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The United States Grows Up, 1816-1845

The years between 1816 and 1845 were a time of tremendous growth and expansion for the United States. In this chapter, you find out about events that changed the landscape of the country, pointing the U.S. in the direction it still follows today. AP tests always have questions on Jacksonian democracy; this chapter helps you get ready for them.


Don't just memorize names, dates, and places. When you see themes, connect them: Manifest Destiny was a social trend connected to American Indian removal. The Gibbons v. Ogden decision on interstate commerce was the economic reality brought about by the invention of the steamship and better transportation. Jacksonian democracy was a consequence that stemmed from the shift toward more universal male voting rights. Connect themes as you review so that you'll be ready to connect to a high score on test day.


You're almost sure to see a question on the AP test about Manifest Destiny, a theme that runs through much of U.S. history. Manifest Destiny means that lots of Americans felt God intended for the United States to control all the land between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. With the giant Louisiana Purchase speeding America toward the West Coast while the country was on only its third president, the U.S. seemed to be on a transcontinental roll. (See Chapter 9 for more on the Louisiana Purchase.)

The word manifest refers to an obvious fact, and a destiny is an unavoidable fate. Because of the practical implications of Manifest Destiny — that U.S. citizens would have to fight not only the British but thousands of American Indians and Mexicans as well to achieve the country's destiny — a substantial minority of citizens opposed the idea at any given time and would have been just as happy to pass up the honor. Many more thought America was doing non-Americans a favor by forcibly inviting them to be part of the U.S.A.


For the AP exam, remember that Manifest Destiny showed up early in the 1800s, encouraged by Thomas Jefferson's huge Louisiana Purchase, and remained part of the national thinking until the U.S. finished grabbing land during the Spanish-American War at the end of the 1800s. That is almost 100 years. This concept fits as part of the official AP theme of American exceptionalism: Americans thought they were so special that they deserved to rule the continent and, being on a mission to fulfill this destiny, were ready to run over anything that got in their way.

Manifest Destiny is part of the larger topic of American exceptionalism. Consider this when writing the inevitable social history essay involving Manifest Destiny: All nations think they're special; powerful nations have in the past expressed their exceptionalism by taking over more land. Manifest Destiny was an American expression of exceptionalism. Exceptionalism can be good; feeling moral has inspired America to help other nations, and feeling free has led the U.S. to support freedom for other people. You can still hear the ghost of Manifest Destiny exceptional-ism in talk of using force to bring American values — democracy and civil liberties — to other countries.


To show this strong trend on an essay question, you could mention Manifest Destiny in the context of the Trail of Tears (covered later in this chapter), the long trail West (Chapter 11), the willingness of both sides to fight to the death in the Civil War (Chapter 12), and as a cultural influence on America becoming a world power (Chapter 16). Relating a trend to later events wins the approval of test-grading teachers.

On multiple-choice questions, watch out for wrong choices that tie Manifest Destiny to slavery, independence, or an overseas empire. Manifest Destiny is just about territorial expansion from the Atlantic to the Pacific, sometimes called overspreading the continent.

Manifest Destiny hit the Oregon Trail in the 1840s as settlers begin to drive their wagon trains west toward rich land in the Pacific Northwest. The Oregon Treaty (1846) with Britain officially gave most of the territory to the U.S.

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