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Settlement of the West over the Whole Period Essay

In considering the process of the settlement of the West over the whole period, how far can the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 be seen as the key turning point? The war of 1812 was followed by a period of exploration of the West which had been greatly expanded by the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. The process of expansion was huge and resulted in the original 13 states being 45 states by 1906. As well as the Louisiana Purchase, the Mexican-American War and the Californian Gold Rush of 1848, the Homestead Act of 1862 and the Exodus movement from 1879 were all key turning points which helped the process of Westward Expansion. The key criteria for judging a turning point is if the event created opportunities to go west, if it opened up land to settle in and if it had a psychological impact on the nation. The Louisiana Purchase was a very significant event as it increased the size of the United States by double overnight for only $15 million. This was a key turning point in expansion as it opened up a huge amount of land for more settlers (an extra 828,000 square miles).

Alongside this it created opportunities for people to travel west as it gave access to the Mississippi river which was important for travel and commerce. This purchase was also significant in the fact that it created a more secure environment for settlers as it eliminated the French from imperial competition, Jefferson believed the French were restricting US commerce and that they tried to control surrounding territory. Therefore this event affected the process of change as it allowed America to spread its resources and encouraged people to move west, such as the Indians which were encouraged to settle there. The most important reason for this event being a turning point was that it opened up a large amount of land to settle in, a lot of the further events which take place would not have happened if it wasn’t for this territory being the United States’ and so provided many reasons for expansion to continue. Another key event which took place was the Mexican American War of 1848 which begun because Texas was a gateway to the pacific and was a great agricultural prospect.

This was a key turning point as it had a big psychological impact on the people of America as many believed in the Manifest destiny, in that America had a right to expand, and so supported the annexation of Texas which increased their spirits on westward settlement. Polk deliberately provoked a war as he knew they could easily be overcome. The treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in 1848 which ceded California, Texas and New Mexico. Another reason for this being a turning point is that it gave access to the pacific meaning that farming was capable so created further opportunities to go west and again meant that transportation was made easier for commerce. The key reason this was a turning point was manifest destiny which was completed after this event. America had managed to secure land coast-to-coast which was a huge psychological moral boost for America who now knew they had a lot of power with a lot of land. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo led to California being ceded to America.

In 1848 there was the Californian Gold rush which primarily lasted until the early 1850’s with millions of families travelling from around the world to California and surrounding areas in search for fortune. In 1850, California (now a new state) had nearly 40% foreign born inhabitants, showing that this event increased the diversity of people settling West, but also inspired many to go as they believed a new life could be made from the Gold being found. Furthermore it dramatically increased the speed of people moving out west, by 1853 the population was approximately 250,000 whereas in 1848 the Californian territory had less than 1000 inhabitants. The Gold caused a great economic boom which created infrastructures leading to many people settling here and encouraged more to move west. The Californian Gold Rush’s most important reason that it is a turning point in westward expansion is that it created opportunities. It allowed people to make a lot of money from the Gold, but also from new businesses which were now being created due to a new market of people, and because of this and the great boom, many people started to settle here at a very fast rate.

In 1862 the Homestead Act was put into place, this allowed farmers to acquire 160 acres of land if they lived there for 5 years, or for 6 months with an additional payment of $1.25 per acre. This was significant as it allowed small scale settlement to develop. In some ways this could be seen as a turning point as it gave farmers a chance to be economically dependent, which gave them opportunities to expand or to do other thing with their money. It also inspired many people to go west and take up these lands which could be seen from figures that show that 400,000 families set up there taking 285 million acres of land. On the other hand, there were points which showed that this wasn’t as significant as it seemed. Most significantly, there was a 43% failure rate for those trying to get land in Nebraska under the Homestead Act showing that it wasn’t as easy to settle west as the act tried to make it.

Furthermore, land was put into the hands of men who had no sufficient foresight so even though this land was meant for farming, many people who didn’t know what to do with it took it up and eventually a lot of the land went to waste. This act of 1862 could be seen as a turning point mainly because of how it inspired many people to go west due to the huge amount of land it opened up allowing people to profit from it from farming. To conclude, the Louisiana Purchase which nearly doubled America overnight for just $15million was the key turning point in Westward expansion. This is because the other events which occurred which are all significant in their own right would not have occurred if they did not have the land.

The conflict between Mexico and America would not have occurred as Polk would not have been inclined to want Texas as they would not have been near it. Therefore the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo would not have taken place which ceded California. Even though the Gold Rush would have still occurred in 1848, the sudden increase in prosperity due to the economic boom would not have helped America and therefore would not have been made an American state. Lastly, even though the Homestead Act of 1862 was not very successful, it still inspired many families to travel west, increased settlement there and helped westward expansion. However even this would not have happened if it wasn’t for the land being there in the first place due to the Louisiana Purchase.


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