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What was the Westward Expansion?

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Westward expansion was the moment of settlers into the American West in the 19th century. It began with the Louisiana Purchase. It is fuelled by Gold Rush, the Oregon Trail, and also the belief in manifest destiny. Folklore of the United States also voices this expansion. Remains of the trail ruts are still present in various locations throughout West America.

 Westward Expansion and Manifest Destiny

Manifest destiny was a popular cultural belief in the 19th century in the United States. It clearly proposed that the U.S had the divine right to expand towards the west side which also means that the U.S. expansion was the will of God.

Editor of U.S. Magazine and Democratic Review, John L.O Sullivan originated the term manifest destiny. He also wrote about this in New York Magazine: “The right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the world of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.”

Main Theme Of Manifest Destiny

The main theme of manifest destiny was:

  • Special virtues of American institutions and people. 
  • The mission of the United States to rescue and remake the west in the image of the agrarian East.
  • An irresistible destiny to carry out this essential duty.

Last but not the least to acquire lands in Texas, Oregon Country, and California in the U.S. Even though U.S had to pay a large amount for these lands or fight the Native Americans who had lived on the land for generations.

Timeline of the Westward Expansion

After having a brief overview of manifest destiny and westward expansion, let’s take a look at the timeline of the westward expansion:

 From 1803 to 1848

YearWestward ExpansionOverview
1803Louisiana PurchaseAfter the completion of the Louisiana Purchase of buying a massive territory west of the Mississippi River from the French worth $ 1.5 million, the size of the United States doubled.
1805Lewis & Clark ExpeditionPresident Jefferson in the years 1805 send two explorer Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the area of to the west of Mississippi River. In the year 1806 they also reported the findings of their expedition.
1843Great Migration Via the Oregon TrailIn the year 1843 around 1000 people traversed the Oregon Trail via wagon train. They made it all the way to Oregon Country. The journey of approximately 2000 mile proved to be success they settled the area and were able to safely navigate the long journey.
1845Texas StatehoodIn 1845 Texas officially became a state. Congress passed a resolution in favor of annexing Texas.
1847Mormons Settle UtahUnder leadership of Brigham Young, the Mormons left their settlement and headed towards the west to search a new homeland. They traversed more than 1300 miles west and finally decided to stop in Great Salt Lake Valley and settle here. Around 2000 people settled here by the end of the year.
1848California Gold Rush BeginsGold was discovered in North California. Before this gold rush less than 1000 people lived there. After this gold rush around 100,000 people moved to California. This gold rush ended in year 1857.

From 1850-1890

YearWestward ExpansionOverview
1850California StatehoodIn 1850 California became a state and was granted statehood.
1859Oregon StatehoodOregon was granted statehood in 1859. This happened after the people who migrated to Oregon Country via Oregon Trail in 1840.
1862Homestead ActA homestead Act was passed in year 1862 through which people were able to claim up to 160 acres land in west. Many people rushed to west to claim their land and about 500 million acres were given to those people which made claim between 1862 and 1904.
1874South Dakota Gold RushGold was discovered in Black Hiss of the part of Dakota Territory during an expedition in 1874. Around 10,000 people relocated to the area in quest of gold.
1889Dakota Territory StatehoodIn 1889 Dakota Territory was split into North Dakota and South Dakota. And this was the last place to be settled before the expansion ends
1890America Declared to be SettledFinally the reporting on the rapid west during this time in the United States, the U.S. Census announced that country settlement has completed and it marked the end of westward expansion.

Read Also: History as a linear or a cyclic process

Reasons for Westward Expansion

Following were some main reasons for Westward Expansion:

  • The California and Dakota gold rush without a doubt paved way for the westward expansion.
  • Improved living standards and also better services were available.
  • Faster travel on the other hand was available by railroad to the west. So people opted that way.
  • Moreover a great opportunity for people to buy cheap lands under Homestead Act. The Homestead Act not only provides cheap lands but also the ownership of the lands to the people.
  • Cities the East were expensive and also they were crowded. This undoubtedly was major reason the the westward expansion.

Westward Expansion Facts

Some of the interesting Westward Expansion facts were:

  • In the light of westward expansion the Native Americans removed from their lands.
  • Additionally the cost of the Louisiana Purchase was the U.S. $1.5 million.
  • Furthermore the people who wanted to move west were provided free land under the Homestead Act.
  • The Gold Rush in California was an equally important factor in moving people toward the west.
  • Also during the period 1800-1900, the U.S population increased from 5 million to 76 million.
  • Use of Transcontinental Railroad to transport supplies and people across the country
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