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A popular mood known as Young America emerged in the 1840s. Its adherents brashly promoted territorial and economic expansion and development of the United States, but displayed little concern or awareness of the practical consequences of such actions.
Movement to the Far West
During the 1830s and 1840s, Americans moved westward across the continent, eventually reaching the Pacific Ocean. Some went for economic reasons, while others were attracted by the adventure the West promised or to avoid religious persecution. They brought with them American ideals and attitudes into areas already occupied by Mexico or Great Britain, precipitating diplomatic crises.
Borderlands of the 1830s
Having settled the northern border with the Canada in 1842, the Oregon territory became the major focus of U.S./British contact. As Americans moved into the area which was jointly-governed by the United States and Great Britain, they began demanding military or diplomatic action to insure total U.S. control of the area. To the southwest of the Oregon territory, American settlers began moving into a newly independent Mexico in 1821 where they encountered a well-established population of Mexicans and Native Americans.
The Texas Revolution
After gaining its independence, Mexico encouraged American migration into Texas. The resulting influx of Americans produced cultural, economic, and political conflict, resulting in Mexican restrictions on Anglo immigration and slaveholding. A revolution by the Texans followed in 1835-1836.
The Republic of Texas
Having declared independence in 1835, American Texans wrote a constitution that closely resembled that of the U.S. and installed a provisional government to wage war against Mexico. Motivated by crushing defeats inflicted by the Mexicans at the Alamo and Goliad, the Texans rallied for a major victory at San Jacinto, capturing Santa Anna and forcing his recognition of Texan independence. General Sam Houston became the first president of the Lone Star Republic. Though Houston immediately sought the admittance of Texas to the Union as a state, Texas remained a separate nation until 1845.
Trails of Trade and Settlement
Opened in 1821, the Santa Fe Trail introduced Americans to the riches of New Mexico. It was closed, however, after the Texas Revolution as relations soured between the U.S. and Mexico. As a result, Americans turned northward in the 1840s, and more than five thousand Americans traveled the famous Oregon Trail to that territory in the Northwest. Americans settlers quickly outnumbered British residents, and Americans demanded an end to the joint occupation of Oregon.
The Mormon Trek
Seeking relief from public hostility to their unorthodox beliefs and practices, the Mormons moved from New York to Ohio to Missouri to Illinois, where leader and founder Joseph Smith was attacked and killed by an angry mob. Smiths successor, Brigham Young, led a group of Mormons into Mexican-owned Utah in 1847, establishing the state of Deseret, an effective community based on discipline and cooperation.
Manifest Destiny and the Mexican-American War
As more and more Americans moved beyond the nations borders, politicians and propagandists began to call for the annexation of those areas occupied by Americans. Many in the United States agreed with these calls for annexation, believing that God had ordained that Americans occupy as much territory as they could. This belief in Manifest Destiny brought the United States into conflict with Great Britain and Mexico.
Tyler and Texas
Having become president by accident when William Henry Harrison died, John Tyler hoped to revive his sagging political fortunes by promoting the annexation of Texas. He believed that Americans, especially Southerners, would support his interpretation of Manifest Destiny as it embodied Texas. The Senate rejected Tylers treaty, however, when Secretary of State John Calhoun linked Texas too closely to the interests of the South and slavery.
The Triumph of Polk and Annexation
In spite of Tylers failure to annex Texas during his administration, it became the major issue of the 1844 election in which Americans had the rare opportunity to draw a rather clear-cut distinction between the platforms of the presidential candidates. In contrast to the anti-expansionist Whig candidate Henry Clay, Democrats in 1844 nominated James K. Polk, an aggressive spokesman for Manifest Destiny and the annexation of Texas and sole American occupation of Oregon. Ironically, the antislavery Liberty party candidate drew just enough votes away from Clay to throw the election to Polk. The mandate for expansion resulted in a joint resolution by Congress annexing Texas before Polk took office.
The Doctrine of Manifest Destiny
Journalist John L. OSullivan coined the phrase manifest destiny to signify the growing feeling among Americans in the 1840s that God intended them to extend their ideals of republican government and economic opportunities to the unsettled as well as under-settled portions of the continent.
Polk and the Oregon Question
Publicly claiming all of Oregon, Polk brought the United States closer to war with Great Britain than at any time since 1812. The rallying cry Fifty-four forty or fight among Americans who demanded all of the territory reveals the depth of expansionist fever fed by Polks public stance. In private, however, Polk was willing to divide Oregon at the 49th parallel, and in 1846, the United States and Great Britain signed a treaty dividing Oregon, giving the valuable Puget Sound to the United States, while allowing Britain to retain Vancouver Island. For many Northerners, the acquisition of all of the Oregon territory was the only thing that had made the annexation of Texas palatable. Their disappointment fed the belief that Polk was a southern president working for the benefit of South, not the nation.
War with Mexico
Mexicos refusal to accept Texan (and American) claims to a Rio Grande boundary as well as a refusal to sell additional lands led the United States to declare war in May 1846. American forces scored a succession of military victories under Zachary Taylor in northern Mexico, Stephen Kearney in New Mexico, and John C. Frémont in California, but the Mexicans refused to surrender until Winfield Scott led a decisive campaign to capture the capital of Mexico City.
Settlement of the Mexican-American War
Ignoring radical demands for the annexation of all Mexico, American diplomat Nicholas P. Trist negotiated a successful end to the Mexican War with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in February 1848. The treaty provided for the Mexican cession of New Mexico and California to the United States for $15 million, recognition of the Rio Grande border, and the assumption by the United States government of American claims against Mexico. The war with Mexico divided Americans. Some northern opponents of the war asserted that the real reason for the war had been to secure more slave-territory for the South and increase that regions political power. Sectional division was a major legacy of the Mexican War (see Chapter 14).
Although Young America certainly focused on Manifest Destiny and the acquisition of new territories, they saw a clear link between such expansion and other forms of growth. New technologies, such as the telegraph and the railroad, aided internal development, including a substantial increase in industrialization and urbanization.
The Triumph of the Railroad
In the 1840s and the 1850s, the railroad industry experienced tremendous growth, replacing canals as the primary means of transportation for Americas freight traffic. Expansion of the railroads stimulated the domestic iron industry, encouraged modern methods for financing business enterprise, and set the precedent for government assistance in the form of land grants.
The Industrial Revolution Takes Off
Technological advances, especially the development of sophisticated machine tools, helped bring about mass production techniques in American industry, spurring a period of tremendous growth. The factory mode of production, first used in the textile industry, expanded to industries producing iron, shoes, firearms, clocks, and sewing machines. Despite industrys growth, agriculture remained the dominant source of livelihood for American individuals, and the dominant contributor to the gross national product. It, too, experienced a technological revolution with the invention of the steel plow, mechanical reaper, seed drills, cultivators, and threshing machine. Coupled with greater railroad mileage, American farmers were more efficient, productive, and accessible to markets.
Mass Immigration Begins
The growth of industrial work opportunities in the United States, combined with economic hardships in many parts of Europe, sparked a period of mass immigration, especially from Ireland and Germany. The Irish, mostly Catholic, poor, and unskilled, crowded into urban slums and accepted low-paying factory jobs, evoking scorn from those Americans whose descendants had earlier established themselves in the country. Their settlement in the rapidly growing cities increased urban problems.
The New Working Class
The shift in agriculture and industry produced changes in the make-up of Americas working class. In established industries and older mill towns, many workers were of American stock. They were willing to organize into craft guilds and unions for the bettering of their labor conditions. The Female Labor Reform Association in Lowell, Massachusetts is a prime example of such an organization. By contrast, the new working classes of the 1830s and 1840s, who were mostly recent immigrants, resisted organization but did protest long hours and low pay in more subtle and indirect waysby tardiness, absenteeism, and drunkenness.
Conclusion: The Costs of Expansion
The age of expansionism had extracted a tremendous price on the United States. External (territorial) expansion generated a diplomatic crisis, a war, and sectional conflict that would eventually divide the nation while internal (economic) expansion fueled class and ethnic rivalries and threatened Americas self-image as a land of opportunity and upward mobility.