The mid-nineteenth century was a time of great geographical expansion for the United States. The relocation of Native tribes, the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the California Gold Rush, and other events helped define this moment in history. Read this text to see the impact these events had on life, culture, and literature in the United States. Conversations around Manifest Destiny also seemed to hinge on slavery. Would new territories allow slavery or not? Read with this question in mind.
Manifest destiny was the 19th century U.S. belief that the country had a divine right to expand across and take over the continent.
Evaluate how the concept of manifest destiny shaped U.S. thought and movement
Manifest destiny was the 19th century U.S. belief that the country (and more specifically, the white Anglo-Saxon race within it) was destined to expand across the continent. Democrats used the term in the 1840s to justify the war with Mexico. The concept was largely denounced by Whigs and fell into disuse after the mid-19th century. Advocates of manifest destiny believed that expansion was not only wise, but that it was readily apparent (manifest) and could not be prevented (destiny).
The concept of U.S. expansionism is in fact much older. It is rooted in European nations' early colonization of the Americas, the establishment of the United States by white Anglo-Saxons from England, and the continued wars against and forced removal of the American Indians indigenous to the lands. In 1845, John L. O'Sullivan, a New York newspaper editor, introduced the concept of "manifest destiny" in the July/August issue of the United States Magazine and Democratic Review, in an article titled, "Annexation". The term described the very popular idea of the special role of the United States in overtaking the continent – the divine right and duty of white Americans to seize and settle the continent's western territory, thus spreading Protestant, democratic values.
Sketch of John L. O'Sullivan, 1874: John L. O'Sullivan was an influential columnist as a young man, but is now generally remembered only for his use of the phrase "manifest destiny" to advocate the annexation of Texas and Oregon.
In this climate of opinion, voters in 1844 elected into the presidency James K. Polk, a slaveholder from Tennessee, because he vowed to annex Texas as a new slave state, and to take Oregon. "Manifest destiny" was a term Democrats primarily used to support the Polk Administration's expansion plans. The idea of expansion was also supported by Whigs like Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and Abraham Lincoln, who wanted to expand the nation's economy. John C. Calhoun was a notable Democrat who generally opposed his party on the issue, which fell out of favor by 1860.
Manifest destiny was a general notion rather than a specific policy. The term combined a belief in expansionism with other popular ideas of the era, including US exceptionalism and Romantic nationalism. While many writers have focused on US expansionism when discussing manifest destiny, others see in the term a broader expression of a belief in the United States' "mission" in the world, which has meant different things to different people over the years. For example, the belief in an U.S. mission to promote and defend democracy throughout the world, as expounded by Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson, continues to influence US political ideology to this day.
The angel Columbia was an image commonly used at the time to personify the United States. Originating from the name of Christopher Columbus, it was originally used for the 13 colonies and remained the dominant image for the female personification of the United States until the Statue of Liberty displaced it in the 1920s. During the era of manifest destiny, many images were produced of Columbia spreading democracy and other United States values across the western lands.
The Angel Columbia: This 1872 painting depicts Columbia as the "Spirit of the Frontier", carrying telegraph lines across the western frontier to fulfill manifest destiny.
The Oregon and Overland Trails were two principal routes that moved people and commerce from the east to the west in the 19th century.
Examine how establishment of the Oregon and Overland Trails enabled diverse groups to travel west
The Oregon Trail was a 2,000-mile, historic east-west wagon route and emigrant trail that connected the Missouri River to valleys in Oregon and locations in between. The eastern part of the trail spanned part of the future state of Kansas and nearly all of what are now the states of Nebraska and Wyoming. The western half of the trail spanned most of then future states of Idaho and Oregon.
Oregon Trail: The path of the Oregon Trail, spanning the present-day states of Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon.
The beginnings of the Oregon Trail were laid by fur trappers and traders from about 1811 to 1840; these early trails were only passable on foot or by horseback. By 1836, when the first migrant wagon train was organized in Independence, Missouri, a wagon trail had been cleared to Fort Hall, Idaho. Wagon trails were cleared increasingly further west, eventually reaching the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Each year, as more settlers brought wagon trains along the trail, new cutoff routes were discovered that made the route shorter and safer. Improved roads, ferries, and bridges also improved the trip. There were various offshoots in Missouri, Iowa, and the Nebraska Territory; the routes converged along the lower Platte River Valley near Fort Kearny, Nebraska Territory and led to rich farmlands west of the Rocky Mountains.
From the early to mid-1830s, and particularly through the epochal years of 1846–1869, about 400,000 settlers, ranchers, farmers, miners, and businessmen and their families used the Oregon Trail and its many offshoots. The eastern half of the trail was also used by travelers on the California Trail (from 1843), Bozeman Trail (from 1863), and Mormon Trail (from 1847), who used many of the same trails before turning off to their separate destinations. Use of the trail declined as the first transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, making the trip west substantially faster, cheaper, and safer. Today, modern highways such as Interstate 80 follow the same course westward and pass through towns originally established to service the Oregon Trail.
The Overland Trail (also known as the Overland Stage Line) was a stagecoach and wagon trail in the American west during the 19th century. While explorers and trappers had used portions of the route since the 1820s, the Overland Trail was most heavily used in the 1860s as an alternative route to the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails through central Wyoming. The Overland Stage Company owned by Ben Holladay famously used the Overland Trail to run mail and passengers to Salt Lake City, Utah, via stagecoaches in the early 1860s. Starting from Atchison, Kansas, the trail descended into Colorado before looping back up to southern Wyoming and rejoining the Oregon Trail at Fort Bridger. The stage line operated until 1869, when completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad eliminated the need for mail service via stagecoach.
Ruts on the Oregon Trail: So many wagons traveled the Oregon Trail that ruts are still visible along some sections. This photograph was taken in 2008 in Wyoming.
In the 19th century, as today, relocating and starting a new life took money. Because of the initial cost of relocation, land, and supplies, as well as months of preparing the soil, planting, and subsequent harvesting before any produce was ready for market, the original wave of western settler-invaders along the Oregon Trail in the 1840s and 1850s consisted of moderately prosperous, white, native-born farming families from the east. More recent immigrants also migrated west, with the largest numbers coming from Northern Europe and Canada. Germans, Scandinavians, and Irish were among the most common. Compared with European immigrants, those from China were much less numerous, yet still significant.
In addition to a significant European migration westward, several thousand African Americans migrated west following the Civil War, as much to escape the racism and violence of the Old South as to find new economic opportunities. The latter were were known as exodusters, referencing the biblical flight from Egypt, because they fled the racism of the South, with most headed to Kansas from Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. By 1890, over 500,000 African Americans lived west of the Mississippi River.
As the nation expanded westward, settlers were motivated by opportunities to farm the land or "make it rich" through cattle or gold.
Describe the conditions common in western frontier towns
While the motivation for private profit dominated much of the movement westward, the federal government played a supporting role in securing land and maintaining law and order. Despite the Jeffersonian aversion to, and mistrust of, federal power, the government bore more heavily into the West than any other region, fueled by the ideas of manifest destiny. Because local governments in western frontier towns were often nonexistent or weak, westerners depended on the federal government to protect them and their rights.
The federal government established a sequence of actions related to control over western lands. First, it sent surveyors and explorers to map and document the land and ultimately acquire western territory from other nations or American Indian tribes by treaty or force. Next, it ordered federal troops to clear out and subdue any resistance from American Indians. It subsidized the construction of railroad lines to facilitate westward migration, and finally, it established bureaucracies to manage the land (such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Land Office, US Geological Survey, and Forest Service). By the end of the 19th century, the federal government had amassed great size, power, and influence in national affairs.
Transportation was a key issue in westward expansion. The Army (especially the Army Corps of Engineers) was given full responsibility for facilitating navigation on the rivers. The steamboat, first used on the Ohio River in 1811, made inexpensive travel using the river systems possible. The Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and their tributaries were especially used for this purpose. Army expeditions up the Missouri River from 1818 to 1825 allowed engineers to improve the technology. For example, the Army's steamboat, the Western Engineer, of 1819 combined a very shallow draft with one of the earliest stern wheels. During this period, Colonel Henry Atkinson developed keelboats with hand-powered paddle wheels.
In addition to river travel, the Oregon and Overland Trails allowed for increased travel and migration to the West. The completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869 dramatically changed the pace of travel in the country, as people were able to complete in a week a route that had previously taken months.
The rigors of life in the West presented many challenges and difficulties to homesteaders. The land was dry and barren, and homesteaders lost crops to hail, droughts, insect swarms, and other challenges. There were few materials with which to build, and early homes were made of mud, which did not stand up to the elements. Money was a constant concern, as the cost of railroad freight was exorbitant, and banks were unforgiving of bad harvests. For women, life was especially difficult; farm wives worked at least 11 hours a day on chores and had limited access to doctors or midwives. Still, many women were more independent than their eastern counterparts and worked in partnership with their husbands.
As the railroad expanded and better farm equipment became available, by the 1870s, large farms began to succeed through economies of scale. Yet small farms still struggled to stay afloat, leading to rising discontent among the farmers, who worked so hard for so little success.
Although homestead farming was the primary goal of most western settlers in the latter half of the 19th century, a small minority sought to make their fortunes quickly through other means. Specifically, gold (and subsequently silver and copper) prospecting attracted thousands of miners looking to get rich quickly before returning East. In addition, ranchers capitalized on newly available railroad lines to move longhorn steers that populated southern and western Texas. This meat was highly sought after in eastern markets, and the demand created not only wealthy ranchers but an era of cowboys and cattle drives that in many ways defines how we think of the West today. Although neither miners nor ranchers intended to remain permanently in the West, many individuals from both groups ultimately stayed and settled there.
The American West became notorious for its hard mining towns. Deadwood, South Dakota, in the Black Hills, was an archetypal late gold town founded in 1875. Although the town was far from any railroad, 20,000 people lived there as of 1876. Tombstone, Arizona was a notorious mining town that flourished longer than most, from 1877 to 1929. Silver was discovered there in 1877, and by 1881 the town had a population of over 10,000. Entrepreneurs in these and other towns set up stores and businesses to cater to the miners. Gambling and prostitution were central to life in these western towns, and only later―as the female population increased and reformers moved in―did prostitution become somewhat less common.
The popular image of the Wild West portrayed in books, television, and film has been one of violence and mayhem. The lure of quick riches through mining or driving cattle meant that much of the West indeed consisted of rough men living a rough life, although the violence was exaggerated and even glorified in the dime-store novels of the day. The exploits of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and others made for good stories, but the reality was that western violence was more isolated than the stories might suggest. These clashes often occurred as people struggled for the scarce resources that could make or break their chance at riches, or as they dealt with the sudden wealth or poverty that prospecting provided.
As wealthy men brought their families west, the lawless landscape slowly began to change. Abilene, Kansas is one example of a lawless town, replete with prostitutes, gambling, and other vices, that transformed when middle-class women arrived in the 1880s with their husbands. These women began to organize churches, schools, civic clubs, and other community programs to promote family values.
Western mining towns: The first gold prospectors in the 1850s and 1860s worked with easily portable tools that allowed them to follow their dream and try to strike it rich (a). It did not take long for the most accessible minerals to be stripped, making way for large mining operations, including hydraulic mining, where high-pressure water jets removed sediment and rocks (b).
Women were vitally important in the settlement of the West.
Describe the experience of women in the western frontier
During the early years of settlement on the Great Plains, women played an integral role in ensuring family survival by working the fields alongside their husbands and children. This was in addition to their handling of many other responsibilities, such as child-rearing, feeding and clothing the family and hired hands, and managing the housework. As late as 1900, a typical farm wife could expect to devote 9 hours per day to chores such as cleaning, sewing, laundering, and preparing food. Two additional hours were spent cleaning the barn and chicken coop, milking the cows, caring for the chickens, and tending the family garden.
While some women could find employment in the newly settled towns as teachers, cooks, or seamstresses, they originally were deprived of many rights. Women were not permitted to sell property, sue for divorce, serve on juries, or vote. For the vast majority of women, work was not in towns for money, but on the farm. Despite these obstacles, the challenges of farm life eventually empowered women to break through certain legal and social barriers. Many lived more equitably as partners with their husbands than did their eastern US counterparts. If widowed, a wife typically took over responsibility for the farm, a level of management very rare back east, where the farm would fall to a son or another male relation. Pioneer women made important decisions and were considered by their husbands to be more equal partners in the success of the homestead. This was because of the necessity that all members had to work hard and contribute to the farming enterprise for it to succeed. Therefore, it is not surprising that the first states to grant women's rights, including the right to vote, were those in the Pacific Northwest and Upper Midwest, where women pioneers worked the land side by side with men.
Outside the family, women also played a crucial role in the community. People living in rural areas created rich social lives for themselves, often sponsoring activities that combined work, food, and entertainment, such as barn raising, corn husking, quilting bees, Grange meetings, church activities, and school functions. Women also organized shared meals, potluck events, and extended visits between families.
Homesteading family: Many women traveled west with family groups, such as the mother in this 1886 photograph.
While homesteaders were often families, gold speculators and ranchers tended to be single men in pursuit of fortune. The few women who went to these wild outposts were typically prostitutes, and even their numbers were limited. In 1860, in the Comstock Lode region of Nevada, for example, there were reportedly only 30 women in a town with some 2,500 men.
Women found occupations in all walks of frontier life. Some women worked in brothels despite the harsh and dangerous working conditions. Many Chinese women, for example, came to the western camps as prostitutes to make money to send back home. Some of the "painted ladies" who began as prostitutes eventually owned brothels and became businesswomen in their own right. However, life for these young women remained a challenging one as western settlement progressed. A handful of women, no more than 600, braved both the elements and male-dominated culture to become teachers in several of the more established cities in the West. Even fewer arrived to support their husbands or operate stores in the mining towns.
Toward the latter part of the 19th century, wealthy men began bringing their families west, and the mostly lawless landscape slowly began to change. Middle-class women arrived in the 1880s with their husbands and established boarding houses, organized church societies, and worked as laundresses and seamstresses. These women began to organize churches, school, civic clubs, and other community programs to promote family values. They fought to remove opportunities for prostitution and other vices they felt threatened their values. Protestant missionaries eventually joined the women in their efforts, and Congress responded by passing both the Comstock Law (named after its chief proponent, anti-obscenity crusader Anthony Comstock) in 1873 to ban the spread of "lewd and lascivious literature" through the mail, and the subsequent Page Act of 1875 to prohibit transportation of women into the United States for employment as prostitutes. However, the brothels continued to operate and remained popular throughout the West despite reformers' efforts.
The western frontier also gave rise to many famous women, including Annie Oakley, Pearl Hart, and Nellie Cashman.
Annie Oakley (1860–1926) was an American sharpshooter and exhibition shooter whose talent first came to light when, at age 15, she won a shooting match with traveling show marksman Frank E. Butler (whom she later married). The couple joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, and later Oakley became a renowned international star, performing before royalty and heads of state.
Pearl Hart (c. 1871 to after 1928) was a Canadian-born outlaw of the American Old West. She committed one of the last recorded stagecoach robberies in the United States. Her crime gained notoriety primarily because she was a woman. Many details of Hart's life are uncertain, with available reports often varied and contradictory.
Ellen "Nellie" Cashman (1845–1925) became known across the American West and in western Canada as a nurse, restaurateur, businesswoman, Roman Catholic philanthropist in Arizona, and gold prospector in Alaska. A native of County Cork, Ireland, she and her sister were brought as young children to the United States by their mother around 1850 to escape the poverty of the Great Famine. Cashman established her first boarding house for miners in British Columbia during the Klondike Gold Rush. During her time there, she led a rescue of dozens of miners in the Cassiar Mountains.
After moving to Tombstone, Arizona, around 1880, Cashman built the Sacred Heart Catholic Church and did charitable work with the Sisters of St. Joseph. In the late 1880s, Cashman set up several restaurants and boarding houses in Arizona. In 1898, she went to the Yukon for gold prospecting, and worked there until 1905. She became nationally known as a frontierswoman, with the Associated Press covering a later trip.
After a series of skirmishes with Mexico, the Republic of Texas won independence in 1836 and was annexed into the United States in 1845.
Examine the economic motivations behind the Mexico and Texas war and the subsequent annexation of Texas by the United States
American expansionists had long coveted the area of Spain's empire known as Texas. After the 1819 Adams–Onís Treaty established the boundary between Mexico and the United States, more American expansionists began to move into the northern portion of the Mexican province of Coahuila y Tejas. Following Mexico's independence from Spain in 1821, US settlers immigrated to Texas in even larger numbers, intent on taking the land from the new and vulnerable Mexican nation in order to create a new US slave state.
Anglo-Americans, primarily from the southern United States, began emigrating to Mexican Texas in the 1820s at the request of the Mexican government, which sought to populate the sparsely inhabited lands of its northern frontier and mitigate attacks from American Indian tribes in the region. Anglo-Americans soon became a majority in Texas and quickly became dissatisfied with Mexican rule. The soil and climate were conducive to expanding slavery and the cotton kingdom. To many whites, it seemed not only their God-given right but also their patriotic duty to populate the lands beyond the Mississippi River, bringing with them American slavery, culture, laws, and political traditions.
Anglo-American settlers in Texas, who were primarily Protestant, were discontented with Mexico's prohibition of public practice of religions other than Catholicism. They were also dissatisfied with the Mexican legal system, which was markedly different from the representative democracy and jury trials found in the United States. Of greatest concern, however, was the Mexican government's 1829 abolition of slavery. Most US settlers were from southern states, and many had brought slaves with them. Mexico tried to accommodate them by maintaining the questionable assertion that the slaves were indentured servants. However, American slaveholders in Texas distrusted the Mexican government and wanted Texas to be a new US slave state. The great dislike for Roman Catholicism coupled with a widely held belief in American racial superiority led to a generally racist and discriminatory view toward Mexicans.
Fifty-five delegates from the Anglo-American settlements in Texas gathered in 1831 with demands including creation of an independent state of Texas separate from Coahuila. When ordered to disband, the delegates reconvened in early April 1833 to write a constitution for an independent Texas. While Mexican President General Antonio López de Santa Anna, agreed to many of their demands, he did not grant statehood. The Consultation delegates met again in March of 1836. They declared their independence from Mexico and drafted a constitution calling for a US-style judicial system and an elected president and legislature. Notably, they also established that slavery would not be prohibited in Texas. Many wealthy Tejanos supported the push for independence, hoping for liberal governmental reforms and economic benefits.
Mexico had no intention of losing its northern province. Santa Anna and his army of some 4,000 troops had besieged San Antonio in February 1836. Hopelessly outnumbered, its 200 defenders fought fiercely from their refuge in an old mission known as the Alamo.
The Battle of the Alamo, as it came to be called, lasted from February 23 to March 6, 1836. This was a pivotal event in the Texas Revolution. Following a 13-day siege, Mexican troops under Santa Anna launched an assault on the Alamo Mission, and all of the Texian defenders were killed. Santa Anna's perceived cruelty during the battle inspired many Texians – both Texas settlers and adventurers from the United States – to join the Texian Army. Buoyed by a desire for revenge, the Texians defeated the Mexican army at the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, ending the revolution. Sam Houston became the first president of the Republic of Texas, elected on a platform that favored annexation to the United States.
Battle of the Alamo: The Fall of the Alamo, painted by Theodore Gentilz fewer than 10 years after this pivotal moment in the Texas Revolution, depicts the 1836 assault on the Alamo complex.
Mindful of the vicious debates over Missouri that had led to talk of disunion and war, US politicians were reluctant to annex Texas or, indeed, even to recognize it as a sovereign nation. Annexation would almost certainly trigger war with Mexico, and admission of a state with a large slave population, though permissible under the Missouri Compromise, would once again bring the issue of slavery to the fore. Texas had no choice but to organize itself as the independent Lone Star Republic. To protect itself from Mexican attempts to reclaim it, Texas sought and received recognition from France, Great Britain, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The United States did not officially recognize Texas as an independent nation until March 1837, nearly a year after the final victory over the Mexican army at San Jacinto.
Uncertainty about its future, however, did not discourage Americans committed to expansion, especially slaveholders, from rushing to settle in the Lone Star Republic. Between 1836 and 1846, its population nearly tripled. By 1840, American slaveholders had brought nearly 12,000 enslaved Africans to Texas. In keeping with the program of ethnic cleansing and white racial domination, Americans in Texas generally treated both Mexican Tejano and American Indian residents with contempt, eager to displace and dispossess them.
In August 1837, Memucan Hunt, Jr., the Texan minister to the United States, submitted an annexation proposal to the Van Buren administration. Believing that annexation would lead to war with Mexico, the administration declined Hunt's proposal. After the election of Mirabeau B. Lamar, an opponent of annexation, as president of Texas in 1838, Texas withdrew its offer. Texas would not become annexed to the United States until 1845 in the final days of President Tyler's administration.
John Tyler's presidency was marked by a series of moves favoring American expansionism, including the annexation of Texas.
Evaluate John Tyler's presidency and his political agenda that led to American expansion
While John Tyler had a difficult time with domestic policy during his presidency (1841–1845), he oversaw many accomplishments in foreign policy, especially in the areas of westward expansion. He had long been an advocate of expansion toward the Pacific, and of free trade, and was fond of evoking themes of national destiny and the spread of liberty in support of these policies. His presidency continued Andrew Jackson 's earlier efforts to promote US commerce across the Pacific. He applied the Monroe Doctrine to Hawaii, told Britain not to interfere there, and began the process toward eventual US annexation of Hawaii. In 1842, Secretary of State Daniel Webster negotiated the Webster–Ashburton Treaty with Britain, which concluded where the border between Maine and Canada lay. However, Tyler was unsuccessful in concluding a treaty with the British to fix Oregon's boundaries. On Tyler's last full day in office, March 3, 1845, Florida was admitted to the Union as the 27th state.
Americans at this time asserted a right to colonize vast expanses of North America beyond their country's borders, especially in Oregon, California, and Texas. By the mid-1840s, US expansionism was articulated in the ideology of manifest destiny. Major events in the western movement of the US population were the Homestead Act, a law by which, for a nominal price, a settler was given a title to 160 acres of land to farm. Other significant events included the opening of the Oregon Trail, the Mormon Emigration to Utah in 1846–'47, the California Gold Rush of 1849, the Colorado Gold Rush of 1859, and the completion of the nation's First Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869.
Following the slaveholder Tyler's break with the Whigs in 1841, he had begun to shift back to his old Democratic party. However, its members were not ready to receive him. He knew that with little chance of re-election, the only way to salvage his presidency and legacy was to move public opinion in favor of the Texas issue, and he formed his own political party to lobby the Democratic Party in favor of annexation.
Tyler supporters with signs reading "Tyler and Texas!" held their nominating convention in Baltimore in May 1844, just as the Democratic Party was also nominating its presidential candidate. With their high visibility and energy, they were able to force the Democrats' hand in favor of annexation. Ballot after ballot, Democratic candidate Martin Van Buren failed to win the necessary super- majority of Democratic votes and slowly fell in the ranking. It was not until the ninth ballot that the Democrats discovered an obscure pro-annexation candidate named James K. Polk. They found him to be perfectly suited for their platform, and he was nominated with two-thirds of the vote. Tyler considered his work vindicated and implied in an acceptance letter that annexation was his true priority, rather than re-election.
President Tyler entered negotiations with the Republic of Texas for an annexation treaty, which he submitted to the Senate. On June 8, 1844, the treaty was defeated 35 to 16, well below the two-thirds majority necessary for ratification. Of the 29 Whig senators, 28 voted against the treaty with only one Whig, a southerner, supporting it. The Democratic senators were more divided on the issue; in the north, six opposed while five supported the treaty, while one opposed and 10 supported it in the south.
Tyler was unfazed, however, and he felt annexation was now within reach. He called for Congress to annex Texas by joint resolution rather than by treaty. Former President Jackson, a staunch supporter of annexation, persuaded presidential candidate Polk to welcome Tyler back into the Democratic party, and ordered Democratic editors to cease their attacks on the him. Satisfied by these developments, Tyler dropped out of the presidential race in August and endorsed Polk for the presidency. Polk's narrow victory over Clay in the November election was seen by the Tyler administration as a mandate for completing the resolution.
After the election, the Tyler administration consulted with President-elect Polk and set out to accomplish annexation via a joint resolution. The resolution declared that Texas would be admitted as a state as long as it approved annexation by January 1, 1846, that it could split itself into four additional states, and that possession of the Republic's public land would shift to the state of Texas upon its admission. On February 26, 1845, 6 days before Polk took office, Congress passed the joint resolution, and Tyler signed the bill into law on March 1, just 3 days before the end of his term.
On July 4, 1845, the Texan Congress endorsed the American annexation offer with only one dissenting vote, and began writing a state constitution. The citizens of Texas approved the new constitution and the annexation ordinance on October 13, 1845, and President Polk signed the documents formally integrating Texas into the United States on December 29, 1845.
Prior to annexation there was an ongoing border dispute between the Republic of Texas and Mexico. Texas claimed the Rio Grande as its border, while Mexico maintained it was the Nueces River, and did not recognize Texan independence. President Polk ordered General Zachary Taylor to garrison the southern border of Texas, as defined by the former Republic. Taylor moved into Texas, ignoring Mexican demands to withdraw. Indeed, Taylor marched as far south as the Rio Grande, where he began to build a fort near the river's mouth on the Gulf of Mexico. The Mexican government regarded this action as a violation of its sovereignty.
The Republic of Texas never controlled what is now New Mexico, and the failed Texas Santa Fe Expedition of 1841 was its only attempt to take that territory. El Paso was only taken under Texas governance by Robert Neighbors in 1850, over 4 years after annexation. Neighbors was not welcomed in New Mexico. Texas continued to claim New Mexico as far as the Rio Grande, supported by the rest of the South and opposed by the North and by New Mexico itself. The Texas/New Mexico boundary was not established until the Compromise of 1850.
John Tyler, c. 1841: John Tyler endorsed the idea of manifest destiny to defend the continued expansion of the United States, including the annexation of Texas.
President James K. Polk was a strong proponent of expansionism and achieved the acquisition of Texas, Oregon, and California during his administration.
Evaluate the strategies President Polk used to achieve American expansion
James K. Polk, at age 49 the youngest president at that time to be inaugurated, set out a series of goals, two of which were explicitly related to US expansion. He intended to acquire some or all of Oregon Country from Britain, as well as California and New Mexico from Mexico. He pledged to accomplish all of these objectives in a single term. By linking acquisition of new lands in Oregon (with no slavery ) and Texas (with slavery), he hoped to satisfy both the North and the South.
Polk strongly supported expansion. Democrats believed that opening up more land for yeoman farmers was critical for the success of republican virtue. Like most Southerners, he supported the annexation of Texas. To balance the interests of the North and the South, he also wanted to acquire the Oregon Country (present-day Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia ), and he sought to purchase California from Mexico.
James K. Polk: Daguerreotype of President Polk taken by Mathew Brady on February 14, 1849, near the end of his presidency.
During his presidency, many abolitionists harshly criticized Polk as an instrument of "Slave Power" and claimed that he supported the annexation of Texas, as well as the later war with Mexico, for the purpose of spreading slavery. Polk believed slavery could not exist in the territories won from Mexico but refused to endorse the Wilmot Proviso that would forbid it there.
Polk heavily pressured Britain to resolve the Oregon boundary dispute. Since 1818, the territory had been under the joint occupation and control of the United Kingdom and the United States. Previous US administrations had offered to divide the region along the 49th parallel, which was not acceptable to Britain, as they had commercial interests along the Columbia River. Polk was at first willing to compromise, but when the British again refused to accept the 49th parallel boundary proposal he broke off negotiations and returned to the Democratic "All Oregon" demand (which called for all of Oregon up to the 54–40 line that marked the southern boundary of Russian Alaska). The rallying cry "54–40 or fight!" became popular among Democrats.
Polk wanted territory, not war, so he compromised with the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Aberdeen. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 divided the Oregon Country along the 49th parallel, as in the original US proposal. Although there were many who still clamored for the entire territory, the Senate approved the treaty. By settling for the 49th parallel, Polk angered many midwestern Democrats. Many of these Democrats believed that Polk had always wanted the boundary at the 49th, and that he had fooled them into believing he wanted it at the 54th. The portion of Oregon territory the United States acquired later formed the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, and parts of Montana and Wyoming.
Upon hearing of Polk's election to office in 1844, President John Tyler urged Congress to pass a joint resolution admitting Texas to the Union. Congress complied on February 28, 1845. Texas promptly accepted the offer and officially became a state on December 29, 1845. The annexation angered Mexico, which had lost Texas in 1836, and Mexican politicians had repeatedly warned that annexation would lead to war. Nevertheless, just days after the resolution passed Congress, Polk declared in his inaugural address that only Texas and the United States would decide whether to annex.
After the Texas annexation, Polk turned his attention to California, hoping to acquire the territory from Mexico before any European nation could do so. The main interest was San Francisco Bay, as an access point for trade with Asia. In 1845, he sent diplomat John Slidell to Mexico to purchase California and New Mexico for $24–30 million. Slidell's arrival caused political turmoil in Mexico after word leaked that he was there to purchase additional territory and not to offer compensation for the loss of Texas. The Mexicans refused to receive him, citing a technical problem with his credentials.
In January 1846, to increase pressure on Mexico to negotiate, Polk sent troops under General Zachary Taylor into the area between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande – territory that was claimed by both the United States and Mexico. This action soon led to the Mexican–American War, which the United States won. As part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the war, Polk achieved his goal of adding California to the United States.
Proclamation of War Against Mexico: Polk's presidential proclamation of war against Mexico.
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo: The Mexican Cession (in red) was acquired through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican–American War. The Gadsden Purchase (in orange) was acquired through purchase after Polk left office.
The war had serious consequences for Polk and the Democrats, however. It gave the Whig Party a unifying message of denouncing the war as an immoral act of aggression carried out through abuse of presidential power. In the 1848 election, however, the Whigs nominated General Zachary Taylor, a war hero, and celebrated his victories. Taylor refused to criticize Polk. As a result of the strain of managing the war effort directly and in close detail, Polk's health markedly declined toward the end of his presidency.
After the United States annexed Texas in 1845, border disputes led to war with Mexico in 1846.
Identify the causes of the Mexican–American War
The Mexican–American War was an armed conflict between the United States and Mexico that took place in 1846–1848. It occurred in the wake of the 1845 U.S. annexation of Texas, which Mexico considered part of its territory despite the 1836 Texas Revolution in which the Republic of Texas claimed its independence.
The border of Texas as an independent state had never been settled. The Republic of Texas claimed land up to the Rio Grande, based on the Treaties of Velasco. However, Mexico refused to accept these as valid, claiming the border was the Nueces River. U.S. President James Polk endorsed the Rio Grande boundary, which incited a dispute with Mexico.
After a series of failed negotiations with Mexico City, Polk ordered General Zachary Taylor and his forces south to the Rio Grande to enter the territory that Mexicans disputed. On April 25, 1846, a Mexican cavalry detachment routed the patrol, killing 16 U.S. soldiers. In response, Polk asked for a declaration of war. Congress declared war on Mexico on May 13, 1846, after only a few hours of debate.
The US military strategy had three main objectives: 1) Take control of northern Mexico, including New Mexico; 2) seize California; and 3) capture Mexico City. The US War Department sent a cavalry force under General Stephen W. Kearny to invade western Mexico from Jefferson Barracks and Fort Leavenworth, reinforced by a Pacific fleet under John D. Sloat. This was done primarily because of concerns that Britain might also try to seize the area. Two more forces, one under John E. Wool and the other under Taylor, were ordered to occupy Mexico as far south as the city of Monterrey.
US Army Captain John C. Frémont entered California in December 1845 and was slowly marching to Oregon when he received word that war between Mexico and the United States was imminent. On June 15, 1846, some 30 settlers staged a revolt and seized the small Mexican garrison in Sonoma, California. The republic was in existence scarcely more than a week before the U.S. Army, led by Frémont, took over on June 23.
Commodore John Drake Sloat, upon hearing of imminent war and the revolt in Sonoma, ordered his naval and marine forces to occupy Monterrey on July 7. On July 15, Sloat transferred his command to Commodore Robert F. Stockton who put Frémont's forces under his orders. On July 19, upon receiving official word of the start of war, Frémont's so-called California Battalion entered Monterrey in a joint operation with some of Stockton's sailors and marines. The U.S. forces easily took over the north of California.
From Alta California, Mexican General José Castro and Governor Pío Pico fled southward. When Stockton's forces stopped in San Pedro, Stockton sent 50 U.S. Marines ashore. This force entered Los Angeles unresisted on August 13, 1846. With the success of this "Siege of Los Angeles", the nearly bloodless conquest of California seemed complete.
Meanwhile, General Kearny's forces fought in the decisive Battle of Rio San Gabriel. The next day, January 9, 1847, the Americans fought and won the Battle of La Mesa. On January 12, the last significant body of Californios surrendered to U.S. forces. That marked the end of armed resistance in California, and the Treaty of Cahuenga was signed the next day, on January 13, 1847.
Led by Taylor, 2,300 U.S. troops crossed the Rio Grande and headed toward the besieged city of Monterrey. The hard-fought Battle of Monterrey resulted in serious losses on both sides. U.S. soldiers were introduced to urban warfare for the first time and had to adjust their battle tactics accordingly. The Mexican forces under General Pedro de Ampudia eventually surrendered.
Battle of Monterrey: General Zachary Taylor and the US army defeated the Mexican army during the Battle of Monterrey, lasting September 21–24, 1846.
On February 22, 1847, Santa Anna personally marched north to fight Taylor in the Battle of Buena Vista. Furious fighting ensued, during which the U.S. troops were nearly defeated but managed to cling to their entrenched position. Rather than reinforce Taylor's army for a continued advance, Polk sent a second army under General Winfield Scott to begin an invasion of the Mexican heartland.
On March 9, 1847, Scott performed the first major amphibious landing in U.S. history in preparation for the Siege of Veracruz. Meanwhile, mortars and naval guns reduced the city walls. The effect of the extended barrage destroyed the will of the Mexican side to fight, and they surrendered the city after 12 days under siege.
Scott then advanced on Mexico City on August 7. The capital was laid open in a series of battles, culminating in the Battle of Chapultepec. On September 14, 1847, When Scott entered Mexico City's central plaza the city had fallen. While Polk and other expansionists called for "all Mexico", the Mexican government and the United States negotiated for peace in 1848, resulting in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
Battle of Chapultapec: U.S. forces began their assault on Chapultapec, the main fort protecting Mexico City, on September 12, 1847, with an artillery barrage.
U.S. Occupation of Mexico City: This 1851 painting by Carl Nebel shows the U.S. occupation of Mexico City, which began after US forces captured the city in September 1847.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed in February 1848, was a triumph for U.S. expansionism under which Mexico ceded nearly half its land. The Mexican Cession, as the conquest of land west of the Rio Grande was called, included the current states of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and portions of Colorado and Wyoming. Mexico also came to recognize the Rio Grande as the border with the United States. Mexican citizens in the ceded territory were promised U.S. citizenship in the future when the territories they were living in became states. In exchange, the United States agreed to assume $3.35 million worth of Mexican debts owed to U.S. citizens, paid Mexico $15 million for the loss of its land, and promised to guard the residents of the Mexican Cession from American Indian raids.
American victory in the Mexican–American war yielded huge acquisition of land and increased domestic tensions over slavery.
Identify the territories that the United States acquired at the end of the Mexican–American War
Outnumbered militarily, and with many of its large cities occupied, Mexico could not defend itself and was also faced with internal divisions. It had little choice but to make peace on any terms. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed on February 2, 1848, by U.S. diplomat Nicholas Trist and Mexican plenipotentiary representatives Luis G. Cuevas, Bernardo Couto, and Miguel Atristain.
The treaty ended the war and gave the United States undisputed control of Texas, established the U.S.–Mexican border as the Rio Grande River, and ceded to the United States the present-day states of California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, most of Arizona and Colorado, and parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Wyoming. In return, Mexico received $18,250,000 – less than half the amount the United States had attempted to offer for the land before the opening of hostilities – and the United States agreed to assume $3.25 million in debts that the Mexican government owed to U.S. citizens.
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo: The first page of the handwritten Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican–American War.
The acquisition was a source of controversy, especially among U.S. politicians who had opposed the war from the outset. In the United States, increasingly divided by sectional rivalry, the war was a partisan issue and an essential element in the origins of the American Civil War. Most Whigs in the North and South opposed it, while most Democrats supported it. Southern Democrats, animated by a popular belief in manifest destiny, supported it in the hopes of adding slave-owning territory to the South and avoiding being outnumbered by the faster-growing North.
Northern antislavery elements feared the rise of a slave power; Whigs generally wanted to strengthen the economy with industrialization, not expand it with more land. John Quincy Adams in Massachusetts argued that the war with Mexico would add new slavery territory to the nation. Northern abolitionists attacked the war as an attempt by slave-owners to strengthen the grip of slavery and thus ensure their continued influence in the federal government. Democratic Congressman David Wilmot introduced the Wilmot Proviso, which aimed to prohibit slavery in new territory acquired from Mexico. Wilmot's proposal did not pass Congress, but it spurred further hostility between the factions.
Those who advocated for the war, in contrast, viewed the territories of New Mexico and California as only nominally Mexican possessions with very tenuous ties to Mexico. They saw the territories as actually unsettled (despite their large populations of American Indians), ungoverned, and unprotected frontier lands. The non-indigenous population there, where there was any at all, represented a substantial – in places even a majority – Anglo-American component. Moreover, the territories were feared to be under imminent threat of acquisition by the United States' rival, the British.
The acquired lands west of the Rio Grande are traditionally called the Mexican Cession in the United States, as opposed to the Texas Annexation 2 years earlier. Mexico never recognized the independence of Texas prior to the war, and did not cede its claim to territory north of the Rio Grande or Gila River until this treaty.
While the Mexican–American War marked a significant point for the nation as a growing military power, it also served as a milestone especially within the U.S. narrative of manifest destiny. The resultant territorial gains set in motion many of the defining trends in U.S. 19th-century history, particularly for the American West. In doing much to extend the nation from coast to coast, the Mexican–American War was one step in the massive westward migrations of Americans, which culminated in transcontinental railroads and the Indian wars later in the same century.
The 1848 treaty with Mexico was one of the most decisive events for the United States. in the first half of the 19th century. However, it did not bring the United States domestic peace. Instead, the acquisition of new territory revived and intensified the debate over the future of slavery in the western territories, widening the growing division between the North and South and leading to the creation of new single-issue parties. Westward expansion of the institution of slavery took an increasingly central and heated theme in national debates preceding the American Civil War. Increasingly, the South came to regard itself as under attack by radical northern abolitionists, and many northerners began to speak ominously of a southern drive to dominate U.S. politics for the purpose of protecting slaveholders' human property. As tensions mounted and both sides hurled accusations, national unity frayed. Compromise became nearly impossible and antagonistic sectional rivalries replaced the idea of a unified, democratic republic.
The suggestion that slavery be barred from the Mexican Cession caused a split within the Democratic Party. The 1840s were a particularly active time in the creation and reorganization of political parties and constituencies, mainly because of discontent with the positions of the mainstream Whig and Democratic parties in regard to slavery and its extension into the territories. The first new party was the small and politically weak Liberty Party, founded in 1840. This was a single-issue party made up of abolitionists who fervently believed slavery was evil and should be ended, and that this was best accomplished by political means. In 1848, many northern Democrats united with anti-slavery Whigs and former members of the Liberty Party to create the Free-Soil Party. The party took as its slogan "Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, and Free Men", and had one real goal – oppose extension of slavery into the territories.
The discovery of gold in California in 1848 sent hundreds of thousands of people West in search of fortunes.
Examine the demographics of the population that participated in the California Gold Rush
The California Gold Rush began on January 24, 1848, when James W. Marshall found gold at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California. The first people to hear confirmed information of the gold rush were in Oregon, the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), and Latin America, and were the first to start flocking to the state in late 1848. The news of gold eventually brought some 300,000 people to California from the rest of the United States and abroad. Approximately half of those arrived by sea, while half came from the east overland on the California Trail and the Gila River Trail.
The gold-seekers, known as "forty-niners" (in reference to the year 1849), often faced substantial hardships on their trip. While most of the newly arrived were Americans, the Gold Rush attracted tens of thousands from Latin America, Europe, Australia, and China. At first, the gold nuggets could be picked up off the ground. Later, gold was recovered from streams and riverbeds using simple techniques, such as panning. More sophisticated methods were developed and later adopted elsewhere. At its peak, technological advances reached a point where significant financing was required, decreasing the ratio of individual miners to gold companies. Although $550 million worth of gold was found in California between 1849 and 1850, very little of it went to individuals. While it led to great wealth for a few, many returned home with little more than they had when they started.
The effects of the Gold Rush were substantial. As people flocked to California in 1849, the population of the new territory swelled from a few thousand to about 100,000. San Francisco grew from a small settlement of about 200 residents in 1846 to a boomtown of about 36,000 by 1852. Roads, churches, schools, and new towns were built throughout California. The new arrivals quickly organized themselves into communities, and the trappings of "civilized" life – stores, saloons, libraries, stagelines, and fraternal lodges – began to appear. Newspapers were established, and musicians, singers, and acting companies arrived to entertain the gold-seekers. In 1849 a state constitution was written, a governor and legislature chosen, and California became a state as part of the Compromise of 1850.
New methods of transportation developed as steamships came into regular service. By 1869, railroads were built across the country from California to the eastern United States. Agriculture and ranching expanded throughout the state to meet the needs of the settler-invaders. At the beginning of the Gold Rush, there was no law regarding property rights in the goldfields, and a system of "staking claims" was subsequently developed.
The Gold Rush also had significantly negative effects on American Indians in the area, who were attacked and pushed off their lands. Observers in the gold fields reported abuse of American Indians by miners. Some miners forced American Indians to work their claims for them, while others drove them off their lands, stole from them, and even murdered them. Non-Americans were generally disliked, especially those from South America. The most despised, however, were the thousands of Chinese migrants. Eager to earn money to send to their families in Hong Kong and southern China, they quickly earned a reputation as frugal men and hard workers who routinely took over diggings others had abandoned as worthless and worked them until every scrap of gold had been found. Many American miners, often spendthrifts, resented their presence and discriminated against them, believing the Chinese, who represented about 8% of the nearly 300,000 who arrived, were depriving them of the opportunity to make a living.
Forty-Niner: A forty-niner, so called because he came to California in 1849, pans for gold.
The United States' militant westward expansion in the 19th century profound affected American Indians and contributed to tensions over slavery.
Summarize how westward expansion changed the United States geographically, demographically, militarily, and politically
After 1800, the United States militantly expanded westward across the continent. Rooted in the idea of manifest destiny, the United States considered it a God-given right and duty to gain control of the continent and spread the benefits of its "superior" culture. Illustrated by the white, blonde, feminine figure of Columbia, the historical personification of the United States, people saw the nation's mission as one of bringing education, modern technology, and civilization to the West and driving away the "uncivilized" American Indians.
Columbia and Westward Expansion: In the first half of the 19th century, settlers began to move west of the Mississippi River in large numbers. In John Gast's American Progress (ca. 1872), the figure of Columbia, representing the United States and the spirit of democracy, makes her way westward, literally bringing light to the darkness as she advances.
In the mid-19th century, the quest for control of the West led to the annexation of Texas and the Mexican–American War. President James Polk's administration (1845–1849) was a period of intensive expansion for the United States. After overseeing the final details regarding the annexation of Texas from Mexico, Polk negotiated a peaceful settlement with Britain regarding ownership of the Oregon Country, which delivered to the United States what are now Washington and Oregon.
The acquisition of additional lands from Mexico, a country many in the United States perceived as weak and inferior, was not so bloodless and culminated in the Mexican–American War. After U.S. victory, the Mexican Cession added nearly half of Mexico's territory to the United States, including New Mexico and California, and established the U.S.–Mexico border at the Rio Grande. The California Gold Rush of 1849 rapidly expanded the population of the new territory, while also prompting concerns over immigration, especially from China.
Efforts to seize western territories from native peoples and expand the republic by warring with Mexico succeeded beyond expectations; few nations had ever expanded so quickly. However, this expansion led to debates about the fate of slavery in the West. Increasingly, the South came to regard itself as under attack by radical northern abolitionists, and many northerners began to speak ominously of a southern drive to dominate U.S. politics for the purpose of protecting slaveholders' human property. As tensions mounted and both sides hurled accusations, national unity frayed. Compromise became nearly impossible and antagonistic sectional rivalries replaced the idea of a unified, democratic republic. Tensions between the North and South ultimately led to the collapse of American democracy and a brutal civil war.
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