The Expansion Of The USA

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The Expansion Of The USA

Throughout the 19th century the USA expanded westwards as pioneers tamed new lands that were eventually admitted to the Union as fully-fledged states. This expansion led to conflicts between homesteaders (who were granted free land under the 1862 Homestead Act), cattlemen (who claimed the right to graze their stock freely on the open range) and the Indians (who had been there long before either of the others, depended on the free-ranging wild buffalo and who died or were forced into reservations).

Wagon Train
The Expansion Of The USA

The earliest westward settlers crossed the country in wagon trains, but the completion of the first transcontinental railway line in 1869 a great surge of growth in the west, and between 1870 and l900 the country's population almost doubled to 76 million. Founded on the unalienable principle that 'All men are created equal' the United States has prided itself in offering asylum to émigrés for more than two centuries.

At the entrance to New York harbor stands France's tribute to America, the torch bearing Statue of Liberty, on whose base are inscribed the words of Emma Lazarus, a wealthy young New Yorker who, horrified at Russian oppression of the Jews, became an ardent exponent of the American Dream: 'Give me your tired, your poor/Your masses yearning to breathe free... I lift my lamp beside the golden door.' The words summarized the hope that brought millions of European immigrants to America in the decades around the turn of the century.

With no money to travel further, many of the newcomers stayed in the east, but by no means all. CLEVELAND in OHIO has more people of Hungarian descent than any city outside Budapest, and Chicago almost as many people with Polish names as Warsaw. Many immigrants, Irish and Italian especially, settled in Boston. Southwest of New York, lie the middle-Atlantic states - New Jersey, PENNSYLVANIA, MARYLAND, DELAWARE and The District of Colombia. The last of these, which contains WASHINGTON DC, is not actually a state at all, but a 'territory' carved out of neighboring states in the 1790s to provide a site for the nation's capital.

South and west of the capital lie the former slave-owning states that were the backbone of the breakaway Confederacy during the Civil War of 1861-5 - MISSISSIPPI, Louisiana, ALABAMA, Florida, GEORGIA, NORTH and SOUTH CAROLINA and Virginia. The western 40 counties of Virginia, a land of small farmers who had no interest in keeping slaves, voted against secession from the Union and became the new state of WEST VIRGINIA in 1861.

The secession and the Civil War that followed were not based primarily upon the issue of slavery, but upon States' Rights - the doctrine that states may control their own destinies regardless of federal consent. In this case, the slave-owning states refused to accept the federal curb on the expansion of slavery into the new western territories, and seceded from the Union. The federal states regarded this move as unconstitutional and rebellious, and so went to war. The conflict was one of the bloodiest in history, leaving half a million men dead - one in six of those taking part.

Next: Democracy In The USA

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