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Between the early 1830s and the mid 1850s, a new political party called the “Whigs” ran in opposition against the Democrat party of Andrew Jackson. They believed in “congressional supremacy” instead of “presidential supremacy”. “Whig” was a term used to describe someone who was opposed to “tyranny” a word that many Whigs had used to describe Andrew Jackson. The Whigs were pro-business, favored “modernization” of the nation, and believed that public education was necessary for the good of the country.
In the election of 1836, Andrew Jackson followed tradition, and did not run again. The Democrats chose his vice president, Martin Van Buren, to run. The Whigs were regionally divided, and lost, making Martin Van Buren our 8th president.
Tired of losing to the Democrats, the Whigs worked hard to win the presidential election of 1840. The country had been going through an economic depression, and many people blamed President Van Buren for what was happening. Some people even referred to him as Martin “Van Ruin”. The Whigs chose William Henry Harrison, “Old Tippecanoe”, who had defeated Native Americans in battle years before.
Many Democrats made fun of William Henry Harrison, and said he was “too old and senile” to be president.
John Tyler our 10th president, became the first vice president to assume office on the death of a president.
“Destiny”– Something that is going to happen.Manifest Destiny
As the 1840s progressed many people began to believe in an idea called “Manifest Destiny”. It was the belief that the United States was destined to stretch all the way to the Pacific Ocean or “From Sea to Shining Sea”.
“The world has to accept the idea of…the continent of North America as our proper dominion. From the time we became an independent nation, it was as much a law of nature that this would become our claim as that the Mississippi should flow to the sea.”
By the 1830s and 1840s, many Americans began looking toward New Mexico and California with great interest.
Many Americans were interested in obtaining territory that would get the nation closer to the Pacific Ocean…
The entire Southwest once belonged to Mexico. This huge territory included all, or parts of the following modern-day states: Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. The capital was Santa Fe.
Much of the American Southwest is hot and dry. There are also desert and mountainous areas as well. Before the Spanish came, some Native Americans had success with irrigation, while others hunted. The Spanish settled part of the area, and built Santa Fe, which is located in the current state of New Mexico. It grew into a busy trading town, but the Spanish refused to let Americans settle in New Mexico.
The Mexicans were eager to trade and buy their goods. Other Americans followed.
By the 1840’s, Mexico was in control of California. The Spanish had actually been there 100 years before the English had set up their colonies along the Atlantic Coast. California has large mountain ranges and fertile valleys to raise crops. Northern California receives a lot of rain, while Southern California is much drier. For most of the year, and in most parts, California enjoys mild temperatures.
Spanish priests and soldiers built a series of missions and settlements up and down the coast of California. The natives of the region put up little resistance as the Spanish forced them to work for the missions, and to learn more about the Catholic faith. At times life was rough for them, and many died from overwork, and disease. Conditions even worsened when Mexico got its independence from Spain. Ranchers often cruelly mistreated the Indians. Their population dropped to just about 100,000 by 1850.
By the mid 1840’s, less than 1,000 Americans were in California. However, more and more Americans felt it was their duty to spread our ideas of government and our culture to all types of people. At the time, they believed it was our right and our duty to spread all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Newspapers even started to spread the idea of “Manifest Destiny”.
Americans chose the expansionist James K. Polk, who became our 11th president.
After winning the election, President Polk had to act on his promise to extend the United States from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Happily, the issue over Oregon was settled peacefully, but problems over Texas led to a bloody war with Mexico.
The largest single group of settlers to move into Mexican territory, were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—given the nickname “Mormons”. The church attracted many followers, but not without some controversy.
The Mormon city of Nauvoo grew rapidly, and at one time rivaled Chicago as the biggest city in the state of Illinois.
The Mormons were again kicked out of a place they had settled, when they began to leave Nauvoo in the winter of 1846.
The Mormons were forced out of Nauvoo while it was still winter in 1846. They faced a large challenge in moving 15,000 people across the continent. Many of them camped the next winter along the Missouri River in Nebraska. In 1847, the Mormons entered the Salt Lake Valley. (Again, it is important to note that in the summer of 1847, the Salt Lake Valley was still claimed by Mexico.) In the ensuing years, thousands of Mormon pioneers came to Salt Lake City in covered wagons and in handcarts. Salt Lake City became a major rest stop and trading center for many people moving throughout the west.
Mexicans had refused an offer to buy New Mexico and California for $30 million. Mexico did not want to lose more territory.
There was also a debate about which river was Texas’s western border.Anger in Mexico
Mexico claimed the border with Texas was the Nueces River. Texans argued that the river border was the Rio Grande.