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

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How did westward expansion positively affect the United States?

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Westward expansion affected the United States in several positive ways. First, with the incorporation of the western states such as California and Nevada, the US became a mineral-rich country. This gave its citizens the opportunity to explore and mine the ore deposits in the hope of striking it rich. In...

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addition, it gave the US a significant amount of land. There was so much land that the country was able to offer its citizens land under the Homestead Act, which President Lincoln enacted in 1862. The Homestead Act gave settlers 160 acres of land, thereby encouraging migration. This did more than just encourage migration, however. It also gave the setters and general population a sense of opportunity that manifested itself in a type of entrepreneurial spirt that differed from the more staid climate in the old world.

“Manifest Destiny” conveyed the notion that the United States was destined to expand and spread democracy and capitalism across North America. Expansion gave the young United States a significant amount of free land and also helped diversify the country’s geographic footprint so that the West became the breadbasket of the country.

There were clearly negative factors associated with westward expansion and Manifest Destiny, including the forced removal of Native Americans populations from their territories. Moreover, it was a main factor that led to the United States entering into a war with Mexico.

With westward expansion, the country’s population expanded from about five million in 1800 to over twenty-three million by 1850. Many people went west in search of new opportunities. The westward expansion also ultimately led to the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, which warned European countries not to interfere with America’s ongoing expansion. This meant that the US could develop without the fear of European colonizers returning, which in turn gave Americans a sense of independence and “can do” spirit.

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The United States gained economically from its westward expansion. The region was full of silver, gold, and other precious metals. The region's grasslands were also turned into the richest grain production area in the world. During the heyday of the fur industry, the region produced beaver and other furs that could be sold around the world. The ports on the Pacific Ocean provided easy access to rich markets in China and Japan.

The United States also gained politically from westward expansion. The United States was created at a time when rival European powers jockeyed for who could control the most territory. By seizing the continent for itself and even issuing the Monroe Doctrine, prohibiting other European nations from expanding in the Western Hemisphere, the United States guaranteed for itself room to grow. While westward expansion was one of the catalysts for the Civil War, the United States did not have to fight an entrenched European power in order to expand; rather, it took on the Mexican army in 1846 and easily won the Mexican Cession.

The United States also benefited culturally from westward expansion. Frederick Jackson Turner lamented the closing of the frontier in 1890, claiming that expansion was ingrained in the American psyche. This willingness to expand made risk-taking a positive attribute in American culture. Some popular literature also comes from the period of westward expansion, such as Little House on the Prairie and paintings of Western life by Frederic Remington.

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To answer this question with a critical and accurate lens, one must think about what "positive" means in this context and for whom. In terms of nation-states, positive outcome for the state is more often than not going to result in a negative or outright genocidal outcome for a group of people, non-human animals, and/or the Earth.

The United States, as a nation-state, rich residents of the United States, and successful westward traveling settlers certainly benefitted from the westward expansion of the United States. The westward expansion resulted in more land acquisition, the development of railroads, an increase in the agricultural economy, immense wealth for industrial entrepreneurs, and greater overall power for the United States after the Mexican-American War. The fact that this "positive" gain for the United States is rooted in mass genocide, enslavement, and forced removal is often completely swept over or arrogantly justified through genocide-apologist frameworks about "progress" in history books and historical narratives.

At a minimum, the creation of governments and so-called progress occurs through coercion, displacement (whether it be of humans or non-humans), resource extraction, and massive human labor. In worse circumstances, such as in the example of the United States, nation-state building occurs through outright genocide and enslavement. The example of westward expansion as a positive gain for the United States emphasizes the inherently oppressive reality of nation-state building.

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Westward expansion was a very good thing for the United States.  It gave the country a stronger and bigger economy, made it more of a military power, and even (arguably) made it more democratic.  Of course, Native Americans were devastated by this expansion, but the United States benefitted.

Westward expansion made the country richer.  First of all, it helped drive the Industrial Revolution in the US.  As railroads expanded across the country, they helped drive industrialization by, for example, increasing the need for steel production.  Perhaps even more importantly, westward expansion gave the US more resources.  It gave the US the agricultural production of the Great Plains.  It gave the US the mineral wealth from places like Colorado, Nevada, and Idaho.  These things helped enrich the country.

By spreading from “sea to shining sea” the US became stronger.  It no longer had to worry about the possibility of having a hostile foreign power on the same land mass.  It was positioned to be a force both in the Pacific and the Atlantic.  Thus, westward expansion also increased American military power and potential. 

Finally, many scholars have argued that expansion made the US more democratic and made Americans more self-sufficient.  The US was, for a long time, a country with a frontier.  People could go out into the frontier and make new lives for themselves.  They did not have to stay in the East and work for other people.  They could go west and be their own bosses.  This, it is said, helped make the US more democratic and it helped give Americans  the idea that people are supposed to take care of themselves instead of waiting for others to take care of them. 

Again, we should not forget that Native Americans and the people of Mexico were hurt by the westward expansion.  However, if we look at this issue only from the point of view of the United States as a whole, westward expansion was a very good thing.

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

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

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

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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What was the impact of westward expansion on the development of the United States?

Westward expansion had a huge impact on the development of the United States. As people moved westward, the United States began to grow in many ways. One way the country grew was that we began to add more land to our country. With the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, we doubled the size of the country. When explorers such as Lewis and Clark mapped out the new land, this opened the door for settlement of the Louisiana Purchase. People moved west to farm, raise sheep and cattle, and to claim land. Then, as we expanded toward the Pacific Ocean, with the acquisition of the Oregon Territory and the Mexican Cession, more people headed west. When minerals were discovered, westward expansion really increased.

This movement westward led to the development of the west. As people moved west, businesses followed. People needed products, and the businesses were more than willing to provide those products. This led to the growth of the railroads. It was profitable for the railroads to expand as people moved west. The railroad companies could ship the business products and could transport people faster and easier than other modes of transportation. Eventually, more cities were formed in the west, and the territories produced new states that were admitted to the United States. Westward expansion had a significant impact on the development of the United States.

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How did the Westward Expansion effect America?

Continuing from the above post, another way in which the American psyche was shaped by the Westward Expansion was in the development of the attitude that it was always possible to move to a new location and begin again. Americans, for many years and generations, didn't have to think about staying in one place and dealing with the hardships and complications that might have come to that place. They could move and start over in the hopes of finding a better situation. This started with the thinking of the immigrants who came to the "New World" in the first place - the ease with which Americans move from one place of residence to another, the lack of reluctance to split up family units in order to find an advantage in another place, is quite unusual in much of the world.

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How did the Westward Expansion effect America?

A major theory is that westward expansion created the American character.  It is said (this is a theory connected to a man named Frederick Jackson Turner) that the expansion allowed Americans to be individualistic, rugged, and tough because they had to be all of those things to deal with the rigors of "taming" the West.

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How did the Westward Expansion effect America?

One way that Westward Expansion changed America was that it brought the issue of slavery to the forefront of political discussions.  As new states were added the fragile balance of power between slave and non-slave states had to be considered and compromised.  One could easily argue that westward expansion started a chain of events that brought about the Civil War.

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How did westward expansion impact the United States economically?

Westward expansion helped the US economy. The main way in which it did this was by giving the US access to more resources than it previously had.

One of the major factors that affects an economy is the amount of resources that it has available.  When the US expanded to the west, it gained access to more resources.  It gained access to the “bread basket” of the Great Plains. It gained access to the silver and gold of California, Nevada, and other places.  It gained access to the rangelands of Texas where cattle could be raised. In addition, westward expansion, opened up opportunities for new immigrants.   Expansion opened up farmland for Scandinavian immigrants. It opened up jobs on the railroads for Irish and Chinese immigrants. In these ways, westward expansion helped the US economy grow.

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