The 19th century can be defined by crisis and expansion. What are some of the issues or themes that are pressing on the new American Republic?
Discuss the three major themes below:
- territorial expansion
- industrial development
- activism/and or resistance.
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1. The main influence upon territorial expansion in the 19th century was the philosophy of Manifest Destiny. This was the idea that American settlers and American values were destined to spread throughout the continent; some went so far as to say that the entirety of North and South America should be molded in the image of the United States. Manifest Destiny provided much of the impetus behind such territorial expansions as the Louisiana Purchase, the Mexican-American War and subsequent acquisition of the Southwest, the purchase of Alaska from the Russians, the acquisition of the Pacific Northwest in the Oregon Treaty, and the annexation of Hawaii, all took place in the 19th century largely through American expansionist ideologies, and the lack of any real or enforceable opposition.
Crises related to territorial expansion included, as you might expect, wars, such as the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War, as well as the numerous Indian Wars and subsequent establishment of reservation land.
2. Industrial development expanded significantly with the invention of the steam engine and the subsequent Industrial Revolution. Expansions in this realm included the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, the establishment of industrial centers particularly in cities, and the increasing mechanization of warfare.
A number of crises influenced industrial development. Industry reduced or eliminated the need for human workers in many areas of the economy, resulting in a massive demographic and physical shift to the cities. Many cities were not prepared for the results of this influx, leading to the development of modern standards such as public education and sanitation. Workers also felt increasingly marginalized, leading to more frequent organized strikes in the latter half of the century. Industry also caused some of the first environmental conservation measures; gold mining in California resulted in so much debris that water traffic in San Francisco was affected.
3. Activism and resistance took place in many forms both internal and external to the American society. Externally, there was resistance from Native Americans, and competing European and North American powers. Internally, there was activism from women seeking voting rights, abolitionists attacking slavery, secessionists challenging the power of the federal government, anarchists and communists seeking a destruction of the prevailing order, and others. Undoubtedly the most significant manifestation of resistance took place in the American Civil War. Generally speaking, the external forces sought to compete with or limit the success of the American nation and the American model, whereas internal forces sought to shape or limit the definition of the American nation or model. This is why the Civil War is considered such an important formative moment in the history of the nation; it resolved a question left largely unresolved since the creation of the country, and established a canonical interpretation of the American ideology.
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