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

Start Free Trial

How did western expansion shape the course of American history?  

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Westward expansion has long been a part of American history. Frederick Jackson Turner wrote at the turn of the twentieth century that the loss of the American frontier was bad for the American ethos in that the people would soon grow "soft" and lose their sense of adventure. The nation's struggle against the Native Americans was a constant story from the time of European exploration to about 1890 with the massacre at Wounded Knee, to even present day conflict between the American government and Native Americans. American expansion also helped fuel the controversy leading to the Civil War as the leading debate in antebellum times was whether or not the new states would be permitted to own slaves. Westward expansion is also part of the narrative of American exceptionalism; leading nineteenth century policymakers believed in Manifest Destiny and that the United States was destined to spread its democracy and values all over the continent. This attitude has not entirely ended, as the United States still believes that it is the sole arbiter of human rights all over the world. Westward expansion and the acquisition of new raw materials and arable farmland has also helped the nation expand from a few Atlantic seaboard colonies to one of the largest economies the Earth has ever seen. To preserve some sense of discovery and pristine nature for future Americans, westward expansion is also responsible for the national park movement as policymakers wanted to keep portions of the United States as natural as it was during the time of expansion.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Westward expansion shaped the character of the United States in many different ways. Westward movement, also known as Manifest Destiny, dictated American’s course as a nation for almost 200 years. The Louisiana Purchase, Texas Independence, Oregon Trail, Mexican-American War, Civil War, and the conflicts with the Great Plains Indians were are all examples of major, formative events in U.S. history that were directly caused by our march towards the Pacific. Many historians, both past and contemporary, agree that many facets of our national character were forged on the frontier. Many Americans would agree that they are an independent and free country, both of which were characteristics first developed by western settlers in American territories.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial