Westward expansion and manifest destiny, 1841-1849 instructional objectives

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1. Explain why Americans moved westward between 1820 and 1848.

2 Examine the constraints m the West that forced people to adapt and explain the cultural outcomes

3. Analyze the effects of westward expansion on domestic politics and on America’s relations with other nations.

4 Demonstrate how expansionist and economic expectations shaped Americans positions on slavery in

the 1840s.


During the first half of the nineteenth century the westward movement of Americans steadily gained

momentum. Some successful entrepreneurs like William Henry Ashley made enormous profits from their

choice to move west. Land speculators and gold-seekers also helped open areas to settlement.

Communities in Texas, Oregon, California, Utah, and elsewhere in the West sprang up like weeds. One outcome was the development of a variety of cultures and economies, which evolved from the interplay of old habits, new ideals, and environmental constraints.

Conflicting expectations about the country’s manifest destiny promoted an air of crisis in the nation at large. Northerners wanted a West that would be free for diversified economic development. Southerners

wanted to sow every suitable acre in cotton. And people from each region chose to try to use expansion to add to their power in Congress.

Slavery began to eclipse all others in symbolizing the differing demands made by North and South. For northerners, the idea of going to war to win Oregon was acceptable because the Missouri Compromise

prohibited slavery there, but the idea of going to war to acquire Texas was quite another matter. The

possibility of many new southern senators and representatives filled northerners with dread. Nevertheless, the nation chose to fight a war with Mexico between 1846 and 1848. It thereby gained California and vast

territories in the Southwest. The discovery of gold in California in 1848 made that region a new bone of

contention in the sectional debate.

Meanwhile, radical abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison still labored for acceptance. What made

Garrison’s message so hard for many to accept was his insistence on an equal role for women. But severely

discriminatory conditions constrained the many women who participated in abolition and other reform

movements. One outcome was the Seneca Falls conference in 1848, where politically active women called for greater equality with men.


I. The Explosion Westward

A. The decline of the fur trade.

B. Former fur trappers founded new communities in the West, while the former organizers

became general developers in the West.

C. Land speculators bought land at low rates and then resold it in smaller parcels.

D. Gold prospectors penetrated farther west.

1. Not finding gold, they turned to permanent settlement.

E. The main reason for western migration was hope of economic self-betterment.

F. Migrants from New England went west because of a shortage of land caused by family land-division traditions and by the growth of sheep raising.

G. Most migrants to the West went in groups.

1. Small and midsize parties going to Texas purchased land from impresarios like Moses

Austin and Stephen Austin.

2. Large groups traveled from Missouri to Oregon, drawn there by missionaries who had

preceded them.

3. The Mormons left Illinois as a community under the leadership of Brigham Young and

established themselves in Utah.

H. Most pioneers lacked cash.

1. They squatted on unsold public lands.

2. Western congressmen ensured passage of a pre-emption (overriding state law) bill.

I. The New Cotton Country: the Southwest replicated the South’s hierarchical structure.

J. Native Americans had cleared the land for farming.

K. Traditional institutions were established.

L. Conditions m Oregon were favorable for settlers

a. Open, fertile prairies provided good farmland.

b. Relations with Native Americans were at first quite good, until the Cayuse War in 1847 (an armed conflict between the Cayuse people of the region and the United States Government and local white settlers).

M. Religious revivals were a feature of life.

N. The Hispanic Southwest

1. Missions provided the backbone for the Spanish settlement of California.

a. Native Americans provided the labor that made the region prosper agriculturally.

b. Following independence, the Mexican government sold off the missions to private individuals, who formed a Spanish-speaking landed elite.

2. Interethnic and interracial harmony prevailed in some sections of the Spanish Southwest:

a. In northern California, around John Sutter’s settlement.

b. In Santa Fe, where an ethnically mixed elite based on commerce developed.

c. In Texas, until the American population became large.

O. The Mormon Community

1. Climatic conditions in Utah made central management and control desirable.

a. The Mormon Church parceled out land according to need and organized communal work.

b. The Mormons did all they could to exclude non-Mormons from Utah.

c. On the other hand, they cultivated close relations with the Native Americans.

II. “Manifest Destiny”

A. Manifest destiny contributed to westward expansion and the ideology of drew from religion: American possession of all of North America was God’s design.

B. Expansion to the North and West led to tension between the United States and Britain over territorial differences.

1. In the Northeast, conflict flared over the border between Maine and Canada; a truce prevented outright war.

2. In the Northwest, both England and the United States claimed Oregon.

a. The two agreed to joint occupation after the War of 1812, extending this arrangement in 1827 indefinitely.

b. American settlers established a governmental structure in 1843 despite British objections, and aimed at union with the United States

C. Revolution in Texas

1. After winning independence from Spain, Mexico owned the regions in the American Southwest that were formerly part of the Spanish Empire.

2. Tensions between the Mexican government and American settlers in Texas came to a head in the early 1830s.

3. Santa Anna and the Mexican army invaded Texas.

a. The American settlers declared independence.

b. They were defeated at the Alamo and at Goliad, where they suffered a massacre.

c. Following defeat and capture at San Jacinto, Santa Anna agreed to withdraw south of the Rio Grande.

4. The Texans requested that the United States annex Texas.

D. The Politics of Manifest Destiny

1. President Tyler favored U.S. expansion.

a. The Webster-Ashburton Treaty settled the border between Maine and Canada; the United States retained more than half of the disputed area.

b. Tyler asserted the U.S. claim to Oregon by appointing a territorial Indian agent.

c. His administration negotiated a treaty to annex Texas, which the Senate declined to ratify because of the slavery issue.

2. Expansion was the major issue in the presidential election of 1844.

3. Congress approved a joint resolution annexing Texas prior to Tyler’s departure from office.

4. President Polk acquired much of Oregon for the United States

a. He demanded 54’ 40” as Oregon’s northern border; the British wanted it farther south at the Columbia River.

b. The two sides agreed on the 49th parallel.

III. Expansion and Sectional Crisis

A. The Texas Crisis and Sectional Conflict

1. Tension rose with Mexico after Texas’s annexation and Texas’s boundary.

2. Polk ordered the American army to the Rio Grande after Mexico refused to receive his envoy to discuss the issue.

a. The United States declared war after a Mexican attack at the Rio Grande.

3. Many in the United States protested against the war over concern arose for the connection between expansion and slavery.

4. The annexation of Texas focused intense attention on slavery.

a. Southerners saw greater economic and congressional power in the expansion of slavery.

b. Northerners found slavery’s expansion into Texas proof that there was a “Slave Power” conspiracy.

c. Appropriations for the war effort were held up by the debate over the proposed Wilmot Proviso (to outlaw slavery in any territory acquired from Mexico by the United States as a result of the recently begun Mexican-American War. The proviso was never passed).

B. War with Mexico

1. In California, American settlers revolted against Mexico and established the Bear Flag Republic.

2. Polk sent an army to Santa Fe which seized the entire region without opposition.

3. In Mexico, the Mexicans were defeated on several fronts.

a. Taylor defeated Santa Anna at Buena Vista.

b. Scott marched overland and seized Mexico City.

4. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the war.

a. The United States obtained Texas’s border at the Rio Grande, all of New Mexico, and California.

b. Mexico received $15 million and U.S. payment for war damages.

C. The Antislavery Crusade and Women’s Rights

1. Antislavery sentiment, though still unpopular, was on the increase; the abolitionist movement was growing larger.

a. Moderate abolitionists, alienated by Garrison’s tactics and by his association with radical black abolitionists, formed their own organization.

2. At the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, women formulated a program for equality and political rights.

D. Issues in the Election of 1848

1. The two major parties tried to avoid the issue of slavery in the territories.

2. The Free-Soil party insisted that slavery must be excluded from the territories.

3. A surge in the number of people moving to California added to the growing split over slavery in the territories.

a. Thousands rushed there after the discovery of gold in 1848.

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