Revival of Expansionism in the 1840s
A complex mix of political, social, and economic factors fueled American expansionist sentiment in the 1840s. Many Americans subscribed to the concept of "Manifest Destiny," the belief that Providence (God) chose the United States to occupy as much land on the continent as possible. Some saw lucrative economic opportunities in the vast stretches of arable land and superb Pacific Coast ports. Others dreamed of the romance of settling uncharted terrain, or thought the United States should expand rapidly across the continent before foreign nations could do so. These expansionist yearnings fueled American settlement in Texas and Oregon, the acquisition of which became a principal object of American foreign policy by 1845.
With a treaty in 1819, Spain settled a long dispute with the United States over its southern border. In return for Florida and the Gulf Coast lands east of the Mississippi River, the United States promised that it would never make any claims to Texas in the west. However, soon after the treaty was in place the Mexican War of Independence ended Spanish rule on the continent and forced Spain to give up all rights to Texas.
The newly independent Mexican Republic rejected all American offers to buy Texas during the 1820s and 1830s, but agreed to grant huge tracts of inexpensive land to American settlers on the condition that they convert to Catholicism, learn to speak the Spanish language, and take Mexican citizenship. In response, more than three hundred slaveholding American families settled in Texas during the 1820s. Early settlers adapted well to their new home and met the conditions for settlement set by the Mexican government. But later, tensions arose between the Mexican government and the region's Anglo and Mexican settlers over the issues of slavery, taxation, and settlement requirements. The Mexican government responded by barring any further settlement in Texas by Americans and banning slavery.
The strained relationship between the Texans and the Mexican government turned violent in 1835 with the Texan Revolt. After a series of bloody engagements, including the legendary siege of the Alamo, the Texans, led by Sam Houston, won a decisive victory at San Jacinto in 1836. Following that battle, the Mexican army commander (General Santa Anna) signed, but later renounced, treaties that granted Texas independence and established its southwest boundary at the Río Grande.
While a majority of Texans and many Americans favored annexation in 1836, the admission of a slave-holding Texas (or several states formed from Texas territory) threatened the delicate balance of slave states and free states in the Senate that had been carefully maintained. Rather than upset this balance, the United States recognized Texas as a sovereign nation, leaving the tensions between Mexico and Texas to simmer for the nine and one-half years of Texan independence.
Questions to be answered
1. Compare the Map of the United States in 1850 with that of a current map of the United States to identify which states were admitted to the Union by 1850.
2. Compare the map of the US in 1840 to that of 1850. What major territorial changes occurred during the 1840s?
3. Between 1846 and 1848 the United States gained more than one million square miles of territory. Was any of the land acquired during that period acquired “peacefully”?
4. Using the 1850 map of the U.S. and a current map, identify which states were later formed from the territory acquired from Mexico and from territory acquired from Britain.
ANSWERS TO ABOVE QUESTIONS
1. How many states were in the Union when the United States declared its independence from Britain in 1776, and where were they located?
. There were thirteen states. All were on the eastern seaboard. Stress that the United States also held additional territory that stretched to the Mississippi River in the west; from the Great Lakes in the north, to near the Gulf of Mexico in the south. Refer students to a map of the period.
2. Look at a contemporary map of the United States and ask how many states are now in the Union, as compared with those in 1776. Forty-eight of the fifty states are located across the length of the continent, Alaska and Hawaii are isolated. Emphasize that U.S. territory grew rapidly in the nineteenth century with the huge Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and treaties with Spain and Britain.
3. Stress that the United States had very different boundaries in 1840 than it does today. Use the above Map of 1840 and a current map of the United States to identify which states were in the Union in 1840. Emphasize that vast areas of what is now the United States were either claimed or held by Mexico, the Republic of Texas, or Britain in 1840. Ask students if your state was either a territory or part of a foreign nation in 1840.
4. Direct your students to use Map 1B and a current map of the United States to identify which states were admitted to the Union by 1850. These were California, Florida, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Texas.
5. Compare Map 1A and Map 1B. What major territorial changes occurred during the 1840s? Texas became a state, Mexico lost nearly all its territory, and Britain gave up its claim to the Oregon Country below the 49th parallel.
6. Stress that between 1846 and 1848 the United States gained more than one million square miles of territory. Be sure to note that the United States acquired Oregon Country peacefully through a treaty with Britain, while it took a war with Mexico to obtain the lands in the Southwest.
7. Use Map 1B and a current map of the United States to identify which states were later formed from the territory acquired from Mexico. California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and portions of Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Kansas were formed from this territory. Identify which states were later formed from the territory acquired from Britain. Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and portions of Wyoming and Montana were formed from this territory