What Was the Cause and Effect of Westward Expansion?

The causes of westward expansion were the purchase of the Louisiana territory from France, the Lewis and Clark expedition, President Thomas Jefferson’s vision of expanding into the available land to create an “empire of liberty” and a growing sense of American “manifest destiny.” The effects included controversies over the slavery issue, which led to the Civil War, the persecution and extermination of Native Americans and the war with Mexico.

The Louisiana Purchase, which took place in 1803, doubled the land area of the United States. The Corps of Discovery expedition led by Lewis and Clark gave the American government and people a glimpse of the lands to the west. Jefferson’s concept of an “empire of liberty” for enterprising, independent people was carried on by succeeding presidents. A journalist named John O’Sullivan came up with the term “manifest destiny” to describe the moral obligation Americans had of spreading their institutions of liberty. This idea was formalized in 1823 with the Monroe Doctrine, which stated that the United States considered any further European colonization in the Western Hemisphere an act of aggression.

Although westward expansion created opportunities for settlers to acquire land, the question arose as to whether slavery would be allowed in the new states. Compromises ensued as Congress attempted to maintain a balance between free states and slave states, but the controversy eventually erupted into the Civil War. Additionally, as settlers spread westward, Native Americans were pushed off their lands and violently suppressed. When negotiations with Mexico for the purchase of parts of Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, California and other territories broke down, the Mexican-American war was fought. In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe that ended the war added an area larger than the Louisiana Purchase to the United States.