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DEVELOPMENT OF THE WEST BEYOND THE MISSISSIPPI

Essay, Research Paper The years 1840 to 1890 were a period of great growth for the United States. It was during this time period that the United states came to the conclusion that it had a

Essay, Research Paper

The years 1840 to 1890 were a period of great growth

for the United States. It was during this time period that

the United states came to the conclusion that it had a

manifest destiny, that is, it was commanded by god to someday

occupy the entire North American continent. One of the most

ardent followers of this belief was President James K. Polk.

He felt that the United States had the right to whatever

amount of territory it chose to, and in doing this the

United States was actually doing a favor for the land it

seized, by introducing it to the highly advanced culture and

way of life of Americans. Shortly after his election he

annexed Texas. This added a great amount of land to the

United States, but more was to follow. The Oregon Territory

became a part of the United States is 1846, followed by the

Mexican Cession in 1848 and the Gadsden Purchase in 1853. At

this point the United States had accomplished its manifest

destiny, it reached from east to west, from sea to shining

sea. Now that the lands it so desired were finally there,

the United States faced a new problem- how to get its people

to settle these lands so they would actually be worth having.

Realistically, it is great to have a lot of land, but if the

land is unpopulated and undeveloped, it really isn’t worth

much. And the government of the United States knew this. One

of the reasons that many did not choose to settle there

immediately was that the lands were quite simply in the

middle of nowhere. They were surrounded by mountains,

inhabited by hostile Indians, and poor for farming. Because

of these geographical conditions, the government was forced

to intervene to coax its citizens into settling the new

lands. Basically the lands were not settled because they

were available, they were settled because of various schemes

the government concocted to make them seem desirable.

The government participated in a great "push" to get

its citizens to move to west. At first few people moved to

the west, but this changed when gold was discovered in

California in 1848. This caused a "gold rush" to the west

coast which consisted of many prospectors seeking to find

their fortunes in the gold mines of California. Many

traveled to the west coast, however few actually found their

fortunes. The problem remained that the midwest was still

relatively unpopulated. There were people on the west coast

of the United States, there were people on the east coast of

the United States, but relatively few in the center of the

country. In order to convince people to move to the central

midwest, the United States started a massive propaganda

drive that Hitler would have been proud of. Everywhere one

would look they would find brochures telling of how

wonderful the central midwest was, and how it would be an

ideal setting for someone to settle down and raise a family,

and how it was great for farmland. In the tradition of

propaganda, however, this was often far from the truth. In

reality the land that looked so beautiful in the brochures

and posters was actually the Great American Desert. To work

in conjunction with the propaganda posters and brochures,

the United States passed the Homestead Act, which offered

extremely cheap land to anyone who was willing to live on it

and farm it. The Homestead Act actually went as far as

offering tracks of land as large as 160 acres for as little

as ten dollars. The Wyoming Territory actually went as far

as passing laws allowing women’s suffrage and property

rights to encourage settlers. This would seem like a step

forward in human rights. In actuality, this was a terrible

periods for civil rights for a certain ethnic group: the

Indians.

President Hayes was one of the most ardent

supporters of the Homestead Act. However there was another

act passed under Hayes called the Dawes Act that was a

travesty as far as the Indians were concerned. Under this

act, the Indians were able to become citizens of the United

States and participate in the Homestead Act, but at a

terrible price. In order to become a citizen, an Indian

would have to move away from his reservation, renounce his

tribal ways, and "accept" American ways. Needless to say,

this made the Indians furious. Originally designed to remove

the Indian problem so more settlers could move to their

lands, it only served to make the Indians madder. Now

settlers were claiming they could not settle in the west

because of fear of being carved up by blood-thirsty Indians.

To try to remedy the problem, the government sent men like

General Custer to dispel the Indian problem. Although Custer

was slightly successful at first, he was eventually killed

by a group of Indians at the Battle of Little Big Horn.

Needless to say, white man-Indian relationships were at a

low point in this period.

In conclusion, the west was settled slowly because,

geographically it was in the middle of nowhere. It was

isolated from the rest of the country, although the

transcontinental railroad would soon solve this problem.

Another problem of the west was the hostility of the Indians,

which was not the unjustified considering what they had gone

through. Although today the central midwest is populated, it

is not to the degree that the coastal areas are, and it will

likely remain that way until the population of the United

States becomes so large it actually forces people to move

there.

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