America: Expansionary Politics to 1877

In the class to this point we have seen the evolution of America: from the first contact of European natives, to the explosion of Civil War and reconstruction. Underlying this narrative, there are many themes which we can see when we examine the underlying story. I think perhaps the most cogent theme to examine is that of expansion. Expansion, of control over lands, of political hegemony, and of economic power underlies the story of America at this point in time. The beginning brought the Europeans, in their hunger for land, gold, and other riches to expand throughout the Americas, driving out and dominating Native populations. This tradition of expansion was then continued by the newly sovereign United States in the concept of manifest destiny, as the expansion the United States into the western frontier. Further, it was a question of expansion that was the underlying issue that set off Civil War itself. As AJBEANE¬†noted, one of the drivers of the compromises that preceded the civil war was whether the institution of slavery should be allowed to expand. This dichotomy between containment and expansion drove the divide between North and South as each feared that if it were not to have it play out as it wished, it would lead to an expansion of the other’s political power. The drive to expand, in political power, in national land, in economic clout drove many men’s actions as the United States grew out of the seeds of European conquest, it seemed necessary that the nation must expand. This expansionary mindset perhaps drove the frontier mindset as well, as through the view of expansion, there are not fixed borders, but rather fluid boundaries which were merely frontiers to be explored and conquered.