From Coast to Coast: The Expansion of the United States
The Northwest Territory (1785 to 1787)
The original 13 colonies stretched from Maine to Georgia. This was a vast territory full of natural resources, land, and economic opportunity. As the colonies grew throughout the 18th century the vast natural resources of the eastern seaboard were not enough to satiate the appetite of the colonists. The colonists sought to expand beyond the Appalachain Mountains and into the Ohio River Valley. However, the Proclamation of 1763 by the British government limited the expansion of the colonists beyond the Appalachain mountains. The colonists were infuriated by the Proclamation. They viewed it as a limit on their rights as British citizens to seek economic opportunity and prosperity. This conflict would lead to the French & Indian Wars. The French sought to maintain their control of the Ohio River Valley. At the conclusion of the French & Indian Wars the colonists finally gained access to this valuable land and all of its natural resources. One of the first actions,
and perhaps the most signficant action of the new government under the Articles of Confederation, was the creation of Northwest Ordinance of 1785.
Map of the Land Ordiance of 1785
The Land Ordinance of 1785 established the procedures for admitting new states into the Union. This process would be implemented numerous times over the next 175 years as the territory of the United States of America continued to grow. The expansionist tendencies of the American people have always been present. The same values and beliefs that motivated the Age of Exploration spurred forward the growth of the young nation. In 1803 the United States of America nearly doubled its size through the Louisiana Purchase. The leader of France, Napoleon Bonaparte, needed money to finance his European Empire and wars. Thus, he arranged the sale of the Louisiana territory to the United States of America for $15 million. The borders of the country now
extened from the Atlantic Coast to the beyond the Rocky Mountains. This territory was full of natural resources and economic opportunity. At this point President Jefferson decided to launch the most famous military expedition in the history of the United States - the Lewis & Clark Expedition. In order to maximize the potentional of this new territory (and possibly find the Northwest Passage) the expedition needed to map and catalog its vast resources. The west was open to trade, travel and exploration. America was on its path to completing its "Manifest Destiny".
Yet, the addition of this new territory would prove to be hazardous to the health of the Union. The issue of slavery would soon divide the country. Since the Constitutional Covnention of 1787 the issue of slavery threatened to dissolve the Union. The issue was quite simple: the South needed to protect the insitution of slavery to maintain its economic stability and there were growing forces in the North (abolitionists) that saw slavery as a moral detriment to the health of the United States. In order to keep the peace between the two factions a balance was needed in Congress between the "free" and "slave" states. As the new territory of the country became settled (by white Europeans) the issue of statehood was soon to arrive. A
number of compromises were created between 1800 and 1860 in an attempt to preserve the Union. The most of these early compromises was the Compromise of 1820, also known as the Missouri Compromise.
Map of the Missouri Compromise of 1820
The compromise stated that Illinois would be admitted as a "free state" and Missouri as a "slave" state. The key provision to the Compromise was that of dividing the rest of the territory in the western portion of the United States: any new state that was below the 36º30º line would become a "slave" state and any new state above that line would become a "free" state. This dispute was not settled, and eventually it would lead to Civil War.