The geographical north american expansion in the 19th century

16 de septiembre de 2002

During the XIX century witnessed the born and consolidation of a country, the USA, that for the following century it would become the world hegemonic power. What by the middle it of the XVII century was not more than a group of coastal villages, in not more than 200 years had become the most powerful nation of the earth.

Many attribute this success in the process of formation of the nation to the impressives and almost infinities natural resources that this country own. The USA territory have minerals, oil, cultivation and pasture lands, access to Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, etc., resources sufficients, joined with a labor force organized and hard-working, that allow the development of a big economy during the XIX century.

But all this resources and territory were obtained during the XIX century. In the beginning, USA were only a small coastal villages, with the trade of skins and fish as its principal economic activity and no prosperous future. The original territory of USA was only a little land strip between the Atlantic Ocean and the Apalaches chain mountains. In 1781, after the Independence War, the total surface of the new country was only 370,041 squares miles; in 1998 the total surface is 3,628,066.00 square miles. This spectacular territorial expansion was principally made during the XIX century.

By many ways USA could gain more lands during the XIX century; sometimes it bought the lands to its original owners or simply it stole them. During the XIX century there was 13 cases of land annexation. This essay is a brief revision of this process, and try to explain its main causes. I think that there were not a rational decision and attitude in the common people, between the settlers, that guided the geographical expansion in search of the wealth and enlargement of the country (such as Manifest Destiny tries to explain us).

I think that the process can be explained starting from individual motives and needs (get a land to live, get richness from the land speculation, etc.). It means, that there was not a doctrine (Manifest Destiny), a supreme and sacred mandate, which lead Americans to a prosperous future, to expand the European civilization; on the contrary, this process can be explained as a result of common human needs and ambitions. The Manifest Destiny was just a ideological and theological justification, but no its main cause.

The American territorial expansion can be explained starting from two principal reasons:

In the next table we can see the explosive population growth during the XIX century:

GROWTH OF AMERICAN POPULATION IN THE XIXth CENTURY
YEAR POPULATION % INCREASE POP. PER SQUARE MILE
1790 3,929,214 ...... 4.5
1800 5,308,483 35.1 6.1
1810 7,239,881 36.4 4.3
1820 9,638,453 33.1 5.5
1830 12,866,020 33.5 7.4
1840 17,069,453 32.7 9.8
1850 23,191,876 35.9 7.9
1860 31,443,321 35.6 10.6
1870 39,818,449 26.6 13.4
1880 50,155,783 26.0 16.9
1890 62,947,714 25.5 21.1
1900 75,994,575 20.7 25.6
Wili Paul Adams, Los Estados Unidos, M?xico, Siglo XXI, 1979.

The increasing population need a place to live, and they began to settle far away from the Atlantic coast. Then began the colonization of the inland; the limit was the apalaches chain mountain, indeed there was a Royal Act (Limit de Proclamation) which forbade the sell or buy of land in the west of Apalaches, this measure was taken to avoid any conflict with the Indians.

The demographic pression of this measure was obvious. The population growth was consequence of European migration and the natural growth and there was not enough available land to the new settlers. In the southern colonies (Alabama, Georgia, Virginia) there was large cotton, tobacco or tea plantations which impeded new settlements in the region. This plantations were property of English Lords, whom got this land for favors to the Crown. In the northern colonies proliferated (New England, Massachusetts, New Jersey, etc.) little farms, but also there was not land available for the new settlers.

The new settlers were forced to live near of frontier, next to Apalaches chain mountains. Many times they were forced to live in Indians lands creating troubles with the original owners. After the Independence, the Royal Act which banned any settlement to the west of Apalaches, lost its validity and the western colonization began.

The new available lands were handed over to Colonizing Companies without any charge. These lands were given totally free and the Companies were forced to settle new cities and towns; these companies began to sell land to the new settlers, making a great business. Many politicians were involved in this business, in part because the Congress was in charge of organize the colonization, given concessions and licenses to found new settlements.

In 1794 began the colonization of Northwest territories (Michigan, Wyoming). The Congress gave totally free large lands, for instance the Ohio Company received 600,000 hectares and the Scioto Company received 2,000,000. These lands were sold to the new European settlers.

The ambition of the Companies, mixed with the need of land for the new settlers, quickly made unsatisfactory the lands of the Northwest territory. So, the pressure to expand the frontier to the west and south arose. The main trouble was that those lands had owner: the southern lands (Florida) was under Spanish sovereignty and the western lands (Louisiana) under French sovereignty.

The USA Government began to press France and Spain in search of the surrender of property. The first success was the Louisiana purchase in 1803. USA gave 80,000,000 francs for this large territory. There are many events which help us to understand this purchase:

The colonization of Louisiana was quickly. In the second decade of XIX century began the pressure against Texas, a Mexican territory. The trouble began since the definition of the border between Louisiana and New Spain. There was a Treaty, Treaty Adams-Onis, which defined the border between USA and New Spain; the Spain Kingdom gave the Floridas in1819to USA in search of the recognition of the Adams Onis Treaty.

With the Mexican Independence, the USA began again its attempts to get more western territory. They argued an misunderstanding in the definition of Louisiana border; it seems that Texas was part of Louisiana. There were many attempts to buy Texas to Mexican government, all these failed. But American settlers began the colonization of Texas with the allowance of Mexican government. This was a mistake, in 1835 Texas proclaimed its Independence and ten years later it joined to USA.

The Texas annexation was one cause for the Mexican- American War of 1846-1848. In this war there were well defined American interests to get more territory from his neighborhood. Fortunately, the internal conflicts in USA (between the southern and northern states) did not allow that Mexico lost more territory. Nevertheless, USA gain 2,000,000 squares kilometers.

After the Mexican-American war the territorial ambitions of USA were satisfied by a lot a time. After it, USA only bought Alaska and La Mesilla (1853). The rest of century was in peace, but the beginning of the new century renewed American territorial ambitions, but this ambitions were result of another kind of interest. There was not the need of lands for the new settlers, there was not the fever to gain money; the new desire for new territories was the result of the need to protect the American trade routes, principally the Asian routes.

There was a strategic need to protect the American trade routes. USA need military bases in the middle of the sea, in the middle of its trade routes. So, they fought against Spain to get the sovereignity of Cuba, Philippines and Hawai, but this is another story.

During the XIX century, the American people were involved in a geographical expanssion process in search of land to get a place where live and land to make a big business. The people subsisted basically from the agriculture, and they need large extensions of land to produce its meals. The agriculture was the basis of economic activity and the origin of richness, at least during this century.


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