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United States and Westward Expansion Into Texas in the 19th Century, Essay Example

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Essay

From the moment that the first European explorers landed on the shores of the Americas, it was seemingly inevitable that colonization and expansion would follow. This would have been in keeping with well-established traditions of colonization and trade expansion between and among nations in Europe, Asia, and Africa; the relative lack of forceful resistance by American native peoples, coupled with the wealth of raw materials and resources ripe for exploitation, made this region irresistible to nations such as Spain and England. Centuries later, after the English colonies in North American had evolved into the young nation of the United States, it seemed equally inevitable that the citizens of this new country would embrace the same spirit of expansion. Predicated on the notion of “manifest destiny” Americans in the East continued to push westward until the entire lower section of North America was under the control of the United States. In some instances statehood was hard-won for these newly-taken territories, as a variety of factors influenced how or even whether they would be granted statehood. The region of North America that is now the state of Texas, for example, was gradually overrun by whites from the East, though a number of social and political issues had to be resolved or overcome before it became a part of the United States.

Centuries before Texas became a state it had fallen under the control of Spain, as had much of Central and South America. By the early 1800s the nation of Mexico gained independence, and Texas was now a part of that young nation. Concurrent with these changes in the West, the economic systems in the United States were evolving and expanding, and Southern farmers, fueled by the exponential growth of the cotton market that technology had made possible, were in search of new territory in which to plant their crops. As these farmers pushed farther and farther west, they streamed into Texas by the tens of thousands, despite the protestations and opposition by the Mexican government. These farmers brought slavery with them, a factor which would complicate their entry into statehood in years to come.

Although the Mexican government made some efforts to block the westward migration of whites from the United States, such efforts came too late. By the 1830s the white population of Texas managed to usurp the power of Mexico’s claim to the land, and Texas declared itself a free republic in 1836. While the new republic immediately petitioned for annexation by the U.S. government, it would be years before it would be granted statehood. Not surprisingly, the issue of slavery was the factor that complicated matters the most; allowing Texas to become part of the U.S. would upset the balance between slave states and non-slave states established by the Missouri Compromise, a possibility that was of great concern to many members of Congress and to citizens of the United States.

Although the issue of slavery slowed the entry of Texas into the U.S., it appears in hindsight that it was never in danger of ending it entirely. James Polk, who became President of the United States in 1844, was a fervent proponent of expansion who fully embraced the spirit of manifest destiny. Threats by the Mexicans to block any efforts by the U.S. to annex Texas were good news to Polk, who was happy to provoke a war that would provide further opportunities for U.S. expansion. The combination of his carrot-and-stick approach to negotiation coupled with his efforts to bully and intimidate Mexico finally bore fruit in 1846 when Mexican troops fired on American soldiers at the Rio Grande River. This attack gave Polk the political cover he needed to justify his intentions, and the U.S. soon declared war.

Polk’s decision to go to war with Mexico may have been justified to a degree by the attack on U.S. troops, but the larger question of whether the slow but inexorable absorption of Texas by the United Sates was justified is a different matter. In the minds of many Americans at the time it was certainly justified; in short, the United States had God on its side and it was the nation’s destiny to expand its reach as far and wide as possible. Objectively speaking, however, the birth and growth of the United States was predicated from the very beginning on one group of people overtaking the territories of other groups of people. It may be difficult to argue that the conquest of the Americas by Europeans was ever justified by anything other than the notion that might makes right. In that sense, then, the issue of “justification” may be irrelevant; it was inevitable that the same drive that birthed the United States would also drive its expansion, and the only questions for historians are about how long such expansion would last and how far it would reach.

Reference

Schultz, K. M. (2012). HIST2, Volume 1. Retrieved from The University of Phoenix eBook Collection.

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