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

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How were farmers affected during western expansion and the Mexican American War?

Farmers, especially small landholders, generally supported western expansion. Southern farmers hoped to settle on western lands and cultivate cotton using enslaved people, while Northerners generally wanted to establish small homesteads. The benefits of the "opening" of the West were not as great as they hoped, as many lands went to speculators and big companies.

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Yeoman farmers, or landholders, generally supported western expansion, which is one of the reasons they overwhelming voted for the Democrats in the years preceding the Mexican War. Large slaveholders in particular were eager for new lands and eagerly supported the annexation of Texas, which eventually led to the war, just as they had Native American removal. These men hoped to establish new plantations, using slaves, to get in on the growing cotton economy, which, a few serious downturns aside, boomed throughout the antebellum period. Poor Whites people who did not own land and often worked as farm laborers or tenant farmers also supported the opening of new lands, including in the far West, where some, particularly immigrants, sought work in the mining industry.

Many Northern politicians, appealing to this class of Americans, hoped to enable them to settle in the West via a Homestead Act that offered federal lands for settlement at a nominal fee for families who would establish farms there. Because this law touted the benefits of free (i.e., non-enslaved) labor and forbade the existence of slavery on these homesteads, Southern politicians routinely blocked its passage. The Homestead Act did not pass until 1862, when Southern states had seceded from the Union.

Overall, however, farmers were generally enthusiastic about the prospect of opening up western lands for settlement. They did not benefit as much as they hoped, however, as vast tracts of land in the West went (by purchase or federal grants) to land speculators and large corporations, especially mining, timber, and railroad companies. Additionally, most poor farmers could not afford the capital investment required to move west and settle even on the cheapest lands.

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