The conquest of the territory

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The conquest of the territory
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This work, painted around 1872 by John Gast entitled American Progress, is an allegorical representation of "Manifest Destiny". In this scene, an angelic woman (sometimes identified as Columbia, the personification of the United States in the nineteenth century), carries the light of "civilization" to the west with the American settlers, wiring the telegraph in her furrow. Native Americans and wildlife flee to the darkness of the wild west.

Faculté Lettres
Département Département d’histoire générale
Professeur(s) Ludovic Tournès[1][2][3]
Cours The United States and the World


The conquest of territory is anything but an internal affair. This territory was built largely by wars, it is a matter of international relations to understand the nature of U.S. foreign policy.

It is a phenomenon of the history of international relations and not of American domestic history. This rapid and violent expansion was largely due to the war.

It is a founding moment in both American national identity and American foreign policy, the United States forges its relationship with the world in the episode of conquest. The conquest of the territory is a founding moment. When considering American foreign policy, it is necessary to recall the conquest of the territory.

U.S. Expansionism: General Aspects[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Us rate of travael 1800.jpg

General Considerations[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Initially, before the creation of the United States, there were thirteen colonies opposed to Great Britain, but which had little in common. These colonies have different histories until they get together. Initially their cement was opposition to the metropolis, common points, common history and common identity was forged in opposition to Britain and in the conquest of the rest of the territory.

As soon as the war of independence ends, the territory of the Thirteen colonies will expand. In 1783 the United States was created. In 1787 a federal state was created. It is a fundamental moment, the Thirteen States decide to unite to create a supranational power.

In other words, in American history we have, first of all, the territorial entities, the federal structures intervene in a second phase.

Why is a federal state created?[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

  • to unite against the English and the Indians.
  • avoid being caught up in the European rivalries of France, Great Britain and Spain: the European powers all have colonies and trading posts in what is now the United States. Once the Thirteen independent colonies have become independent, they give themselves an original structure that allows them to distinguish themselves from Europe and not reproduce the conflicts that take place on European territory. The creation of the federal state is an element of differentiation in this regard.
  • create the conditions for expansion with strong power and an army. The federal state will make it possible to create an army that will be financed by the various states by creating the conditions for territorial expansion.

The creation of the federal state is linked to the conquest of the territory.

The political genius coup of the founding fathers[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

It is a coup of political genius because the founding fathers of the American Republic quickly came up with the idea of integrating the conquered territories into the United States. As the United States moves westward, instead of creating colonies, the territories are integrated into the United States.

Integration of conquered regions into the United States[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

This is a difference from European expansionism as American expansionism integrates these new territories within the federal state. It is a new form of expansionism that differs from European colonialism. Thus, the integration of the new territories strengthens the power of the United States.

The idea of empire has been present since the creation of the federal state (Washington:"the formation of an empire"). Since the creation of the federal state, there is the idea that the United States must expand, for Jefferson it is "the empire of freedom", it is a way of thinking about American politics. The idea that the United States is a perfect political synthesis and wants to build an empire of freedom is common and poses many problems.

It's a rapid expansion:

  • Surface area: 1787 - 2.5 million km2 / 1865 - 8 million km2: the surface area is tripled in 80 years.
  • Population: 1787 - 4 million inhabitants / 1865 - 31 million / 1900 - 100 million.
  • 1867: Alaska became the 49th state in 1958.
  • 1890: Unification of the country with the reunification of Wyoming and Idaho. The period of internal conquest is officially closed from that moment onwards.
  • 1898: Hawaii becomes the 50th state in 1959.
Expansion of the United States (the Conquest of the West) -

Exploring the Country: A Military Affair[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Military Dimension[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Le trajet de l'expédition.

The exploration of the country is largely a military affair. The question of conquest is conceived as a military affair where the army plays a fundamental role. It will set up reconnaissance missions and expeditions to recognize and identify this territory.

As early as 1804, there was a first official exploration of the Pacific to see that it was the potential interest of these territories for conquest.

Economic Dimension[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

There is also an economic dimension. In 1838 the Army's Topographic Service was created to systematically map the entire American territory. Maps are used for warfare, but also for mapping natural resources. All the territories crossed are listed.

The fairly quick conclusion is that this is a huge territory and extremely rich in natural resources of all kinds. From 1842 onwards a systematic exploration of the West by the army was launched, followed by the expulsion of the Indians.

Thus, the exploration of the country combines military and economic aspects.

This conquest of the United States was going to be an important factor in the construction of a national identity, and it was during the conquest that the Americans became American. From the military point of view, this conquering dimension is to be found in the depths of national identity. Thus, conquest is a factor in the construction of a national identity.

The confrontation with the great powers[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The great powers of the time were France, Great Britain and Spain.

France[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

After the creation of the United States, the first major stage of expansion territory was made in 1803 with Louisiana's purchase at the expense of France.

The United States decided to support the rebellion in Haiti, Napoleon does not want to leave behind him a very poorly controlled empire. He realizes that he does not have the means to keep it notably with the rise of American expansionism, that is why he sells it.

Great Britain[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Great Britain is the hereditary enemy of the United States since the founding of the United States was made against the metropolis.

In 1812 there was a war in 1812 with the motivation to conquer Canada, which was English territory. The conquest of Canada is a failure, particularly due to the English maritime power. Thus, there will be a modus vivendi between Canada's American ambitions and the English willing to protect its colony. In 1818 an agreement was reached in order to define the delimitation of the border at the 49th parallel.

The United States continued its policy of nibbling territories poorly controlled by Canada until 1846, when it obtained Oregon and Washington.

At the end of the Civil War in 1865, some attempts of annexing Canada were made but without success. Then relations between the two countries will normalize.

Spain[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

A map of the United States in the shape of an eagle published in 1933.

The context is different as Spain, unlike Great Britain, is a declining and failing empire.

Florida is a territory owned by Spain but not well controlled. The United States annexed Florida in 1819 as a result of military operations triggered by Indian incursions into American territory. U.S. authorities criticized the weakness of the Spanish crown in controlling the Indians and decided to take control over Florida.

Until the 1850s - 1860s, the United States had an expansionist inclination over Central America. This is not a policy implemented by the U.S. government but by filibusters, i.e. armed groups conducting excursions to try to reunite territories in the United States.

These are expeditions that generally fail, but the U.S. government is letting it go for opportunistic reasons. After the last attempts, the United States will stop looking at Central America as a territory to be conquered from the territorial point of view.

Thus, the United States benefited from Spain's military and geopolitical weakening.

Russia[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Alaska is a Russian territory of little interest to the tsar. The purchase of Alaska in 1867 by the United States is a good opportunity. Alaska is acquired for a modest sum and offers a new window to the Pacific. But it also acts as a counterbalance to the British presence in the region with an increased presence in the Pacific at the expense of Britain.

Cheque used by the U.S. government to purchase Alaska.

Mexico[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The text of Texas's declaration of independence.

Before 1821, Mexico is part of the Spanish Empire but a conflict will take place with Mexico as an independent power.

It is a very large but mostly empty territory. The newly independent Mexican state, in 1821, invited settlers from all over the world to settle. This is the moment when European emigration begins to develop towards the New world.

The American settlers came to settle until they formed an inescapable force leading to the declaration of independence from Mexico to enter the United States.

The request to reattach and the 1835 revolt at Fort Alamo aims to secede Texas from Mexico and reattach it to the United States. However, Mexico can no longer control the situation. Texas would demand independence and reunification with the United States in 1845.

The following year, in 1846, a US-Mexican war followed until 1848, ending with the American victory and the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, following which the United States gained 3 million km2,73 times more than the current Switzerland.

The conquest of American territory is made by the conquest of the West, the nibbling of the territory, the arrival of settlers but it is also a massive geopolitical phenomenon resulting from either purchases or wars. The United States will gain millions of square kilometres to build a continent.

The confrontation with indigenous peoples[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The confrontation is also with the natives, namely the Indians. It is an important part of American history.

Changes in the demographic balance of power[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

First of all, it is a question of changing demographic power relations. By the time the wars against the Indians began, the Indian population had already shrunk sharply. At the end of the 15th century there were 2 million Indians East of Mississippi, in 1750 they were less than 1 million against 1.25 million Europeans and Africans. Diseases have contributed to this phenomenon.

From the moment when the confrontation between the Americans and the Indians begins, when the United States is forming, the balance of power is already demographically more or less relatively in favour of Europeans and Africans.

Changes in the military balance of power[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The states finance the creation of the Federal Army. The more states that are attached to the United States, the larger and powerful the army is.

Until 1850, from a military point of view, the balance of power was relatively balanced. The US government does not launch large-scale military confrontations knowing that the Federal Army is still relatively weak. It prefers to fight the Indian tribes in isolation rather than to launch a global conquest.

However, a second wave of Indian wars until the 1870s will end the Indian population.

Denial of Indian Rights in the Territory[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

John Marshall in 1831, by Henry Inman. 4th President of the Supreme Court of the United States of America.

It is the process of appropriation of territory by the Americans and the process of exclusion of Indians from the territory and the American national consensus.

Americans and Europeans of the time inherited the typically European racism. In this balance of power, there is the discourse on the inferiority of the Indian populations.

There is a strong opposition between the Indians who are nomadic people consuming land while the Americans are farmers. It is an implementation of a discourse of enhancement against the consumption of land that legitimizes the taking of possession of the land.

This distinction is important because it will lead to a legal denial of the Indians' possession of the land since they consume it and are not attached to the land. It is a legal denial of Indian sovereignty.

A legal system will be designed according to the possession of the land and its exploitation. There is a very strong link in the construction of nationalism in the 19th century between people and land.

In 1823, a Supreme Court ruling defined Indians as an inferior race of people without citizens' privilege. Indians are immediately excluded from the construction of national identity.

There are no diplomatic relations but a military confrontation. It is not a foreign population because they are on the territory, the War Department immediately manages relations with the Indians. It is not a matter of conquest or diplomatic relations. This legitimizes the military balance of power, which does not appear to be a conquest or extermination, but rather the establishment of American sovereignty over a territory over which the Indians obviously have no rights.

Indian Wars[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The legal process went hand in hand with military confrontations at the end of the 18th century with the federal state, which launched its first war in 1790. In 1824, the Indian Affairs Office attached to the War Department was established.

As a result of these first waves of Indian wars, two important laws were passed with the first in 1830 which was the Indian Removal Act organizing the deportation of Indians to the West Mississippi. After that, in 1851, was declared the Indian Appropriation Act with the implementation of the system of reserves[4][5]. They are foreign territories within American territory, they have no autonomy, they are part of American territory, they are Indian reserves without sovereignty over that territory. The government has sovereignty in particular to build roads and enter them whenever it wants. Part of the reserves are built in the country's desert parts where natural resources have not been identified.

The second great wave took place from 1862 until the 1890s with the Indian wars in the Great West that gave rise to hard confrontations.

At the beginning of the 20th century, there were 250,000 Indians in the United States and a part of these Indian tribes had important territories with notably the Comanche Empire.

The Sanctuary of the Whole American Continent[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The exclusion of European powers from the continent[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

From the moment the United States conquer not only the northern part of the American continent according to their ideology and opposition to the great powers and exclude European powers from the American continent. This logic aims to establish U.S. sovereignty over the northern part of the American continent. The logical continuation of the war of independence is to prevent European incursions across the continent.

Finally, South America will eventually become an area of expansion for American nationalism, which does not mean that there has been a desire to conquer, but rather to establish predominant American influences, particularly by taking advantage of the decline of the Spanish Empire. The United States will try to promote a transfer of hegemony in this part of the world by playing on the idea of solidarity between the American states, which have all freed themselves from the tutelage of the European powers. It is the conception of a concept of community of destinies with the enterprise of a sanctuaryization of the American continent that is expressed by the Monroe doctrine.

The Monroe Doctrine [1823][modifier | modifier le wikicode]

James Monroe.

The architects of this doctrine are James Monroe and John Quincy Adam, who strongly criticize European colonialism and the will of the European powers to dominate the European continent, seeing in the independence movement of the American states the opening of a new era for the American continent. The Monroe doctrine is built on the basis of the criticism of European colonialism.

The other critic is in reaction to the monarchical reaction processes taking place in Europe, which is perceived as a threat to the American model. It is a fear of a period of European conquests that could be a threat to the young American republic.

It is the idea of protecting the American continent from a European monarchy reaction that threatens American interests and territory. That is why in 1822 the United States was to be the first to recognize all the republics that formed on the decombrent of the Spanish Empire establishing diplomatic relations within the framework of a community of destinies against the colonizer and the great European powers.

In December 1823 the Monroe Declaration took place:

  • North America is particularly on the territories claimed by Russia and Great Britain but also on the southern part of the American continent considering a potential leadership situation.
  • European non-intervention in America.
  • U.S. demand for a zone of exclusive influence.
  • the corollary: non-interference in European affairs.

This declaration consists in tracing out a potential territory, an area of potential influence but over which the United States does not have the capacity to impose its influence. It is a design of American ambitions because the center of American interests is at this point in history the conquest of American territory. The United States, which is an emerging power, is a potential area of influence. It is a "declaration of diplomatic independence", but still a virtual power.

Conclusion[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Map of territorial acquisitions of the United States of America.

The United States in 1850:

  • The construction of a stable political regime: the United States is a country that has built an original and stable policy, while the European powers are in unstable periods of revolutions and counterrevolutions.
  • conquest of a vast territory.
  • the elimination of indigenous peoples.
  • confrontation with the great powers.
  • An entry into the international diplomatic arena with the Monroe doctrine: the United States first became a regional power and then, from the last part of the 19th century onwards, a world power.

Annexes[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

References[modifier | modifier le wikicode]