Back to Top

AHHS — Chapter 6

Chapter 6 – Westward Expansion to the Pacific and Efforts by Two Cultures to Control Political Power, by Howard Ray White of N. C., S.I.S.H.

History Relevant to Understanding the WBTS

You read in Chapter 4 how westward expansion added 5 states during the James Monroe Administrations (MS, IL, AL and MO, plus ME, which was carved out of MA) This chapter continues that history, covering the days of Presidents John Q. Adams, of MA; Andrew Jackson, of TN; Martin Van Buren, of NY; John Tyler, of VA, and James K. Polk, also of TN.  This era spanned 24 years – from 1825 to 1849.  During this time western expansion continued out to AR, FL, WI, IA and vast Texas.  Pioneers of the Southern culture were at the forefront in most of the region being settled, but not along the Great Lakes and upper Mississippi Valley.

During this one-generation span of 24 years, as before in America, pioneers continued pressing westward, most to acquire land of their own upon which to raise large, well-fed families, an opportunity denied relatives and ancestors in densely populated Europe.  Today, few schools have students who are being raised on family farms.  If you be one, you can appreciate a passionate love of the land that motivated the pioneering spirit.  If not of a farm family, just dream back to 1825 and visualize the pioneer family’s love of the land.

President John Quincy Adams, Independent of Massachusetts, 4 Years, 1825-1829 (States Admitted: None).  Setting aside constitutional prohibitions, Adams advocated far more Federal spending on roads and canals to facilitate westward expansion, but only managed to win approval of the Cumberland Road into Ohio and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.  But these two would greatly aid westward expansion from the north.  He also advocated a huge hike in taxes on imports, far higher rates than constitutionally acceptable, to raise prices on manufactured goods. Opponents called this the “Tariff of Abominations.”  Vice President John Calhoun of South Carolina condemned it as “unconstitutional, oppressive, and unjust.”  Rates were soon cut back.  But this fight between the northern and southern cultures over import tax rates would continue and become a cause of the WBTS.

President Andrew Jackson, Democrat of Tennessee, 8 Years, 1829-1837 (States Admitted: Arkansas and Michigan).  The newly-founded Democratic Party took control in 1829, with solid majorities in the House and Senate and with President Jackson and Vice President John C. Calhoun in the Executive.  Westward expansion continued.  Jackson supported extension of the National Road westward, but railroads would become the answer.  During Jackson’s era, the Cherokee and the four other “Civilized Tribes” would be directed to migrate to a new homeland in what would become Oklahoma.  These able Native American’s would migrate, many forcibly, to a new homeland where they were promised sovereignty, a promise broken after the WBTS.

President Martin Van Buren, Democrat of New York, 4 Years, 1837-1841 (States Admitted: None).  Jackson’s Democratic Party elevated Vice President Van Buren to President.  Just two months after Van Buren took office, the financial panic of 1837 sent America’s economy into a tailspin.  This serious economic depression would last six years, until 1843.  Even though America’s financial center was in the northeast, urban and manufacturing regions suffered the most.  Farm families and pioneering families were more resourceful, more able to put food on the table, but still fearful of losing their farms for inability to pay mortgages.  Meanwhile, the relocation of southeastern Native Americans to what would become Oklahoma continued.

President John Tyler, Embattled Whig of Virginia, 3 Years 11 Months, 1841-1845 (States Admitted: Florida).  The financial panic elevated the Whig Party to power in the House and Senate and put in office President William Henry Harrison of Indiana and Vice President John Tyler of Virginia. But President Harrison died a month after taking office and Tyler completed the term.  It was not a happy time.  In control of Congress and eager for greater Federal enhancement to banking, Whigs twice submitted bills to establish a National Bank.  Sharing Andrew Jackson’s concerns about empowering centralized banking, Tyler twice vetoed these National Bank bills.  In protest, all but one of his Cabinet resigned.  Tyler was a man without a party.  But pioneers seeking land could cheer: Tyler signed a bill making it easier for settlers to purchase 160 acre tracts of public land for $1.25 per acre.

President James K. Polk, Democrat of Tennessee, 4 Years, 1845-1849 (States Admitted: Texas, Iowa and Wisconsin). We now arrive at the last time the Southern Culture exerted power over the Federal Government, the four-year term of President James K. Polk of Tennessee.  The big story concerns the Republic of Texas, a vast land indeed.  In hindsight, Texans giving up their Republic for statehood might be judged unwise.  But they did.  President Tyler had championed the merger.  Northeastern politicians had opposed, fearing further loss of power.  But “Statehood for Texas” had elected Tennessee Democrat James K. Polk.  On February 16, 1846 at Austin, Texans lowered their Republic flag, the Lone Star, and raised their new state flag.  Addressing the crowd, Republic of Texas President Anson Jones said in part: “The Lone Star of Texas. . . has passed on and become fixed forever in that glorious constellation, which all freemen and lovers of freedom in the world must reverence and adore, the United States of America.  Blending its rays with its sister states, long may it continue to shine and may generous Heaven smile upon this consummation of the wishes of the two Republics, now joined in one.”  But Texans would not see the anticipated “smile” from a “generous Heaven.”  Fearing loss of its sparsely settled northern lands, Mexico challenged American expansion and the Mexican War was fought.  Fifteen years later Texans would suffer the WBTS.

But President Polk proved that diplomacy could trump war in America’s effort to expand to the Pacific Northwest.  Great Britain and the United States had been sharing control over the region that would become British Columbia, Washington State and Oregon.  Some had advocated war to secure much of the land above the Columbia River.  But John Calhoun, John Tyler’s Secretary of State, had negotiated a compromise boundary.  Polk agreed and the boundary was set at the 49th parallel.  Peaceful relations with Canada would endure.

Suggestions for Class Discussion

The American population doubled to over 22 million during this 24-year era and available land expanded to the Pacific. Should we praise the Southern Culture for this achievement?