Westward Expansion: Opportunities and Challenges 1807-1910 Facts & Worksheets

Westward Expansion: Opportunities and Challenges 1807-1910 facts and information activity worksheet pack and fact file. Includes 5 activities aimed at students 11-14 years old (KS3) & 5 activities aimed at students 14-16 years old (GCSE). Great for home study or to use within the classroom environment.

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    • Manifest Destiny
    • The Corps of Discovery Expedition
    • The War 1812
    • Missouri Compromise and the Kansas-Nebraska Act
    • Monroe Doctrine
    • Indian Removal Act
    • The Oregon Trail and Territory
    • Mexican War
    • California Gold Rush
    • Transcontinental Railroad
    • Homestead Act

    Key Facts And Information

    Let’s know more about the Westward Expansion!

    • Theodore Roosevelt described the American westward expansion as “the great leap westwards”. The proponents of the manifest destiny ideology believed that God had destined the US to increase its territory and spread its ideas on democracy and capitalism over the whole of the North American continent. Events throughout history, including Mexican wars, the Indian Removal Acts, the construction of the transcontinental railroad, and the Homestead Acts significantly enabled the reality of westward expansion.


    • On 4 July 1776, the 13 American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain. Since then, and even before the declaration of independence, the story of the United States of America has been that of westward expansion, described by Theodore Roosevelt as “the great leap westward”.
    • A series of events characterised the great leap westward: wars, treaties and federal laws that enabled the Western region of the present-day United States to open up for settlement. This section is an at-a-glance review of those events.

    Manifest Destiny

    • In 1845, John O’Sullivan coined the term ‘manifest destiny’, a belief that Americans had a moral obligation to use and spread American philosophies (through non-coercive and nonviolent means) to the ‘less civilised’ society in the western hemisphere.
    • Manifest Destiny found its greatest support among Democrats, particularly in the northeastern states. The Whig Party, however, was not in support. This was a political party founded by the 7th American President, Andrew Jackson, which espoused individual freedoms and thus feared that westward expansion would mean spreading slavery to other territories.
    • The Whigs opposed expansionism, especially if it would create more slave states. Though they supported a more industrialised and modernised America, they did not believe expansionism was necessary to accomplish it. The Democrats, on the other hand, desired the acquisition of the other territories into the United States, including Texas.
    • The Southern states were in support of proactive means of acquisition of new slaveholding areas, including the use of force and violence. In 1803, President Jefferson’s administration purchased Louisiana from the French. This secured access to New Orleans and the Mississippi River as the area spanned over 15 states and 2 Canadian provinces. President Jefferson also purchased New Orleans from France.

    The Corps of Discovery Expedition

    • President Jefferson further commissioned an expedition through the Louisiana Territory to survey the new territory, and establish “the most direct & practicable water communication across this continent” and explore the Pacific Northwest so that the Americans could discover and hold claim to it before other Europeans.
    • After that, in 1803, Jefferson expanded the expedition’s mandate to include making diplomatic contact with the Native Americans in the region. Lewis selected joint commander of the expedition to be William Clark, who would create a US Army corps for the expedition.
    • In 1806, after a two-year journey, the team had achieved their first transcontinental expedition but had not discovered a northwest passage via water to the Pacific. Their expedition provided tactical and geographic information to the settlers moving into the region, including the spread of the native tribes, and discovered 178 previously unknown plant species and subspecies of animals.

    The War of 1812

    • Also called the Second War of Independence, the 1812 War was an armed conflict between the United States and the British Empire. Britain was already at war with France since 1793 when it passed the Orders in Council which provided that any merchant ship bound for the French port was subject to a search and seizure.
    • This resulted in Jefferson signing the Embargo Act, a non-importation law that would close American ports to international trade, hoping that France and Britain would suffer injury due to the loss of the American market. Having isolated itself, America went into depression.
    • At the same time, the British had refused to acknowledge America’s neutrality in the war, undermining their legitimacy as an independent nation. Furthermore, they would forcibly recruit American sailors into the Royal Navy when they met American ships at sea. Also, the British were arming the Native American Indians that were resisting the settlement of Europeans on the Frontier.
    • In 1808, James Madison then directed Congress to prepare for war with Britain. This became the first time the young nation of the United States declared war. At this time, Britain had already taken a decision to repeal the trade laws, and after news of America’s declaration of war reached them, they waited to see how Americans would react to the repealed laws. America, on the other hand, waited to see how Britain would respond to the declaration of war.
    • America wanted to achieve national honour and secure their commercial rights through the war. They decided to use Canada as a bargaining chip. This was a tactical error on their part because their invasion of Canada was significantly defeated at the Battle of Queenston Heights. They were also forced to surrender Detroit to the Canadians.
    • Britain, on the other hand, had managed to convince the Native Americans to fight on their side, and they carried out massacres in Indiana and Illinois. At sea, the Americans won several battles against British warships and seized some British Trade ships. In 1813, there was a civil war among the Creek natives in the Southeast between those who wanted to adopt the white culture and those who did not. The opposing faction, Red Sticks, attacked an American outpost including Fort Mims, Alabama.
    • Andrew Jackson therefore organised a militia to attack the Red Sticks and defeated them in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in May 1814. He compelled both factions of the Creek population, even those allied to him, to cede 24 million acres of present-day Alabama and parts of Georgia through the Treaty of Fort Jackson.
    • On 19 August 1814, an expeditionary force of 4,500 hardened British veterans under the command of General Robert Ross landed at Benedict, Maryland and began a lightning campaign. After routing Maryland militia at the Battle of Bladensburg, Ross’s men captured and burned the public buildings in Washington, D.C., including the White House. That month, peace negotiations began in the European city of Ghent.
    • Peace was reached in December 1814, through the signing of the Treaty of Ghent. The parties made a covenant to revert to the status quo before the war. Earlier in the year, Britain had repealed its trade restriction laws. Canada increased its military heritage among the nations in the manner in which it had resisted the American Invasion and supposedly supported it. It was agreed that Britain and America had drawn in the war and that the British had defeated the French. However, the British later abandoned the Native Americans who fought alongside them for the promise of recognition as a Native nation.

    Missouri Compromise and the Kansas-Nebraska Act

    • Missouri, a slaveholding area, applied for statehood in 1819. Two years later, Congress passed an agreement called the Missouri Compromise, outlining that states would be admitted in pairs of one free and one slaveholding state.
    • In 1857, in the Dred Scott Case, the Supreme Court held that Congress could not ban slavery in the territories. This was then followed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act that is most notable for effectively repealing the Missouri Compromise that prohibited slavery north of the 36°30′ parallel except for Missouri.
    • States would now determine their status in regards to being slaveholding or not by popular initiatives and not by a decision of Congress. Kansas and Nebraska filled up with settlers, from both sides of the slaveholding debate, eager to populate the states with the numbers required to sway the popular vote during the referendum.

    Monroe Doctrine

    • In 1823, the US passed the Monroe doctrine that the US would regard any further colonisation of the westward areas by other countries as an act of aggression against America. The doctrine is considered to be the first official attempt at policy based on the manifest destiny ideology.

    Indian Removal Act

    • Through the Indian Removal Act 1830, 50,000 Native Indians were forcibly removed from the Eastern states. The Intercourse Act of 1834 made provisions for the exact location where the new land reserves would be, since the Indians Removal Act did not specify this, stating that Indians were to transfer to, “that part of the United States west of the Mississippi, and not within the states of Missouri, Louisiana, or the Territory of Arkansas.”
    • The policy prohibited encroachment by the whites into the new Indian Reservation and guaranteed total non-interference of their affairs (natives) by even the government itself. There were over 70 additional treaties outlining the government support and protection of their migration. The federal government labelled the land in the frontier as the Great American Desert, believing no one would want to own property in the area. The US Army was mandated to patrol the border to ensure enforcement of the law.
    • Further noting the diverse nature of the Indians’ culture, like the Cherokee and the other groups, the government committed to ensuring that they had a representative in Congress, a promise that the government never honoured. The Indian tribes resisted the removal and the provisions of the Intercourse Act, and the government resorted to moving them by force to the reserved area. The forced relocation and march to the land reservations marked the ‘Trail of Tears’. About 4,000 out of the 15,000 Indians who were forcibly removed from Georgia died along the way.

    The Oregon Trail and Territory

    • Spain, Britain, the US and Russia held claims over the Oregon territory. The Oregon territory stretched from the Pacific coast to the Rocky Mountains, and included present-day Oregon, Washington and most of Columbia.
    • Through the Transcontinental Treaty 1819, Spain ceded their claims to the territory. The treaty also defined the western and southern borders of the Louisiana Purchase that had not been cleared up until this point. Captain Robert Gray, who in 1792 sailed 10 miles up the river and named his vessel the Columbia, was the basis of US claim over the territory.
    • The British American Convention of 1818 placed the border of British North America (Canada) along the 49th parallel, from the Great Lakes to the Rocky Mountains. It opened up all of Oregon to the citizens of either country. Under the treaty, the issue of dividing the territory would be reviewed every ten years.
    • Oregon had land of good quality, and was free for farmers to cultivate.
    • It was impossible to get wagons across the Rocky Mountains until the South Pass was discovered.
    • The trail started in Independence, Missouri and boats were used to travel along the Missouri River.
    • People could travel to Oregon and California by sea, but it was prohibitively expensive at that time.
    • The Oregon Trail passed through Indian land on the Great Plains.
    • In 1824, Russia abandoned its claims south of the 54 degrees, 40 minutes parallel. Americans were encouraged to settle in the areas west of the Mississippi that were open for settlement, except those settled by the Indigenous tribes.
    • The Mormons, who were in search of religious freedom, survived the Mormon Trail to the Great Salt Lake and the Oregon Trail to the Northwest. Under their leader Brigham Young, they survived harsh weather and attacks by the Natives to occupy, multiply and fill the region. In 1845, Britain ceded to America its claims over the region including the regions retained in the 1818 Agreement.

    Mexican-American War

    • In 1845, the US President Tyler annexed the Republic of Texas, which included present-day Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico. Though Texas had won independence from Mexico in 1836, Mexico refused to acknowledge the republic or its borders. The United States declared war over the territory and secured a swift victory.

    California Gold Rush

    • In January 1848, James Marshall discovered gold in the America River Sutter in Coloma, California. The same was the case in March of the same year. Over the next year, 90,000 people came into California from Oregon, Mexico, Chile, Peru and the Pacific Islands in search of gold.
    • Others came in by ship from New Zealand, Australia, China and other parts of Asia and the number of seekers reached 300,000 by 1855. The influx raised the status of New Mexico to be part of the compromise of 1850.

    Transcontinental Railroad

    • A merchant rode on the newly opened English railway and brought the idea to the US Congress in 1845. In 1862, Congress passed the first five Pacific Railroad Acts that granted bills of credit and land grants to the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad. Whereas both companies were affected by a shortage of staff and the civil war, eventually, the railway was completed in 1869. It puts an end to the emigrant trails, wagon trains, and other stagecoach lines that would facilitate the migration westwards.

    Homestead Act

    • In 1862, the Homestead Act became law. It further opened up the Western region by providing highly subsidised public land for all, including freed slaves. The requirement was for people applying for land to put up self-sustaining homes (homesteaders). They could apply for up to 160 acres of land.
    • After five years, the homesteaders could apply for confirmation of the land title. This enabled many people, religious exiles, and especially freed slaves, to purchase highly subsidised land. By 1976, four million people had been awarded land under the Homestead Act.

    Image sources:

    1. https://www.history.com/.image/t_share/MTU3ODc5MDg1MDg3ODYwNDQ3/westward-the-course-of-empire-takes-its-way.jpg
    2. https://constitutingamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Lewis-ClarkExpedition1.jpg
    3. https://www.ancient-origins.net/sites/default/files/field/image/Trail-of-Tears-.jpg