The South as a factor in the territorial expansion of the United States.
William Roberson Garrett, A. M., Ph. D., Captain of First Virginia Regiment Artillery—subsequently in Forrest's Cavalry. Professor of American History, Peabody Normal College, Nashville, Tenn.
|William R. Garrett|
- Territorial expansion a distinctive feature in the history of the United States -- the South a leading factor in this policy.
In one important respect the history of the United States differs from the history—transcends the history—of any other great power of the world. Its boundaries have never receded. It is true, indeed, that some of the great powers have gained important territorial acquisitions, and have lost others; their boundary lines advancing and receding. At certain points of their history they may have claimed that their boundaries had never receded. This statement is now true of no great power except the United States.1 This is a fact of deep significance. It refutes the theory formerly so prevalent in Europe, and entertained to some extent in America, that a vast confederated republic could not possess cohesive force sufficient to hold its several parts together. Yet experience has shown that the United States, alone of all the great powers of the world, has preserved intact all the territory it has ever acquired. In another respect American history is distinctive. Every great war in which the United States has ever been engaged, has been accompanied by a large acquisition  of territory. Although we have grown to greatness, like ‘the great robber, Rome,’ by successive wars and successive acquisitions of territory, yet these wars have not been undertaken for the purpose of foreign conquest. Such a purpose has never been charged against the United States except in the case of the Mexican war. These several wars, accompanied by acquisitions of territory, have been so interspersed along our history, that they form the true key of our chronology. Not the successive presidential administrations, bat the successive epochs of growth in the acquisition of territory, and the corresponding eras of development in the assimilation of the territory acquired, form the true principle upon which the history of the United States should be studied and written. Whether these several wars and acquisitions shall be viewed as connected by the relation of cause and effect, or as forming a chain of remarkable coincidence, it is certain that an examination of the territorial map, in connection with a table of dates, will verify the chronological sequence. 1. The Revolutionary war, practically closing in 1781 with the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, was formally terminated in 1783 by the treaty of Paris, confirming the title to our original territory, and defining its limits. 2. The war with France is sometimes omitted from the list of wars, on account of its short duration and its distance from American shores. War, however, actually existed, and had an important influence upon foreign relations: Peace was restored by the convention of September 30, 1800. On the next day, October 1, 1800, France acquired Louisiana, by retrocession from Spain. April 30, 1803, Louisiana was ceded to the United States. 3. Our next war, growing out of the purchase of Louisiana, and a logical sequence of the transaction, was the second war with Great Britain, closing in 1815 with  the brilliant battle of New Orleans. As a corollary, came the complications with Spain and the Indian wars leading up to the treaty of Washington, made between John Quincy Adams and Don Luis de Onis, February 22, 1819. By this treaty the United States acquired Florida, and the cession of all ‘rights, claims and pretensions’ of Spain to the territory of Oregon. 4. Next came the Mexican war, preceded in 1845 by the acquisition of Texas, and followed in 1848 by the Mexican cessions under the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and in 1853 by the Gadsden purchase. In 1846, the treaty with Great Britain decided the northern boundary of Oregon. 5. Last came the Civil war, fought among ourselves, certainly not undertaken for any purpose of foreign conquest, yet attended by the uniform result of all our wars. It closed in 1865, and was followed in 1867 by the acquisition of Alaska. In this policy of territorial expansion, the South was the leading factor. It is one of the contributions which the South as a section of the Union, and as a factor in its upbuilding, has given to the United States. Historians have not chosen to emphasize this fact. It is written, however, in the records of the nation, and cannot be successfully denied. This treatise will be devoted to demonstrate its truth. Before entering upon the discussion, attention is invited to the consideration of several important points which the student of American history is apt to overlook, but which are essential elements to a clear comprehension of the territorial growth, and to an unbiased judgment of the forces which have been the factors in building the Union. The digression will, also, serve to indicate to the reader that this work is not conceived in a partisan spirit. 1. While it is true, that the ‘broad Atlantic’ rolls between America and Europe, apparently separating the  United States from the great powers of the world; yet, nearly every important era or turning point in our history has been more or less affected by the condition of affairs in Europe. This fact is conspicuously illustrated in our acquisitions of territory. Our territorial growth reveals the hand of destiny, and was made possible only by the coincidence of peculiar conditions in America and Europe, affording opportunities which our ancestors might seize, but could not create. 2. Territorial expansion was the foundation of American power and greatness. From the beginning of history to the present time, no country ever exerted a controlling power over the world until it had acquired a wide extent of territory. Greece, while a little peninsula, jutting out into the Mediterranean, did, indeed, possess a population of genius and intelligence, affording light to herself and her neighbors; but she did not reach power and control until after her fleets traversed the Mediterranean, until finally her conquering phalanx swept over the known world, and Alexander wept because there were no more worlds to conquer. Her sister peninsula, Rome, stretching likewise out into the Mediterranean, exerted no controlling influence until her victorious legions had carried the Roman eagles under Scipio into Africa, under Pompey into Asia, under C$asar into Gaul and Britain; subduing a wider world than Alexander had conquered, and reaching the ultma thule. The same is true of Asiatic domination. The empire of Charlemagne, Spanish domination, French domination, rose and fell with the gain and loss of territory. What power did the English race possess while confined to the British Isles? Britain's greatness began when her navy won the dominion of the seas, and placed upon her masthead, ‘Britannia rules the wave.’ Then came the spreading of her territory until now, in the language of Daniel Webster, her ‘morning drum-beat, following the sun and keeping company with the hours, circles the earth  with one continuous and unbroken strain of the martial airs of England.’ No nation has reached, or can reach power and greatness, until it rests upon the strong foundation of a wide extent of territory. Had the United States been confined to the limits proposed at the treaty of Paris, accepting the Alleghany mountains for its western boundary, or the Ohio river for its northern boundary; had its progress been arrested at the Mississippi river or at the Florida line; this country might have become a prosperous and happy people, but it would not have been a great and powerful nation. With due respect for the opinions of those who opposed the territorial expansion, experience now enables us to point out their error of judgment, and all should rejoice that the wiser policy prevailed. 3. It is idle to disguise the fact that this country is divided by natural laws into geographical sections differing in soil, climate and domestic interests. ‘Let there be no North, no South, no East, no West,’ is a figure of speech used to convey the sentiment that there should be no hostility between the sections. In its figurative sense, this is a patriotic expression worthy of all praise. Taken literally, it would be an absurd protest against the laws of nature. The State lines are political and may be changed. The geographical divisions are natural and ineffaceable. Although the irritating cause, slavery, has been removed, yet other causes remain which must ever render the sections geographically distinct, and must lead to conflicts of interest. Stronger causes bind them together, and enforce conciliation and compromise. This division into geographical sections need not be deplored by the patriot, and cannot be disguised by the historian. It constitutes the peculiar strength of American institutions. These differences of interest are implanted by nature and must exist whether the several sections are organized into separate nations, or united  under one government. Wide extent of territory involves the union of these several sections under better safeguards for the protection of their conflicting interest than could be obtained under separate governments. No lover of mankind could wish to see them united upon the plan of the spoliation of one section, or the neglect of its interests, for the aggrandizement of the other sections. Our ancestors did not rush into union blindly. They pondered deeply and cautiously, often hesitating over the questions at issue. Gradually and firmly there grew up an abiding confidence in the benevolence, moderation and good faith of the several States and sections. A confederated republic, with its limitations and ‘checks and balances,’ was the result. The Union was built by many factors. No one factor could have built it; neither the North, nor the South, nor the East, nor the West. It needed the distinctive genius of each, and the combined energy of all. No similar spectacle of national development has ever been presented to the world; so vast, so excellent, so progressive, so permanent. Even its internal struggles are evidences of its strength, and its powers of recuperation prove its healthy constitution. Every step in the formation, growth and preservation of the Union has been almost a historical miracle. It is wonderful that thirteen separate and independent sovereignties, scattered over a wide extent of territory, should voluntarily unite themselves under one government. It is no less wonderful that such a union should survive the reaction of local jealousies and conflicting interests in the earlier periods, when no effort at coercion would have been entertained.