Westward Expansion

.. years. The building of a transcontinental railroad with the financial assistance of the government was debated upon. Also the question of slavery in the newly acquired territories was a more troubling issue and this decided the fate of the United States for the next few years. Manifest Destiny F.

Merk in his book Manifest Destiny says “a sense of mission to redeem the old world by high example was generated in pioneers of idealistic spirit on their arrival in the new world.” It was generated by the immense potential in the virgin land of the American continents. Successive generations also gave this sense of mission life in various ways from the struggle of religious liberty in Plymouth and Boston at the time of the early colonies right uptil the 14 points of Wilson when the 13 colonies had matured into a major world power. In the mid-1840s, a new form of expansionism, novel in name, appeal and theory made its appearance in the United States. It was Manifest Destiny. It meant expansion, prearranged by heaven, over an area, which according to some was the region to the pacific, to others it was the North American continent and to others it was the hemisphere. Its public appeal was enormous as it meant an opportunity to gain admission to the American Union. John O Sullivan coined the phrase “Manifest Destiny” and many other politicians supported him like John Wentworth (Ill.), Stephen Douglas (Ill.), Daniel S.

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Dickenson (NY) and Andrew Kennedy (Ind.) The people of the Old South under Calhoun supported the annexation of Texas but were against going further as area beyond it was unsuitable for plantation style of farming of the South and also because balance of free state and slave states would be disturbed. Its dominant feature was federalism, which left control of local affairs-such as slavery-to the states and entrusted to the central government control over only such extra-local functions as foreign affairs, inter-state and foreign commerce, coinage and taxation for Federal purposes. Federalism permitted a spreading of the domain of the union almost in definitely without danger of central tyranny. The people entering the union were protected by States rights as it was republicanism on confederated states. It signified republicanism as freedom with a government of a classless society.

Religious freedom was stressed as a feature of this doctrine. Democracy was explained as political democracy with wide suffrage and frequent elections as well as economic democracy with democracy of land ownership, ease of land acquisition and the glorification of free trade along with the promise of the development of the natural resources. This economic democracy sounded very attractive as Mexicos failure to improve California was attributed to an incompetent local bureaucracy, degenerating into a state of anarchy and to a slothful population. The same was true of the agriculture and mining potentialities. If these areas were brought into the American confederation, the people would be taught both the value of their resources and trained at their development.

It was believed that occupation was the moral force, which should and would move territory to America. It was talked of as a refuge from monarchial Europe. Manifest Destiny also encompassed the idea that the duty of the United States was to regenerate backward peoples of the continent. The enthusiasm and belief for the doctrine of Manifest Destiny was enormous with every level of intelligentsia, though the scope and enthusiasm for its separate features differed widely. The growth of Manifest Destiny can be attributed to certain factors: Ø Technological changes in transport especially the plans to build the transcontinental railroads in the mid-1840s.

Ø Uneasiness of insufficiency of good land. Ø Economic distress- the crises in 1837, 1839, and 1841 encouraged the flight of farmers in search of better land. Ø The idealism of youth, which fueled reform with vision and high enthusiasm. Ø Geography of the western country. Ø Dissemination of the ideas of Manifest Destiny through the press with the advancements in communication. The forces that produced Manifest Destiny were domestic for the most part with expansionism as the dominant thread.

Interpretations Sectional Opinions: q John Rhodes in his monumental work History of the United States says that John C. Calhoun and others lobbied for annexation of Texas against the protests of northern Whig traders. He says that the Whigs never forgave the South for the holocaust of the war. He talks of the Mexican war being a Southern conspiracy. He blamed the South for the Mexican war saying that excessive Southern democracy provoked Mexico into war; that in order to acquire land in which they could establish slave states, South caused the Mexican war of 1844.

T. Parker and William Jay support him. Rhodes opinion assumes unity of purpose and action in the South. q Boucher thinks that the South was disunited and so couldnt carry out the pact. He talks of different leaders, some who advocated war against Mexico, some who like Calhoun placed the blame for the war on James Polk. He says there was no effective democracy, which compelled the South to fight against the anti-slavery men who favored war.

q James Douglas Fuller agrees with Bouchers view that there was no Southern conspiracy. He says that this is obvious when it became clear that the Mexican territory was not suited for plantation agriculture. q William Dott favors sectional interpretations but he holds a section of West responsible for war saying that West had been interested in expansion. Manifest Destiny was Americas slogan and Westerners were its boldest advocates. The West helped Jackson and Jefferson who were in favor of expansionism to get elected and in 1804, West declared expansionist policy through the democratic platform and elected Western leader James Polk.

He says that 70,000 people volunteered for the Mexican war of which 40,000 were from the West. q Norman Grabler says that neither the West nor the South were responsible, rather it was the commercial interest of the North, which was responsible for the war. Yankee merchant ships moved from Boston to the Pacific coast and San Diego to Mexico. They exchanged goods for Californian hides & they exploited the Pacific. Eastern mercantile interests dreamt of having lucrative trade with the Orient. He says that these men dictated expansion of trade, as the occupation of western lands was the way to reach the ocean-a barrier to be crossed.

Beyond Texas, expansion of America is different unless it is explained in terms of commerce and harbors. Polk won on a party programme based on conquest to fulfill commercial interests. q Wern says that it was concept of Manifest Destiny and not mercantile interest, which was responsible for expansion. Americans were expansionist-minded and felt that entire continent was for them. Manifest Destiny reflected more than mere land hunger.

American democracy symbolized freedom. Men moved further on to acquire freedom. Freedom allowed them to carry the institutions. Expansionists believed that by being free in nature and not weak and impotent like autocratic character of Mexicans, they would inherit the earth. God had built weak Mexico to be bettered by his chosen ones-the Anglo-Saxons i.e. the Americans.

The interpretation of Manifest Destiny was less a matter of expansion than purpose. Concept of expansion as a destiny meant it was a means to fulfillment of certain ideas. The preservation and perfection of American providential mission or destiny. He talks of how it had economic implications. There was a vast land held by America yet Americans were acquiring more land. The main motive was to acquire land for future population before the need arises.

The guilt of population was fundamental cause towards territory and expansion. He talks of how economic and social liberty was sought without which political liberty was meaningless. Spanish School: q Carlos Garcia felt that to understand expansion of the United States, it is essential to understand the colonial background of America and Mexico. The English masters of the 13 colonies had no place for red Indians in their society. The Indians were eliminated and then the Anglo-Saxons society existed.

According to him, in the case of North America the ends justified the means. If the Americans wanted more land, they conquer it by eliminating its barbaric neighbors. The Americans unwillingness to assimilate Indians and Mexicans explains the enthusiasm for conquering sparsely populated Mexico and their failure to go beyond Rio Grande. Thanks to their colonial heritage, that part of Mexico remained Mexico. It was racial supremacy that held them back.

q Richard Steinberg holds Polk responsible for the Mexican war. He argues that Polks party platform was to annex Texas and if he carried out this plan, it would be his responsibility totally. He encouraged people of Texas to ask to have Rio Grande as the boundary. Mexicans had severed their relations with the United States. Americans provoked Mexicans into war.

q The Mexican scholar Sierra was aware of the shortcomings of his nation. He blamed the church, politicians and stupid military for their betrayal to the public cause. The United States was aggressive and attacked the Mexican territory and Mexico was not defended properly. Significance Of The Westward Movement Any discussions on the significance of the Westward Expansion must take into account the views and criticisms of Frederick Jackson Turner whose thesis was that the westward movement had been the central factor in the evolution of American civilization and the chief reason for the differences between America and Europe. He says, ” the existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development.” According to Turner, the chief effects of the frontier were to promote the formation of a new, composite nationality and decrease the dependence on Europe, to strengthen national unity and increase the powers of the Federal government, and to stimulate individualistic and democratic attitudes and institutions. However, many criticisms of Turners thesis exist with scholars like George Pierson, Hofstader and Robert Riegel challenging his arguments.

They say that the frontier is an inappropriate interpretative framework for studying American history, when other themes like class struggle, economic forces of growth, level of technology, growth of urbanization, the immigrant experience or the role of continuity and urbanization exist. David Potter says that Turner failed to see that technology and industry also produced abundance, which shaped the American character of individualism, egalitarianism and immense opportunities. Scholars say that the states of the upper valley became democratic primarily because they were founded by men who already believed in democratic ideals. So to say that the frontier brought about democracy is an exaggeration. Turners idea of the Westward Expansion being a safety valve for urban discontent sounds faulty to Charles Bearde who said that the people who moved were wholly agricultural people as the urban workers had neither the agricultural skill nor the capital needed to settle on the frontier.

Despite the various valid criticisms of Turner, many points of his thesis are acceptable. On the whole, the West was certainly more democratic than the East and had a stronger faith in human equality as it was settled by people looking for wider opportunities. Even the safety valve theory has an element of truth when applied to ambitious young men of the professional class who had a better chance of making it big much quicker in the West than in the East. Without the open frontier, moreover, there would have been a much larger migration of young people from the farms to the cities; thus the frontier helped indirectly to check the exploitation of the working class by preventing it from expanding too rapidly. The Westward Expansion also weakened state and regional loyalties and promoted national unity due to its inherent mobility. Most westerners thought of themselves primarily as Americans, and wanted strong national government with broad powers for developing transportation and promoting the general welfare. The most significant feature of the Westward Expansion was that the pioneers took with them the essential institutions of their civilization.

Thus we must look upon the Westward Expansion as one of the factors in the shaping of the American civilization but not the only one.


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