Westward Expansion Essay Ideas On Responsibility

As of December 31, 2014, I retired from full-time teaching in Humboldt State University's Department of History. While this website will remain online, it is no longer maintained.

History 110 - Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer

The Geographical Consequences of Manifest Destiny

Today we begin our third unit of study - Movement Westward and Manifest Destiny. This newest chapter in our story

  • begins at the turn of the 19th Century as Americans began to cut a small pathway into the American west,
  • continues as Americans begin their persistent trek westward throughout the North American continent, and
  • ends in 1890 when the federal government declared that a "frontier of settlement" no longer existed; the North American continent had been settled and was officially civilized.

We have come to call this period of U.S. history the era of Manifest Destiny. To get a better understanding of this era, we will begin with this famous painting - American Progress - painted by John Gast in 1872.

  • What examples of progress do you see in the painting?
  • Why is this painting also an example of one of our course themes - Progress is not always progressive?
  • And just what is Manifest Destiny?

    Manifest Destiny - The belief that Americans had the God-given right to expand westward, to spread democracy, and to conquer anything and anyone as they marched across the North American continent.

Three absolute beliefs were, and continue to be, attached to this idea of Manifest Destiny:

  1. Americans would geographically, politically, and economically expand to the continental limits.
  2. Americans would Americanize all people living within the continental limits.
  3. Americans would conquer both the people who resisted Americanization and the natural geographical forces that stood in their way.

These three beliefs will shape our discussion for the next four weeks.


Discussion Goals: The Geographical Consequences of Manifest Destiny

  1. To get a picture of what life was like in the United States in 1800.
  2. To gain an understanding of the expansion process that took place in North America between 1800 and 1853.
  3. To understand the reasons Americans moved westward to expand the boundaries of the United States.

Discussion Goal #1: To get a picture of what life was like in the United States in 1800

To set the stage for our discussion, let's get a mental picture of what it was like to be an Americans in 1800 when the era of Manifest Destiny was beginning.

  • There were 5.3 million Americans and nearly one out of five Americans was a slave.
  • The vast majority of people - 93% - lived on farms or in small towns. And what was life like for Americans who lived in rural America? Most people think of the idealic life as portrayed in the lithograph below of rural life in America at the turn of the 19th century. But historian Jack Larkin provides us with another story.
    • "Early nineteenth century Americans lived in a world of dirt, insects, and pungent smells. Farmyards were strewn with animal wastes, and farmers wore manure-spattered boots and trousers everywhere. Men's and women's working clothes alike were often stiff with dirt and dried sweat, and men's shirts were often stained with 'yellow rivulets' of tobacco juice. The locations of privies were all too obvious on warm or windy days. Unemptied chamber pots advertised their presence. Wet baby 'napkins,' today's diapers, were not immediately washed but simply put by the fire to dry. Vats of 'chamber lye' - highly concentrated urine used for...degreasing wool - perfumed...many households..."
  • Few people had any allegiance to a national entity. Their concerns, interests, and knowledge were local rather than national. It was not until the War of 1812 that Americans had a national anthem - and 1818 before we had a fixed notion of a flag with 13 stripes and as many stars as states. We didn't have a flag salute until 1892.
  • Most people lived within a long thin line of settlements that clung to the eastern seacoast. Two-thirds of all Americans still lived within 50 miles of the Atlantic Ocean.
  • They had no concept of fixed times because there were no fixed times - when it was midnight in New York, it was 11:47 in Washington and 11:55 in Philadelphia. Until the 1880s, towns an cities set their clocks on the rising and setting of the sun. Because of the earth's rotation, dawn and dusk occur at different times at different places. Thus, in the 1870s, the railroads maintained 50 different time zones.
    • It was in 1883, after a meeting of railroad tycoons, that Americans agreed to accept time zones and synchronize their clocks. By November 18th - the clocks changed, but without any legal authority. It was accomplished solely at the request of the railroads - which gives us an idea of how powerful they were.
    • Then, on Nov. 1, 1884, the International Meridian Conference in Washington D.C. agreed to establish international zones according the the Royal Greenwich Observatory established by England in the 1840s. Around the world, clocks were set to reflect the new Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and the International Dateline was placed along the 180 degree meridian in the Pacific Ocean.
  • They had no standardized money. By 1820, there were over 300 banks in the nation. Until the Civil War, paper money was issued by local banks. For example, in Zanesville, Ohio - no fewer than 30 banks issued paper money.
  • They rarely traveled far from home - not only because they weren't much interested in the land beyond, but primarily because transportation between was difficult, if not impossible. The roads - if you could call them that - were snowbound in the winter, muddy in the spring, and rutted in the summer. Only four roads crossed the Appalachians. Travel on roads was most often by horseback and coaches.
    • The best roads were called corduroy roads because they were made of felled trees laid side by side, giving a ribbed effect like corduroy.
    • Travel times of 3-4 miles per hour were common - thus, it took two days to travel from NY to Philadelphia by horse and carriage.
    • The nation's best road from Boston to New York was 175 miles long and took 3 days to travel by stagecoach. There were no roads south of Washington D.C. that could be traveled by coach. Thus, it took Jefferson 10 days to travel the 225 miles from Monticello to the capital.
    • Water transportation was the only way to move large quantities of items or heavy items. Canoes, rafts, barges, and sailing ships were the common means of transportation.
  • They ate and drank in excess. Additionally, the average American was eating a decidedly unhealthy diet. The main meal was eaten between 2 and 4 p.m. According to Bill Bryson (1994:186), that meal consisted of "salted beef with potatoes and peas, followed by baked or fried eggs, fish, and salad, with a variety of sweets, puddings, cheeses, and pastries to finish, all washed down with quantities of alcohol that would leave most of us today unable to rise from the table - or at least to rise and stay risen.
    • In his book Battling Demon Rum, Thomasa Pegram tells us that between 1899-1850, Americans "drank more alcohol on an individual basis than at any other time in the history of the nation." During that time "Americans above the age of 14 on average consumed each year between 6.6 and 7.1 gallons of pure alcohol."
    • Current annual American consumption is about 2.8 gallons.
  • The vast majority of Americans did not celebrate holidays. Christmas trees and gift-giving were not part of the American celebration of Christmas until the 1840s. Most other holidays are recent - Thanksgiving, 1863; Memorial Day, 1868; Labor Day, 1894; Veterans Day, 1918; Columbus Day, 1934. These are all declared by the states - there are no official national holidays in the US.
  • Very few children actually attended school. Public schooling did not really become an issue until the end of the century. Instead, families were expected to teach their young children their alphabet and enough "ciphering" to keep them from being cheated in private transactions. Education, for the majority of people, was a private affair. The only exception was New England where several states mandated that communities provide common schools for their children. Such laws, however, were never enforced seriously enough to force a community to provide a school.
    • Where public schools did exist, their job was to provide a moral and patriotic education. As historian David Nasaw notes, it was to teach children to "vote right and to pray right ... to be a sancrosanct ground where only the doctrine and principles of republicanism were to be preached." (Schooled to Order, 1979:40-42).
    • School teachers were told to avoid all subjects that were politically controversial. Neither teacher nor students were allowed to question or criticize their textbooks, which Nasaw describes: "These books exalted America and its political institutions, proclaiming the inherent virtues of the New World and its white, male, Protestant, and Anglo-Saxon population. That the nation contained others was a fact conveniently ignored."
  • For those who lived in cities, life was difficult, dirty, and often dangerous. According to historian Jack Larkin in The Reshaping of Everyday Life in the United States, 1790-1840:

    America's cities were often far more noisome than its farmyards. Horse manure thickly covered city streets, and few neighborhoods were free from the spreading stench of tanneries and slaughterhouses. New York City accumulated so much refuse that it was generally believed the actual surfaces of the streets had not been seen for decades...In most cities hundreds, sometimes thousands of free-roaming pigs scavenged the garbage; one exception was Charleston, South Carolina, where buzzards patrolled the streets. By converting garbage into pork, pigs kept city streets cleaner than they otherwise might have been, but the pigs themselves befouled the streets and those who ate their meat - primarily poor families - ran greater than usual risks of infection... America was a bawdy, hard-edged, and violent land. We drank more than we ever had before or ever would again ... In 1827, the fast-growing city of Rochester, New York, with a population of approximately 8,000, had nearly one hundred establishments licensed to sell liquor, or one for every 80 inhabitants ... After 1800 in American streets, barrooms, stores, public conveyances, and even private homes it became nearly impossible to avoid tobacco chewers...Spittoons were provided in the more meticulous establishments, but men often ignored them. The floors of American public buildings were not pleasant to contemplate...The floor of the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1827 was 'actually flooded with their horrible spitting,' and even the aisle of a Connecticut meetinghouse was black with the 'ejection after ejection, incessant from twenty mouths,' of the men singing in the choir."


Discussion Goal 2: To gain an understanding of the expansion process that took place in North America between 1800 and 1853

At the turn of the 19th century, Americans began to think about how to expand their continental boundaries. As they did so, they faced several enormous obstacles:

  • Natural barriers - mountain ranges, deserts, grizzly bears, raging rivers almost impossible to cross.
  • Indians - the vast majority of Indian nations lived east of the U.S. border.
  • Foreign Nations - as you can see on the above map, the majority of the North American continent was claimed by France, Britain, Spain, Russia, and Mexico.

But despite these formidable obstacles, in just 53 years, the Americans moved confidently across the continent, conquering the natural barriers, Indian Nations, and the foreign nations. And they accomplished that task without any reliable transportation - no roads or trains - and without any type of communication - no telegraphs lines or phones.

So, just how did these newly-independent people come into geographical and political control of an entire continent in just 53 years? How did they go from controlling just under 1/3 of the continent in 1800 to gaining another 1/3 from the French, almost another 1/3 from the Mexicans, the remainder of the continental U.S. from Spain and Britain, and Alaska from the Russians?

The answer is that they moved aggressively and confidentally across the continent because they were armed with their strong belief in their God-given right to conquer and tame the land and to make it a safe haven for democracy. In so doing, Americans moved the geographical process of Manifest Destiny via four avenues: Purchase, Diplomacy, Appropriation, and War.

  • Purchase. Americans bought some of the land. In fact we began our first westward movement with the purchase of land in 1803 and we finish our desire to bring the North American continent under U.S. control through a final land purchase in 1853.
    • Louisiana Purchase, 1803 -  Bought from France, $15 million.
    • Gadsden Purchase, 1853 - Bought from Mexico for $10 million, the additional 29,640 square miles finalized the border of the continental U.S. During the course of discussing the possibility of building a transcontinental railroad, many southerners supported a line that would go from Texas to California over land lying below the southern border of Arizona and New Mexico territories. James Gadsden, a railroad developer, was sent to Mexico to purchase the land.
    • Alaska, 1867 - Bought from Russia, for $7.2 million. In the 17th century, Russian explorers first reached the land that eventually became the state of Alaska. For several centuries, Russia continued to occupy the territory. The Crimean War of the mid-19th century, however, convinced the Czarist Russian government that it could not defend the territory in case of another war with Britain. (Britain had shown signs of interest in Alaska as an extension of its territory in present-day Canada.) Alhough the Russian government did not want to lose Alaska, it thought that it would be better to receive compensation for the territory from an ally than lose it in battle to an enemy.
      • In 1867, Secretary of State William H. Seward met with Russian diplomats and, after an all-night negotiating session, arranged for the U.S. to purchase Alaska for $7.2 million, or about two cents per acre.
      • At the time, the purchase was widely unpopular among Americans, partly because President Andrew Johnson was himself suffering from very low approval. Critics of the purchase derided Alaska as "Seward's folly" and argued that it was ridiculous to purchase land so far away from the rest of the nation. American attitudes changed in the 1890s when gold was discovered in Alaska.
      • In 1959, Alaska became the 49th state of the United States.
  • Diplomacy. Americans used diplomatic relations to negotiate for land.
    • Red River Basin - 1818. The United States signed the Convention of 1818 with Great Britain in order to settle some issues left open by the Treaty of Ghent, which four years earlier had ended the War of 1812. The new treaty stated that Britain and the United States would jointly occupy Oregon Territory and clarified the northern border of the Louisiana Purchase. The land acquired by the United States in the treaty, known as the Red River Basin, would ultimately become part of the states of Minnesota and North Dakota.
    • Maine - 1842. Since 1783 when the Revolutionary War was over, Americans and British had been disputing Maine's boundaries. This uncertainty became a problem in 1838 when Canadian loggers began logging and building a railroad in the area claimed by the state of Maine. Fighting broke out between Canadian and American lumberjacks. President Van Buren feared war and mobilized 50,000 men under the leadership of General Winfield Scott. The problem was not solved until the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 in which half of the disputed territory was granted to the U.S. and the northeastern border was established with Canada.. 
    • Oregon - 1846.  After the War of 1812, U.S. and Britain agreed to jointly occupy Oregon.  The mutually-agreed upon Convention of 1818 fixed the border at the 49th parallel and renewed the joint tenancy agreement for 10 years.   In 1846, Britain offered to accept the 49th parallel as the U.S./Canadian border if Vancouver Island remained British.  Line of 1846 accepted by American.
  • Appropriation.  Americans appropriated the land, or simply took the land  by force through the use of federal law.
    • Indian Lands (to be discussed next week)
    • Hawaii - annexed in 1898
  • War
    • Florida -1819. By 1817, the Spanish government in Florida had been unstable and problems increased with runaway slaves and maroon bands using Florida as a base for launching raids against American settlements. In December 1817, General Andrew Jackson asked President Monroe for permission to invade Spanish Florida. Jackson received permission from the Secretary of War to lead a military expedition into southern Georgia to keep raiders from crossing into the U.S. Jackson, claiming receipt of secret permission from President Monroe to invade, crossed into Spanish territory, destroyed peaceful Seminole villages, drove the Indians into swamps, invaded the Spanish capital at Pensacola and forced the governor to flee to Cuba, and arrested and executed two British citizens for conspiring with the Indians.
      • Calhoun as well as Spain and Britain asked that the general be severely reprimanded.
      • Secretary of State Adams, however, saw the chance to settle the Florida border issue and instead, negotiated the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 in which Spain agreed to cede Florida and deny any other claims in Oregon in exchange for the U.S. releasing Spain from $5 million in damage claims resulting from pirate and Indian raids
    • Texas - 1845 (to be discussed later)
    • Mexico - 1848. (to be discussed later)

And as our geographical boundaries shifted, so did our population. As you can see below, as more land became available, more Americans moved into and populated the west in just 40 short years between 1820 and 1860.

To summarize our understanding of expansion

  • In just 53 years: the size of the US had more than tripled; and the number of states had doubled from 16 to 33
  • And as the nation grew, so did its population.
    • In 1800, about 5.3 million people lived in the US - the majority (80%) were white and about 20% were Africans. We don't know how many Native Americans lived in the US because they were not counted in the Census until 1890.
    • By 1840, 17 million Americans living in the U.S.
    • By 1860, the population had increased sixfold - to 31.4 million people.

Discussion Goal #3: To understand the reasons Americans moved westward to expand the boundaries of the United States

Five underlying reasons were largely responsible for westward expansion:

  • The belief in Manifest Destiny
  • The desire to explore and map out the North American Continent
  • The search for religious freedom
  • The desire to expand our democratic principles
  • The hope for economic opportunity

Belief in Manifest Destiny At the very heart of the American concept of geographic expansion was their belief in Manifest Destiny. This belief can best be understood from the words of one of it's strongest supporters - Senator Thomas Hart Benton - deliverd to his colleagues on May 28, 1846:

"...Since the dispersion of man upon earth, I know of no human event, past or present, which promises a greater,and more beneficent change upon earth than the arrival of the van of the Caucasian race (the Celtic-Anglo-Saxon division) upon the border of the sea which washes the shore of eastern Asia...It would seem that the white race alone received the divine command, to subdue and replenish the earth! for it is the only race that has obeyed it - the only one that hunts out new and distant lands, and even a New world, to subdue and replenish...Three and a half centuries ago, this race, in obedience to the great command, arrived in the New world, and found new lands to subdue and replenish...The van of the Caucasian race now top the Rocky Mountains, and spread down to the shores of the Pacific.  In a few years a great population will grow up there, luminous with the accumulated lights of European and American civilization...The Red race has disappeared from the Atlantic coast: the tribes that resisted civilization met extinction.  This is a cause of lamentation with many.  For my part, I cannot murmur at what seems to be the effect of divine law.  I cannot repine that this Capitol has replaced the wigwam - this Christian people replaced the savages - white matrons [replaced] the red squaws - and such men as Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson, have taken the place of Powhattan, Opechonecanough, and other red men, howsoever respectable they may have been as savages.  Civilization, or extinction, has been the fate of all people who have found themselves in the track of the advancing Whites, and civilization, always the preference of the Whites, has been pressed as an object, while extinction has followed as a consequence of its resistance."  (Source:  Congressional Globe, May 28, 1846.)

Desire to explore and map continental North America. In 1800, almost no one knew what lay beyond the Mississippi River. Fur traders told of vast prairies and high mountain ranges, but the geography between St. Louis, Missouri and the Pacific Ocean remained a vast mystery. Consequently, the federal government sponsored at least four major expeditions designed to explore and chart the vast territory of North America, to learn about environmental factors and impediments to expansion, and to make acquaintance with the native peoples in the area. And as reports eventually circulated of winding rivers, towering peaks, vast prairies, and potential riches, the desire to move westward spread - and Manifest Destiny would become a national obsession. In short, by1800, the West was merely an idea - at least in the non-Indian mind.

  • Rumors abounded - unicorns, gargantuan woolly mastodons, seven foot-tall beavers, erupting volcanos, mountains of undissolved salt.
  • Thomas Jefferson believed that the U.S. government should sponsor and fund a major exploration of this land and these ideas about the west - and that job fell to Louis and Clark in their famous expedition.
  • In 1804, Lewis and Clark began their journey with orders from Jefferson to follow the Missouri, Snake, and Columbia Rivers. They left St. Louis in May with 32 soldiers, 10 civilians, and 3 interpreters - one who was a Shoshone teenager with a newborn baby.
  • They traveled just under 2-1/2 years over 8,000 miles of unknown territory and only lost one person.
  • While the official reason for the trip was a scientific expedition that would describe the flora, fauna, rivers, mountains, and people, in truth, Jefferson had a bigger agenda:
    • To isolate the powerful Sioux nation;
    • to open the river from St. Louis to the Mandans, and
    • to establish an American trading monopoly that would put the Indians out of business.
  • The expedition faced many obstacles: mosquitos, grizzley bears, slow weapons, unfriendly Indians, language.
  • Lewis and Clark’s frontier diplomacy with the Indians was fanciful at best - they believed they could reshape the realities of Indian tribal relations to fit their expections and that their "basic Indian speech" would convince tribes to accept American sovereignty, be at peace with their traditional enemies, and trade with Americans - all in return for protection from the "Great White Father."

Search for Religious Freedom - Joseph Smith and the Mormons. In 1827, a New York farmer, Joseph Smith, claimed that an angel had led him to buried golden plates inscribed with an ancient hieroglyphic language. The Book of Mormon, translated in 1830 by Smith, tells the story of an ancient Hebrew prophet whose descendants migrated to America and created a prosperous civilization. After a series of conflicts, only two descendants were left - Mormon and his son Moroni. In the year 384, they buried the golden plates on which was written their past history. Moroni, in the form of an angel, waited for a true spiritual descendant to appear to whom he could reveal the real story of America. Smith was that descendant.

  • In 1830, Smith founded the Church of the Latter-Day Saints and announced that he had experienced a revelation that required him to establish a community of Mormons. But their beliefs, though Christian, differed and even contradicted many of the Protestant beliefs of most Americans. Thereafter, wherever Mormons gathered together to establish their "Kingdom of God," non-Mormons became suspicious, fearful, hostile, and sometimes violent. This resulted in the persecution of the Mormons.
  • In 1831, Smith moved the entire church to Kirtland, Ohio after receiving a revelation that it will be a “land of milk and honey”
  • In late 1831, shortly after settling in Kirtland, Smith and a few followers traveled to Independence, Missouri where they created a new congregation and built a temple. While Independence became the central destination for Mormons moving west, Smith returned to Kirtland to live with a smaller congregation.
    • Within a few years, anti-Mormon sentiment arose in both Kirtland and Independence. Nonetheless, both communities grew in population and in prosperity.
  • By 1838, Smith abandoned Kirtland and moved the remainder of his congregation to Independence.
  • In 1839, this military directive forced an exodus from Missouri of approximately ten thousand men, women and children, the vast majority of whom resettled in Nauvoo, Illinois.
    • Within a few years, Nauvoo had a population of twenty thousand, rivaling Chicago as the two largest cities in the state. The rapid growth of church membership, financial success of both members and the Mormon church, polygamy, and a well armed militia (Nauvoo Legion), fueled the intolerance of non-Mormons.
    • In 1844, Smith and his brother attacked an anti-Morman newspaper and destroyed its printing press. He fled, but eventually turned himself in. While in jail, Smith and his brother were shot to death on June 27, 1844.
    • The anti-Mormon attacks continued. In 1845, more than two hundred Mormon homes and farm buildings were burned in an attempt to force the Mormons to leave Illinois. Mob violence forced the church leadership to announce the Mormons would leave Nauvoo for the West.
    • In a letter addressed to U.S. President Polk in 1846, the new leader of the church, Brigham Young, gave notice of the farewell: "We would esteem a territorial government of our own as one of the richest boons of earth, and while we appreciate the Constitution of the United States as the most precious among the nations, we feel that we had rather retreat to the deserts, islands or mountain caves than consent to be ruled by governors and judges whose hands are drenched in the blood of innocence and virtue, who delight in injustice and oppression."
  • In 1846, the Mormon exodus began. They arrived in Salt Lake City, a territory outside the official boundaries of the U.S. There, the church began the open practice of plural marriage - polygamy.
  • At the time of Brigham Young's death in 1877, Utah Mormons numbered close to 150,000. but vigorous opposition by the United States Congress threatened the church's existence as a legal institution.
  • In 1882, the Edmunds Act declared polygamy illegal, as well as revoked polygamists' right to vote, made them ineligible for jury service, and prohibited them from holding political office.
  • In 1890, after the arrest of a number of Mormon leaders, Wilford Woodruff the head of the church agreed to end the practice of polygamy in exchange for granting Utah statehood, agreed to halt plural marriage and dissolve the separate Mormon political party. Thereafter, several smaller groups of Mormons broke with the LDS Church forming several denominations of Mormon fundamentalism, most of which honored the practice of polygamy.

Desire to expand Democratic principles - President Jefferson had envisioned a great nation that would stretch from "sea to shining sea." But the glue that was to bind the nation together was a political ideal of one nation united in its devotion to democratic principles. This belief was in keeping with most Americans who saw it as our destiny to spread our form of government and influences across the continent.

  • There is a word in political circles for the practices of extending a nation’s political philosophy and power through the acquisition of territory - imperialism. Thus, within two decades of independence, Americans were already an imperialist power.
  • Two distinct policies guided this course:
    • The Indian Trade and Intercourse Act of 1802 stated that federal law operated in Indian territory and Indian land could only be ceded via federal treaties with a tribe. Implicit in the act was that Indian land must and would be taken by the federal government.
    • The Monroe Doctrine, 1823. The doctrine stated that US would regard any effort by European nations "to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety." Any such European intervention would be interpreted as an act of war against the US.

Hope for Economic Opportunity. The vast majority of individual Americans as well as groups of Americans who either moved westward or made it possible for others to move westward were motivated by the hope of economic gain - primarily through purchasing cheap and vast amounts of land, or obtaining access to natural resources.

  • The Rush for Land
    • Land Ordinances. The Land Ordinance of 1800 lowered the number of acres and individual could purchase from 640 to 320, set a minimum price of  $2 per acre, and allowed for payment of the land in installments (early credit). Then, the Land Ordinance of 1804 further decreased the minimum acreage to 160 with payment of $1.64 per acre and an installment option.
      • While the minimal investment of $262.40 was beyond reach of most Americans, the liberal credit options encouraged many to take the risk and buy farms they could not afford.
      • Additionally, land speculators bought up huge tracts of land and subdivided it to people who could not afford to buy 160 acres. They too, sold land on credit.
    • Land Rush. From 1812 to 1848, about 10,000 Americans immigrated to Oregon; 5,000 to Utah; and 2,000 to California.
      • 1841 -  Barleson-Bidwell Party.  69 people from Independence, MO. to CaliforniaFirst major party to travel across the country overland to California
      • 1842 - Joseph Chiles Party.  From Independence to California.
      • 1843 - First large Oregon migration of 1,000 people.
      • 1844 - Elisha Stephens Party opened the California Trail.
      • 1845 - 5,000 immigrants to Oregon and a few to California.
      • 1846 - 3,000 immigrants to Oregon and California, including Donner Party.
      • 1847 - 2,000 Mormons immigrate to Utah; 4,000 immigrate to Oregon.
      • 1848 - 3,000 Mormons immigrate to Utah; fewer than 2,000 immigrate to Oregon and California
  • The Rush for Natural Resources
    • The fur trade. The first impetus to move west was driven by the economic quest for a plentiful natural resource - furs.
      • The fur trade dominated North American expansionist efforts from 1670 to the 1840s.
      • It was pioneered by the British and French who established trading companies in the late 1600s.
      • John Jacob Astor began the American fur trade began in 1811 by establishing a fur-trading post at the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon territory.
      • Soon thereafter, other American companies entered the fur trade and began to challenge British and French dominance in what had become the trans-Mississippi fur trade.
      • By the 1840s, the fur trade had dramatically declined primarily because the beavers in western streams were virtually trapped out.
      • In 1848, the fur trade was replaced by an even greater grab for natural resources - gold.
    • The Gold Rush

Conclusions - Geographic Consequences of Manifest Destiny

  1. Manifest Destiny - the belief that Americans had the God-given right to expand westward, to spread democracy, and to conquer anything and anyone as they marched across the North American continent - governed the westward movement across the North American continent between 1800-1860.
  2. Three major beliefs upheld the vision of manifest destiny:
    • Americans would geographically, politically, and economically expand to the continental limits.
    • Americans would Americanize all people living within the continental limits.
    • Americans would forcebly extinguish any attempt by peoples already living in North America to resist Americanization.
  3. The completion of America's continental borders was facilitated by four avenues for taking land: purchase, diplomacy, appropriation, and war.
  4. Five underlying reasons were largely responsible for westward expansion:
    • The belief in manifest destiny
    • The desire to explore and map out the North American Continent
    • The search for religious freedom
    • The desire to expand our democratic principles
    • The hope for economic opportunity
  5. While most Americans favored the concept and practice of manifest destiny, throughout the entire period of westward expansion, significant opposition existed.  Foremost in the opposition were anti-war activists, abolitionists, and human rights advocates.

Back to Unit III Index

On February 13, 1861, word of secession and the specter of civil war troubled a young U.S. Army captain. "I myself come from a Union loving State," Virginia's George Pickett wrote his commander on February 13 from San Juan Island, a remote Washington Territory encampment in the extreme northwestern corner of the United States, "but matters are taking such phase at present that she and the other border territory States . . . can not make their voices heard. . . . On the other hand, I do not like to be bullied nor dragged out of the Union by the precipitory [sic] and indecent haste of South Carolina. Write me what you think the best course to pursue in case of a break up. . . . What will we do with the public property and funds[?] In some cases there might be a general scramble."

Two days later, in remote New Mexico Territory, Manuelito, Armijo, Ganado Mucho, and other Navajo chieftains ended a gathering with U.S. Army officers near Fort Fauntleroy.. Recognizing the "reduced and impoverished condition of the [Navajo] Nation", Col. Edward R.S. Canby wrote of concluding a treaty that pledged support and protection but "required the Chiefs to collect their people and establish them in designated localities where they will be under the observation and control not only of the chiefs but of the troops." Canby eschewed the "most extensive conditions" directed by instructions with an eye "to place the affairs of this people in a condition that will lead as speedily as possible to the permanent settlement of all questions with them."

Across the continent, Emanuel Leutze, an artist and German immigrant, labored in his New York City studio on the final stages of a mural study commissioned by the U.S. Congress Entitled Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way, his triumphant vision featured rugged, white, rifle-carrying pioneers guiding covered wagon trains of American settlers across a perilous mountain ridge, away from the dark and death of the East toward the heralding light of the West. Consciously, Leutze was crafting his work to embody the popular perception of what he termed the "grand peaceful conquest of the great West."

Viewed independently, these concurrent, geographically disparate episodes provide a glimpse into the regional zeitgeist - the spirit of the time - on the eve of the outbreak of war. Viewed collectively, they speak to a broader, core concern of the era: the desire for protection and security. Exacerbated by the country's crumbling harmony, concern for safety and stability flooded all corners of the fledgling nation in early 1861. As war erupted, oft-conflicting interpretations of protection presented distinctive challenges to those living, working, or with interests in what was then known as the Far West. Spurred by a desire to retain the western states and territories within the Union, the federal government's responses to these perceptions helped redefine the Western Movement and shaped the area's future for decades to come.

Until the eve of the Civil War, the Westward Movement was Manifest Destiny incarnate; as such, it was consistently popularized as an East-to-West phenomenon. As unabashedly romanticized in Leutze's 1861 mural study, established routes -including the Oregon, California and Santa Fe Trails -siphoned settlers and miners westward . In response to calls for their protection from the American Indians, the federal government responded by establishing frontier and coastal forts garrisoned by Regular Army soldiers. By 1861, almost 75% of the Army's soldiers served at dozens of posts west of the Mississippi River, ranging from Pickett's post in Washington Territory to Fort Point in California's San Francisco Bay to forts scattered throughout the Southwest. The civil war brought dramatic change to these outposts. Shortly before the bombardment of Fort Sumter, U.S. Army responsibility for national protection and security set in motion an unprecedented eastward movement of soldiers and equipment.

Originally meant to protect the interests of a minority of settlers and miners, these soldiers were ill-positioned for guaranteeing the well being of nearly 97% of the U.S. population that resided east of the Missouri River. These regular soldiers were spirited east as quickly as possible. With more than 10,000 soldiers serving in the western posts, this eastward movement triggered concerns over security for those left behind. President Abraham Lincoln soon authorized raising of volunteers within the states and territories "to aid in enforcing the laws and protecting public property," to replace many of the departing Regular Army soldiers and established additional forts to protect new interests. California, for example, quickly raised an infantry regiment and five cavalry companies "for the protection of the Overland Mail Route between California and the Eastern States, by way of Salt Lake City."

Such concern for security was warranted, particularly in areas with populations sympathetic to the Confederacy or with interests in forging an independent Pacific Republic. Caches of U.S. arms and ammunition in western arsenals attracted special attention. In Oregon and Washington Territory, pro-Union citizens exposed a plot hatched by "conspiring traitors" to capture the arsenal at Fort Vancouver. . On February 16, faced with a hostile state militia, Gen. David Twiggs agreed to evacuate all federal troops from Texas, and surrendered federal buildings, the arsenal, and military stores valued at $1 million to the state. Confederate forces seized several other arsenals in Arkansas, and Louisiana as well.

The Confederacy was quick to realize the value of the Southwest . Using Texas as a base, the Confederate plan focused on dislodging Union forces from the Southwest and continuing north to the resource-rich mines of Colorado, and possibly on to the California gold fields. Wending across Texas and then north along the Rio Grande, forces under the newly-minted Confederate Gen. Henry Hopkins Sibley outmaneuvered Canby's Anglo and Native New Mexican volunteers at Valverde, occupying both Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Only Fort Union in front and an isolated Fort Craig behind challenged Sibley's plan; that was, until the swift winter march of volunteers - known as Pike's Peakers - from Colorado Territory, commanded by Col. John P. Slough came to the rescue. Alarmed by word of Sibley's progress, Slough's men raced southward. At Fort Union, they gained additional strength from the garrison and followed the Santa Fe Trail toward the occupied cities. At the same time, Confederate forces under Col. William R. Scurry followed the trail east from Santa Fe, setting the two armies on a collision course.

While the fighting in the subsequent battle - known as Glorieta Pass and heralded since as the "Gettysburg of the West" - was fierce but inconclusive, it was the actions of a detachment under Maj. John Chivington, guided by Lt. Col. Manuel Chaves and his native New Mexico Volunteers, that ended the threat of a Confederate West. Chaves led Chivington's troops west across mountainous terrain in an effort to flank the Confederates. Reaching a 200-foot cliff and finding the enemy supply train below lightly guarded, Chivington's men scrambled down and destroyed everything - more than 80 wagons and 500 mules and horses. The Confederate Army left New Mexico, retreating south and east to San Antonio. Weeks later, the California Column of Union troops moved eastward from the Pacific to Tucson along the overland stagecoach route, skirmishing with Confederates at Pichaco Pass (in present day Arizona), the war's westernmost battle. After other western campaigns, culminating in the Confederate defeat at the Arkansas battle of Pea Ridge in 1862, the Confederacy was never again to provide a viable risk to the southwest.

Military action was but one tool of the federal government's wartime strategy in the West. Secession initiated much change, including the elimination of Southern Congressional opposition to Republican supported "internal improvement" projects aimed at more tightly binding western states and territories to the Union. The Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 allotted 30,000 acres of land for the establishment of land grant colleges in each state remaining in the Union. While focused on agriculture and mechanical arts, inclusion of the teaching of military tactics buttressed the final act. The Homestead Act of 1862 - designed, in part, to free eastern families from poverty and overcrowding - allowed any citizen or citizenship-seeker who had not borne arms against the government to lay claim to 160 acres of available public land, provided he lived on it for five years or paid $1.25 per acre after a six month residency. The Pacific Railway Act of 1862 and subsequent amendments provided aid for construction of a transcontinental railroad and telegraph line - aid in the form of generous land grants (in some instances, up to ten miles for every mile of track laid) and government bonds to the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroad companies. "The proposition is a plain one," exclaimed John R. Barret, a U.S. representative from Missouri, "and any business man must see how, by this great measure, our brethren on the Pacific slope can be protected and accommodated, our nation furnished with a necessary defense; our commerce promoted, and the most economical means provided for transportation of mails, munitions of war."

The benefit of a supportive political atmosphere was not lost on President Lincoln; he played an active role in propagating an environment where the Union would be sustained, his supporters would be rewarded, and, where possible, Republican political views could be advanced. Territorial patronage was a vital tool for Lincoln. The ability to appoint men of his choice to key territorial roles -such as governors, secretaries, federal district judgeships, land office commissioners, and territorial marshals - served not only to recognize those who had lent support to him but also to institutionalize support for the issues he valued. With seven western territories ripe for patronage appointments in 1861, Lincoln predominantly named Republican supporters - known pejoratively as "The Tribe of Abraham" -to the territories' thirty-five prime positions and dozens of others. These included gubernatorial nominees William Gilpin of Colorado Territory and William Jayne of Dakota Territory, who both supported federal financing of the transcontinental railroad.

Although advanced under the mantle of protection, the nation's American Indian population in the West bore the cost of these military and political undertakings, which accelerated the dispossession of American Indians and threatened the security of their lands, property, culture, and core existence. American Indian tribal response was as complex as it was individualized. Few actively sought war, but concerns for safety often led to conflict, while some saw the war as an opportunity to protect or reclaim traditional lands and reassert sovereignty. The Indian Territory's Five Civilized Nations, for example, raised over 5,000 soldiers who fought for the Confederacy at battles including Pea Ridge. Forced northward into Kansas, after refusing to align with the Confederacy, other Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Seminoles, and Creeks fought Confederates - including their own tribal members - as the Union Indian Brigade.

With the enactment of political initiatives aimed at encouraging white settlement, the role of implementation often fell to the volunteer units who had replaced soldiers of the Regular Army. Although far from advocates of preserving American Indian culture, prior to the war Regular Army units had occasionally served a moderating role between settler and American Indian interests.. The western volunteers filling in behind the Regular Army soldiers were of a distinctly different mettle. As one officer noted, they were men "made of stern stuff. . . inured to mountain life. . . pioneers and miners; men self-reliant and enduring" but also prone to have "advocated the extermination of the Indians." Although overwhelmingly white, including some from the western Jewish population, many were Hispanic, others were African American, and still others were American Indian. A number- known as "galvanized Yankees" - were former Confederates who swore allegiance to the Union. As residents of the West, they possessed a more vested interest in issues that encouraged settlement and internal improvements, and many took an active, aggressive role in protecting these interests. Examples of the resulting aggressions are rife. In addition to the Bear River Massacre inflicted by California Volunteers on Shoshones in Washington Territory in 1863, in 1864, Col. Chivington led Colorado and New Mexico Volunteers in "a foul and dastardly massacre" of Arapahos and Cheyennes, primarily women and children. Later investigators found that he had, "surprised and murdered, in cold blood, the unsuspecting men, women, and children on Sand Creek, who had every reason to believe they were under the protection of the United States authorities," and then "returned to Denver and boasted of the brave deed he and the men under his command had performed." Other actions were more complex. Despite Canby's efforts in 1861, a "permanent peace" with the Navajo did not occur. Three years later, his replacement sent Kit Carson and his native New Mexico Volunteers on a scorched earth campaign against the Navajo that resulted in their relocation via the tragic Long Walk to Bosque Redondo.

By war's end, federal actions to encourage white settlement in the West and more tightly bind the western territories to the Union were institutionalized and gathering momentum. The Morrill Act, the Homestead Act, and the Pacific Railroad Act, aimed at fomenting and sustaining access to the West's vast acreage, as well as President Lincoln's use of territorial appointments preserved the Union, and - in many cases - placed like-minded supporters in positions to uphold and continue these programs. Initially, the vacuum created by Regular Army troops relocating eastward lessened the government's ability to shield westward expansion, but volunteer units soon filled, sometimes aggressively, the military's role and presence in the West.

This all came at an extraordinary cost - the dispossession of the West's American Indians. In the expansionist Civil War-era, Federal American Indian policies often resulted in violated treaties, violence, and the end of access to traditional lands, trade and migratory routes, water, food sources, and cultural practices. Weeks before the war's end in 1865, word of the Sand Creek Massacre and other offenses against American Indians finally triggered broader indignation. "The dealings of this nation toward the Indians," editorialized the New York Times, "form one of the most disgraceful chapters in modern history." This stimulated a congressional inquiry, led by Senator James R. Doolittle, who began a two-year investigation scrutinizing federal management of Indian affairs. It determined that "[t]he Indians everywhere. . . are rapidly decreasing in numbers from various causes: By disease; by intemperance; by wars, among themselves and with the whites; by the steady and resistless emigration of white men into the territories of the west, which, confining the Indians to still narrower limits, destroys that game which, in their normal state, constitutes their principal means of subsistence; and by the irrepressible conflict between a superior and an inferior race when brought in presence of each other." Such observations came too late, though. Mirroring Emanuel Leutze's mural study, the federal government's perceptions of protection had already helped redefine and accelerate the Western Movement and shape the region's future for decades to come. By the end of the war, the foundation for a distinctly different West had been laid.

This essay is taken from The Civil War Remembered, published by the National Park Service and Eastern National. This richly illustrated handbook is available in many national park bookstores or may be purchased online from Eastern at www.eparks.com/store.

Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, Arkansas Post National Memorial, Fort Davis National Historic Site, Fort Larned National Historic Site, Fort Scott National Historic Site, Fort Union National Monument, Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Golden Spike National Historic Site, Homestead National Monument of America, Nicodemus National Historic Site, Pecos National Historical Park

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