Since the first Puritan settlement of America by the Massachusetts Bay Colony (“City on a Hill”) to the United States’ current involvement in the affairs of foreign countries, it is clear that Americans find a need to spread their democratic ideals abroad. The idea of Manifest Destiny, which was prevalent in pre-Civil War America, expressed the belief that Americans should expand their republican ideals of freedom, liberty, and democracy to the whole world. The process of Manifest Destiny was hastened by political pressure between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions and fear of foreign threats; these factors motivated the nation to expand to the Pacific by annexing large territories and negotiating treaties during the period 1783-1853.
One of the most important factors that motivated Americans to migrate and settle new territories was political pressure and controversy regarding the issue of slavery. Southern congressmen wanted to annex the Republic of Texas to the Union because slavery was well-established there, and it would most likely be admitted as a slave state. This would give the pro-slavery southerners two more votes in the Senate and might tip the scale in their favor. In response, the anti-slavery faction rapidly settled the Oregon Country and called for annexation of the region. Both Texas and the Oregon County were eventually annexed to the U.S. in the Texas Annexation of 1845 and the Oregon Treaty of 1846, respectively. These annexations quelled fears that one side might take control over the other; however, there was always new land to be settled nearby. In this manner, Western lands continued to be settled in order to maintain the fragile balance between the opposing factions. This cat-and-mouse game demonstrated the urgency that the Americans felt while migrating to these new areas; they felt that in order to protect their beliefs regarding the institution of slavery, they must migrate west and spread their beliefs as extensively as possible. Clearly, political pressures about slavery were a main factor which motivated the rapid settlement of Western lands during this time period.
Another important factor that helped to jumpstart westward migration was American fear of foreign threats—especially France. Before 1803, France claimed ownership to a vast territory to the west of the Mississippi, later known as the Louisiana Territory, which was sparsely settled with French inhabitants. Although the French could never hope to conquer the U.S. with their meager population, many Americans feared that France had secret plans to eventually dominate the North American continent. This constant fear of foreign attack motivated the Americans to travel west and claim the foreign territory as their own. The Americans took the future of the country into their hands by following the ideals of Manifest Destiny and spreading westward. Eventually, Americans became so populous in the Louisiana Territory that Napoleon of France decided to sell the territory to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase before they took it from France anyway. The Americans’ fears of being conquered by France motivated them to expand further into the French territory to claim it as their own. This situation demonstrated that, when pressured, Americans could rise to the occasion and achieve their desires.
There were many instances in history when Americans acted out Manifest Destiny, and spread American beliefs across the continent. Americans were motivated by a number of factors, including political pressure between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions and fear of foreign threats, to expand west and acquire new land for their country. During this process Americans spread their ideals of freedom, liberty, and democracy to the whole North American continent and made a lasting impact on history.
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