Westward Expansion - Role of the Federal Government Essay

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  • Created by: Rosie
  • Created on: 13-04-12 11:54

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Assess how successfully the federal government managed to resolve the problems posed by westward expansion. 

The Federal Government were very successful in resolving problems posed by the expansion of the West, especially in organising entry procedures of new states, 

law and order, assisting settlement, communications, and preservation. However, the federal government, though successful in removing the threat of Native Americans, did so in a way that removed an entire culture from the West. 

Once the acquisition of the West between 1803 and 1848 had taken place, the Federal Government realised that they had to determine a state entry system into the Union. In 1787 they agreed on a law called the Northwest Ordinance. The Northwest Ordinance was a very successful law of Federal government as it established a government for the Northwest Territory, outlined the process for admitting a new state to the Union, and guaranteed that newly created states would be equal to the original thirteen states; it solved many problems within one law. Considered one of the most important legislative acts of the Federal Government, the Northwest Ordinance also protected civil liberties and outlawed slavery in the new territories. Up until this point there had been a rule of parity in which there was a balance between the number of slave (mainly southern) states and the number of free (mainly northern) states. Those in the north, and the Federal Government, were by this time keen to see slavery abolished and wanted to use this new land as a way to do this. The Federal Government decided that the new states of the West were to be free states, so this became an entry requirement. However, once they entered statehood, they could change this and so the tactic was not entirely effective. Other requirements included a specific minimum population of voters, their own territorial governor and judges etc. 

Once the Federal Government had established this system and new states were being entered into the Union rather quickly, they then had the problem of how to help settlers in these states and territories beyond the Mississippi. The new settlers who had not made their fortune from the gold rush, especially in California where settlement had been so rapid, found it very difficult to earn a living on the plains. The Federal Government wanted to encourage more people to settle in the West, especially non-slave holders, and help those original “forty niners” in their settlement. 

In 1862 The Homestead Act was introduced: it opened up the West to thousands of settlers. It allowed 160 acres of land to be given to any homesteader who was the head of a family, a minimum age of 21 years, and a US citizen, but in having been given this land extremely cheaply, the homesteader was required to live on the land for five years and make improvements to it. This was a very appealing deal to many settlers and many took the opportunity to start farms. It was


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