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Wenzel's World
Manifest Destiny

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Expansion:  A Right and a Duty

Many Americans in the early 1800s believed that it was the fate of America to control the entire North American continent. This belief was called "Manifest Destiny." The term originated from a New York newspaper editorial in 1845, which declared that the nation's manifest destiny was "to over spread and to possess" the whole continent, to develop liberty and self-government to all.  Many Americans saw the culture and the democratic government of the United States as the best in the world.  In the eyes of the Americans, it meant that it was God's will that Americans expand their territory from coast to coast.

 

This idea of Manifest Destiny strongly influenced the attitudes of the people and the policies of the U.S. government. Americans believed that they were bringing God, technology and civilization to the lands in the west. What they brought, in fact, was death, disease and wars to the Native Americans and Mexicans who occupied these lands. Americans used the idea of Manifest Destiny to justify their dishonest, cruel, and racist treatment of the Indians and Mexicans who already occupied these lands. Americans looked upon Native Americans as dumb savages and upon Mexicans as inferior people who were lazy and ignorant.

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The United States Gains Florida

Spain lost another one of its colonies, Florida not to independence, but to the United States.  Many Americans wanted to gain possession of Florida.  As early as 1810, President Madison tried to claim West Florida for the United States. 

 

Concern over Florida grew, especially among Southerners.  Creek and Seminole Indians in Florida sometimes raided settlements in Georgia.  Also, Florida was a refuge for many enslaved African Americans.

 

Black Seminoles

 

Since the 1700s, Spanish officials had protected slaves who fled from plantations in Georgia and South Carolina.  Seminole Indians allowed African Americans to live near their villages.  In return, these black Seminoles gave the Indians a share of the crops they raised every year.  The black Seminoles adopted many Indian customs.  In addition, some Africa Americans married Seminoles.

 

After the War of 1812, African Americans occupied a fort on the Apalachicola River.  They invited runaway slaves to settle nearby.  Soon, some 1,000 African Americans farmed on the banks of the Apalachicola, protected by the Negro Fort.

 

American gunboats attack

 

General Andrew Jackson demanded that Spain demolish the Negro Fort.  The Spanish governor refused.  In 1816, Jacksons gunboats invaded Spanish territory and sailed up the Apalachicola.

 

Inside the Negro Fort, a force of free African Americans waited, cannons ready.  They knew that the Americans had come to return them to slavery.  After a spirited firth, the gunboats destroyed the fort.  Black settlers along the Apalachicola were forced to flee.  Many joined nearby Seminoles.  Together, they continued to resist American raids into Florida.

 

Spain gives up Florida

 

In 1818, Jackson headed to Florida again with a force of over 3,000 soldiers.  Spain protested, but it was busy fighting rebels in Latin America.  It could not risk war with the United States.

 

In the end, Spain agreed to peace talks.  Secretary of State John Quincy Adams worked out a treaty with Spain.  In it, Spain agreed to give Florida to the United States in exchange for $5 million.  The Adams-Onis Treaty took effect in 1821. 

Oregon Country

The Lure of Oregon

By the 1820s, white settlers had occupied much of the land between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River.  Families in search of good farmland continued to move west.  Few, however, settled on the Great Plains between the Mississippi and the Rockies.  Instead, they went onward to lands in the Far West. 

 

Americans first heard about the area known as Oregon Country in the early 1800s.  Oregon Country was the huge area beyond the Rocky Mountains.  Today, this land includes Oregon, Washington, Idaho and parts of Wyoming, Montana and Canada. 

 

The varied geography of Oregon Country attracted both farmers and trappers.  Along the Pacific coast, the soil is fertile.  Temperatures are mild all year round and rainfall is plentiful.  Early white settlers found fine farmland in the Willamette River valley and the lowlands around Puget Sound. 

 

Further inland, dense forests covered a coastal mountain range.  Beaver and other fur-bearing animals roamed these forests, as well as the Rocky Mountains on the eastern boundary.  As a result, trappers flocked to Oregon Country.

 

Between the coastal mountains and the Rockies is a high plateau.  This intermountain region is much drier than the coast and has some desert areas.  This region of Oregon had little to attract early settlers.

 

Competing Claims

 

In the early 1800s, four countries had claims to Oregon.  These countries were the United States, Great Britain, Spain and Russia.  Of course, several Native American groups had lived in Oregon for thousands of years.  The land rightfully belonged to them.  However, the United States and competing European nations gave little thought to Indian rights.

 

The United States based its claim to Oregon on several expeditions to the area.  For example, Lewis and Clark had journeyed through the area in 1805 and 1806.

 

The British claim to Oregon dated back to a visit by the English explorer Sir Francis Drake in 1579.  Also, Fort Vancouver, built by the British, was the only permanent outpost in Oregon Country.

 

In 1818, the United States and Britain reached an agreement.  The two counties would occupy Oregon jointly.  Citizens of each nation would have equal rights in Oregon.  Spain and Russia had few settlers in the area and agreed to drop their claims.

 

Election of 1844

 

Manifest Destiny played an important part in the election of 1844.  The new political party, Whigs rose as the Federalist Party fell.  The Whigs supported federal governments programs that would increase the economic growth of the nation.  The Whigs nominated Henry Clay for President.  Clay was a famous and respected national leader.  The Democrats (former Democratic-Republicans) chose a little known candidate, James Polk.

 

Voters soon came to know Polk as the candidate who favored expansion.  Polk demanded that Oregon be added to the United States.  Clay on the other hand opposed expansion of territory, especially of Texas (as you will read about later).

 

Democrats made Oregon a special campaign issue.  Britain and the United States held Oregon jointly.  Polk demanded the whole region all the way to its northern boarder at latitude 5440 N.  Fifty-four forty or fight! became the Democrats campaign cry.  On Election Day, Americans showed their support for expansion by choosing Polk as President.

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Fur Trappers in the Far West

At first, the few Europeans or Americans who traveled to Oregon Country were mostly fur traders.  Since fur could be sold at tremendous profits in China, merchants from New England stopped along the Oregon coast before crossing the Pacific.  In fact, so many Yankee traders came to Oregon that, in some areas, the Indian name for a white man was Boston.

 

Only a few hardy trappers actually settled in Oregon.  These adventurous men hiked through Oregons vast forests, trapping animals and living off the land.  They were known as mountain men.  Mountain men were admired as rugged individuals, people who followed their own independent course in life.  Even their appearance set them apart from ordinary society.  They wore shirts and trousers made of animal hides.  Their hair reached to their soldiers.  Pistols and tomahawks hung from their belts.

 

Exploring New Lands

In their search for furs, mountain men explored much new territory in the West.  They followed Indian trails across the Rockies and through mountain passes.  Later, they showed these trails to settlers moving west.

 

The first white Americans to build permanent homes in Oregon Country were missionaries who planned to convert local Native Americans to Christianity.

 

Wagon Trains West

Missionaries sent back glowing reports about the land.  Farmers back East marveled at tales of wheat that grew taller than a man and turnips five feet around.  Stories like these touched off an outbreak of Oregon fever.  Oregon fever spread quickly.  Soon, pioneers clogged the trails west.  Beginning in 1843, wagon trains left every spring for Oregon.  They followed a route called the Oregon Trail.

 

Families planning to go west met at Independence, Missouri, in the early spring.  When enough families had gathered, they formed a wagon train.  Each group elected leaders to make decisions along the way.

 

The Oregon-bound pioneers hurried to leave Independence in May.  Timing was important.  Travelers had to reach Oregon by early October, before snow began to fall in the mountains.  This meant that pioneers had to cover 2,000 miles on foot in five months!

 

Life on the trail

Once on the trail, pioneer families woke to a bugle blast at dawn.  Each person had a job to do.  Young girls helped their mothers prepare breakfast.  Men and boys harnessed the horses and oxen.  By 6 a.m., the cry of Wagons Ho! rang out across the plains. 

 

Wagon trains stopped for a brief meal at noon.  At this time, many Native Americans traded with the wagon trains.  Hungry pioneers were grateful for food the Indians sold.  Then it was back on the trail until 6 or 7 p.m.  At night, wagons were drawn up in a circle to keep the cattle from wandering.

 

The long journey west held many dangers.  During spring rains, travelers risked their lives floating wagons across swollen rivers.  In summer, they faced blistering heat on the treeless plains.  Early snowstorms often blocked passes through the mountains.

 

The biggest threat was sickness.  Cholera and other diseases could wipe out whole wagon trains.  Because the travelers lived so close together, germs spread quickly.

 

Despite the many hardships, more than 50,000 people reached Oregon between 1840 1860.  Their wagon wheels cut so deeply into ht explains that the rut can still be seen today.

 

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