It can be seen that the various Presidents of the United States contributed to expansion between 1815 and 1917, this essay will explore to extent to which they contributed to expansion. President James Monroe can be seen as a President who didn’t contribute greatly to the expansion of the USA between 1815 and 1917. An example of how Monroe took a more backseat role in expansion is his actions in Florida’s first Seminole War in 1918. Here the USA was trying to unite escaped slaves living in the Seminole bands with their owners and it was at this point Monroe sent in General Andrew Jackson to retrieve them.
However Jackson overstepped his mark and ended up pressuring Spain into selling Florida to the USA. The selling of Florida to American meant that the USA now had more land for exploitation and settlements and had reduced Spanish influence on a more global scale. It can be seen that it was the character of Andrew Jackson, not the role of President Monroe that led to the USA gaining more land. The actions of Jackson sparked a bitter debate within the government; during all this Monroe did little if anything to subdue the conflict.
Historian Joe Knetsch says that Monroe ‘remained relatively quiet, allowing a long and acrimonious debate to play out before taking a vacation. ’This suggests that Monroe didn’t see this as very important. There were other factors that led to the USA gaining Florida such as luck. The USA had been interested in the Seminole bands for some time but never had an opportunity to act on it, the issue of the escaped slaves spurred America into action and helped them gain land they had already wanted. Another factor is the strength of the USA compared to Spain.
The USA had a stronger navy and more powerful army than Spain and therefore it was easier to defeat them. However I believe that the key factor in the annexation of Florida to the USA was the character of Andrew Jackson and not President Monroe, this view is supported by historian Milton Meltzer who says ‘without a declaration of war upon Spain, an American General (Jackson) had captured Spanish forts and ousted their commanders’. President Andrew Jackson was a key figure in Indian Removal. Jackson aggressively pursued plans to move the Indian tribes living in the east of the Mississippi river to the west.
Contrary to Jefferson’s idea that the Native American’s could be integrated into American society, Jackson believed that they could not be civilised. During his election, his pro-removal opinions were well known, and so it can be seen that Indian Removal was inevitable, this is supported by Grant Foreman who says ‘Logically one of the first important measures to be urged by Jackson after his election was what became known as the Indian Removal Bill’. This shows that it was Jackson’s opinion that led to Indian Removal. Despite widespread opposition, by 1837 the Jackson administration had removed 46,00 Native Americans from their homes.
This opened up 25 million acres of land for white settlement, slavery and access to the gold that lay in the Native’s land. The removal of the Native Americans also led to the expansion of the Transcontinental Railroad making travel and trade much faster. As a whole the Indian Removal Act benefited the USA economically and territorially as white settlers now had more land to develop and prosper from and could begin to mine and sell gold. Therefore, President Jackson was important in the expansion of the USA because his Removal Act led to gains in land and resources.
However it can be argued that it wasn’t solely President Jackson’s actions that led to Indian Removal. The discovery of gold in the Cherokee Indian’s land in Georgia led to a dispute between the white settlers and the Native Americans. This saw the State of Georgia fight for Indian removal because they wanted access to it and Jackson fully supported Georgia. This led to disputes between tribal leaders and the Georgian government, Elliot West says ‘He (Jackson) took advantage of a bitter division among tribal leaders’.
This shows that Jackson may have only agreed to the removal of the Cherokees because of the valuable resources that they were sitting on. However, this only contributed to the removal of one tribe, and can be seen as only a factor in the entire removal act, and so the role of President Jackson was important because he pursued the removal due to his own views. It can be seen that President James Polk contributed greatly to the expansion of the USA through his actions in the Mexican-American War. The war started due to issues surrounding the annexation of Texas in 1845 and a dispute over the border between Mexico and Texas.
The war ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe – Hidalgo which saw the USA gain, amongst other states, Arizona and California. When Polk became President one of his aims was to gain California, and so it can be seen that Polk provoked the Mexican- American war to fulfil his goals. This point is supported by Walter LaFeber who says ‘The president’s policy was both simple and devious. He slowly squeezed Mexico military until it struck back. He then misrepresented the evidence for the attack to obtain Congresses’ declaration of war’ this shows us that the President was antagonising war for the expansion of the USA.
An example of this is when Polk sent in US military commander Zachary Taylor. He moved into land that was disputed between Mexico and Texas, this led to the involvement of the Mexican army who attacked the USA in defence of their land; which led to the subsequent war. Another factor in the causes of the Mexican American War is the Manifest Destiny. This was a doctrine that suggested that America had the god given right to expand. It can be seen that Polk’s belief in the Manifest Destiny is what led to the US involvement in the Mexican-American war.
This idea is supported by Gary B. Nash and Julie Roy Jeffery, ‘The cause of the Mexican American war was Manifest Destiny and American expansionism’. This shows that it was the Manifest Destiny that influenced Polk’s plans for expansion, and that without it he may not have pursued expansion as much as he did. Overall it can be seen that the Manifest Destiny influenced Polk’s ideas for expansion that led him to declare war on Mexico and make subsequent land gains. President Lincoln took a different approach to the expansion of the USA.
The Emancipation Proclamation was an order by Lincoln in 1863 to free all slaves in enemy territory that was won during the Civil War. It can be seen that Lincoln ordered the Emancipation Proclamation to increase the number of soldiers fighting for the Union, ‘Beginning in October, approximately 180,000 African-Americans, comprising 163 units, served in the U. S. Army and 18,000 in the Navy’. This worked in favour of the Union as they were now seen as having the moral high ground as well as continually increasing their army and navy size.
This made it difficult for the Confederacy to gain foreign backing because the liberals in Europe couldn’t support a pro-slavery army. By the end of the Civil War the Emancipation Proclamation had freed over 200,000 slaves. It can be seen that it was Lincoln’s political leadership that led to the freeing of slaves and the subsequent victory of the Civil War, this view is supported by Warren H. Hassler Jr. who said the success in the Civil War was due in part to ‘the statesmanship of Lincoln who .. had become a masterful war leader. 
The effect of the Emancipation Proclamation was that the freed slaves could now be a part of the Union increasing the population and power. In effect Lincoln contributed to the expansion of the USA in a more of a social than geographical context. On the other hand it can be seen that it was the failure of the Confederacy that contributed to the expansion of the USA. During the Battle of Gettysburg, Confederate General Lee believed that his troops could break the Union line at Cemetery Ridge and ordered a direct assault. However, this attack failed and as a result, almost 4,000 confederate troops were killed.
This caused the confederacy to be split into two and marked the end of major offensive actions in the South. This led to the Union having less opposition which in turn contributed to them being victorious in the civil war. However, the most important factor can be seen as being President Lincoln because it was his actions and Emancipation Proclamation that led to an increase in population, which saw the expansion of the USA socially. In conclusion one can see the role of the President as important to some extent in the expansion of the USA between 1815 and 1917.
For example, President’s Jackson and Polk both contributed greatly to expanding the USA’s borders by gaining land such as California and Florida. From these lands American’s could go on to exploit resources such as gold and provided them with more land to cultivate and expand their families. However, the acquisition of these lands came at a human cost, such as the Trail of Tears, affecting the Native Americans. When evaluating the importance of Polk and Jackson one must consider the influence of external factors such as the Manifest Destiny.
Polk was driven to succeed his aims by the Manifest Destiny and it can be seen that without that driving force behind him, he may not have achieved the purchase of California. Similar to this, President Jackson may not have agreed to the removal of the Cherokee Indians of they weren’t sitting on such a valuable commodity. I believe that President’s Monroe and Lincoln were similar in the types of expansion they achieved. Monroe created the Monroe Doctrine which served as the backbone to many future Presidents, such as Roosevelt’s, expansion plans.
The aim to keep all American land American contributed to expansion more in the sense that it helped strengthen the country and created relations with Latin America which in turn encouraged trade and commerce between Britain and Latin Americans colonies. President Lincoln contributed to the expansion of the USA by increasing the Union’s population though the Emancipation Proclamation. Therefore it can be seen that the role of the President was important in the expansion of the USA from 1815 to 1917 because it was their personalities and political power that led to geographical and social expansion.