CHAPTER V. COLONIZATION OF THE WEST (1820-1830)

The rise of the new west was the most significant fact in American history in the years immediately following the War of 1812. Ever since the beginnings of colonization on the Atlantic coast a frontier of settlement had advanced, cutting into the forest, pushing back the Indian, and steadily widening the area of civilization in its rear. [Footnote: Three articles by F.J. Turner, viz.: "Significance of the Frontier in American History," in Am. Hist. Assoc., Report 1893, 199-227; "Problem of the West," in "Atlantic Monthly, LXXVIII, 289; "Contributions of the West to American Democracy, ibid, XCI., 83.] There had been a west even in early colonial days; but then it lay close to the coast. By the middle of the eighteenth century the west was to be found beyond tide-water, advancing towards the Allegheny Mountains. When this barrier was crossed and the lands on the other side of the mountains were won, in the days of the Revolution, a new and greater west, more influential on the nation's destiny, was created. [Footnote: Howard, Preliminaries of Revolution, chap. xiii.; Van Tyne, Am. Revolution, chap. xv.; McLaughlin, Confederation and Constitution, chap. viii. (Am. Nation, VIII., IX., X.).]

The men of the "Western Waters" or the "Western World," as they loved to call themselves, developed under conditions of separation from the older settlements and from Europe. The lands, practically free, in this vast area not only attracted the settler, but furnished opportunity for all men to hew out their own careers. The wilderness ever opened a gate of escape to the poor, the discontented, and the oppressed. If social conditions tended to crystallize in the east, beyond the Alleghenies there was freedom. Grappling with new problems, under these conditions, the society that spread into this region developed inventiveness and resourcefulness; the restraints of custom were broken, and new activities, new lines of growth, new institutions were produced. Mr. Bryce has well declared that "the West is the most American part of America.... What Europe is to Asia, what England is to the rest of Europe, what America is to England, that the Western States and Territories are to the Atlantic States." [Footnote: Bryce, American Commonwealth (ed. of 1895), II., 830.] The American spirit - the traits that have come to be recognized as the most characteristic - was developed in the new commonwealths that sprang into life beyond the seaboard. In these new western lands Americans achieved a boldness of conception of the country's destiny and democracy. The ideal of the west was its emphasis upon the worth and possibilities of the common man, its belief in the right of every man to rise to the full measure of his own nature, under conditions of social mobility. Western democracy was no theorist's dream. It came, stark and strong and full of life, from the American forest. [Footnote: P. J. Turner, "Contributions of the West to American Democracy," in Atlantic Monthly, XCL, 83, and "The Middle West," in International Monthly, IV., 794.]

The time had now come when this section was to make itself felt as a dominant force in American life. Already it had shown its influence upon the older sections. By its competition, by its attractions for settlers, it reacted on the east and gave added impulse to the democratic movement in New England and New York. The struggle of Baltimore, New York City, and Philadelphia for the rising commerce of the interior was a potent factor in the development of the middle region. In the south the spread of the cotton-plant and the new form which slavery took were phases of the westward movement of the plantation. The discontent of the old south is partly explained by the migration of her citizens to the west and by the competition of her colonists in the lands beyond the Alleghenies. The future of the south lay in its affiliation to the Cotton Kingdom of the lower states which were rising on the plains of the Gulf of Mexico.

Rightly to understand the power which the new west was to exert upon the economic and political life of the nation in the years between 1820 and 1830, it is necessary to consider somewhat fully the statistics of growth in western population and industry.

The western states ranked with the middle region and the south in respect to population. Between 1812 and 1821 six new western commonwealths were added to the Union: Louisiana (1812), Indiana (1816), Mississippi (1817), Illinois (1818), Alabama (1819), and Missouri (1821). In the decade from 1820 to 1830, these states, with their older sisters, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio, increased their population from 2,217,000 to nearly 3,700,000, a gain of about a million and a half in the decade. The percentages of increase in these new communities tell a striking story. Even the older states of the group grew steadily. Kentucky, with 22 per cent., Louisiana, with 41, and Tennessee and Ohio, each with 61, were increasing much faster than New England and the south, outside of Maine and Georgia. But for the newer communities the percentages of gain are still more significant: Mississippi, 81 per cent.; Alabama, 142; Indiana, 133; and Illinois, 185. The population of Ohio, which hardly more than a generation before was "fresh, untouched, unbounded, magnificent wilderness," [Footnote: Webster, Writings (National ed.), V., 252.] was now nearly a million, surpassing the combined population of Massachusetts and Connecticut.