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History Essay

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Student is 16 years old / 11th grade


Americans have felt the need to explore and expand since their conception. At the beginning of their nation, the Declaration of Independence stretched all previous ideas about liberty, and after the American Revolution, the Constitution gave rise to a form of government never seen before. As the young republic grew, her people continued to be characterized by an almost reckless abandon and a desire to reach out and touch everything around them. But if expansion was part of the American psyche, it also played a key role in America’s cultural change. American expansion in the nineteenth century transferred the country from its colonial roots to its modern principles.


This expansion began during the Jeffersonian Era. In 1801, when Thomas Jefferson became President, there were sixteen states in the Union. Ohio received statehood in 1803, bringing the total number of states to seventeen. That same year, Jefferson bought the large territory of Louisiana from France for four cents an acre. The Louisiana Purchase almost doubled the size of the United States and made the burgeoning westward journey even more enticing. Thousands of acres west of the Appalachian Mountains were sold to enterprising settlers, and Americans began to spread across their new country.


The War of 1812, which occurred during James Madison’s presidency, is nonetheless considered part of the Jeffersonian Era, and the war was a major cause of expansion in America, more in a psychological than a physical sense. The Treaty of Ghent formally ended the war between America and Great Britain in December 1814. Before word reached America, however, Andrew Jackson soundly beat the British in New Orleans. That victory made American nationalism soar. Even though the contest had been relatively even otherwise, Jackson’s success caused Americans to feel invincible.


The “Era of Good Feelings†followed the war, bathing the country in a feeling of triumph and peace. In the midst of that tranquility, President James Monroe began a policy, known as the Monroe Doctrine, which lasted until the World Wars. The President vowed to keep out of European politics as long as Europeans didn’t interfere in American issues and basically warned Europe to stay away from both the United States and Latin America. This proclamation also heightened American patriotism. The War of 1812, together with the monumental Louisiana Purchase, began the period of American expansion.


Following Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe’s successes, the era of the Jacksonians complicated American politics and ushered in a fierce national pride. Andrew Jackson, the hero of New Orleans, caused the creation of two-party politics after his failed Presidential campaign against John Quincy Adams in 1824. He ran with a magnificently organized Democratic Party in 1828 that helped him to win the election easily. During the next election, all the candidates were chosen at party conventions. Because the Democrats had such superb order, people with other interests were forced to keep up. Therefore, Jackson caused the rise of two-party politics. During his two terms as President, Americans’ belief in their infallibility grew. Symbolized by the phrase “go aheadâ€, the American spirit of self-improvement took shape. This led to numerous reform efforts in the nation, the foremost of which was abolitionism.


Abolitionists appealed to both people’s emotions and to their intellect, demonstrating that slavery was immoral and unproductive to the free market system. In 1840, they formed the Liberty Party, which brought slavery to the forefront of national politics.


The Jacksonian Era also saw the rise of American folklore. American tall tales are very different from European legends, for they were shared with the nation as they occurred instead of centuries later. American heroes, many of whom had a comic appeal, often were still living when their fame began to grow. Backwoodsmen like Davy Crockett appealed to the American masses and became the subjects of a thriving sub-literature business. Reform and national folklore gave American pride an outlet and continued the nation’s march of expansion.


But after Jackson’s changes, the biggest cause of expansion was Manifest Destiny, which forever changed the simplicity of American life. Manifest Destiny was the belief that God had ordained American growth all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The philosophy first bloomed in the annexation of Texas and in the Mexican-American War. In 1836, Texas declared its independence from Mexico. Negotiations for annexation to the United States began quickly and continued until Texas became a state in 1845. The addition of Texas to the United States angered Mexico, but the disputed border between Texas and Mexico caused even larger issues. The United States said that Texas’ territory ended at the Rio Grande River, but Mexicans maintained that the border was the Nueces River, several miles north of the Rio Grande. President James K. Polk, itching for a fight with Mexico, sent troops to Texas. A conflict soon erupted. Two years later, the war ended, and America gained possession of the territory that’s now considered to be the American Southwest. Polk also bluffed his way into possession of the Oregon Territory. Soon settlers were traveling towards the fertile land in Oregon and the gold in California on the treacherous Oregon Trail. Manifest Destiny affected more than just Americans, however. Irish immigrants, fleeing the potato famine in Ireland, began to flood America in the 1840’s. They took many undesirable jobs and bought land in the west, all because of the hope for a better life. Numerous religious movements, such as Transcendentalism and Mormonism, grew out of Manifest Destiny in the 1830’s and 1840’s.


One of the biggest and most controversial issues that gained ground from American expansion was women’s rights. In 1848, a large group of women met in Seneca Falls, New York to draft and sign a Declaration of Sentiments, declaring to the nation that they wanted a voice. The feminist movement rapidly grew from there. All of the changes that complicated American life in the nineteenth century had roots in American idealism and the concept of Manifest Destiny.


Expansion in America, both physical and ideological, forever changed the country from a simple republican society to the complicated nation it is today. Such development started with the Louisiana Purchase and the War of 1812. The Jacksonian Era saw a large leap in the stretching and complication of American life as two-party politics began and reforms swept through the nation. Growing out of both of those eras, Manifest Destiny gave life to the American spirit of ingenuity and invincibility and cemented the country’s departure from simplicity. Americans have always wanted to try new things. That’s part of what makes them great. They have pushed the boundaries since their nation began, and hopefully they will always retain their spirit of adventure.

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It would help to know what the assignment was. Hard to know if he's within the scope of the assignment or casting too big of a net.


The biggest quibble that I would have is that the paragraphs don't always support what I picked out as the thesis: that expansion led to a change from colonial attitudes to modern national policies (and roots to principles might be too vague and seems to my ear to not be parallel). For example, colonial expansion into the Ohio Valley was a cause of the French and Indian War. The Proclamation line of 1763 limited English colonization to the Easter Seaboard (east of the Appalachians), yet there were constant problems with people moving west, beyond the limits of that boundary.


(Similarly, I think two party politics is in evidence far earlier than Jackson. Federalists and Anti-Federalists or Small State vs Large State would be examples.)


If the point of the paper is that the relatively open availability of land fostered attitudes and habits of mind that aren't as common in other countries, then I would focus on that. As written, it seems more like a listing of US expansions than an essay that dwells on the impact of migration and expansion.


The section on American folk heros is an example of demonstrating his thesis that growth produced a unique character. I would go for more of this, because as is it reads to me as a listing of migrations with some claims of related growth, with little specific detail and evidence. For example, how did Mormonism and Trancendentalism grow out of Manifest Destiny?


My feedback would be to try for narrower scope and specific detail.


BTW, the sentences in general are pretty good. That lets me focus on what he's saying rather than how he's saying it.

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Thank you very much. I was having a hard time putting into words why it wasn't flowing.


There wasn't a specific assignment besides to pick a topic from the material that had just been read and write an essay on it. So the assignment actually included the skill of being able to pick a topic.

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Way too big of a "net" with too many examples of the effects of Manifest Destiny/Western Expansion. KISS= Keep it Simple, Sweetie. I would narrow down the topic to a specific person, place, or effect (i.e. Lewis & Clark, Gadsen Purchase, or Ancient trails/Stagecoach Routes vs Railroads). It is a little confusing to read.


P.S. The introductory sentence was very funny!! I do not think they meant it to be though. Oh dear!

Edited by tex-mex
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Way too big of a "net" with too many examples of the effects of Manifest Destiny/Western Expansion. KISS= Keep it Simple, Sweetie. I would narrow down the topic to a specific person, place, or effect (i.e. Lewis & Clark or Transportation). It is a little confusing to read.


Thanks much. It was confusing to me too and these responses have clarified the issue for me.

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