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Seeing the fact that much of the trans-Mississippi West laid outside U.S. boundaries, Americans of the mid 1800s were realizing that the future of the lands west resided with the United States. Manifest destiny served as a justification for expansion by conveying the popular belief that the Unites States had a divine task to extend its power and civilization across the width of North America. Expansionists wanted to see the U.S. extend westward and southward and although the U.S. failed in claiming Cuba and Nicaragua, overall, America succeeded in fulfilling its manifest destiny through the annexation of Texas and through the gain of lands in Oregon and California.
U.S. interest in pushing its borders south into Texas and west into Oregon and California was largely influenced by the migration of American pioneers in the 1820s and 1830s.
After Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1823, the new country looked to attract settlers to farm its thinly populated northern province of Texas. Settlers from America were welcome and in fact they greatly outnumbered Mexicans in Texas three to one. In 1829, Mexico outlawed slavery and required all immigrants to convert to Roman Catholicism but many settlers refused to obey these laws. Because of American refusal, Mexico closed its borders to any additional American immigrants but this proved unsuccessful as thousands of Americans continued to pour in. The friction intensified when in 1834, General Antonio López de Santa Anna made himself the dictator of Mexico and attempted to enforce Mexico’s laws in Texas. He brought an army to attack a band of American settlers led by Sam Houston. Eventually Sam Houston’s army captured Santa Anna, forcing him to sign a treaty that recognized Mexican independence. Houston then applied for Texas to be annexed in 1836 but this wasn’t accomplished until 1845 when President John Tyler pushed for a joint resolution on the topic. The annexation of Texas quickly led to trouble with Mexico, which then led to the Mexican War. Mexico severed its diplomatic ties with the U.S. but President James Polk wanted to take advantage of a weak Mexico by requesting the movement of the Texas boundary 150 miles south to Rio Grande, and he was also interested in buying California from Mexico. When Mexico refused his terms, Polk ordered General Zachary Taylor’s army to continue on to the Rio Grande. This led to a small skirmish between Mexican and American troops, which resulted in 16 American casualties. This incident served as a reason to justify a war message that Polk then sent to Congress declaring war on Mexico. U.S. entry into a war with Mexico provoked controversy from start to finish. In the first year of the war (1846) Congressman David Wilmot proposed a bill that forbade slavery in any of the new territories acquired from Mexico. The Wilmot Proviso passed the House twice but was defeated in the Senate. The war spanned from the spring of 1846 to the fall of 1847 when the Americans captured Mexico City, winning the war. Mexico agreed to the original U.S. terms in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848). The border of Texas was extended and California and New Mexico were both sold to the U.S. for a sum of $15 million.
In the west Britain and America disputed over Oregon, a vast territory on the Pacific Coast that originally stretched as far north as the Alaskan border. Britain based its claim for the land on the Hudson fur Company’s profitable fur trade with the American Indians of the Pacific Northwest. The United States based its claim on the grounds of how and American by the name of Captain Robert Gray discovered the Columbia River, the overland expedition to the Pacific Coast by Lewis and Clark, and the fur trading post and fort in Astoria, Oregon, established by an American named John Jacob Astor. In the end Britain and American split Oregon territory in 1846, American getting the half south of the 49th parallel. President Polk made the decision to compromise with Britain so the U.S. wouldn’t have to fight the British and Mexico at the same time.
Even though overall America successfully fulfilled its manifest destiny they did fail to acquire lands in Cuba and Nicaragua.
Many southerners were dissatisfied with the territorial gains for the Mexican War and they wished to acquire new territories in Latin America. President Polk offered to purchase Cuba from Spain for $100 million, but Spain refused and when southern adventures tried to take the island by force Spain easily immobilized and destroyed the expeditions. And then years later when he was elected president, Franklin Pierce, dispatched American diplomats to Spain to secretly negotiate buying Cuba from Spain. The Ostend Manifesto that was the diplomats drew up was leaked to the press in the U.S. and provoked an angry reaction from antislavery members of Congress, forcing Pierce to drop the negotiation. Even though he failed to acquire Cuba, Pierce succeeded in adding a strip of land to the American Southwest in 1853. Known as the Gadsden Purchase, the U.S. gained southern sections of present-day New Mexico and Arizona from Mexico for $10 million.
William Walker was an example of an expansionist who tried to conquer new lands with or without the support of the U.S. government. Leading a force of mostly southerners with the goal of developing a proslavery Central American empire, Walker and his band took over Nicaragua in 1855. His rein came to an abrupt end however, when a coalition of Central American invaded and defeated Walker in 1857.
In conclusion, even though America failed to gain the Central American territories of Cuba and Nicaragua, overall, the U.S. succeeded in fulfilling its manifest destiny through the annexation of Texas and through the gain of lands in Oregon and California. The territorial expansion of the United States borders increased tensions between the North and the South regarding whether or not it was expansionism or a ploy to spread slavery to the west. These tensions remain until the American Civil War that occurs in the 1860s.
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