Western Expansion

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In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson purchased the territory of Louisiana from the French government for $15 million. The Louisiana Purchase stretched from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains and from Canada to New Orleans, and it doubled the size of the United States. To Jefferson, westward expansion was the key to the nation’s health: He believed that a republic depended on an independent, virtuous citizenry for its survival, and that independence and virtue went hand in hand with land ownership, especially the ownership of small farms. (“Those who labor in the earth,” he wrote, “are the chosen people of God.”) In order to provide enough land to sustain this ideal population of virtuous yeomen, the United States would have to continue to expand.

The westward expansion of the United States is one of the defining themes of 19th-century American history, but it is not just the story of Jefferson’s expanding “empire of liberty.” On the contrary, as one historian writes, in the six decades after the Louisiana Purchase, westward expansion “very nearly destroy[ed] the republic.” More to Explore

PEOPLE AND GROUPS
* Thomas Jefferson
* Meriwether Lewis
* Donner Party
* Daniel Boone
* Davy Crockett
* Andrew Jackson
THEMES
* United States Immigration Before 1965
* Colonial American Culture
EVENTS
* Louisiana Purchase
* Trail of Tears
* War of 1812
* Mexican-American War
* The Alamo
* Proclamation of 1763
* Exploration of North America
RELATED TOPICS
* Exploration of North America
* Native American Cultures
* The States
* American Civil War
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This Day in History
Dec5
CIVIL WAR
Union General George Custer is born, 1839
On this day in 1839, Union General George Armstrong Custer is born in Harrison County, Ohio. Although he is best known for his demise at the hands of the…

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Thomas Jefferson
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In 1853, the Gadsden Purchase added about 30,000 square miles of Mexican territory to the United States and fixed the boundaries of the “lower 48” where they are today. Contents
* Manifest Destiny
* Westward Expansion and Slavery
* Westward Expansion and the Mexican War
* Westward Expansion and the Compromise of 1850
* Bleeding Kansas

Manifest Destiny
By 1840, nearly 7 million Americans--40 percent of the nation’s population--lived in the trans-Appalachian West. Most of these people had left their homes in the East in search of economic opportunity. Like Thomas Jefferson, many of these pioneers associated westward migration, land ownership and farming with freedom. In Europe, large numbers of factory workers formed a dependent and seemingly permanent working class; by contrast, in the United States, the western frontier offered the possibility of independence and upward mobility for all. 

In 1845, a journalist named John O’Sullivan put a name to the idea that helped pull many pioneers toward the western frontier. Westward migration was an essential part of the republican project, he argued, and it was Americans’ “manifest destiny,” to carry the “great experiment of liberty” to the edge of the continent: to “overspread and to possess the whole of the [land] which Providence has given us,” O’Sullivan...
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