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Expansion and Reform

Between 1800 and 1860, the United States underwent a period of increased territorial growth, immigration, economic growth, and industrialization. At the same time as the nation was increasing in population and size, regional differences were becoming more and more pronounced, and politically confrontational. The idea of Manifest Destiny led to expansion first across the Appalachians, then across the Mississippi, and finally to the Pacific Ocean. Vast swaths of land were aquired via the Louisiana Purchase from France and through the United States’s victory in the Mexican-American War. This expansion, however, did have some negative results, most notably the removal of many Indian nations in the Southeast and old Northwest. 

Economic development, while increasing wealth and prosperity, also brought regional differences more sharply into focus. Northeastern industrial development, increased urbanization, and technological advancements separated it even further from the agrarian South. There was also a transportation revolution involving railroads, canals, and trans-regional roads, many times centered in the North. The issue of slavery caused increasing strife and political debate as new western territories sought to join the Union. Despite expansion, free African Americans and women were still largely disfranchised. Reforms movements related to temperence, women's rights, education, mental health, and imprisonment occurred in bursts, setting the stage for post-Civil War major reforms.

Learn more in the National U.S. History Content Standards.

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