The westward expansion of the United States is the central theme of American history of the second part of the nineteenth century. During this process, millions of settlers moved to the North American West and Great Planes. It resulted in the integration of massive amounts of new land to the United States, and the size of the country increased dramatically during the second part of the nineteenth century.
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This sequence of events determined the way development of the region and the county would go in the following decades and shaped the face of North America. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the nature of different aspects of the westward expansion of the United States and study the relationships among these factors.
The course of the westward expansion of the United States was influenced by the situation in North America at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The population growth and the desire for independence led to the strive for new land. The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the country and gave a start to the migration of millions of people westwards (Crutchfield et al. 45-51). At that time, many American settlers associated migration with the availability of land and freedom, and they believed that the western frontier offered a chance for independence, opportunity, and economic and social mobility.
Expansion to the west was further inspired by Manifest Destiny that provided settlers with a justification for claiming the new land. The Indian Removal Act allowed forcible removal of Native Americans from the land they had lived on and led to a massive wave of violence against them (Crutchfield et al. 38). Thus, population growth and desire for new land and opportunities drove American settlers to migrate westward to the land populated by Native American tribes.
The development of railroads played a huge role in the process of American expansion to the west. It allowed faster and easier transportation of people and goods between the new growing cities and the eastern part of the country. In the early 1860s, The Pacific Railroad Acts prompted the construction of a railroad that would connect West Coasts and the states in the East. This series of laws allowed making land grants directly to corporations and the authorized issue of government bonds to help finance the endeavor (Donaldson and Hornbeck 811). The First Transcontinental Railroad opened in 1869 and connected San Francisco to the existing eastern rail network (Donaldson and Hornbeck 818).
The development of the railroad system slowed down in the 1870s. The panic of 1873 led to stagnation in the industry, and the situation was further worsened by series of strikes against railroads, but the situation normalized after the crisis was over (Crutchfield et al. 59-65). Thus, despite the Civil War and economic crises, the size of the railroad network in the American West grew significantly during that second part of the century.
The rail system saw major reorganizations in the late nineteenth century. New laws to regulate the way the rail system would work were created by the government. The figure of John Morgan played the leading role in the process of consolidation of railroads in the 1880s and 1890s (Crutchfield et al. 112). Multiple conferences took place, creating a place for discussion among railroad companies (Donaldson and Hornbeck 813). As a result, despite the depressions in the American economy, the initiative of private companies and the government support led to significant development of the rail system, thereby further fuelling the western expansion.
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The process of the expiation westward had a big influence on agriculture in the late nineteenth century giving millions of people hope for opportunities to become farmers. By 1860, farming in the United States had already become commercial, and the development of the rail system further facilitated the process of commercialization of agriculture. The industry started to spread to new areas at a very high pace (Donaldson and Hornbeck 821). The federal government and the new railroad companies encouraged farmers to move to the new land. Hundreds of thousands of settlers used their chance to acquire land for free or to purchase it at a low interest rate (Blizard 17).
The massive growth of the number of farmers involved in commercial food production increased the output and, as a result, led to lower food prices. The mechanization of farms and increased productivity, together with cheaper transportation, also contributed to the fluctuation of prices for agricultural products. Declining food prices led to discontent and unrest among farmers (Blizard 25). Volatility in the market was a side effect of the major shift in society, and the economy in that period brought about uncertainty among masses of farmers, leading to protests.
The westward expansion was determining the history of the North American continent. During this process, the United States acquired an amount of land exceeding in size the territory of the country before the events of the westward expansion.
It led to both new opportunities and new challenges. The migration of millions of people to these newly integrated regions shaped the demographics and culture of the area. Millions of people who moved to the new lands had their chance to start a new life in the land of opportunity. Native American population at the same time suffered from the oppression that led to the death or replacement of many people.
Blizard, Zachary D. “Commercialization and Discontent on the American Farm: The Farmer’s Movements of the Late-19th and Early-20th Centuries.” Inquiries Journal, vol. 9, no.10, 2017.
Crutchfield, James A., et al. The Settlement of America: An Encyclopedia of Westward Expansion from Jamestown to the Closing of the Frontier. Routledge, 2015.
Donaldson, Dave, and Richard Hornbeck. “Railroads and American Economic Growth: A “Market Access” Approach.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics, vol. 131, no.2, 2016, pp. 799-858.