Westward Expansion

Topics: 19th century, Frontier, Mississippi River Pages: 6 (2043 words) Published: February 19, 2013
Westward Expansion before 19th Century
American history was powerfully influenced throughout the 19th century by the steady push west and the development of the Western frontier. This began of course with the establishment of the first English colonies beginning with Jamestown (1607). At the time the Western Frontier was just a few miles up the James River. Gradually the Western Frontier was seen as the Appalachian Mountains. The British effort to close off the land beyond the Appalachians was one of the major causes of the Revolution (1776). The West for the early American Republic was the Ohio River Valley, which the Erie Canal played an important role in opening. To the south there were other lands beyond the Appalachians, which proved to be ideal for growing cotton based on slave labor and large plantations. The United States Western frontier was redefined by the Louisiana Purchase (1803). The economy of the West depended on the Mississippi River and the outlet to the sea at New Orleans. It is no accident that the British in the War of 1812 attempted to seize New Orleans (1815). After the War of 1812 the American movement West focused primarily on the territory east of the Mississippi. Here the Erie Canal played an important role. There were wars with the Native Americans, which helped make Andrew Jackson the prominent political figure overseeing this period. The only American president with an era named after him. The frontier, which at first seemed endless played a powerful role in the development of the American character. The existence of huge quantities of virtually free land was very different from the situation in Europe. Some historians describe this as the vital fierce in the building of America. America settled these lands on two basic lines. North of the Ohio it was free labor and small family farms. South of the Ohio it was slave labor and slave labor. Ironically the rise of the American economy was to a large degree based on slave labor that produced the cotton, which provided the principal export economy before the advent of industrial exports. The Mexican War again expanded the frontier (1856-58). After the Civil War the settlement of the frontier beyond the Mississippi began in earnest, including the Great Plains. The major figures of the Western movement are now legends clouded with myth: mountain men, riverboat men, pioneers, Native Americans, Pony Express riders, cowboys, homesteaders, cavalry, outlaws, bullwhackers, and others. The final phase of the Western expansion was aided by both the expanding railroad network and increased European immigration. The frontier was essentially closed in the 1890s, a fact that marked the transition from an agricultural to the world's pre-eminent industrial nation. 

Why frontier didn’t have similar effects on other countries?

Turner saw the frontier not of a borderland between unsettled and settled lands, but as an obtainable area in which a small man-land correlation and abundant natural resources provide a rare opportunity for the individual to better himself. Where autocratic governments controlled population movements, deficient resources, or where conditions prevented individuals from utilizing natural resources, this American frontier, could not exist.

Idea more than a reality?

The idea of the frontier was opportunity, the chance to pursue the American Dream of taking your own land, finding your own fortune, being a master of your own fate.  It was for this reason why millions of people from Europe immigrated to the US in the 19th century. Upon arriving on the frontier they often found a different reality.  The land might have already been gone, or living on that land with little or no money or supplies.  They probably did not strike it rich in a gold mine.  In this way, the reality of the frontier was very different from theidea of it.  The promise it offered was more attractive than the frontier itself.

Passing of Frontier

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