CONTENTSexternal image moz-screenshot-1.jpgexternal image moz-screenshot-2.jpgexternal image moz-screenshot-3.jpgexternal image moz-screenshot-4.jpg

  1. Motivations for and Opposition of Western Expansion
  2. Acquistion of New Territory
  3. The American People Move West


In the 1840s and 1850s, expansionists (Americans who supported the notion of expanding America over North America
peaked in popularity. Their want for America to extend to the Pacific Ocean and into Mexico, Cuba, and Central Aexternal image cowboy_hat.jpgmerica, became very popular. This was in part due to the rising idea of manifest destiny, a term referring to America's fate and therefore consequently mission to expand over all of North America. Additionally, a nationalistic attitude, population increase thanks to increasing immigration, economic development, and advancements in technology contributed to the desire for and relatively quick speed of western expansion.


Perhaps the most massive opposition group to western expansion was anti-slave Northerners, as they believed additional territories and states annexed would possess legal slavery. This, they thought, would cause slave states to outnumber free states in Congress and allow the passage for pro-slavery legislation; not an unfounded notion, as the South in fact did recognize that the addition of more slave states to the Union would give it an upper hand in the federal government.



TX, OR, and CA c. 1846
TX, OR, and CA c. 1846

The newly independent country of Mexico encouraged American settlement of its Province of Texas during the 1820s, spurring an American majority in Texas by 1830. When these American settlers refused become Catholic and give up slavery, Mexico barred American immigration. Americans ignored this and continued to settle the area.

Mexican dictator General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna tightened its grip on Texas by enforcing Mexican law in the province, a change from the previous salutary neglect-like attitude towards the area. Hence, Americans under Sam Houston declared Texas

an independent republic in 1836. A brief war between Texas and Mexico ensued which included the famous Battle of the Alamo, where all American defendants (including Davy Crockett!) were killed. Texas officially became a republic when Texas forced Santa Anna to sign a treaty recognizing its independence. (Note, however, that the Mexican legislature did not ratify this treaty and still considered Texas a Mexican province).

As the first president of the Republic of Texas, Houston applied for annexation to the U.S. He external image jigsawimage.jpgwould find no favor for his applications until John Tyler's presidency, due to the U.S.'s fears of invoking a war with Mexico and further fueling the already heated debate on the legalization of slavery in new states. President Tyler's competent persuasive skills eventually lead to Congress's passage of a joint resolution for annexation as he left office.external image riogrande.gif

The new president and pet of Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, Democrat, was elected in 1844 thanks to his firm agreement with the annexation of Texas, addition of the whole Oregon Territory to the Union, and the acquisition of California. His campaign slogan, "Fifty-four Forty or Fight!" referred to the only boundary for American Oregon that he would accept, and won him many western and southern expansionist votes.

external image polk.jpgPresident Polk sent a delegates to Mexico to get Mexico to sell America California and New Mexico and to settle the disputed Texan-American border in the U.S.'s favor. While negotiations were underway, Polk sent General Zachary Taylor and troops to America's requested boundary line, the Rio Grande. In 1846, a Mexican army crossed the Rio Grande and killed eleven Americans on patrol, sparking the Mexican American War, which enjoyed a high approval rate, despite conservative Whigs' protests, claiming that Texas would simply remain just another slave state. Hence, the Wilmot Proviso (1846) was created, stating that slavery would be forbidden in all newly conquered territories. This measure did not pass in the Senate, however.

Circumstances favored America in the war from the start. General Taylor won several key victories such as at Buena Vista. General Stephen Kearney took New Mexico and southern California. When General Winfield Scott took Mexico City in 1848, Mexico had no choice but to negotiate with America. In 1848, Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which stated that the Rio Grande was Texas's southern border, the U.S. got California and New Mexico, and the U.S. pay $15 million and the claims of U.S. citizens to Mexico. Some Democrats did not approve of this treaty because they wanted all of Mexico.


external image oregon.gifSince Spain gave up its claim to the Oregon Territory in the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 and Russia demonstrated no physical protection of its claims of the region, the main contenders for the Oregon Territory were Britain and the United States come Polk's rise to the presidency in 1844. Britain claimed the region on the basis of the Hudson Fur Company's harmonious trade with northwest Native Americans, though there were hardly any British residents in the region. The U.S.'s claim was founded in the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1805), the establishment of a trading post/fort in Oregon (1811), and the vast settlement of numerous Americans in Oregon thanks to "Oregon Fever" (American travel to Oregon via the Oregon Trail in the 1840s). Contradicting his campaign slogan, Polk eventually settled for splitting the Oregon Territory with Britain on the 49th parallel, avoiding a war with Britain.


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The Maine-New Brunswick border was bitterly disputed, as shown by the so-called Aroostook War ("battle of the maps") over the territory in the 1840s. Secretary of State Daniel Webster negotiated the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, which split the disputed territory and gave Maine to the U.S.


The first major group of Americans to migrate westward were fur traders, whose numbers peaked in the 1820s. They had a peaceful relationship with Native Americans and nature. The second major group of Americans to move west was miners in the 1840s and 1850s, responding to phenomenons like the California Gold Rush in 1848. This lead external image covered_wagon3.JPGto the creation of mining towns and an increase in immigration to America, as shown by the statistic that states one third of miners in the West were Chinese. The third major group of American to migrate west were middle-class families in the 1860s via the Oregon Trail, facing desease, depression, Native American conflicts, and more. These groups largely avoided settlement in the area between coasts, nicknamed the Great American Desert. Note that these three groups were not the only settlers of the West, and there was constant movement of Americas across North America throughout the country's history.
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