After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, a large amount of land west of the
original 13 states and the Northwest Territory was acquired. The open land,
additional benefits and other existing problems encouraged Americans to
expand westward.The American people began to realize that the future of
the country lay in the development of its own western resources. There were
many reasons that made the people face the grueling and dangerous movement
west, but the primary reason was economy.
“Like the Spanish conquistadors before them, the Americans looked beyond
the Mississippi, they saw an open beckoning. Despite the presence of
hundreds of Indian nations with rich and distinct cultures, who had populated
the land for thousands of years-from the desert of the Southwest and the
grassy prairies of the Great Plains to the high valleys of the Rocky
Mountains and the salty beaches of the Pacific Coast-Americans considered the
west to be an empty wilderness. And in less than fifty years, from the 1803
purchase of Louisiana Territory to the California gold rush of 1849, the
nation would expand and conquer the West” (Herb 3).
The ocean had always controlled New England’s interests and connected it
with the real world. Puritanism was still very strong in the north so the
moral unity of New England was exceptional. Having a very unmixed population
of English origin, New England contrasted very much with the other sections.
All this and the fact that they needed to cross populated states in order to
expand west set this section part from the others (Leuetenburg and Wishy 37).
New England’s population compared to other regions was poor, and the
population growth was even poorer. The trans-Alleghany States by 1820 had a
population of about 2.25 million, while New England had over 1.5 million.
Ten years later, western states had over 3.5 million with the people
northwest of the Ohio River alone numbering 1.5 million.
“In 1820 the total population of New England was about to equal to the
combined population of New York and New Jersey; but its increase between 1820
and 1830 was hardly three hundred thousand, not much over half that of New
York, and less that of gain of Ohio. If Maine, the growing state of the
group, be excluded, the increase of the whole section was less that of the
frontier state of Indiana”(Turner 41)
Fortunately, new manufactures help save New England from becoming an
entirely stationary section (Turner 12). New England’s shipping industry
became very strong because it had control of neutral trade during the
European wars. “Of the exports of the United States in 1820, the statistics
gave to New England about twenty percent, nine-tenths of which were from
Then in a short period of time, the section witnessed a transfer of the
industrial center of gravity from the harbors to the waterfalls, from the
commerce and navigation to manufacturers (Turner 13). “Water power became
the sites of factory towns, and the industrial revolution which, in the time
of the embargo, began to transfer industries from the household to the
factory, was rapidly carried on”(Turner 14). A new class began to develop.
Farmers moved into towns, and their daughters began to work in mills.
Agriculture, though still very important to many New England people,
became a declining interest. “By 1830 New England was importing corn and
flour in large quantities from other sections. The raising of cattle and
sheep increased as grain cultivation declined”(Turner 46). With the cattle
and sheep raising becoming more popular, it encouraged emigration from New
England because it decreased the number of small farms. “By the sale of
their lands to wealthier neighbors, the New England farmers were able to go
west with money to invest”(Turner 15).
The Middle Region, which included New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey,
was a transition zone. It connected the north along with the south and the
east with the west. “Geographically, they (the states) lay on the line of
natural routes between the Atlantic on the one side, and the Ohio and the
Great Lakes on the other”(Turner 10). Compared to New England, this section
was rapidly growing region. By 1830, New York had already equaled the total
population of entire New England combined. Eventually, New York and
Pennsylvania would become the most populous states in the union.
About a decade before 1820, Western New York had showed frontier like
conditions. “The settlers (from New England) felled and burned the forest,
built little towns, and erected mills, and now, with a surplus of
agricultural products, they were suffering from the lack of a market and were
demanding transportation facilities”(Leuehtenburg and Wishy 40). With the
already existing routes being unreliable and expensive, “there was a growing
demand for canals”(Turner 32). The Erie and Champlain canals were the
result of these demands.
De Witt Clinton saw the economic revolution, which the Erie Canal would
bring. He presented to the legislature the reason that made it practical and
the financial plan that made it possible. He showed them the vision of the
Hudson River, “not only reaching to the western confines of the state, but
even, by its connection with Lake Erie, stretching through two thousand miles
of navigable lakes and rivers to the very heart of the interior of the United
States”(Turner 32). To him, the Erie Canal was a political as well as an
“As a bond of union between the Atlantic and western states, it may prevent
the dismemberment of the American Empire. As an organ of communication
between the Hudson, the Mississippi, the St. Lawrence, the great lakes of the
north and west, and their tributary rivers, it will create the greatest
inland trade ever witnessed”(Turner 32-33).
By 1825, the great canal system opened. With the decrease in
transportation charges, it brought, “prosperity and a tide of population into
western New York”(Turner 34). This led to movement west. “villages sprang
up along the whole like of canal; the water-power was utilized for
manufactures”(Turner 35). “The Great Lakes navigation grew steadily, the
Western Reserve increased its population, and the harbor of Cleveland became
a center of trade”(Turner 35).
With all the increased population, real estate value rose. New York
became the metropolis of the north. Values of imports rose. They eventually
became leaders of exports. “The state of New York had by a stroke achieved
economic unity, and its metropolis at once became the leading city of the
country”(Leuehtenburg and Wishy 49).
The southern states, consisting of Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, the
Carolinas, and Georgia. The invention of the cotton gin ultimately led to
the expansion of the people from the coast to go inland. The southern states
also eventually grew to be inferior to the other states, another reason for
the expansion westward.
The invention of the cotton-gin by Eli Whitney in 1793 made the
cultivation of cotton profitable. “The opening of new land in the west after
1812 extend the area available for cotton cultivation”(Westward Expansion and
Regional Differences). Now that cotton cultivation was profitable “it was
only a question of time when the cotton area, no longer limited to the tide
water region, would extend to the interior, carrying slavery with it”(Turner
The invention of the cotton gin came at a very fitting time for the
“Already the inventions of Arkwright, Hargreaves, and Cartwright had worked a
revolution in the textile industries of England, by means of the
spinning-jenny, the power-loom, and the factory system, furnishing machinery
for the manufacture of cotton beyond the world’s supply”(Turner 45).
This demand for cotton pushed all the owners of the cotton plantations west
along with all the slaves (Westward Expansion and Regional Differences). “By
1821 the old South produced one hundred and seventeen million pounds, and
five years later, one hundred and eighty million pounds (cotton)”(Turner 46).
But in the next five years, recently settled southwest was overtaking the
older section. “By 1834 the southwest had distanced the older
section”(Turner 147). “What had occurred was a repeated westward movement:
the cotton-plant first spread from the sea-coast to the uplands, and then, by
the beginning of our period, advanced to the Gulf plains, until the region
achieved supremacy in its production”(Turner 47).
But as much of the people moved west, the southern states began to grow
inferior to the other sections. “The westward migration of its people
checked the growth of the south. It had colonized the new west at the same
time that the middle region had been rapidly growing in the population and
the result was that the proud states of the southern seaboard was to
numerical inferiority”(Turner 57).
“As the movement of capital and population to the interior went on,
wealth was drained from the coast”(Turner 57). As the value of their lands
declined, the people of the south coast naturally sought for an explanation
and remedy to the problem (Turner 61):
“Instead of applying a system of scientific farming and replenishment of the
soil, there was a tendency for the planters who remained to get into debt in
order to add to their possessions the farms which offered for sale by the
movers. Thus there was a flow of wealth towards the west of pay for these
new purchases”(Turner 61).
It was because of the sudden shift of labor from farms to towns that
started the westward movement up north. The herding of cattle and sheep took
place of agriculture. So the owners of small farms sold their farms and
moved west. In the middle region, it was a lack of transportation and market
that brought along the Erie Canal. After its completion, NY and the rest of
the middle region would be connected with the rest of the interior of the
country. The people began to move inland along the canal. The invention of
the cotton gin at a very fitting time made people of the south push west.
With textile being a booming industry, people went west to fin available land
to plant cotton.
So how were these moves based on economics? Why did the farmers of the
north decide to move west? Was farming profitable anymore? Farming out west
could be even more profitable. “When wild lands sold for two dollars an
acre, and indeed, could be occupied by squatters almost without molestation,
it was certain that settlers would seek them instead of paying twenty to
fifty dollars and acre for farms that lay not much farther to the
east-particularly when the western lands were more fertile”(Turner 73). If
they could find someone to buy their land, farmers would be happier to go
west to start a bigger and better farm on more fertile soil.
The middle region moved inward along with the canal. With cities like
Cleveland developing inland, and with help of the canal making everything
more accessible, settlers moved inward. “The struggle of Baltimore, New York
City and Philadelphia for the rising commerce of the interior was potent
factor in the development of the middle region”(Turner 69). With the lands
being practically free in this vast area, not only did it attract the
settler, but it also furnished the opportunity for all men to hew out their
own careers (Turner 68). The open land gave people a chance to start over.
“The wilderness opened a gate to escape the poor, the discontented and the
What was the reason behind the movement west of the South? The expansion
of the south was based on the strong demand for cotton. “the Industrial
Revolution, which made textile manufacturing a large-scale operation, castly
increased the demand for raw cotton”(Westward Expansion and Regional
Differences). Since the invention of the cotton gin made the cultivation of
cotton profitable, it was only a question of finding the land to cultivate
the cotton. All the people had to do was look westward.
What made the people move west? Economics, land, and opportunity to
profit were primary factors. With three thousand miles of free and available
land, and the opportunity to start a new and better life, and make more money
doing it, people packed their bags and moved in.
Herb, Angela M. Beyond the Mississippi: Early Westward Expansion of the
United States. New York: Lodestar Books, 1996.
Leuehtenburg, William E., and Bernard Wishy, eds Fronteir and Section.
Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1961.
Turner, Fredrick Jackson. The Frontier in American History. New York: Holt,
Tinehart, and Winston Inc., 1962
Turner, Fredrick Jackson. Rise of the New West. New york: Harper and
Brothers Publishers, 1966.
Turner, Fredrick Jackson. The United States 1830-1850. New York: W.W.
Norton ; Company Inc., 1965.
“Westward Expansion and Regional Differences.” An Outline of American
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