the expansion west of the Mississippi. Not only did the transcontinental railroad contribute to the expansion, but so did the Homestead Act in 1862. This act provided free 160 acre lots in the unsettled land for anyone who filed a claim. For the people who filed a claim on the land, they could live on it for five years and make improvements to it. They were also required to build a twelve by fourteen-foot shelter. When the claim’s five years was up, the settler could file for a patent which is a document stating that they now own the property and everything on it. All of this happened in less than a century, and in that century more than 80 million acres had been given to around 480,000 settlers. Ten percent of the United States land had been settled before this act, but by 1976 all the states except for Alaska was settled. America had settlers that stretched from east to west, not including Alaska or Hawaii. People from different countries also fled to California to find gold. These were people from Mexico, Chile, Peru, and the Pacific Islands. Approximately 90,000 people were seeking for gold in California. They later were given the name of forty-niners. Later came people from Australia, New Zealand, China, and parts of Asia and Europe, but mainly France. By 1855 around 300,000 people were in California for the gold rush. Silver was also discovered in California in this time which brought even more people there. In 1890, San Francisco, CA became the eighth largest city in the United States with a population around 300,000 residents.
One of the downsides of the westward expansion was how the Native American tribes lost a lot of their land. Not only did they lose their land, but they also lost their traditional way of life. The Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears began on May 28, 1830. President Andrew Jackson was the one to legalize this law. The policy sanctioned the president to grant Indian tribes unsettled western prairie land if they gave up their territories. To summarize this act, the Indian tribes were removed. A white man would not tolerate the presence of Indians east of the Mississippi River. The act’s purpose was to negotiate with the Indians about their land, but America had other plans. Americans basically forced the Indians from their homes and told them to move elsewhere. A bunch of the northern tribes resettled westward peacefully, but the problem was with the southeast tribes. Many of these southeast tribes refused to give up their land. This started the Trail of Tears. Around 100,000 Indians were forced to march westward under the United States military. The Florida Indians fought for resettlement for seven years.
The transcontinental railroad was presented to the United States Congress in 1845 by Asa Whitney. Whitney had already built railroads from England to China in 1842. He showed the United States Congress how much good the railroads brought to those countries hoping it would convince them to build a railroad in the United States. The Pacific Railroad act was passed. There were two railroad companies that built the transcontinental railroad, the Union Pacific Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad. The Central Pacific began building the railroad in Sacramento, California in 1863, but work was delayed because of the lack of resources and labor caused by the Civil War. Chinese Immigrants were there to be used for labor to build the railroad. These Chinese immigrants had traveled to California for the gold rush. The Union Pacific started building in Omaha, Nebraska in 1863, but also lacked forces of labor. Their construction began when the war was ended. Most of the Union Pacific laborers were Army veterans and Irish immigrants. To work for these railroad companies was very dangerous. The workers had encountered several attacks from Native Americans. The Union Pacific railroad company built their railroad a lot quicker than the Central Pacific railroad company did. The two railroad companies decided on a meeting point at Promontory Summit, which is north of the Great Salt Lake. This point was about 690 miles from Sacramento, CA and about 1,086 miles from Omaha Nebraska. They met on May 10, 1869 and finished the railroad off with a gold spike.
The Oregon trail was a 2,000-mile route that helped Americans move westward. It started in Missouri and ended in Oregon City, Oregon. Thousands of Americans used this route. The trail traveled through Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and into Oregon. The popular American to use the Oregon Trail was missionaries. The purpose of a missionary is to spread Christianity and these missionaries had not seen a better opportunity to do so than to take the Oregon Trail. Life on the Oregon trail was rough. This journey took up to a year for most migrants. The main supplies these migrants brought with them were flour, sugar, bacon, coffee, salt, rifles and ammunition. Having a covered wagon was crucial for these people as well. Oxen and mules pulled these wagons all day so they needed to be light weight, but sturdy enough to travel in all kinds of terrain. These migrants had to start their travel in April or May so they could reach Oregon before the winter snow hit. This plan was really thought out because in the winter, there would be no grass to feed the oxen or mules that pulled their wagons. Thousands of pioneers were on the path at the same time. The Independence Rock is a huge rock of granite that was used as the half-way mark for migrants. Migrants were relieved when they reached this landmark. There were many dangers on the Oregon Trail. These dangers included that one in ten people would not make it to the end, or they did not survive. There was also a spread of diseases such as dysentery, cholera, smallpox, or the flu. Among all of these problems, it was not uncommon for migrants to be ran over by wagons or accidentally shot. Many people also drowned when crossing different rivers. This trail really united people and people were there to help out future migrants by posting signs of disease outbreak or bad water. Eventually, bridges and ferries were built. There were also places designed for travelers to take breaks and get some rest. Instead of bringing trail guides, guidebooks were made to make traveling easier. When the first transcontinental railroad was created in Utah in 1869, many people decided that this was an easier route and lost their wagons. By 1890 it was extremely rare to see anyone traveling in a covered wagon. The Oregon Trail’s new name is the National Historic Trail.
In the mid 1800s, a few men decided to open up a mail delivery service. This mail system traveled more that 1,800 miles in just ten days. This system started in Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California. This route ensured that these three men could deliver letters faster than anyone has ever done before. This mail system only lasted for eighteen months between April 1860-October 1861. The 1849 Gold Rush and the 1847 Mormon exodus were the two main groups to move west, and many used the Oregon Trail to do so. This was when the Leavenworth & Pike’s Peak Express Company was created. The creators were William H. Russel, Alexander Majors, and William B. Waddell. This company later became known as the Pony Express. During the time of the Pony Express, transcontinental telegraph lines that connected the Missouri River and the Pacific Coast were in the making. During the construction of these telegraph lines, the Pony Express was in operation, but on October 26, 1861 when San Francisco was in direct contact with New York City, the Pony Express was terminated. The last letters were delivered in that following November. The trails that were used for the Pony Express’ mail service are now no longer there. They have been destroyed due to humans or by time.
There were many good consequences of Westward expansion. For starters, the United States gained a lot more territory for Americans to live and prosper on. Americans also saw that their nations mission was bringing on good education, modern technology, and new territory out
west. Along with these great consequences came some bad consequences. There are many countries that the United States feuded with in the 19th century that still do not get along with the United States today. Americans faced many struggles when moving out west. For example, when Americans forced Indians out of their land and homes, it did not go over so well. Indians began to kill any white man that came across their paths. All of this information can be considered part of Manifest Destiny. Another big thing that westward expansion brought for America was more land for farming. Farming was a big resource during this period of time because that is where most people got their food from. There was both vegetables and fruits on farms, along with cattle, pigs, sheep, lamb, goats, and more. Along with all of this, there was also many crops that were used to make bread like rye and wheat. If it was not for farmers, people would not have a good source for food. Westward expansion also was good for trade and industry. When America gained more land out west, it opened up more doors for trading to other countries. This also paved a way for Americans to share their different cultures with their fellow Americans. This is how the United States is home to several different cultures in today’s world. Exploration was the biggest thing during the 1700s through the 1800s because people were able to discover new places and landmarks that Americans today actually travel to and see. Americans were also able to discover new ways of living and they learned to be innovative. Along with all of the pros comes the cons. One of the biggest cons was war and conflict. America had a war with Great Britain over dividing the Oregon territory, and a war with America, Mexico, and Spain about gaining Guam, the Philippines and Puerto Rico. One of the bigger drawbacks that stalled westward expansion was that America was in a time of slavery. America promised that they would not take anyone’s land like native Americans without their consent. History shows us that this was not actually the case. Americans forced people out of their homes and made them move
elsewhere. They also did not do this in a peaceful manner. Indians suffered many deaths of their people. This mainly happened when Americans forced the Indians from their home. During the Trail of Tears, many of the Indians died because of the terrible conditions or just white men killing them because they wanted their land and things. Critics also believed that this was a violation of the rights of the people because the constitution did not give the country the right to take new land areas and force people out of them. Many people argued that Manifest Destiny was against God’s will. They said that God would not allow a territorial expansion to happen if it led to killings, and there were several killings along the way out west. God did not want anyone’s life to be put in danger just for some land.
In conclusion, westward expansion was a great thing that happened for America’s sake. If Americans did not decide to explore new land out west, there is no telling what the United States would be like in today’s century. This was man’s greatest travel in history. Many believe that Manifest Destiny was one of the biggest parts in American history. So many things contributed to westward expansion, as talked about in the previous paragraphs. One of the biggest things that contributed to westward expansion and let the term Manifest Destiny go into effect was the transcontinental railroad. This railroad helped people travel safer and easier. The alternative way of travel before the transcontinental railroad was built, was the Oregon trail. Thankfully, the railroad was built because the Oregon trail was a rough way to travel and a dangerous way as well. So many new ways to travel and communicate came about because of westward expansion. Many new resources and cultures were discovered that impacted these new developments. Letter and mail became popular in today’s world because of the Pony Express. The Pony Express caused other countries around the world to start mail carrying services before they had other ways of communication. Overall, westward expansion was one of America’s biggest adventures.
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