Prior to19th century, people in the US mainly inhabited east of Mississippi River. Only a few explorers, American Indians and traders had travelled to the western side of the river. However, thousands of people moved to the west of the river especially during the first half of 19th century (Levy, 2005). The movement is regarded to as western expansion. This paper explores the reasons for and effects of the expansion.
Although western expansion took many years, it started with the purchase of Louisiana by President Thomas Jefferson in 1803, which was located west of Mississippi River. Among other reasons, the president purchased the new territory in order to expand US territory and open new opportunities for carrying out agricultural and economic activities (Barden & Backus, 2011). Another key factor that influenced people to move towards the west is Manifest Destiny. The concept of Manifest Destiny describes American peoples notion that expanding to the west was their destiny and that they had a right to claim the new land, even though it was inhabited by American Indians. The concept became popular among the Americans in 1940s (Barden & Backus, 2011).
Another key factor that facilitated western expansion was the enactment of Indian Removal Act by President Andrew Jackson. The enactment led to a change of the US policy that used to allow American Indians living west of Mississippi river to act as autonomous states (Lynette, 2013). The change in the policy allowed the US government to acquire land that was initially inhabited by native Indians. The western expansion was aided further by war between the US and Mexico that ended in 1946 (Roza, 2011). Following the war, the US gained more land towards southwest. At the same time, treasure-hunters started moving to California to search for gold. Westward expansion was also facilitated by the production of king cotton. In 1930s, cotton became one of the valued cash crops among the southerners. An increase in demand for the cotton encouraged the southerners to acquire more land west in order to expand cotton production (Roza, 2011).
Westward expansion had several effects. Firstly, it led to harsh treatment and displacement of native Indians who lived in the land west of Mississippi, particularly the Cherokees. Due to harsh conditions that they were exposed to, around 4,000 out of 16,000 Cherokees died after displacement. The harsh treatment is regarded as trail of tears (Collins, 2013). Further, western expansion led to an increase in the size of the US. As well, the economy of the US expanded as more resources were acquired in the new land (Collins, 2013).
Westward expansion also led to the spread of slavery of 19th century to the west. After Abraham Lincon became president in 1960, some Americans believed that he would establish laws abolishing slavery. To avoid persecution, many people who supported slavery moved to western states in which slave trade was not illegal. Also, new settlers in the western states purchased slaves to work in their farms (Collins, 2013).
Overall, western expansion was characterized by acquisition of new land west of Mississippi river. Americans were motivated to move towards the west by desire to gain more resources. The expansion involved the use of both rightful and cruel means of acquiring new land. While the expansion led to expansion of the US territory and economy, it had negative effects such as encouraging slavery and forceful displacement of natives.
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