Westward Expansion (1807-1912)

History
Further Study

Study Questions

Further Study Study Questions

Not all Americans despised the Indians of the Great Plains. Describe the efforts of those who tried to help the Indians. Did their efforts pay off?

Not all whites were employed in the active destruction of the Indians. Many took a more beneficent view of the Plains Indians, seeing it as their duty to Christianize and modernize the "savages" on the reservations. To this end, the Board of Indian Commissioners delegated the task of reform to Protestant leaders, who manned the reservations. Though cloaked in goodwill, this effort served the more practical purpose of breaking the nomadic tradition of the Indians and making them into permanent and productive members of the reservations. Other attempts were made throughout the late 1800s to "save" the Indians. Richard H. Pratt founded the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania to equip Indians with the skills and culture necessary for integration into white society. However, the school uprooted Indians from their homes and made no pretense of respecting Indian culture. This sort of cultural reeducation assaulted the Indian way of life as viciously as the hunters who had slaughtered the buffalo. The movement to "civilize" the Indians was infused with a sense of cultural superiority. Pratt explained that that goal of the Carlisle School was to "kill the Indian and save the man." Other humanitarians, genuinely concerned about the Indians, suggested that the best thing for them would be to integrate the tribes into white society, instituting concepts like private property and making the Indians less culturally distinct. These concerns were expressed in the 1887 Dawes Severalty Act. The Dawes Act called for the breakup of the reservations and the treatment of Indians as individuals rather than tribes. It provided for the distribution of 160 acres of farmland or 320 acres of grazing land to any Indian who accepted the act's terms, who would then become US citizens in 25 years. While some Indians benefited from the Dawes Act, still others became dependent upon federal aid. In the end, both military aggression and humanitarian aid shared equally in the task of breaking the spirit of the Indian tribes.

How did federal land policy throughout the early years of expansion reflect the political ideology of the party in power?

The land policy of the early expansion period was the clear result of political maneuvering. During the 1790s, the Federalists knew expansion was inevitable, but feared that it would dilute their support center in the Northeast. However, they saw that the West could be a great source of revenue. The plan under the Ordinance of 1785 aimed for groups of farmers to join together to purchase townships. This system threatened to draw many in the Northeast to the West and would not maximize government profits. To solve this problem, the Federalists encouraged the purchase of land by wealthy speculators, who not only would drive up prices, and thereby profits, but also would stem the flow of westward expansion from North and South. The Republicans chastised the Federalists for transferring the public domain to the nation's people too slowly and not cheaply enough. They believed that the United States, and especially the West should belong to small farmers, who were the source of the nation's democratic purity. Thomas Jefferson had long imagined and spoke of an "empire of liberty" which would stretch across the entire continent, and took steps toward that goal most notably with the Louisiana Purchase. He desired that the American West be populated by small farmers, who would ensure democracy (and most likely support the Republican Party). Thus once in power, the Republicans acted quickly to place public lands in the hands of small farmers, decreasing the minimum size of a land purchase and cutting the minimum price per acre as well.

How did the issue of expansion, beginning with the annexation of Texas, become inexorably linked with slavery during John Tyler's presidency?

The issue of annexation was tied tightly to the issue of slavery. Northerners feared that the annexation of Texas was part of a Southern conspiracy to extend American territory southward into Mexico and South America, creating unlimited new slave states, while the north would be unable to expand similarly due to the presence of British forces in Canada. Southerners saw annexation as a way to expand the nation's cotton producing region, and as a slave state, an additional two votes in the Senate in favor of the common needs of the slaveholding South. Once in office, Tyler and his secretary of state, John Calhoun did not disguise their appeals to the South for support for annexation. Calhoun used reports that the British might pressure Mexico to recognize the independence of Texas in return for abolishing slavery there to construct theories on how the British might use Texas and abolition as a way to destroy the rice, sugar, and cotton growing industries in the US and gain monopolies in all three. Accompanying the treaty Calhoun and Tyler submitted to Congress was a letter from Calhoun explaining that slavery was beneficial to blacks who otherwise would fall into "vice and pauperism." The political designs underlying these strategies were clear: use southern support to move annexation forward. Not until James K. Polk became president did the North feel confident that expansion would proceed conservatively and that that federal government would take the desires of both North and South into account. Unfortunately, even then the issue of slavery in the West would continue to tear the nation apart, dragging it toward civil war.

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