Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
Westward expansion was one of the most complicated and deep phases of American history as well as something that was crucial in developing the nation into what it is today. It did not occur for any one particular reason. It was a spider web of reasons that pushed it and gave it such depth. It began with the annexation topic of Texas. Behind this move, supporters saw a chance to increase the landholdings of the nation as well as to increase the power of their political party. As each new territory came in, there would be at least one new state that would eventually come out of it. Texas was part of Mexico. That would involve conflict with the southern neighbor as well. Many did not want war, but many saw where slavery could easily be expanded if more land was obtained. Nothing about the annexation was cut and dry as the Democratic 1844 wins did not guarantee Texas annexation “since so many northern Democrats personally opposed slavery’s extension.” (1) The move to implement the Manifest Destiny of conquering all lands to the Pacific including the inhabitants of that land was the baby of President Polk who “lusted for the country’s expansion across the North American continent” which would include “the Mexican province of California and its ports on the Pacific coast”. (2) That would be huge in increasing trade with Asia.
The push to expand America did more than increase land size and the ability to grow as a nation through land and people. It paved the way for the slavery issue that would in turn help to ignite the Civil War. New land would bring in new territories. New territories would become new states. The question would then arise whether or not they would be free or slave states. The more slave states that were admitted, the more power the South would have in Congress and in the overall governing of the entire nation.
While the westward expansion gave the nation new land to disperse more of its ever growing population, it became the kindling for the Civil War.
(1) Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men : The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War with a New Introductory Essay, (Cary: Oxford University Press, 1995), 12.
(2) Ibid, 16.