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Causes of Westward Expansion in America
Complicated Westward Expansion
Westward expansion was one of the most complicated and deep phases of American history as well as something that was crucial in developing the nation into what it is today. It did not occur for any one particular reason. It was a spider web of reasons that pushed it and gave it such depth. It was something that can be condemned yet applauded at the same time.
It was a necessity for the young country, but was one decision the nation would make that would kindle a fire that had been burning since the colonization of the New World.
Annexation of Texas
It began with the annexation topic of Texas. Behind this move, supporters saw a chance to increase the landholdings of the nation as well as to increase the power of their political party. As each new territory came in, there would be at least one new state that would eventually come out of it. Those thinking ahead, saw Texas as a viable way to grow the nation and keep their political side strong.
Texas was part of Mexico at that time. Taking Texas wouldn't be easy. It wasn't as if Mexico would just hand the land over. To obtain Texas, that would involve conflict with the southern neighbor which could come at a high price- war.
Many did not want war with Mexico, but many saw where slavery could easily be expanded if more land was obtained. Politicians saw a chance to one up the other side; land and slavery were critical in doing that.
Nothing about the annexation was cut and dry as the Democratic 1844 wins did not guarantee Texas annexation "since so many northern Democrats personally opposed slavery's extension."(1) The move to implement the Manifest Destiny of conquering all lands to the Pacific including the inhabitants of that land was the baby of President Polk who "lusted for the country's expansion across the North American continent" which would include "the Mexican province of California and its ports on the Pacific coast". (2) That would be huge in increasing trade with Asia.
Brought the Slavery Issue Forward
The push to expand America did more than increase land size and the ability to grow as a nation through land and people. It paved the way for the slavery issue that would in turn help to ignite the Civil War. It was more than just about land. It was about what the land brought with it.
New land would bring in new territories. New territories would become new states. The question would then arise whether or not they would be free or slave states. The more slave states that were admitted, the more power the South would have in Congress and in the overall governing of the entire nation. It was the future they were betting on.
Looking back on it, westward expansion made sense as there was land to take before the other nations took it. Yes,we could argue how it was wrong to take the land from the Natives. :That is easy to say now, but then, all America saw were the other nations closing in on them. If they didn't move west, Mexico would have moved up and France would have moved down. If American hadn't moved and expanded, they would have been surrounded by foreign powers who were intent on taking them completely over. It only made sense at the time.
While the westward expansion gave the nation new land to disperse more of its ever growing population, it became the kindling for the Civil War. Without the expansion, America might have disappeared. With it, it was doomed to implode and tear each other apart.
New land...New states...Slave versus free. It was a political moved under the truth of national protection.Texas was just the start. The rest of what would be the Untied States of America would later and just fuel the fire.
(1) Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men : The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War with a New Introductory Essay, (Cary: Oxford University Press, 1995), 12.
(2) Ibid, 16.