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

Start Free Trial

How important was the westward movement in relation to major social and political developments?

Expert Answers

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

Westward migration was extremely important for social and political developments.  Let us look at two ways in which this is true.

First, in terms of social developments, westward migration is often credited with building the American character.  This idea is most closely connected with a historian named Frederick Jackson Turner. ...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Westward migration was extremely important for social and political developments.  Let us look at two ways in which this is true.

First, in terms of social developments, westward migration is often credited with building the American character.  This idea is most closely connected with a historian named Frederick Jackson Turner.  Turner argued that westward expansion and the existence of the frontier helped make Americans more self-reliant and more democratic than they would otherwise have been.  It made them rely on themselves instead of on the government or social institutions.  It made them more individualistic and democratic, as can be seen from the fact that western territories were the first to give women the right to vote.

Second, westward migration was extremely important in terms of political developments.  The development of the political conflict over slavery is perhaps the most important example of this.  As people moved westward, there came to be more conflict over the status of slavery in the new territories that they were inhabiting.  It was this westward movement that led to the need for a transcontinental railroad which, in turn, led to the Kansas-Nebraska Act.  This law helped to increase conflict and helped to bring about the Civil War.

In these ways and others, westward migration helped cause major developments in American politics and society.

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

One major political development of westward expansion happened during the early days of the history of the United States. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 created a system where new territories could become states. Without this, the western lands might have been treated like colonies and they would have split away from the United States. Another great political development was that women received the right to vote in many western territories before the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920. Wyoming was the first state to allow women to vote in 1869. Due to a shortage of eligible voters, women were needed on voter rolls in order to achieve a quorum in many outlying areas. The increasing number of westward settlers also spurred the United States to grow, and the Oregon Trail forced the United States and Britain to come to terms over who owned the Oregon Territory.

Socially, while Native Americans did not fare well in westward expansion, African Americans usually received better treatment in the West than in the South and East. Many African Americans left the South after the Civil War and traveled to the new territories in order to make their fortunes. Many found success and fame as cowboys as the open range was quite egalitarian and one was valued for one's abilities over one's race.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on