Reasons for westward expansion

Reasons for Westward Expansion

Economic Opportunities

  • Manifest Destiny: This was a widely held cultural belief in the 19th century United States that its settlers were destined to expand from coast to coast. This supported and was a driving force for westward expansion.
  • Gold Rush: Discovery of gold in California in 1848 sparked a rush of settlers westwards in search of fortune, this phenomenon further fuelled the westward expansion.
  • Homestead Act of 1862: This gave 160 acres of public land to settlers for a small fee, if they improved it by building a dwelling and cultivating crops.
  • Transcontinental Railroad: Completed in 1869, it created a national market by connecting isolated western states with the eastern economies, encouraging population movement westward for trade and commerce.
  • Arrival of immigrants looking for new opportunities also contributed to the settlement in the west.

Government Policies

  • The Pre-emption acts of the 1830s and 1840s allowed squatters to buy 160 acres of land for a small price.
  • The Pacific Railway Act of 1862 provided federal support for the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad, further promoting movement to the west.
  • Texas, California, and Oregon were annexed, which significantly increased the US territory, pushing the western frontier further out.

Social Factors

  • Overpopulation in the east pushed people to move to the West for better lives.
  • The idea of the “American Dream” where every man has the right to a fresh start or new opportunities was a powerful motivator.
  • Demand for new farmland due to a significant increase in population and failed crops in the east.
  • Migration for religious reasons, such as the movement of the Mormons to Utah.

Conflicts and Treaties

  • The Indian Removal Act of 1830 relocated Native American tribes living in the Southern United States to the West of the Mississippi River, freeing up land for white settlers.
  • Treaties such as the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) and Oregon Treaty (1846) added large territories to the U.S., boosting westward migration.
  • The US government’s policy of ‘Manifest Destiny’ justified the displacement of Native Americans, Mexicans, and others who already occupied the territories.