The International Context for American Expansion In 1815, save for the Louisiana Purchase, Spain held onto most of the trans-Mississippi west. Spanish holdings eventually encompassed present-day Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, California and more. Mexican independence in 1821 gave the new country all of Spain’s holdings. North of California was Oregon Territory, disputed between America and England.
Early Interest in the West Early settlers sought beaver skins as early as 1811 in the Oregon backcountry. In the Southwest the collapse of the Spanish Empire flooded the region with an assortment of settlers. A few New Englanders settled in California and exploited the sea-otter trade. Many Indians relocated from eastern lands to present-day Oklahoma.
Manifest Destiny Phrase coined in 1845 by John L. O’Sullivan, editor of the Democratic Review. Expressed conviction that the development of a superior system of government and lifestyle dictated a God- given right of Americans to spread their civilization to the four corners of the continent. Territorial expansion was a mandate of Manifest Destiny.
Annexing Texas, 1845 Mexico feared a hostile takeover of Texas after repeated attempt by the United States to buy the territory. To strengthen border areas, Mexico offered land for reduced costs requiring only that the settlers become Mexican citizens and Catholics. Stephen Austin and many other contractors organized parties of settlers into Texas. Few settlers honored their agreement with Mexico. Texans won their independence from Mexico in 1836 and were annexed by America nine years later.
War with Mexico, 1846 - 1848 Mexico severed diplomatic ties with America after its annexation of Texas. President Polk failed to appreciate the humiliation of the Mexicans and sent American troops to forestall a potential invasion. Hostilities quickly followed. Debate in Washington simmered as U.S. forces swept into Mexico and took the capital city.
California and New Mexico President Polk communicated that any resolution of the Mexican war would have to include California and New Mexico. The U.S. government, magnanimously attempted to buy the territories from Mexico to no avail. Superior American military strength secured the future states in 1847.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, 1848 The final treaty between America and Mexico in the era Set the Rio Grande as America’s south border Increased U.S. territory by 529,000 square miles Awarded Mexico $15 million and set terms for Gadsden Purchase of southern Arizona and parts of New Mexico for an additional $10 million
The Oregon Question, 1844 - 1846 Although disputed by both America and England, President Polk claimed settlement of Americans in the territory as a “presumption of possession.” The British government did not agree but were powerless to stop thousands of settlers migrating to Oregon. Despite slogans and diatribe, Polk was unwilling to fight and sought a diplomatic resolution to the issue. England eagerly accepted Vancouver Island in return for dropping her claims to Oregon.
The Emigrants Most emigrants to the far West were white and American by birth. Some free blacks also make the six- month overland trip. Most traveled with family and relatives. Only during the Gold Rush years did large numbers of unmarried men travel West independently.
Migrants’ Motives Most emigrants sought wealth in the form of gold and silver. Other sought to set up businesses as merchants or land speculators. Some traveled to the warmer climate to restore their health. Others followed the direction of church leaders for religious or cultural missions.
Farming in the West New arrivals in the West had to stake a claim and clear the land of obstructions. As they began their farming, the emigrants unconsciously harmed the land by introducing foreign weeds and poor farming techniques.
Cities in the West Some emigrants went west for the express purpose of living in a fast- growing city such as San Francisco or Denver. Young, single men made up an overwhelming majority of these urban centers’ populations. Opportunities were always greatest for those who brought significant assets with them from the East.
Confronting the Plains Tribes Americans moving west were continually shocked by the cultural differences between them and the native tribes along the trails. Problems arose as grazing cattle and indiscriminate buffalo hunting quickly depleted the traditional hunting grounds of the Plains tribes. A chain of American forts was constructed along the major trails to foil Indian interference.