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

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How did westward expansion impact American society?

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I will expand on the previous educator's points.

Indeed, westward expansion increased the nation's wealth. Shortly after the Civil War, in 1865, only about 40 miles of track had been laid for the Union Pacific Railroad. The line was completed in 1869. The Union Pacific made it possible to travel...

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I will expand on the previous educator's points.

Indeed, westward expansion increased the nation's wealth. Shortly after the Civil War, in 1865, only about 40 miles of track had been laid for the Union Pacific Railroad. The line was completed in 1869. The Union Pacific made it possible to travel from New York to San Francisco in ten days—a time frame that shortened with the development of higher-speed trains. The ability to go from one part of the country to another made it possible to transport goods and people more efficiently. The train eliminated the previous dangers that existed for those who traveled West on wagon trains, including attacks by Native tribes and harsh weather conditions.

Westward expansion became a greater possibility, not only because of the belief in Manifest Destiny (that it was the fate of the United States to stretch its borders from one ocean to another) but also due to the Monroe Doctrine. President James Monroe introduced a policy in 1823, in the midst of a presidential term, stating that the United States would stay out of European affairs as long as Europe stayed out of American affairs. This included two very important points: that Europe would not seek any colonies in the American West and that any attempt by Europe to control a nation in the Western hemisphere would be viewed by the US as an act of hostility. This doctrine ensured and validated American hegemony in the West.

The nation's ability to move westward also inspired imperial adventures elsewhere by the end of the nineteenth century. The US would later seize colonies in the Pacific, including Hawaii, and in the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico. Cuba had three years of military rule, starting in 1898, after the Spanish-American War.

To the previous educator's last point, westward expansion did create the pioneer culture that has been depicted in novels by Willa Cather and in films and television shows. Indeed, one had to be plucky and courageous to survive on the frontier, which was dangerous, inclimate, and sparsely populated. However, the repeated displacement and murder of indigenous people, who were removed in favor of homesteaders, calls into question the notion that westward expansion helped to create a more democratic nation. Furthermore, slavery did expand into some western territories, including Arizona Territory. Lastly, freed slaves had fewer opportunities than whites to acquire land out West.

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Westward expansion impacted American society in many ways.  Here are three:

  • It made American society richer.  Getting access to more land and more resources helped to make the country richer.
  • It helped to promote the idea that the US had a "manifest destiny" to be a great power.  Expansion was based on taking land from people (Indians and Mexicans) who were deemed inferior.  This helped promote the idea that Americans were better than others and deserved more power.
  • It is said to have helped create a more democratic and individualistic culture.  By going out west, people became more self-reliant because they had to face hardships on their own.  
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