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How and why did America expand westward?

The quotes below signify the different opinions of those who favored westward expansion and those that did not:

"It is America's right to stretch from sea to shining sea. Not only do we have a responsibility to our citizens to gain valuable natural resources we also have a responsibility to civilize this beautiful land."


"America has no right to take the lands west of the Louisiana Territory. Those lands are rightfully owned by Mexico and to enter into conflict with the Mexicans just to expand and take that land would violate the principles of this great nation."

As America hurtled towards self destruction we embarked on a period of expansion fueled by the notion that we could take the land west of our current boundaries merely because we wanted too. Just as distorted as this myopic view of the world was the fact that we were oblivious to the problems this expansion would create on an already fractious society.

I. Manifest Destiny

A. How did America expand its borders in the 1800's?

1. Louisiana - Purchased in 1803 by President Thomas Jefferson for 15 million dollars.

2. Florida - Ceded (given) to the United States as a part of the Adams - Onis Treaty in 1819. A US army led by Andrew Jackson had been perched on the border of Florida. Realizing they would be unable to keep the territory (nor did they want it because of the harsh climate) the Spaniards gave it up.

3. Texas - American settlers had come to Texas and built planations and farms. The settlers, led by Stephan Austin, asked Mexico for admission into the Mexican nation as an independent state. The Mexicans refused and war broke out highlighted by Santa Anna's attack on the Alamo. Texas declared herself independent in 1836 and its first President was Sam Houston. In 1845 Texas was annexed by the United States and became the 28th state.

4. Oregon - Questions over the Oregon territories had long existed. Russia, France, Britin and the United States all had claims in the area. Russia and France gave upo their claims and then England negotiated a treaty with the United States to draw the boundry at 49 north latitude, where it remains today.

5. Mexican Cession - Tensions between America nad her southern neigbor had been high for some time and had only increased as a result of America's annexation of Texas. President Polk, with his eye on luring Texas into war, sent US troops over the border across the Rio Grande river, a disputed border. When Mexico attacked the US Polk responded by claiming that the Mexicans had perpetrated an unprovoked attack. Congress declared war and the US demolished the weaker Mexican army. As a result of the treaty that ended the war the US gained the Mexcian Cession and paid Mexico 15 million dollars for their loss.

6. Gadsden Purchase - The US realizing the importance of this territory for railroad building paid Mexico 10 million dollars. Considering the price paid for Louisiana and the Cession lands this was a large amount. We paid this much due to a feeling of guilt over our participation in the Mexican American War.

B. How did the US justify this territorial expansion?

1. Simply put, Manifest Destiny. The term Manifest Desitny was first coined by Congressman Robert Winthrop and then made popular by newspaper publisher John O'Sullivan in the 1840's. It meant that it was Gods will that Americans expand from sea to sea.

Americans claimed they were bringing God, technology and civilization to the the west. Of course they also brought death, disease and war but that was never publicized.

I found this song on the web which may give you one perspective on Manifest Destiny:

Manifest Destiny
More blood on the hands of Christ
They called themselves Christians
And gave themselves the rights
Disguised as missionaries
They were really after gold
Many Indians died for that
How many's never told

Photo of the bodies of Native Americans being carted away in the name of Manifest Destiny.

C. What problems were caused by westward expansion?

1. As you should know by now the main issue was the extension of slavery into the territories. The South was for it and the North against it. Various controversies surfaced but the passage of the Missouri Compromise was thought to have solved them. The nation was wrong.

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