Westward Expansion

.. er groups to move West with the American Dream held strong in the hearts of many. The animosity with the Mexicans finally came to rise in the Mexican-American wars which spanned from 1846-1848. The reasons for the eruption of the hostilities included the annexation of Texas in 1845, claims of property damage by US citizens against the Mexican government and the desire of the United States to acquire California into their boundaries (manifest destiny). After failed negotiations in 1845 regarding land, the movement of an American army was considered as act of aggression and Mexican troops were sent to protect their land, in turn America declared war on 13th May 1846.

The Mexicans lacked resources to fight a war and were ill equipped to combat the three armies America put into the field for combat. America forced the Mexicans back and put onto effect a naval blockade. A revolt in California to lead to its declaration of independence from Mexican rule and was declared a territory of the United States in July 1846. Despite the United States victories against the Mexican armies and the naval blockade success, Mexico refused to acknowledge defeat. The United States decided to end the war by capturing Mexico City and after battles at Veracruz, Cerro Gordo, Conteras, and Churubusco, Mexico City fell to the United States on 14th September 1847. Peace was established in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidaglo, which established the Texan border and ceded New Mexico and California to the United States for the sum of $15million and responsibility for US claims against the Mexican government.

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This war continued the opening of the West and encouraged Westward movement to California. The West encountered its first major influx of people in 1849, the word of the year was Gold. The discovery of gold in California enticed over one hundred thousand people to flock to Californian gold fields in one year in the search of riches. The gold did not last very long but the legacy did as many of the gold seekers settled and developed the land, the people who choose to leave the fields followed other gold discoveries and scattered themselves throughout the growing West. The final slither of the South-West not owned by the United States was purchased in 1953 in the Gasden Purchase from Mexico, thus perhaps realising a large part of the Manifest Destiny philosophy.

The United States was united from East to West. With this final purchase and the successions of the Mexicans in 1948 the United had acquired an undisputed tittle to all land westward from the Rockies to the Pacific Coast, north to the 49th parallel and south to Rio Grande. It was this legitimate possession that convinced thousands of settlers to move westward in search of the fulfilled dream of the United States. This union though would be tested, not by foreign powers but by an internal struggle revolving around the issue of slavery. The American Civil War would have an enormous impact upon the United States it would pause if not halt Westward migration for its duration(1861-1865) as the South combated the North.

Ultimately as Scarlet OHara so eloquently put it the Yankees are comin, and the Yankees did come, the Union triumphed over the Confederacy in 1865 after four years of bloody wars and decisive battles resulting in the abolishment of slavery. The main impact the civil war imposed upon Western migration was the virtual halt of migration as mentioned before, the pausing of settlement which served as an enticement to the west and the detrimental effect of the loss/death of approximately 620 000 thousand men in a nation of 35 million people had upon migration. The after effects of the civil war were characterised by a continuation of the Westward movement, a massive influx of foreign immigrants, rapid industrialisation and the passing of many laws previously frowned upon by the confederacy. A large incentive to Westward movement came in the form of the 1862 Homestead Laws. The Homestead laws enabled settlers without capital to acquire homesteads, it provided that anyone who was the head of the family, 21 years old, a veteran of 14 days active service in the US armed forces and who was or had an intent to become a citizen could acquire a tract of land in the public domain (excluding the original 13 states and Maine, Vermont, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas) the tract of land could not exceed 160 acres.

To acquire the land title, the homesteader was obliged to settle on or cultivate the homestead for five years. This enticement for Westward movement succeeded as settlers mainly fromthe period after the civil war flocked towards the West in the lure of free land. The West was still not accessible enough for mass migration to occur, the wagon trails were well established but still a test upon a persons endurance, determination and spirit. The West needed to be opened up to the masses and this opening came in the form of a railway. It was realised by the government that the West needed to be opened up and in turn they offered large sums of money and land grants as incentives to companies.

The first railroad construction began in 1862, though progress only began to be made from 1866 when supplies were more readily available. The two railway companies, Union Pacific Railroad, who employed veterans from the civil war and the Central Pacific Railway Company who employed overseas labour mainly the Chinese and Irish, were in direct competition. The Union began from east building tracks West across the largely unsettled Prairie whereas the Central Pacific began from the West in San Francisco, the companies raced across the country side not even stopping to meet the tracks, only with government intervention did the tracks finally meet at Promontory Point, Utah on the 10th May 1869 and the Transcontinental Railway was completed . Effects of the railway include, the West was now open to the masses, many townships blossomed along the railways and the United States took a huge step in technological dominance. By the 1870s the West was no longer a frontier to be braved by explorers but a thriving centre of settlers, pioneers and towns.

In the space of seventy years the United States had accomplished a centuries worth of achievements, and in the true spirit of Manifest Destiny they had quadrupled their size by the means of purchase, war and exploration. This extension of territory or the opening up of the West came about largely to these factors, The Louisiana Purchase, Texan independence and then annexation, the Mexican-American Wars and the Oregon agreement. This opening up of the West allowed Americans to venture into their West in search of their American Dream, the enticement of cheap land, a new beginning, gold, a second chance and later free land allowed the dreams of many to be followed and attempted either in the heart of America or on its Pacific Shoreline. A large factor which allowed the West to be settled was the vast numbers of foreign immigrants. Western Expansions setbacks were largely owed to the early years where established trails were hard to find and the threat of Indians was fierce also a setbacks occurred throughout the civil war days though in the post war days there was an increase in Westward migration. The West provided an opportunity to many and with the continual settlement and the development of railways it would be an opportunity that was available to many.

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