Westward Expansion Essay Example



Westward expansion referred to the shifting of settlers into new states and territories in the American West during the 19th century. As settlers traveled west, sectionalism, or the pride for one’s state or region rather than the country as a whole, created regional politics between the North and South whose viewpoints differed from one another both economically and ideologically. The North, who was industrialized economically, wanted high tariffs and did not support slavery. Contrary to the North, the South practiced slavery and since most of their goods were imported, they advocated for low tariffs. As American borders expanded westward into the Louisiana Purchase, sectional differences between the antislavery North and the proslavery South contributed to the creation of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

One of the most significant turning points of westward expansion was when the United States bought the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803. The Louisiana Purchase extended from the Mississippi River in the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west and from the Gulf of Mexico in the south to the U.S.-Canadian border in the north. It contained the city of New Orleans, which was a major port used for trading. When France prohibited U.S. goods from being traded via the port of New Orleans, the United States felt that their economic stability was being threatened. President Thomas Jefferson responded by sending Robert R. Livingston and James Monroe to meet with the minister of France to discuss purchasing the territory of New Orleans.

After meeting with the minister, the United States was not only able to gain the port of New Orleans, but was also able to obtain the entire Louisiana Territory for a bargain price of $15 million dollars. It was the acquisition of the Louisiana Territory by the United States that supported Manifest Destiny, or the belief that white Americans were destined to control the territories of North America from the east coast to the west coast. The United States nearly doubled in size from the Louisiana Purchase and as a result, new states were added to the Union. When new states joined the Union, there were tensions between slave states and free states over whether the new states would support or oppose slavery. These tensions between slave states and free states contributed to a rise in sectionalism, which continued to be evident as the United States expanded westward.

It was the sectional conflicts between slave states and free states that contributed to the creation of the Missouri Compromise. When Missouri requested to enter the Union as a slave state in 1817, it created an imbalance between the number of free states and the number of slave states. At this time, there were eleven free states and eleven slave states that made up the United States. If Missouri was to enter the Union as a slave state, then slave states would hold more power in the Senate than free states would. In order to balance out the power between free states and slave states, the Missouri Compromise was established by Kentucky senator Henry Clay in 1820.

The Missouri Compromise allowed Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state under the agreement that Maine, which was still part of Massachusetts, would enter the Union as a free state. Following Missouri’s admission to the Union, an imaginary line was drawn that declared slavery illegal north of the latitude 36° 30’. The Missouri Compromise was responsible for dividing the Louisiana Purchase into regions that were separated by slavery. The free states in the North were against slavery, while the slave states in the South were for slavery. This contributed to sectional conflict between the North and the South.

In order to address the issue of sectionalism over slavery between the North and the South, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed by Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas. Prior to the establishment of this act, there was question regarding how the issue of slavery would be confronted in unorganized territory within the Louisiana Purchase, which included Kansas and Nebraska. Initially, Douglas suggested that Kansas and Nebraska become free states, but knew that this idea would anger Southerners. The creation of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 helped to repeal the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which divided free states and slave states based on their latitude.

Instead of using latitude to determine slavery in Kansas and Nebraska, these states would be granted popular sovereignty. Popular sovereignty allowed the people of Kansas and Nebraska to decide whether slavery would be permitted or prohibited in their territory. It was popular sovereignty that was responsible for tensions between antislavery and proslavery groups, which initiated a period of violence known as Bleeding Kansas. When territorial elections took place in Kansas in 1855, antislavery and proslavery individuals from Missouri crossed the border to participate in the vote. The outcome was violence, as both groups fought to have a say in whether Kansas would become a free state or a slave state. When a proslavery government took control, antislavery settlers created their own government. In the end, the Kansas Nebraska-Act was responsible for creating sectional conflict between antislavery and proslavery groups by allowing popular sovereignty.