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

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How did the Westward Expansion affect the lives of Americans in the United States?

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It is possible to make a case that a large number of Americans remained physically unaffected by Westward Expansion. They had neither the desire or resources to move west, nor did the expansion impact their financial picture. With that said, Westward Expansion had an effect on the sense of nationalism...

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It is possible to make a case that a large number of Americans remained physically unaffected by Westward Expansion. They had neither the desire or resources to move west, nor did the expansion impact their financial picture. With that said, Westward Expansion had an effect on the sense of nationalism and hope that people had toward the United States of America in general.

These hopeful feelings encompassed something called Manifest Destiny, and Americans began feeling that it was their God-given right, duty, and future to conquer, use, and care for much of the North American continent.

Westward Expansion definitely gave people new opportunities. A great deal of land became available for prices that were far more affordable than in the "civilized" areas in the east. This movement of people west did meet with resistance, and conflicts did arise between settlers and Native Americans as well as other countries. The conflict in Texas with Mexico is a good example.

As more and more people moved west, jobs and industry boomed in an effort to help support the expansion. For example, the railway industry became a vital lifeline to people as they moved farther and farther out.

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Western expansion gave the United States a chance to fulfill Thomas Jefferson's ideal of an agrarian nation founded on the ownership of land. Many immigrants had come to the United States in pursuit of just such a dream. But for many the dream quickly turned sour as millions of immigrants found themselves trapped in overcrowded cities, with all their attendant social problems.

To such people, Western expansion was a godsend. Now, for the first time, they had the opportunity to acquire their very own land, out there in the wide open spaces and clean air of the American West. Many immigrants had originally come from rural areas, and had found it hard to adapt to life in the big cities. For them, Western expansion was especially welcome as it gave them a chance to get back in touch with what they knew best, to re-establish a lost connection to the soil, and to work the land as their ancestors had done.

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Westward expansion had a tremendous impact on the lives of people in the United States.  Of course, it impacted different people in different ways.  Let us examine a few of these impacts. 

The Americans who were most negatively impacted by westward expansion were the Native Americans.  The Indians had their land taken from them and were (if they survived the wars) pushed on to reservations.  They lost their way of life as well.  This was a terrible impact on a large group of Americans.

Americans who moved west were affected in different ways.  Some lost their lives to the sometimes harsh conditions.  Some were able to make good lives for themselves as farmers or merchants.  Westward expansion helped them because it allowed them to have more opportunities than they would have had in the more crowded eastern part of the country.

Westward expansion helped to increase economic opportunities for those who stayed in the East as well.  The “opening” of the West gave Americans access to much more in the way of resources than they previously had.  The new sources of metal ores, timber, and other things allowed the economy to grow.  This provided more jobs for working people in the East and more money-making opportunities for the wealthier people there.

For Americans as a whole, historians often argue that westward expansion helped to create a national ethos.  It helped cause us to see ourselves as a nation of pioneers, of people who bravely and independently worked hard to improve their lives.  It helped us to see ourselves as a nation of individuals who could fend for themselves.  All of this helped (they argue) make us more democratic and it helped to shape the way we Americans see ourselves.

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