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Westward Expansion, Its Terms and Features


The westward expansion was a critical moment in the history of the United States that commenced in 1807 and ended in 1912, and that involved the exploration and colonization of territories in the West (Billington and Ridge 25). It began along the East Coast and progressed towards the Pacific (Domnauer 33). The first event of the expansion was the Louisiana Purchase that expanded America’s territory westward and sparked a wave of exploration and settlement. The purchase was followed by other key events that included, the Corps of Discovery expedition, the War of 1812, enactment of the Missouri Compromise and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, implementation of the Monroe doctrine, and the expulsion of Indians from their territories.

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The westward migration included settlements in regions that are today known as Kentucky and Tennessee.

Manifest Destiny

Manifest Destiny was a term used to refer to the idea that the moral superiority of the United States obligated the nation to free people from colonization by European powers through the introduction of its institutions to different territories and regions (Billington and Ridge 28). The belief was supported by Democrats who embraced the philosophy of spreading American ideologies to other territories (Domnauer 36). They advocated for the use of nonviolent means. This philosophy was rejected by the Whig Party because they feared that the expansion of American territories encouraged the spread and continuance of the abhorred practice of slavery. The two parties differed with regard to governance and the expansion of American territory.

The objective was to implement the Manifest Destiny peacefully without any coercion. However, this plan failed. A war with Mexico and the suppression of Native Americans in territories in the West were some of the highlights of the westward expansion (Billington and Ridge 41). The expansion involved so much violence between the new settlers and native tribes that the United States nearly waged a war against Great Britain. The Oregon Territory was the cause of disagreement because both sides wanted to own it (Roth 37).

Louisiana Purchase

The Louisiana Purchase was one of the most critical features of the westward expansion that took place in 1803. It involved the acquisition of an 828,000 square miles territory west of the Mississippi River by the US from France. The territory stretched from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and it included fifteen states in the present US and two Canadian provinces (Domnauer 37). In addition to a cash payment, the United States canceled the debts that France owed them. The territory included regions that form the following states of the contemporary United States: Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, part of South Dakota, part of Minnesota, part of Texas, Montana, Colorado, and Wyoming (Domnauer 38).

The Whig Party was opposed to the purchase of the territory because they argued that it was against the American constitution. However, Jefferson went ahead with the purchase based on the argument that the constitutional mandate that gave the president power to negotiate treaties allowed him to strike the deal (Roth 39). The purchase had three main implications. First, it expanded the geographical area of the United States significantly. Second, it eliminated France from North America (Roth 74). Third, it incorporated New Orleans as a constituent territory of the United States.

The Corps of Discovery

The Louisiana Purchase was followed by the Corps of Discovery Expedition that started in 1804 and ended in 1806 (Billington and Ridge 35). The expedition was the most important component of the Lewis and Clark Expedition because it was commissioned by President Jefferson to explore the newly-purchased Louisiana territory. The army unit was commissioned to study the scientific and commercial capabilities of Louisiana. The main objective was to determine whether the Louisiana Purchase had economic benefits to America after the expansion into the West (Domnauer 41).

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In addition, it was aimed at establishing trade and the sovereignty of the United States over the natives of the newly acquired territory. Jefferson wanted to claim Oregon and make it a part of the American territory. The first group of individuals in the expedition returned to present their findings to the president in 1806 (Roth 44). The expedition was important because it opened the West for further exploration. Scientific accomplishments included the discovery of 178 new plants and more than 100 new animal species (Roth 40).

The War of 1812

The War of 1812 lasted 3 years and involved the United States against Great Britain (Roth 54). The US waged war against native tribes because prior to the war, its people who had settled in the region were attacked by those that were against their settlement. The war was initiated by the trade restrictions, the alliance between Great Britain and Native American tribes that resisted new settlements, and America’s interest in possessing the British territory (Roth 57). The war served the interests of the United States because its conclusion did not include any boundary changes. In addition, the issues that had caused it had been solved satisfactorily. Native tribes were the greatest losers because Great Britain failed to help them prevent Americans from settling in their land (Domnauer 49).

Missouri Compromise and the Kansas-Nebraska Act

The Missouri Compromise was an agreement passed by Congress in 1820 to unite states that were under the Missouri territory in order to end a confrontation that ensued between the states that embraced slavery and those that rejected it (Roth 65). In the monumental Dredd Scott case, the courts declared that it was unconstitutional for Congress to prohibit slavery, and as a result, the Missouri Compromise was replaced by the Kansas-Nebraska Act (Roth 66). The Act gave the territories the freedom to decide whether to own or not to own slaves. The Act initiated mass settlements in Kansas and Nebraska territories because opponents and proponents of slavery wanted to practice their ideologies.

Monroe Doctrine

The Monroe Doctrine was made effective in 1823 and stated that further colonization of the western territories by European powers would be viewed by the United States as acts of aggression and that went against its sovereignty. This statement marked the culmination of Manifest Destiny (Roth 73). It was based on the belief that the moral superiority of the US bared its people from allowing any form of colonization by European countries because it was unethical. The doctrine had little effect because the US lacked the necessary military power to enforce it. However, it was supported by Great Britain. One of the major implications of the Monroe doctrine was the further expansion of the US territory westwards (Roth 76).

Expulsion of Indians

The expulsion of Indians from Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, and Mississippi was initiated by the signing of the Indian Removal Act into law in 1830. The tribes that were mostly affected included the Cherokee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Muscogee-Creek (Roth 80). Prior to the expulsion, the five tribes had been allowed to practice their sovereignty as nations.

The law allowed the US to put pressure on Indian tribes to eject them from the Indian Territory (Domnauer 58). Many of these tribes had already embraced slavery and the Christian teachings of missionaries. The Cherokees resisted the forceful eviction that had been instituted by President Andrew Jackson. However, the Supreme Court ruled that the tribe was neither a state nor a nation. Divisions among its members worsened the situation.

Boom and panic of the Western economy

The westward expansion caused a land boom that was initiated by the actions of land speculators who bought large pieces of land with the sole aim of selling them to farmers at higher prices. The farmers did not object to the high prices because the demand for agricultural products was on the rise. The majority of farmers who settled in Louisiana focused primarily on crops that were highly profitable in the market (Quay 76). The farmers mainly depended on distant markets for the sale of their products. However, this system proved ineffective.

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At the height of the speculation, a state bank argued that it was created to support the financial endeavors of speculators. Its collapse was detrimental to farmers because of the prices of land and agricultural products plummeted (Domnauer 64). The collapse took place in the wake of the Panic of 1819 and devastated many settlers. However, survivors carried on the conquest. The western economy was primarily hinged on the sale of land and agricultural products. The Republican Party’s main objective was to create a West dominated by subsistence farmers. However, this goal was not attained because of the high land prices and interest rates on loans (Quay 78). Many farmers chose commercial farming without the knowledge that they were not in control of the market.

Industrialization of the East

The industrialization of the East during the 1800s was initiated by the depreciation in the quality of agriculture practiced at the time, as it compelled farmers to find alternative employment in factories. Factories that manufactured shoes and clothes experienced an influx of people from the agricultural sector (Quay 96). These factories offered jobs to vulnerable groups such as women and children. Before industrialization, farming in the East was successful. Farmers supplied agricultural products to people in rural and urban areas.

These people also needed other products that were supplied by small-scale manufacturers. In order to meet the high demand, many people ventured into manufacturing. The industrialization of the East was mainly due to the synergy between agriculture and manufacturing sectors (Quay 98). Farmers supplied products to consumers who worked in industries. The two sectors grew rapidly, although the manufacturing sector was more profitable. This influenced people to move from agriculture and venture into manufacturing. They left farms to work in factories because they made more money. People moved to work in factories and initiated the decline of agriculture in the East.


The westward expansion was initiated by the United States’ philosophy of Manifest Destiny. The US believed in its moral supremacy and the need to expand institutions to other territories. The expansion began with the Purchase of Louisiana and a subsequent expedition that was ordered by President Thomas Jefferson to explore the new territory. The western economy was based on the sale of land and agricultural products. However, speculations led to its collapse. Western expansion was initially a peaceful affair but massive resistance from Native Americans necessitated the use of force.

Works Cited

Billington, Ray, and Martin Ridge. Westward Expansion: A History of the American Frontier. New York, UNM Press, 2001. Print.

Domnauer, Teresa. Westward Expansion. New York: Children’s Press, 2010. Print.

Quay, Sara. Westward Expansion. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002. Print.

Roth, Mitchel. Issues of Westward Expansion. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002. Print.

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