When you think of the American frontier what first comes to mind is the image of a cowboy in riding boots and a whip atop his neighing horse. The proclaimed image of the ultimate American macho man, a man who dares to seek the thrills and adventures of life. The man whose ambitions energize his quest for wealth and opportunity unhindered by his fears and inhibitions. It is this image that the literature and folklore at the time presented as extremely dangerous and wildly adventurous.
The frontier was the region west of the European - American settlements in the late 18TH and early 19TH century and comprised of the land away from the first colonies on the Eastern coast. The majority of the land to the west of the Mississippi river stretching past the rocky mountains was unclaimed and sparsely populated with densities of up to two people per square(1). The initial inhabitants of these lands were the Spanish, who occupied most of New Mexico. The Dakotas and Oklahoma were unclaimed territories with large tracts of land virtually uncultivated.California was the cooking pot of multiple cultures with British, Spanish and even Chinese peoples.Its area of San Antonio was by all means a metropolitan area.
There is a clear deduction that the growth and urbanization of the American Frontier was a result of encouraging land distribution policies, a quick and effective means of transport for labor and goods and also the pioneering spirit that fuelled by the urge to venture into unknown territory and claim what one desires-Manifest Destiny.
The belief that it was a vast land of great potential is what built the frontier into an attractive escapade that got people rushing to claim their share of the prize. Farmers,miners, prospectors, ranchers, former soldiers and builders all alike traveled to the new lands with great zeal all eager to earn their stake.This blended cocktail of different heritages and cultures is what gave the American frontier society with a very diverse touch.
My argument is that such a diverse population with different roles, experiences, origins and intentions spurred innovative and courageous decisions that reflected in the development of the American frontier as the new business and commercial hub.The resultant growth process that was so rapid and expansive and soon even rivaled the traditional Eastern American territories in both trade and commerce. The West developed into the cutting edge go to place for new and untested methodstechnologies and ideas. Which was better accepted than the traditional and conventional ways of thinking in the other parts of the United States and the world?
Marietta in Ohio was the first territory that the American settlers first chose to settle in the Northwest. Most of the land acquisition was through three principal methods:
1.ConquestThe first was war whereby the native Indian tribes were fought and defeated in battle hence surrendering to the victor the spoils of triumph that were their ancestral lands. Such battles included The Battle of the Thames where William Henry Morrison defeated the native Indian tribal chief Tecumseh hence dissolving the coalition of native tribes in 1813.(2)
Another decisive battle was the battle of Horse Shoe Bend in Alabama which resulted in the cessation of the native Indian threat to American land expansion.
Treaties with interested parties were also enacted to protect American interests in the vast lands of the frontier and the Pacific coast. Of key interest was the British-Indian land alliance that sought to create a mid-western native Indian state.The proposal was muted by the treaty of Ghent negotiated in 1814 with the British by John Quincy Adams, HenryClay and Albert Gallatin.
3.PurchasesPurchases were another option that the American Government used to acquire land from the populations already settled in the interested regions.Key of which was the Louisiana purchase where the United States government purchased 530 000 acres of territory from the French government at a rough cost of about 42 cents per acre.(3)The French transferred the authority to the United States in 1803.Effectively doubling the land area under American control creating vast acreage where people would farm vastly arable land.
Government policy on land was conservative in that the Democrats and the Republicans favored a system whereby the lands to the West of the Frontier would be sold at affordable prices which would be sufficient enough to clear existing national debt.
They also favored the enactment of clear legal titles that would simplify ownership and make it easy to acquire and transfer legal ownership of the land. However, this could not hold as by the 1830's there was a large influx of settlers most of whom had bought the land from previous settlers but did not have legal title deeds of ownership.
They also embarked on creating a vibrant western economic sphere that would be well linked to their Eastern industries and markets hence creating both a diversity and expanding the commercial reaches of the young nation.
The key to this policies was the Free Soil movement whose intention was the advocacy for the free distribution of land to adult individualsregardless of the age, gender or race. The policy received Republican backing when it was enacted into law 1862.The consequence of this legislation was that each adult would be allocated up to 160 acres of land.(4)
Federal distribution policy to private individuals was guided by a legislation known as the Land Ordinance of 1785 which stipulated that upon scouting of a parcel of land, the government would first send expeditions to find out about Indian ownership of the lands then send negotiators who would make agreements and treaties with the natives.
The land once taken up by the Government would be divided into squaresof 6 miles which would then be divided into one mile blocks then into 160 acre blocks. All unclaimed land would be sold at the lands office at a price of $1.25 for an acre.(5)
Public auctions would be held to purchase townships that were developed from the lots of the subdivided land. Special consideration was given to some groups including the veterans from war who would purchase cheaper slots of land through the use of land scripts that were sold and bought as commodities at a price lower than the standard $ 1.25 per acre fom the land office.
This led to the development of groups that exploited this niche and used such groups to purchase large tracts and sell them at profitable margins. This can be attributed to the cutthroat business acumen of the settlers who ventured into the frontier regions. The farmers in a bid to protect their land from purchase at cheap rates formed claims clubs through which they could trade among themselves to control the prices of their land and also ensure that they can purchase and acquire significantly larger parcels than the standard 160 acres stipulated in the Land Ordinance.
Congress Bills that transformed land ownership
During the year 1862 Congress passed three key legislations that revolutionized the nature of land ownership in the frontiers. The bills were; The Homestead Act, The Pacific Railways Act, and theMorrill Act.
The Homestead Act
This act granted a 160-acre land parcel to anyone who improved the portion of land for five years regardless of whether they were a man or a woman, citizen or immigrants including squatters. Thus the influx of people into the Plains. Many received free land portions.
The Pacific Railway Act
This act granted the railway companies government land to lay their tracks and also distribute the land around the railroads to the homesteaders for free. However, due to the realization of how immensely profitable the land around the railway tracks was, the government cut individual ownership to 80 acres in the spirit of equity.
To spur population surge around the railway lines, a couple of measures was put in place one of which was the requirement that the railway lines should mortgage or sell the adjacent land parcels within five years. Outside this stipulated time, the land would be free for purchase by anyone who was interested.
Another tactic was Boosterism whereby the railway company would offer incentives to anyone willing to settle along their lines. Travel packages and credit were offered at low rates for those whowould settle on its lands. The result was immigration of bold American and European families of Scandinavian descent.(6)
This was an educational legislation that allowed states to offer land grants to agricultural institutions such as colleges and universities. Its intentions were to spur and promote agricultural innovations and techniques that would make farming a sustainable venture with attractive profit margins.
It is evident that all these acts were enacted with two key intentions that are fundamental to the growth of agriculture in the frontier lands.The first is to attract as many people as possible to the farmlands especially along the railway lines. Hence, this would spur the growth of both commerce and urbanization due to the development of new markets and commercial centers at which transcontinental trade would be carried out using goods passed via the railway line.
The second reason was to advance agricultural technologies through learning and research. This was in line with the Industrial Revolution, which emphasized on efficient practices that maximize and utilize available resources. The success of this initiative was achieved since it led to discovery and adaptation of agricultural practices that utilized land space and improved the quantity and quality of farmproduce. The surplus produces traded in markets both near and far at handsome profits for the farmers.
It was necessary to develop a transport artery that would link the frontier lands to the west with the initial settlements and states to the east. Normal sea voyages would take between 6-10 months and would be very costly. It was, therefore, necessary to develop a proper railway network. Nonetheless,regional interests lead to heated congressional debates on where the proposed line should pass with suggestions of Northern, Southern and Central routes.
In the year 1855 the Corps of Topographical Engineers tabled a report that analyzed the route options and provided much needed scientific knowledge about the railway building process. This twelve-page document would form the basis for considerations on the best route.(7)
Nonetheless, the plan to build the railroads soon experienced challenges in 1861 due to the secessionist civil warwith the Confederate States and the financial crunch as a result of the monetary burdens of the war on the Federal Treasury. It was decided that the funding for the railwaylines would come from Europe which was experiencing a better financial period buoyed by the gains of the Industrial Revolution.
American firms would do the construction in an attempt to boost local industry and spur the mushrooming of American construction companies. The manual labor was carried out by both Chinese and Irish immigrants who were providing cheap wage rates. The immigration lead to the settling of the builders in large numbers along the railway routes hence influencing the cultural and social discourse of such places. A perfect example of this scenario is California, which experienced a lot of Chinese influence after the development of Chinese settlements.
Congress approved construction of both the Central and the Union Pacific lines after Theodore Judah( then chief engineer of Central Pacific) carried out intense lobbying in 1862.The construction process took seven years under the management of four wealthy San Francisco businessmen Leland Stanford, Collins Huntington, Mark Hopkins and Charles Cro...
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