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What drove the Western Expansion in the United States?

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Quick Answer

The United States Western expansion during the 1800s was fueled by the attractive opportunities in the western territories for agricultural and economic development, land ownership and settlement and a strongly held belief in the concept of Manifest Destiny. The Western Expansion was also viewed by many as a way to escape from the increasingly industrialized and urbanized Eastern United States, and a means of returning to an idealized agrarian culture. Many industrious settlers heading west viewed the land as more than a means of self-sufficiency, and formulated plans to generate a significant degree of profit from the western territories.

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Full Answer

Manifest Destiny was a driving force behind the U.S. Western Expansion, but it was interpreted differently by various factions of the country's population and leadership. To some, it exemplified an opportunity for the new nation to bring the newly established principles of liberty and republicanism to what were viewed as the uncivilized lands in the west. Others, such as Abraham Lincoln, viewed Manifest Destiny as an undesirable rationalization for American imperialism.

The concept of American exceptionalism, combined with a sense of national romanticism, led many to believe that expanding the nation to the Pacific coast was a divine mission. Advocates of territorial expansion were citing "Divine Providence," and the cause was fervently championed by influential writers, such as the New York Morning News columnist, John L. O'Sullivan.

Some politicians viewed the Western Expansion as a solution to the problem of a growing and potentially troublesome landless class. By acting in the manner of a land broker in the Western Territories, the U.S. government could parcel out land to those hoping to emigrate west and become self-sufficient farmers. It was believed that this would lessen the chances of further uprisings of discontent such as Shays' Rebellion.

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