subject = Advanced Placement US History title = Development of the West Beyond The Mississippi papers = Ryan Loker 1-6-96 AP US History Period 3 DEVELOPMENT OF THE WEST BEYOND THE MISSISSIPPI The years 1840 to 1890 were a period of great growth for the United States. It was during this time period that the United states came to the conclusion that it had a manifest destiny, that is, it was commanded by god to someday occupy the entire North American continent. One of the most ardent followers of this belief was President James K. Polk. He felt that the United States had the right to whatever amount of territory it chose to, and in doing this the United States was actually doing a favor for the land it seized, by introducing it to the highly advanced culture and way of life of Americans.
Shortly after his election he annexed Texas. This added a great amount of land to the United States, but more was to follow. The Oregon Territory became a part of the United States is 1846, followed by the Mexican Cession in 1848 and the Gadsden Purchase in 1853. At this point the United States had accomplished its manifest destiny, it reached from east to west, from sea to shining sea. Now that the lands it so desired were finally there, the United States faced a new problem- how to get its people to settle these lands so they would actually be worth having. Realistically, it is great to have a lot of land, but if the land is unpopulated and undeveloped, it really isn’t worth much.
And the government of the United States knew this. One of the reasons that many did not choose to settle there immediately was that the lands were quite simply in the middle of nowhere. They were surrounded by mountains, inhabited by hostile Indians, and poor for farming. Because of these geographical conditions, the government was forced to intervene to coax its citizens into settling the new lands. Basically the lands were not settled because they were available, they were settled because of various schemes the government concocted to make them seem desirable.
The government participated in a great “push” to get its citizens to move to west. At first few people moved to the west, but this changed when gold was discovered in California in 1848. This caused a “gold rush” to the west coast which consisted of many prospectors seeking to find their fortunes in the gold mines of California. Many traveled to the west coast, however few actually found their fortunes. The problem remained that the midwest was still relatively unpopulated.
There were people on the west coast of the United States, there were people on the east coast of the United States, but relatively few in the center of the country. In order to convince people to move to the central midwest, the United States started a massive propaganda drive that Hitler would have been proud of. Everywhere one would look they would find brochures telling of how wonderful the central midwest was, and how it would be an ideal setting for someone to settle down and raise a family, and how it was great for farmland. In the tradition of propaganda, however, this was often far from the truth. In reality the land that looked so beautiful in the brochures and posters was actually the Great American Desert.
To work in conjunction with the propaganda posters and brochures, the United States passed the Homestead Act, which offered extremely cheap land to anyone who was willing to live on it and farm it. The Homestead Act actually went as far as offering tracks of land as large as 160 acres for as little as ten dollars. The Wyoming Territory actually went as far as passing laws allowing women’s suffrage and property rights to encourage settlers. This would seem like a step forward in human rights. In actuality, this was a terrible periods for civil rights for a certain ethnic group: the Indians.
President Hayes was one of the most ardent supporters of the Homestead Act. However there was another act passed under Hayes called the Dawes Act that was a travesty as far as the Indians were concerned. Under this act, the Indians were able to become citizens of the United States and participate in the Homestead Act, but at a terrible price. In order to become a citizen, an Indian would have to move away from his reservation, renounce his tribal ways, and “accept” American ways. Needless to say, this made the Indians furious. Originally designed to remove the Indian problem so more settlers could move to their lands, it only served to make the Indians madder.
Now settlers were claiming they could not settle in the west because of fear of being carved up by blood-thirsty Indians. To try to remedy the problem, the government sent men like General Custer to dispel the Indian problem. Although Custer was slightly successful at first, he was eventually killed by a group of Indians at the Battle of Little Big Horn. Needless to say, white man-Indian relationships were at a low point in this period. In conclusion, the west was settled slowly because, geographically it was in the middle of nowhere.
It was isolated from the rest of the country, although the transcontinental railroad would soon solve this problem. Another problem of the west was the hostility of the Indians, which was not the unjustified considering what they had gone through. Although today the central midwest is populated, it is not to the degree that the coastal areas are, and it will likely remain that way until the population of the United States becomes so large it actually forces people to move there.