History of the United States
Expansion (1820-1849)

During the early 1800's, settlers moved westward over the Appalachian Mountains into the new states and territories. Many of these pioneers even settled beyond the country's western boundary. They flocked into Texas, California, and other western lands belonging to Mexico. Americans also settled in the Oregon Country, a large territory between California and Alaska claimed by both Britain and the United States. During the mid-1800's, the United States gained control of the Mexican lands and the southern part of the Oregon Country, and the nation extended from coast to coast.

The build-up of the West gave rise to changes in American politics. As areas in the West gained large populations, they were admitted to the Union as states. But wealthy Easterners continued to control governmental and economic policy. Western farmers and pioneers, as well as city labourers and craftworkers, soon banded together politically to promote their interests. They found a strong leader in Andrew Jackson, and helped elect him president in 1828. Jackson took steps to reduce the power of wealthy Easterners and aid the "common man." At the same time, other Americans were working for such social reforms as women's rights, improvements in education, and the abolition of slavery.

The United States and Europe maintained peaceful relations during the Expansion Era. But in 1823, President James Monroe issued the Monroe Doctrine, a statement that warned European countries not to interfere with any of the free nations of the Western Hemisphere.

America moves west

By 1820, American pioneers had established many frontier settlements as far west as the Mississippi River. By the 1830's, the Westward Movement had pushed the frontier across the Mississippi, into Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and eastern Texas. The land beyond, called the Great Plains, was dry and treeless, and seemed to be poor farmland. But explorers, traders, and others who had journeyed farther west told of rich farmland and forests beyond the Rocky Mountains. In the 1840's, large numbers of pioneers made the long journey across the Great Plains to the Far West.

The pioneers included Easterners from both the North and South. Many other pioneers came from Europe seeking a better life. Some people went west in search of religious freedom. The best known of these were the Mormons, who settled in Utah in 1847.

Manifest destiny.
By the mid-1840's, thousands of Americans lived in the Oregon Country and on the western land claimed by Mexico. By then, large numbers of Americans had come to believe in the doctrine of manifest destiny. That is, they thought the United States should control all of North America. Stirred by this belief, Americans demanded control of Oregon and the Mexican territory.

The conflicting claim with Great Britain over Oregon was settled with relative ease. Britain decided that the effort needed to hold all of Oregon was not worthwhile. In 1846, the British government turned over to the United States the part of the Oregon territory south of the 49th parallel, except Vancouver Island.

The struggle over the Mexican territory was more complicated. It began in Texas in 1835, when the American settlers there staged a revolt against Mexican rule. In 1836, the settlers proclaimed Texas an independent republic, but also requested U.S. statehood. Nine years later, the United States annexed Texas and made it a state. The United States gained more Mexican territory as a result of the Mexican War (1846-1848), which was fought between the United States and Mexico over a number of disagreements, including territorial disputes. The treaty that ended the war gave the United States a vast stretch of land from Texas west to the Pacific and north to Oregon.

In 1853, in the Gadsden Purchase, America bought from Mexico the strip of land that makes up the southern edge of Arizona and New Mexico. The United States then owned all the territory of its present states except Alaska (purchased from Russia in 1867) and Hawaii (annexed in 1898).

Expansion and the Indians.
As the pioneers moved westward, they took over much of the land that Indians had occupied for thousands of years. Fighting often broke out between the pioneers and Indians. The United States government sent soldiers to battle against the Indians and the soldiers won most of these so-called Indian Wars. By the mid-1800's, the government had moved almost all the eastern Indians west of the Mississippi River.

Expansion and the economy.
Expansion into the rich interior of the continent enabled the United States to become the world's leading agricultural nation. New techniques and machines boosted the output of America's farms. Eli Whitney's cotton gin, invented in 1793, came into widespread use in the 1800's. It enabled cotton growers to separate cotton fibre from the seeds as fast as 50 people could by hand. The reaper, patented by Cyrus McCormick in 1834, allowed farmers to harvest grain much more quickly than before.

The discovery of minerals in the West also aided America's economy. The most famous mineral strike took place in 1848, when gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill in California.

The period also marked the beginning of large-scale manufacturing in the United States. Previously, most manufacturing was done by craftworkers at home or in small shops. But beginning in the early 1800's, businesses erected factories equipped with modern machinery that enabled them to produce goods more rapidly. Manufacturing remained centred in the East, but some Western towns developed industries.

Developments in transportation also contributed immensely to economic growth in the United States. In 1807, Robert Fulton demonstrated the first commercially successful steamboat, the Clermont. The steamboat soon became the fastest and most important means of shipping goods. Americans of the early 1800's built many canals to connect their natural waterways. The Erie Canal, the most important one, was completed in 1825. It opened a water passage from the Hudson River in New York to the Great Lakes in the Midwest. Boats used the canal to carry manufactured products from the East to the West and farm products and raw materials from the West to the East.

The steam-powered railway soon rivalled the steamboat in importance as a means of shipping. In the 1820's, American railways were still in the experimental stage. But by 1850, about 14,500 kilometres of railway lines were in operation.

In 1837, Samuel F. B. Morse demonstrated the first successful telegraph in the United States. The telegraph soon gave businesses the fastest means of communication yet known. An expanded postal system also helped speed communications.

Cultural change.
After 1820, the wilderness seemed less and less hostile to Americans. Increasingly, society glorified the frontier and nature. The public eagerly read the novels of James Fenimore Cooper, which described Indians and pioneers as pure of heart and noble in deeds. Ralph Waldo Emerson and other American philosophers praised nature as a source of truth and beauty available to all people, rich and poor alike.

Developments in printing spread art and information to more people than ever before. A new printing process called lithography enabled artists to produce many copies of their works cheaply. Large numbers of Americans bought and decorated their homes with lithographs. The lithographs of Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives were especially popular. They depicted everyday American scenes, customs, and events--often in a sentimental style. Faster printing presses reduced the cost of printing newspapers. After 1835, many newspaper publishers lowered the cost of their papers to a penny, a price even poor people could afford. But the spoken word remained an important means of mass communication. Large numbers of people attended gatherings where political candidates, pleaders of special causes, and famous lawyers and members of the clergy made speeches.

Politics and the "common man"

The election of 1824 led to renewed political friction in the United States. Four Democratic-Republicans, including John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, sought to succeed Monroe as president. Jackson received the most electoral votes. But he did not win a majority, so it fell upon the House of Representatives to select the new president. The House chose Adams. Embittered, Jackson and his followers formed a separate wing of the Democratic-Republican Party, which soon developed into the Democratic Party.

Jacksonian Democracy.
Adams and all the earlier presidents came from well-to-do Eastern families. Jackson, by contrast, was born in a log cabin into a poor family. He won national fame as an Indian fighter and as a hero of the War of 1812.

Jackson ran for president again in 1828. He appealed for support from Western farmers and pioneers, and city labourers and craftworkers. He promised to end what he called a "monopoly" of government by the rich and to protect the interests of the "common man." His policy of equal political power for all became known as Jacksonian Democracy. Jackson's background and policies gained him much support in the West and in the nation's growing cities. The voters elected him president by large majorities in 1828 and again in 1832.

Jackson as president.
When Jackson became president, many wealthy Easterners held what were, in effect, lifelong appointments to federal government jobs. Jackson dismissed many of these people from office, replacing them with his supporters. Some historians consider this action the start of the spoils system (the practice of giving public offices as rewards for party services) in the federal government.

Jackson's main crusade against the wealthy involved the second Bank of the United States. The bank's duties included regulating the nation's money supply. Jackson believed the bank operated as a monopoly that favoured the wealthy. In 1832, Congress voted to recharter the bank, but Jackson vetoed the bill. He soon withdrew the government's money from the bank, and the bank later collapsed.

The other great issue of Jackson's administration involved the tariff and nullification. In 1828, Congress passed a bill that placed high tariffs on goods imported into the United States. The South believed the bill favoured New England manufacturing interests, and denounced it as a "tariff of abominations." In 1832, Congress lowered tariffs somewhat, but not enough to please South Carolina. South Carolina declared the tariff acts "null and void," and threatened to secede from the Union if the federal government tried to collect tariffs in the state. This action created a constitutional crisis. Jackson believed in states' rights, but maintained the Union must be preserved. In 1833, he persuaded Congress to pass the Force Bill, which allowed him to use the armed forces to collect tariffs. But Congress lowered tariffs to a point acceptable to South Carolina, and the nullification crisis ended.

Politics after Jackson.
Jackson's influence on politics continued after he left office. As undisputed leader of the Democrats, Jackson designated Martin Van Buren to be the party's candidate in the 1836 presidential election. Jackson's opponents had formed the Whig Party four years earlier. In an attempt to attract followers of Jackson, most Whigs supported William Henry Harrison to oppose Van Buren. Harrison, like Jackson, had won fame as a war hero. But the voters, still loyal to Jackson, elected Van Buren.

A depression called the Panic of 1837 crippled the American economy shortly after Van Buren took office, but prosperity later returned. The presidential election of 1840 again matched Van Buren and Harrison. In their campaign, the Whigs made some attempt to criticize Van Buren's economic policies, but for the most part they ignored issues. Instead, they promoted Harrison as a war hero and associated him with the log cabin and other symbols of the frontier. In this way, they appealed to many of Jackson's frontier supporters, and Harrison won the election.

Social reform

During the Expansion Era, many Americans came to believe that social reforms were needed to improve their society. Reformers worked to reduce the working day of labourers from the usual 12 or 14 hours to 10 hours. Other reformers worked to improve conditions in prisons and insane asylums. Prohibitionists--convinced that drunkenness was the chief cause of poverty and other problems--persuaded 13 states to outlaw the sale of alcohol between 1846 and 1855. Other important targets of reformers were women's rights, improvements in education, and the abolition of slavery.

The drive for women's rights.
Early American women had few rights. There were almost no colleges for women, and most professional careers were closed to them. A married woman could not own property. Instead, any property she had legally belonged to her husband. In addition, American women were barred from voting in all elections.

A women's rights movement developed after 1820, and brought about some changes. In 1835, Oberlin College, Ohio, became the first men's college in the United States to admit women. In 1848, New York became the first state to allow married women to own property. That same year, a Woman's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, issued the first formal appeal for woman suffrage (the right to vote). But nationwide suffrage did not come about until 1920.

Education reform.
In the early 1800's, most good schools in the United States were expensive private schools. Poor children went to second-rate "pauper," or "charity," schools, or did not go at all. During the 1830's, Horace Mann of Massachusetts and other reformers began demanding education and better schools for all American children. States soon began establishing state school systems, and more and more children received an education. Colleges started training teachers for a system of public education based on standardized courses of study. As a result, schoolchildren throughout the country were taught much the same lessons.

The abolition movement became the most intense and controversial reform activity of the period. Beginning in colonial times, many Americans--called abolitionists--had demanded an end to slavery. By the early 1800's, every Northern state had outlawed slavery. But over the years, the plantation system of farming had spread throughout the South, and the economy of the Southern States depended more and more on slaves as a source of cheap labour.

The question of whether to outlaw or allow slavery became an important political and social issue in the early 1800's. Throughout the years, a balance between the number of free states (states where slavery was prohibited) and slave states (those where it was allowed) had been sought. This meant that both sides would have an equal number of representatives in the United States Senate. As of 1819, the federal government had achieved a balance between free states and slave states. There were 11 of each.

When the Territory of Missouri applied for admission to the Union in 1818, bitter controversy broke out over whether to admit it as a free or slave state. In either case, the balance between free and slave states would be upset. But in 1820, the nation's leaders worked out the Missouri Compromise, which temporarily maintained the balance. Massachusetts agreed to give up the northern part of its territory. This area became the state of Maine, and entered the Union as a free state in 1820. In 1821, Missouri entered as a slave state, and so there were 12 free and 12 slave states.

The Missouri Compromise had another important provision. It provided that slavery would be "forever prohibited" in all the territory gained from the Louisiana Purchase north of Missouri's southern border, except for Missouri itself.

The Missouri Compromise satisfied many Americans as an answer to the slavery question. But large numbers of people still called for complete abolition. Many blacks who had gained their freedom became important speakers for abolition.

The growing strength of the abolition movement raised fears among Southerners that the federal government would outlaw slavery. Increasingly, the South hardened its defence of slavery. Southerners had always argued that slavery was necessary to the plantation economy. But after 1830, some Southern leaders began arguing that blacks were inferior to whites, and therefore fit for their role as slaves. Even many Southern whites who owned no slaves took comfort in the belief that they were superior to blacks. As a result, Southern support of slavery increased.