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The years 1840 to 1890 were a period of great growth
for the United States. It was during this time period that
the United states came to the conclusion that it had a
manifest destiny, that is, it was commanded by god to someday
occupy the entire North American continent. One of the most
ardent followers of this belief was President James K. Polk.

He felt that the United States had the right to whatever
amount of territory it chose to, and in doing this the
United States was actually doing a favor for the land it
seized, by introducing it to the highly advanced culture and
way of life of Americans. Shortly after his election he
annexed Texas. This added a great amount of land to the
United States, but more was to follow. The Oregon Territory
became a part of the United States is 1846, followed by the
Mexican Cession in 1848 and the Gadsden Purchase in 1853. At
this point the United States had accomplished its manifest
destiny, it reached from east to west, from sea to shining
sea. Now that the lands it so desired were finally there,
the United States faced a new problem- how to get its people
to settle these lands so they would actually be worth having.

Realistically, it is great to have a lot of land, but if the
land is unpopulated and undeveloped, it really isn’t worth
much. And the government of the United States knew this. One
of the reasons that many did not choose to settle there
immediately was that the lands were quite simply in the
middle of nowhere. They were surrounded by mountains,
inhabited by hostile Indians, and poor for farming. Because
of these geographical conditions, the government was forced
to intervene to coax its citizens into settling the new
lands. Basically the lands were not settled because they
were available, they were settled because of various schemes
the government concocted to make them seem desirable.

The government participated in a great “push” to get
its citizens to move to west. At first few people moved to
the west, but this changed when gold was discovered in
California in 1848. This caused a “gold rush” to the west
coast which consisted of many prospectors seeking to find
their fortunes in the gold mines of California. Many
traveled to the west coast, however few actually found their
fortunes. The problem remained that the midwest was still
relatively unpopulated. There were people on the west coast
of the United States, there were people on the east coast of
the United States, but relatively few in the center of the
country. In order to convince people to move to the central
midwest, the United States started a massive propaganda
drive that Hitler would have been proud of. Everywhere one
would look they would find brochures telling of how
wonderful the central midwest was, and how it would be an
ideal setting for someone to settle down and raise a family,
and how it was great for farmland. In the tradition of
propaganda, however, this was often far from the truth. In
reality the land that looked so beautiful in the brochures
and posters was actually the Great American Desert. To work
in conjunction with the propaganda posters and brochures,
the United States passed the Homestead Act, which offered
extremely cheap land to anyone who was willing to live on it
and farm it. The Homestead Act actually went as far as
offering tracks of land as large as 160 acres for as little
as ten dollars. The Wyoming Territory actually went as far
as passing laws allowing women’s suffrage and property
rights to encourage settlers. This would seem like a step
forward in human rights. In actuality, this was a terrible
periods for civil rights for a certain ethnic group: the

President Hayes was one of the most ardent
supporters of the Homestead Act. However there was another
act passed under Hayes called the Dawes Act that was a
travesty as far as the Indians were concerned. Under this
act, the Indians were able to become citizens of the United
States and participate in the Homestead Act, but at a
terrible price. In order to become a citizen, an Indian
would have to move away from his reservation, renounce his
tribal ways, and “accept” American ways. Needless to say,
this made the Indians furious. Originally designed to remove
the Indian problem so more settlers could move to their
lands, it only served to make the Indians madder. Now
settlers were claiming they could not settle in the west
because of fear of being carved up by blood-thirsty Indians.

To try to remedy the problem, the government sent men like
General Custer to dispel the Indian problem. Although Custer
was slightly successful at first, he was eventually killed
by a group of Indians at the Battle of Little Big Horn.

Needless to say, white man-Indian relationships were at a
low point in this period.

In conclusion, the west was settled slowly because,
geographically it was in the middle of nowhere. It was
isolated from the rest of the country, although the
transcontinental railroad would soon solve this problem.
Another problem of the west was the hostility of the Indians,
which was not the unjustified considering what they had gone
through. Although today the central midwest is populated, it
is not to the degree that the coastal areas are, and it will
likely remain that way until the population of the United
States becomes so large it actually forces people to move


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