Westward Expansion Essay

Write a 1500 word essay on one of the three topics listed below. Your response may draw on material from throughout our course (lectures, assigned readings, and in-class readings/web sources). Be sure to cite any sources that you use. 1) The first 100 years of US history witnessed a dramatic expansion of democratic rights, although not everyone in the United States enjoyed the fruits of these changes. What forces (economic, political, social, and/or ideological) contributed to shifting conceptions and practices of citizenship and democracy, and what did those changes look like? 2) Describe the development of the Northern and Southern economies from colonization to the US Civil War. In what ways were they connected? How did their differences shape political conflicts between the two regions? 3) What motivated individual settlers and state and national governments to promote and participate in Westward expansion across the American continent? How did expansion benefit the United States, and what conflicts did it provoke?

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Westward Expansion

Motivators of the Westward Expansion

            The 19th century experienced a period where that had a dramatic expansion of the United States territory westward, resulting in national growth, cultural exchange, and conflict. The impacts of the westward expansion had various impacts on the country, some positive and others negative. Furthermore, various factors motivated settlers, state, and national governments to promote the expansion as discussed in this paper.

            The Manifest Destiny was one of the greatest contributors to the expansion. O’Sullivan, an American journalist who was one of the driving forces in the 19th century expansion, coined the term. The Manifest Destiny was of the view that the institutions of the United States were morally superior, hence the notion that Americans had the responsibility of spreading those institutions to free people from the tyranny of the European monarchies. The ideas originated from the Puritan settlements in New England. Adherents of the Manifest Destiny argued that a new world was developing, hence the chance to rectify the problems that were associated with the European society and government. It was a chance for doing the right thing. There were calls for an immediate revolution for the people to be liberated (Billington & Ridge, 2001). Therefore, the Manifest Destiny motivated many people to participate in the westward expansion since it was based on various ideologies, such as the need for liberation from the European monarchies.

            Furthermore, the Democrats strongly supported the Manifest Destiny, which made it have more influence on the westward expansion. In the north east states, particularly, newspapers affiliated with the Democrats spread messages of utopian dreams of spreading American philosophies using noncoercive and nonviolent means. However, there were some objections from various quarters, such as The Whig Party, who thought that a growing America escalate the spread of slavery, hence the need for an independent state that was friendly to the United States but not a part of it. Nonetheless, despite such objections, the majority of the people supported the expansion since it would spread American philosophies without using force or coercion (Billington & Ridge, 2001). As the people spread into the western territories, they will move with their ideologies, hence assisting in aspects such as the calls for liberation from the European rulers.

            The discovery of gold in California was another factor that contributed to the westward expansion. In 1848, gold was discovered in Sutter’s Mills, leading to a rush emigrants from the Eastern side of the United States as well as from other parts of the world. Chinese and European immigrants were determined to make their fortunes in the goldmines of California. Furthermore, the discovery of gold further fueled the expansion after the construction of the transcontinental railroad that had a terminus in California (Vandenbroucke, 2008). The rail facilitated the movement of people to the west and provided a means through which they could transport their merchandize to the rest of the United States. In addition, gold discovery also caused California to bypass territorial status and to join the union as a free state. It also led to further speculation of minerals in the west since the miners explored for minerals in other areas such as Arizona and Colorado. Thus, the discovery of gold led to the settlement of mineral speculators and farmers who could supply them with food (OpenStax, 2016). Therefore, the gold rush substantially affected the westward expansion since many people moved to the west with the hopes that they could generate a fortune from the mines.

            The Transcontinental Railroad also greatly boosted the westward expansion. Before its construction, the fastest and the fastest way that people could migrate to the west through was by wagons. However, the journey by wagons was full of danger particularly in the plains. Besides, the deserts, rivers, and even mountains made the journey difficult. On the other hand, travelling by see had its unique set of challenges. Many of the passengers contracted yellow fever and other illnesses, yet there were no advanced medical interventions at the time. As such, the seas were not perceived as a suitable mode of travelling to the west. Besides, some of the people who were working on the rail settled in the west after completion of its construction. The railway also led to the development of other businesses along the west, including the suppliers of food and other products and services (Vandenbroucke, 2008). Therefore, because the new railroad was much faster and safer, it motivated more people to migrate to the west where there were more economic opportunities and even land.

            The Homestead Act of 1862 was another key contributor to the westward expansion. The legislative action promoted the settlement and the development of the western side of the United States. Furthermore, the Act also gave African Americans an opportunity to own land. The Homestead act became effective on January 1, 1863, whereby after the payment of a small filing fee, people were granted 160 acres of unused public lands, on the condition that they would work on it and improve on it, including building a residence within a 5 year period. In an effort to take advantage of the incentive offered by the government, many people moved to the expansive western plains (OpenStax, 2016). Besides, the act did not have any limitations, in that U.S citizens, new immigrants, freed slaves, people from different races, and single women could apply for the land. As such, the potential for free land attracted thousands of settlers, who made their homes in places such as Kansas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. Besides, thousands of African Americans moved from the south since the west had better race relations. In the south, they could not even own land, yet in the west they could, although not to the same extent as the land rights that white people had. The act led to the distribution of more than 270 million acres, which indicates the extent of its impacts on the westward expansion (OpenStax, 2016).

Benefits of the Westward Expansion and the Conflicts that It Caused

            Westward expansion had numerous benefits to the United States, one of the most notable being the spread of progress in technology, education, and transportation. The migration led to the development advancement of education to the west, and even the development to address some of the challenges that people were facing in the western side. Furthermore, there was more food production since people were offered land at a small fee; hence, they could produce food in their farms, hence making the country more food secure. Besides, the movement to the west led to the expansion of the American territories (Mountjoy, 2009). Perhaps, without the westward expansion, the United States would have been around a third of its current size.

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            Another benefit of the expansion was the creation of new employment opportunities, particularly in the west. There developments in sectors such as transportation and the mining industry also sprouted, most notably because of the gold mines. These industry provided employment to many Americans, hence resulting to the economic growth of the whole country as a whole. Additionally, there were more discoveries in medicine since immigrants found new plants in the region, experimented with them, resulting in the development of better medicines. Besides, there were more opportunities of economic development because of the benefits that could be derived from trading in the west coast (Biilinton & Ridge, 2001). Such also benefited from the fact that industries, such as the agricultural and the mining sectors had started developing. With the coast, the merchandise from the region could be transported by sea to other regions, while they could also import merchandize not available in the west (Remini & Wyman, 2009). Therefore, it can be seen that the westward expansion was substantially beneficial.

            However, the expansion also led to various conflicts, one of the most notable being the Mexican war. Furthermore, there were consistent conflicts with Native Americans. As such, there were conflicts between the settlers and the Indians for the control land and resources such as buffaloes. The government wanted the natives to move from their reservations where they lived in terrible conditions, but they were adamant, resulting in conflict and even the killing of multiple Indians.

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            Therefore, it can be seen that the westward expansion, while beneficial for the most part, also had negative consequences such as the conflicts that emerged along the way. Some of the things that motivated westward expansion included the discovery of gold, the construction of the transcontinental rail, Manifest Destiny, and the Homestead Act. All these elements combined force many people to move to the west where there were better prospects for wealth coupled with elements such as land grants. In addition, the expansion had various benefits to the American economy, including the development of industries in the region, the discovery of new medicines, economic growth, and developments in technology. However, the expansion also had various consequences, the most notable being the consistent conflicts with the native tribes and the Mexican war (Remini & Wyman, 2009). Despite these conflicts, however, the western expansion may be perceived as having been more beneficial to the United States.


Billington, R. A., & Ridge, M. (2001). Westward expansion: a history of the American frontier. Albuquerque, NM: UNM Press.

Vandenbroucke, G. (2008). The US westward expansion. International Economic Review, 49(1), 81-110.

Mountjoy, S. (2009). Manifest destiny: westward Expansion. New York, NY: Infobase Publishing.

OpenStax (2016). U.S History. Houston, TX: OpenStax

Remini, R. V., & Wyman, O. (2009). Short History of the United States. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.


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