Throughout American history, land, expansion, and the conquering of new territories has played an integral role in the development of economics, politics, and even led to bloody conflicts. When America first gained their independence on July 4, 1776, the nation consisted of only the 13 states that had recently separated themselves from Great Britain. Since then America has grown to 50 states, however this expansion came at a cost. American expansion had huge impacts on the development, and ultimate abolition of slavery, and changed other major parts of American culture in the process.
Beginning as early as the Louisiana Purchase in 1806, issues over slavery and expansion seemed to go hand in hand up until slavery was officially abolished by the adoption of the 13th amendment on December 18, 1865. The Louisiana Purchase was the acquisition of the Louisiana territory by the United States from France in 1803. The U. S. paid a total of 15 million dollars for this acquisition, which included land from fifteen present U. S. states and two Canadian provinces.
In order to execute this purchase, President Thomas Jefferson went against his previously static ideals regarding federal power, which would ultimately alter the face and character of the new nation dramatically. Additionally, this purchase would cause major conflicts over slavery within the new territories. These conflicts would continue up until The Missouri Compromise of 1820, which would temporarily solve these issues. On top of highlighting issues regarding slavery, this expansion would also ultimately contribute to the economic crisis of 1819, which was the first major economic downfall in Americas history.
The Missouri Compromise was passed in 1820 admitting Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state. This law also prohibited slavery in the Louisiana Territory, with the exception of Missouri, which meant that there were 12 free states and 12 slave states. This compromise kept the balance of power equal, even though this resolution was undoubtedly short-sighted. While attempting to solve the issues regarding slave states and free states, America began to face severe economic issues as well.
During the Panic of 1819, mortgages were foreclosed, falling prices impaired agriculture and manufacturing, and prosperity would not return until 1824. Although the expansion from The Louisiana Purchase was not the main cause of this economic crisis, having so much more territory to govern and fund undoubtedly presented issues that contributed greatly. This economic crisis would actually result in major political changes as well, that would alter the nations financial stability and structure for many decades to come.
Over two decades after the end of The Panic of 1819, America would face even more issues as a result of increasing territorial expansion. When the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo officially ended the Mexican-American War in 1848, Mexico was forced to give up significant amounts of territory in places such as New Mexico, California, Colorado, and Utah. America took over these territories in exchange for 15 million dollars, which was obviously beneficial to the nation, however this expansion resulted in more issues over how to govern the new land.
Debates over whether or not these newly acquired territories would be considered slave states or free states caused extremely heightened tensions between the North and South. These debates would stretch out for 2 years until congress implemented the compromise of 1850, which intended to help decide which new territories would and would not accommodate slavery. Led by Stephen A. Douglas, this compromise allowed California to be a free state, and offered popular sovereignty to New Mexico and Utah, which essentially allowed residents to vote on whether or not they would allow slavery.
This compromise also ended the slave trade in Washington D. C. and established the Fugitive Slave Act, which ultimately forced the federal government to start actively trying to catch runaway slaves. This act was viewed as a victory for the South, which infuriated The North and heightened tensions even more. Ultimately, America’s extensive expansion would put such a severe strain on relations between the North and the South that the civil war became inevitable.
When Abraham Lincoln signed The Emancipation Proclamation on June 1, 1863, he intended to emancipate all slaves of the southern states, which no longer belonged to The Union. This order applied only to slaves in Confederate-held lands however, which essentially made this Proclamation a “hollow decree”. Lincoln was conscious of what he was doing however, and he knew that once word of The Emancipation Proclamation spread, it would motivate slave rebellions even more, and encourage slaves to escape and fight for their freedom. Eventually the inevitable took place, and The Civil War began.
The North were victorious, which united America as one nation and ended the institution of slavery that had divided the country from its beginning. This victory came at a severe cost however, with 625,000 lives lost, and huge amounts of money spent to fund both sides. Although it was based on the issue of slavery, The Civil War was actually ignited by the extreme expansion of America and the issues that arose as a result of it. Had no expansion taken place, it would have been possible for the North and the South to continue on as separate territories with separate laws regarding slavery.
Ultimately it is very clear, that although expansion is beneficial for obvious reasons, there are extensive amounts of issues and challenges that come along with it. Americas expansion during the 1800’s led to political and financial changes, economic adaptations, and even a war that took 650,000 American lives. Had America not expanded beyond their original borders, we could still be living in a nation divided by slavery. Instead, we were able to overcome the challenges we faced, come together as one nation, and prosper in a country that is now the powerhouse of the world.