Western Expansion, Manifest Destiny, and the Mexican-American War

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How did the discovery of gold in California impact Westward expansion?  

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When the United States initially aquired California (as well as other western territories) as a result of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, there was little interest in settling these faraway places. That all drastically changed with the discovery of gold in California. Very quickly people from the East Coast (and...

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When the United States initially aquired California (as well as other western territories) as a result of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, there was little interest in settling these faraway places. That all drastically changed with the discovery of gold in California. Very quickly people from the East Coast (and even from abroad) were lured West by the promise of riches.

The Gold Rush led to a population boom in California. By 1853, as many as 250,000 people were living in the San Fransisco Bay area, which had been sparsely populated before the discovery of gold. Most of these people were not gold prospectors themselves but rather people who came to provide services to miners. This led to the transformation of many parts of the American West into regional business and banking centers. As a result if this quick population growth, California became a state in 1850.

By luring more people from elsewhere to the region, the discovery of gold led to the displacement of thousands of Native Americans. Disease brought by prospectors and settlers as well as outright violence hugely disrupted Native American life. In many instances, the United States government merely seized native lands believed to contain gold deposits.

With the country's population now spread across the continent, efforts to expand the nation's railroad increased. The completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 opened up the West to even more settlers than before. This is because what had previously been a dangerous, expensive, and time-consuming journey to cross the continent was cut down to an easy and safe trip of just two weeks. By rapidly growing the region's population, the economy of the United States also boomed.

So even though most people who participated in westward expansion were not themselves gold prospectors, the discovery of gold did greatly accelerate the overall movement West.

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The discovery of gold completely changed the Western half of America. Not only did California drastically change, but everything west of Missouri was rapidly changed by the discovery. Settlers poured in from all over the world, creating a booming economy centered around mining towns in California, which drastically inflated the economy—prices skyrocketed, shops set up, and the region became the fertile, economic area now seen as the lap of luxury. Land became a premium, which meant privatization skyrocketed throughout California, and people bought larger and larger swathes of it. The shopkeepers were truly the beneficiaries of the gold rush, as they were able to charge high prices for simple things and became far wealthier than many of the miners who would occasionally find sparse gold.

Eventually, transportation was needed, so railroads were developed throughout the West. People who didn’t care to go all the way to California or grew weary on their journey set up camp somewhere in the Frontier and began developing many of the cities that dot the West today. Trade throughout the region grew, and the need for fast transport and communication spurred the advancement of both railroads and telegraph lines, which connected the entire country. California became known as a place to become luxuriously rich even though few actually struck it wealthy through mining opportunities. The real wealth came from tourism, retail, and real estate from the perceived opportunities.

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The discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in 1848 was an important part of Western history. The discovery led to a rush of emigrants from the East as well as a worldwide rush to California as Europeans and Chinese immigrants sought to make their fortunes in California. The discovery of gold created interest in a transcontinental railroad with a terminus in California. The discovery of gold also led to California bypassing territorial status and entering the Union as a free state. The discovery of gold also fueled further speculation in the West as miners sought more minerals in other areas such as Tombstone, Arizona and Pikes Peak, Colorado. The discovery of gold was the primary reason why these places were settled by mineral speculators, while the Oregon Territory was settled by farmers. The discovery of gold also led to the quick eradication of the native groups who lived in the area around Sutter's Mill.

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Westward expansion began very early, with the ever pressing need for more land. The more land you controlled, the more food and money you had and thus a larger settlement. After people started reaching California, while new land was always a treasure in and of itself, gold was worth much more than the land it was found on. Many people who were travelling westward were indentured servants just being released from their bonds with wealthy land owners and saw the westward expansion as their own chance for a new future. Finding gold would guarantee a prosperous start and a brand new beginning for many coming to the new world looking for just that, but without the added benefit of having a king's ransom in gold. 

The more people who traveled west the more need there was to make travel easy from one coast to another. Railways were built across the country to ferry people seeking their fortunes westward while also helping them to send back any materials they may have collected/created. 

In short, without the great need to move many people and many materials west, westward expansion would have been slowed due to the lack of interest. Gold gave a reason for people to look to the West, rather than stay on their own prosperous East coast. It linked the two sides of the country together and did a lot for industry at the time. 

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Although westward expansion had been going on for a while before the discovery of gold, the Gold Rush increased the pace of that expansion.

The Gold Rush led to tens of thousands of people trying to make it to California.  This highlighted, among other things, the need for a better way to get to California (other than wagon train or ship).  That need helped lead to the construction of the transcontinental railroad.  The railroads would become the greatest drivers of westward expansion because they brought people west and allowed the things they produced to be shipped east.

So, the Gold Rush led to the railroads which led to a major boom in westward expansion.

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