Westward Movement Causes

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Westward Movement

  • Oregon has fertile land

  • Texas is ideal for raising cattle and growing cotton

  • Many Americans believe in Manifest Destiny

  • Mormons seek a safe home

  • Gold is discovered in California


  • Government initiates Indian removal treaties

  • United States annexes Texas

  • Britain and the United States divide Oregon

  • The United States gains the Mexican Cession after the Mexican War

  • United States makes the Gadsden Purchase

  • United States stretches from sea to sea

  • Cotton kingdom spreads

Manifest Destiny
There were two major views on Manifest Destiny:

  • Justification based on economic and racial reasons

  • Justification based on a genuine belief that it was Providence

It had its roots in:

  • Puritans: “City on a Hill” –John Winthrop’s vision

  • Louisiana Purchase

  • Monroe Doctrine

U.S. Indian Policy, 1815-1860: Removal to Reservations.
Ideally, relations between two peoples should be an exchange of ideas and a search for mutually beneficial relationships based upon and promoting respect for each other’s cultural differences. In an autocratic or aristocratic government, this ideal can be thwarted by narrow concerns of economic interest or social prejudice that control government policy. However, in a democracy, government policy must be supported by commonly held perceptions, and if that policy is prejudicial toward another people, that prejudice must be institutionalized so that no significant group of constituents questions the basic premises from which the policy emanates. Political discourse then focuses on the choice of the various policy options that are dictated by the unquestioned premises.
The perceptions that were later to shape the beliefs of the early Euro-Americans and guide their policies toward American Indians were clearly articulated during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The feudal system of Medieval Europe planted the seeds for the belief that property ownership brought greater freedom. The decline of feudalism led to a rise in social status of some peasants to that of landowners. This in turn created within the new propertied class a greater degree of independence. The desire for land and all of its promises were passed on and became a compelling motive for future colonizers. The connection between land and freedom had been firmly established by the end of the Renaissance.
As land was seen as liberating the oppressed, reason was perceived as the means of understanding the world, freeing the mind from the rule of passion. Enlightened thought added moral and scientific weight concerning the superiority of reason over emotion by suggesting that humanity was on a continuum with the men of logic at the top and those enslaved by their passions on the bottom. The creators of the concept found themselves on the highest rung. This perception focused on the benevolence of the ‘superior’ culture bringing progress to the ‘inferior’ culture while at the same time dismissing its contributions. (To do otherwise would be to contradict the notions of superiority and suggest equality between the cultures.) You fell into two groups: the enlightened and the unenlightened.
As European discovery and exploration ultimately led to colonization, the seeds of enlightened thought were scattered with the settlement of the new territories. The instruments of exploration and conquest, combined with the moral imperative of Christianizing and civilizing were seen not only as evidence of technological superiority but divine mandate as well. By the time the United States had established its new government, enlightened thought was firmly imbedded in the institutions of the new democracy. This provided a justification for the harsh treatment of indigenous peoples while at the same time silencing almost all criticism of the basic assumptions inherent in Indian policy, leaving only the methods of implementation to be disputed. (Please take note that throughout the removal period, that critics talked mostly about implementation, not about policy.)
Landowning as a conduit to economic prosperity + Enlightened thought + the moral imperative of Christianizing = the removal of American Indians.
The education of the citizenry was deemed indispensable to the perpetuation of American democracy, and public schools became the instruments for creating an informed population. Along with reading, writing, and arithmetic, they passed along a version of the world from the Euro-American perspective. Many textbooks portrayed American Indians as uncivilized, ‘bloodthirsty savages’, or in some cases ‘noble savages’. (Education creates cultural norms.) The ‘bloodthirsty savage’ appears in James Fennimore Cooper’s, The Last of the Mohicans, in which Maqua and his followers commit the famous massacre at Fort William Henry. In contrast, Cooper depicted Chingachgook as a ‘noble savage.’ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Hiawatha’ is another example. Indians became stereotyped.
Renowned political and public figures such as John C. Calhoun, President James Monroe, Lewis Cass and Horace Greeley relied upon these ‘proofs’ as irrefutable evidence of the inferiority of American Indian cultures. Greeley wrote in 1859 that Indians were “a slave to appetite and sloth”.
Scientifically, Indians had been described, defined, analyzed and evaluated, only to be found wanting. Theologically, they were a pagan culture in need of redemption. Socially, they were enslaved by passion and wandering the earth. Economically, they were inefficient and squandering their abundant resources. Viewing American Indians in this manner, those who sought political remedies could resort to removal, reservations and assimilation as viable and even benevolent solutions to the “Indian problem”. (Note: this is the same reasoning that would allow Hitler to exterminate Jews –and the German people to buy into the program.) (And it is the same attitude that would allow slavery to flourish in America.) (It is also what many in the Middle East call the assault of globalization on their culture. -justification of the twin towers.)
The policies of the United States government and the attitudes expressed by political leaders were met by eloquent responses from a number of American Indians who spoke from a different cultural perspective. While European thought dissected and examined the natural world, Native American embraced the belief that all things are connected. The ideal was not to conquer nature, but to live in harmony with it. Land was not property, but a sacred and nurturing spiritual force. While biblical interpretations by European theologians suggested man’s domain over the earth, native belief envisioned harmony among all things. While scientific thought gave rise to a “Great Chain of Being,” most native belief placed all things in a circle, with all of creation sharing an equal status. When the “Great Chain of Being” collided with the “Great Circle of Life” the conflict over land use became a spiritual struggle for ideological supremacy.
As the U.S. government adopted Indian Removal as an official policy, those tribes that were affected responded in various ways according to their circumstances. From the statements of Elias Boudinout embracing assimilation to the pleas to be left alone by George Harkins, district chief of the Choctaw Nation, and Black Hawk’s call to arms, American Indian leaders sought to preserve their lives and culture despite the encroachments of Euro-American settlement. Often the choices available to Indian leaders were limited to opting for physical existence at the cost of cultural heritage.
The government of the United States fashioned Indian policy from the prevailing ideology of the early 19th century that set the stage for removal. Espousing rationale ranging from benevolence to cultural superiority, politicians such as John C. Calhoun, Andrew Jackson, and Lewis Cass created justifications for the removal of Indians from their land. The Cherokee’s sought redress through the court system. In Worchester v. Georgia, the Supreme Court focused on the conflict between states’ rights v. the federal government and not the central issue; the result was the Trail of Tears.
Removal alone proved insufficient, so by 1848, Indian Commissioner William McDill shifted the government’s policy towards reservations.
Most criticism of the policy was based on issues of compassion for an inferior people or an appeal to honor in fulfilling government treaty obligations and promises. Bishop Henry Whipple of Minnesota was perceived by whites as an ardent defender of Indians. Yet, he only championed their continued life, not the continuation of their culture.
By the mid-nineteenth century, European philosophies of the Enlightenment were embedded in the Indian policies of the United States government. The institutions of American democracy were predicated upon Eurocentric rationale based on enlightened thought. Those institutions in turn translated that ideology into the context of the American frontier. Public education, thought to be the cornerstone of democracy, promoted a viewpoint of the dominant culture that explained and justified interactions with Indian cultures. Once the benevolent goals of civilization were firmly embedded in American ideology and policy, almost any actions were permissible if they furthered that goal. Many American Indians protested, advocating actions from capitulation to armed resistance, but each action could be interpreted as evidence of the inferiority of Indian cultures. Some Euro-Americans sympathetic to the Indian circumstances advanced the notion that culture must be sacrificed in order to preserve the lives of Indians. As the Civil War threatened to redefine America, the institutionalization of ideas and attitudes that would shape the context of American policy for the next century had been firmly established.
If the Indians were reasonable and accepted U.S. policy, they were tacitly accepting their own inferiority, confirming the validity of the policy and condemning themselves to cultural destruction. If the Indians obeyed the policy, they confirmed their inability to recognize the superiority of Euro-American culture and its eventual benefits to the Indians. If the Indians resisted the policy, they provided proof of their irrational and passionate nature that was the very foundation of Euro-American views of Indians.
The Indian Removal period is particularly interesting because it reveals the irony and inherent contradictions in American Indian policy. The removal of eastern Indians from the path of the ‘superior society’ appealed to the benevolent logic of many Americans. Ironically, the largest and most famous tribes removed were those who already had adopted many white customs and were even referred to by the U.S. government as the “Five Civilized Tribes.” The Indians adoption of white farming methods was an overriding goal of policy makers and yet those Indians were being removed to an area with a climate unsuitable for agricultural practices of the 1830s.
The Cherokee had made the most impressive strides toward the adoption of Euro-American political, legal, economic, and social systems as well as aspects of culture such as religion, housing, dress, written language and gender roles. Having done everything that had been demanded of them for assimilation into white culture, they were rejected anyway.
By 1800, most Cherokee spoke English and had converted to Christianity. Some had plantations and slaves. By 1825, they had written laws, a national legislature, and a constitutional government. The state of Georgia saw these developments as an infringement on their own sovereignty guaranteed by the constitution and grew impatient with decades old federal promises to acquire title to all Indian land in the state. In 1829, Georgia declared both the Cherokee tribal council and constitutional government illegal, ruled all Cherokee laws null and void, and imposed the jurisdiction of Georgia’s laws, land deeds, and court system over Cherokee territory. They further denied the Cherokee the right to sue in Georgia courts. They sought redress through the Supreme Court. However even though in Worchester v. Georgia, the court ruled in favor of the Cherokee, Georgia and President Andrew Jackson ignored the ruling and implemented removal. It seems that the main focus of the court decision focused on issues of federal power verses states rights and the balance of power between the branches of the federal government rather than on Cherokee rights and welfare.
In 1835, a small number of leaders signed a treaty which sold all Cherokee lands and authorized removal of the entire tribe. The question remains whether or not those leaders had the right to sell. Thus began “The Trail of Tears.”
The removal of eastern Indians continued to be the official policy until 1851 but it was pursued with much less vigor after the horrors of the “Trail of Tears.” The concept of a vast Indian territory west of the Mississippi River became problematic as interest in Oregon and California increased in the early 1840s and it became totally unfeasible as the volume of migrants to these newly acquired territories exploded late in the decade. Most of the remaining eastern Indians were in the upper Midwest and the focus of government policy shifted to the concentration of the plains Indians in the northern or southern plains away from the Overland Trail.
The Chippewa Indians living in the area that would eventually become Wisconsin and Minnesota provide an example of this policy transition from removal to reservations. The Treaty of Prairie du Chein in 1825 sought to prevent intertribal warfare by establishing boundaries for the various Chippewa bands, but it also served as the first step in the government’s process of acquiring their land. Subsequent treaties in 1837, 1842, and 1854 transferred the enormous timber and mineral resources of northern Wisconsin and northeastern Minnesota to the United States. Eventual removal from the ceded territory was assumed but not stated in the 1837 treaty. The 1842 treaty contained three references to removal at the discretion of the President but the signatories were given verbal assurances that they could remain in the ceded territory as long as they had peaceful relations with white settlers. As a result, a removal order by President Zachary Taylor in 1850 surprised Chippewa leaders but the official change in government policy the following year caused this decision to be reversed. The 1854 treaty implemented this new policy with the Chippewa, initiating the process that would establish their reservations.
FYI: Most textbooks refer to the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1851 as the first instance of the concentration policy suggesting that reservations came after the Civil War. Not so.
Everyone wanted Texas. JQA had offered $1 million for it; Jackson was willing to spend $5 million. But the newly independent country of Mexico wasn’t selling. However, they were willing to have Americans settle there. In 1821, a Connecticut man named Moses Austin contracted with Mexico to bring 300 American families to an area near San Antonio. Austin died shortly thereafter, but his son Stephen took over and led the settlers to the area in 1823.
By 1834, Austin’s colony had 20,000 white colonists and 2,000 black slaves.

That was four times the number of Mexicans in Texas. Slavery was abolished in Mexico in 1831, but Austin ignored the law, as well as the one requiring the settlers to convert to Roman Catholicism. More and more, the settlers began thinking of themselves less as Mexican subjects and more as a cross between Mexicans and Texans.

The area began to attract restless and sometimes lawless Americans who were not as peaceful as the Austin bunch. These included Sam Houston, a soldier and good friend of Jackson’s; the Bowie brothers, Louisiana slave smugglers who had designed an impressive long knife that bore their name; and Davy Crockett, a Tennessee ex-congressman and daredevil backwoodsman with a flair for self-promotion.
In 1835, Mexican President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna made himself dictator and proclaimed a new constitution that eliminated any special privilege for Texas, and the Texans declared their independence in March 1836 –at that time there were approximately 35,000 Americans living in Texas. They kicked the Mexican soldiers out of the garrison at San Antonio, and a force of 187 Texans and American volunteers set up a fort in an old mission called the Alamo; Jackson remained neutral but many in the South did not.
On March 6, 1836, after a 13 day siege and a brief pre-dawn battle, Santa Anna’s army of about 5,000 overran the Alamo, despite heavy Mexican losses and killed all its defenders. The only Americans to come out of the Alamo alive were a woman, her baby, and a slave. Santa Anna spared them so they could warn Sam Houston what awaited him. The victory accomplished little for Santa Anna, but “Remember the Alamo” became a rallying cry for Texans. Six weeks after the Alamo fell, an army led by Sam Houston surprised and defeated Santa Anna at the San Jacinto River, and Santa Anna was captured.
Texas ratified a constitution, which included slavery, and waited to be annexed into the Unites States. But Jackson was now in no hurry. He did not want a war with Mexico over Texas and risk the election of Van Buren. Jackson formally recognized Texas on his last day in office in March 1841, after Van Buren had been elected. But it wasn’t until December 1845 that the Lone Star Republic became the Lone Star State almost nine years after it has requested admission.
Van Buren (who was blamed for the Panic of 1837 and the recession that followed) was defeated in the next election by Wm Henry Harrison (a Whig) who died a month later of pneumonia. John Tyler (a Virginia slave holder who had become a Whig because he had a falling out with the Democrats and Jackson over the issue of nullification and state’s rights) became the first vice president to assume the presidency. People called him “His Accidency” and many thought he would just serve as caretaker until the next election. But Tyler became a full-fledged president, setting the example for all the vice-presidents who would take over the presidency after him. He became the only sitting president thrown out of his own political party. In 1844, he started his own party, the Democratic-Republicans, but lost to James K. Polk, a Democrat from Tennessee who was a follower of Jackson. (still controlling the party from Van Buren, Tyler, and Polk.) He made several campaign promises:

  • To acquire California

  • To settle a dispute with England over the Oregon border

  • To lower the tariff

  • And not to seek a second term ---He kept all of them.

Mexican leaders were furious at the admission of Texas as a state in December 1845, even though it had been independent from Mexico for 9 years. So when Polk sent diplomat James Slidell to Mexico City with an offer to buy California for $25 million, Mexican leaders refused to meet with him. Polk decided to push us into war –the first war with another country just to gain land. A young Army lieutenant named Ulysses S. Grant called it “one of the most unjust wars ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.” Polk sent an “army of observation” under the command of Gen. Zackary Taylor to the banks of the Rio Grande River, an area that Mexico considered its territory. The army was gradually built up to about 4,000 troops by 1846. Taylor’s soldiers managed to provoke a small attack and the war was on.

The United States lost 13,000 men, 11,000 of them from disease, and lost not a single major battle. The Mexican army was badly led, badly equipped, and badly trained. The Americans were well equipped and led by Taylor and Scott. (“Old Rough and Ready” and “Old Fuss and Feathers”) In their ranks were Captain Robert E. Lee and officer U.S. Grant.
The first battle at Palo Alto set the stage. Taylor led 2,300 Americans to 4,500 Mexicans and routed them. (New Evidence –battle not a draw.)

In Mexico, the troops were now led by Santa Anna -who had been exiled to Cuba, but had talked Americans into helping him return to Mexico with a promise of selling Mexico out –he had lied! By Sept. 1847, Taylor’s troops had captured Mexico City. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo gave America more than 500,000 sq. miles of Mexican territory –CA, NV, UT, AZ, most of NM, parts of WY and CO. Mexico dropped their claims over Texas. Polk paid the Mexican government $18.25 million to ease his conscience. Five years later, we paid Mexico another $10 million for a strip of land in southern New Mexico and Arizona called the Gadsden Purchase.

  • James Gadsden was born in 1788 in Charleston, South Carolina. He was a soldier, a friend of Jackson, a slave-owning planter, a railroad executive, and an American Minister to Mexico in 1853. He had been appointed to this position on the recommendation of Jefferson Davis who was Secretary of War under Franklin Pierce. At the end of the Mexican-American War, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo set the border at the 32nd parallel of latitude and required the U.S. government to either control Indian raids south of the new boundary line or pay compensation for damages they inflicted. Both Gadsden and Davis wanted to build a railroad from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the south hoping to spread cotton and slavery. The problem in Arizona was that the flat buildable land needed for this railroad was south of the 32nd parallel. In Mexico, Dictator Santa Anna had indicated that he would be willing to sell more territory to the U.S. At the same time, the Senate was debating the Kansas-Nebraska Act and many Northern Senators felt that this would give the South an advantage. After much debate, the Treaty was ratified on June 29, 1854 and Mexico was paid $7 million; 700,000 which went into Santa Anna’s pockets. He would later offer to sell more land to the United States. Gadsden died in 1858 and his southern railroad would not be completed for another twenty-seven years. Meanwhile, Lincoln would build a transcontinental railroad through the North.

  • The San Patricio Battalion

In Congress, the Wilmot Proviso was introduced beginning in 1846. It stated that slavery should not be allowed in any territory acquired from Mexico. While it never passed, the Wilmot Proviso provided a well-defined proposal that allowed the free-soil forces to attract thousands of followers.

In Congress, a representative from Illinois named Lincoln attacked the war as unjust aggression –the Spot Resolutions. Henry David Thoreau refused to pay his taxes and went to jail, but the essay that came out of it “Civil Disobedience” became a handbook for non-violent protestors and passive resistance demonstrators around the world well into the next century.

Much of the dissent about the war stemmed not from just being uncomfortable about picking on Mexico, but because of fears it was designed to acquire more territory for the spread of slavery.
A big worry was that we might have to go to war with Britain as well over Oregon. But the two sides agreed to a compromise and set the boundary at the 49th parallel.

  • The Oregon Trail was much more than a pathway to the state of Oregon; it was the only practical corridor to the entire western United States. The trail west was exceptionally difficult by today’s standards. One in ten died; many walked the entire two-thousand miles barefoot. The common misconception was that Indians were the biggest problem along the way; they were not. Cholera, poor sanitation and accidental gunshots killed most travelers on the trail. In 1836, the first emigrants were Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, missionaries who were later killed by Indians. By 1843, nearly a thousand had made the trip and in the next 25 years nearly a half million others would follow. Many of these would split off and head to California for the gold rush. It ended in 1869 upon the completion of the transcontinental railroad.

  • The Donner Party: Lansford Hastings had written a book claiming that there was a short cut off the Oregon Trail that would shave 400 miles from the trip if you were heading to California. The Donner, Reed, Breen, Murphy, Eddy, Graves, and Keseberg families took it. They spent the winter of 1846-47 stranded by snow in the Sierra Nevada range. Ten men, including two Indian guides, and 5 women set out on foot. They, like those left behind, resorted to cannibalism by eating the Indian guides. Two men and all five women made it to Sutter’s Fort. In the spring when they returned to the camp only one man was left alive.

In January, 1848, gold was discovered in California. More than 90,000 people made their way west; by 1854 there was 300,000. Most miners made only about $8 a day. In the end, the ones who got rich were the ones selling the miners supplies. More than $170 million worth of gold came out of CA and a lot was used to help finance the North during the Civil War.

The United States had realized its “Manifest Destiny.” –a term that had become popular in the 1840’s as a way of explaining how it was geographically natural for America to expand its borders to conform to the continent. A New York journalist named John O’Sullivan first used the term in 1845, when he wrote the country must fulfill “our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.”
The Mexican War
Arguments for American expansion:

  • It lessened the possibility of future collisions with foreign powers.

  • It permitted the United States to spread democratic ideals.

  • It fulfilled the mission some felt to bring a superior civilization to superstitious Mexico.

  • It permitted the United States to acquire the benefits of harbors on the Pacific and new trade with the Far East.

Arguments against:

  • Americans have no right to force their civilization on Mexicans and interfere with their rights of self-determination.

  • Many believed that the Mexican War was fought in order to spread the institution of slavery.

  • War was unnecessary because Mexico was not bothering the United States.

  • The war resulted from an unconstitutional act on the part of Polk.

  • It created a lasting bitterness among Mexicans who came to view the United States as a greedy and untrustworthy bully.

  • The war enlarged the national appetite for expansion and reinforced racist philosophies.

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