- Theodore Roosevelt described the American westward expansion as “the great leap westwards.”
- The proponents of the Manifest ideology believed that God had destined the U.S. 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 the 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, named by Theodore Roosevelt, “the great leap westward.” A series of events characterized the great leap westward, wars, treaties and federal laws that enabled the western region of the present-day the United States open for settlement. This section is a glance review of those events.
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 civilized” society in the western hemisphere. Northwestern states, of which were Democrats supported the manifest destiny, but the Whig Party was not in support. The Whig Party was a political party founded by the 7th American President, Andrew Jackson, which espoused individual freedoms and thus feared westward expansion would mean spreading slavery to other territories. The Whig, hoped for independent states, friendly to the United States, like the Republic of Texas before it was annexed and without slavery. 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 for the Americans access to the New Orleans and the Mississippi River as the area spanned over 15 states and 2 Canadian provinces. President Jefferson also purchased the 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 expeditions mandate to include making diplomatic contact with the Native Americans in the region. Lewis selected William Clark to be the joint commander of the expedition, which would a U.S Army corps created for the expedition. In 1806, after a two-year journey, the team had achieved its 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 1812
Called also the Second War of Independence, the 1812 war was an armed conflict between the United States and the British Empire. The British was already in war with France since 1793, passed the Orders in Council, which provided that any merchant ship bound for the French port was subject to a search and seizure. The resulted in Jefferson signing the Embargo Act a non-importation law that would close Americans ports to International trade hoping that France and Britain would suffer injury by 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. They further would forcibly recruit American sailors into the Royal Navy when they met American ships at sea. Also to this, British were arming the Native American Indians that were resisting the settlement of Europeans on the Frontier.
James Madison then 1808, then directed Congress to prepare for war with Britain and this became the first time the young nation of the United States declares 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, expected to see how Britain would respond to the declaration of war.
America wanted to achieve national honor and secure their commercial rights through the war. They decided to use Canada as a bargaining chip a tactical error because their invasion of Canada was significantly defeated at the Battle of Queenston Heights and was forced to surrender Detroit to the Canadians. Britain 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 organized a militia to attack the Red Sticks and defeated them in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in May 1814. He compelled both factions Creek population, even those allied to him, to cede 24 million acres of present-day Alabama and parts of Georgia through the treat of Fort Jackson.
On August 19, 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 a Treaty of Ghent signed and 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 support. British and America agreed to have drawn in the war and the British defeated French. However, the British after that abandoned the Native Americans who fought alongside them for the promise of recognition as a Native Nations.
Missouri Compromise and the Kansas-Nebraska Act
Missouri, a slaveholding area, applied for statehood in 1819. Congress two years later, outlining that states would be admitted in pairs a free and slaveholding state, passed an agreement called the Missouri Compromise. In 1857, in the Dred Scott Case, the Supreme Court held Congress could not ban slavery in the territories. This followed the repeal of the Kansas-Nebraska Act that prohibited slavery 36 degrees and 30 minutes longitude line in the old Louisiana Purchase. This means that states would determine their status in regards to 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 fill-up the states with the numbers required to sway the popular vote during the referendum.
In 1823, U.S. passed the Monroe doctrine that the U.S. would regard any further colonization 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 ideology
Indian Removal Act
Through the Indian Removal Act 1830, 50,000 Native Indians were forcibly removed from the eastern states. The Intercourse Act 1834, made provisions for the exact location the new land reserves would be, since the Indians Removal Act did not specify, 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 an additional over 70 treaties outlining the government support and protection in their migration. The federal government labeled the land in the frontier as the Great American Desert, believing no one would want to own property in the area. The U.S Army was mandated to patrol the border to ensure enforcement of the law.
Further, noting the diverse nature of the Indian’s culture, like the Cherokee and the other groups, the government committed to ensuring that they have a representative in Congress, a promise that the government never honored. 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 match to the land reserve 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, U.S., and Russia held claims over the Oregon territory. The Oregon Territory stretched from the Pacific coast to the Rocky Mountains, which includes 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 was not clear up until this point. Captain Robert Gray who in 1792 sailed 10 miles up the river and named for his vessel the Columbia was the basis of U.S claim over the territory.
The British American Convention of 1818 placed the border of British North America (Canada) along the 49th parallel, to the Rocky Mountains from the Great Lakes. It opened all of Oregon to the citizens of either country. Under the treaty, the issue of dividing the territory would be reviewed every ten years. 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 was open for settlement except those settled by the Indigenous tribes. The Mormons in search for religious freedom survived the Mormon Trail to the Great Salt Lake and the Oregon Trail to the Northwest. They survived harsh weather and attacks by the Natives to under their leader Brigham Young to occupy and multiply to fill the region.
In 1845, Britain ceded to America its claims over the region including the regions retained in the 1818 Agreement.
In 1845, the U.S 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
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 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.
A merchant rode on the new opened England railroad and brought the idea to the U.S. 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 are affected by a shortage of stuff and the civil war, eventually, the railroad was completed in 1869. It puts an end to the emigrant trails, wagon trains and other stagecoach lines that would facilitate the migration westwards.
In 1862, the Homestead Act becomes law. It further opens up the western region by providing highly subsidized public land for all including freed slaves. The requirement was for people applying for land to put up self-sustaining homes (homesteaders) and could apply for up to 160 acres of land. Once successful after the five years, the homesteaders applied for confirmation of title for land. This enabled many people, religious exiles and especially freed slaves purchase highly subsidized land. By 1976, four million people had been awarded land under the Homestead Act