By 1820, America had only been an independent nation for forty-four years. The freedom and equality born in the Revolutionary War fostered westward migration, political participation, and the promise of economic prosperity. As America expanded, geographically, politically, and economically, however, the democratic principals implemented after the American Revolution were tested.

Through the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and treatises with Spain and Britain, the United States extended well beyond its original boundaries. America's territories doubled to include most of the land between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, the Florida Territory, and the Gulf of Mexico. The term "manifest destiny," first used by journalist John L. Sullivan in 1845, suggested that the United States had a divine mission to expand its borders across the continent. Many different factors fueled American's desire to explore and claim this new land. Some were tempted by economic opportunities, while others dreamed of the romance of settling uncharted terrain of the West. In fact, between 1791 and 1850, eighteen new states entered the Union. (Vermont became the 14th state in 1791.)

Many issues of the day—slavery, state's rights, tariffs, and diverse religious beliefs—challenged the basic principles of American freedom fought for during the War for Independence. Growing markets, better transportation and communication systems, and a more open political system had both positive and negative impacts on people's lives.

Visual aids

United States map, 1849.United States map. Mitchell’s School Atlas, Philadelphia: Thomas, Cowperthwait, and Co., 1849.

This 1849 map illustrates the growth of the country following the discovery of gold in California. The prospect of fortune and new land drew many Vermonters west. In addition to colored maps, the atlas includes information about population, river lengths, settlement of states, colleges and universities, religions, railroads, and agricultural, mineral, and manufacturers production.

Vermont map, 1834.

Vermont map, 1834.This map shows Vermont during this period of great change. Maps offer a view of the world as the creator saw it at that particular time. Over time with changes in politics and our history, maps are modified. Compare this map to a modern map of Vermont. What has changed? What has remained the same?