7. American Expansion (Part 1)

In this episode, we discuss the first 60 years of the United States’ history in the framework of territorial expansion, largely in terms of the Louisiana Purchase and the Oregon Territory. We also address what makes the United States different, as well as specific policies on Native Americans. Paul McGeown joins as guest.

7 thoughts on “7. American Expansion (Part 1)”

  1. Phil says:

    Finally making my way back through these, and it’s question time:

    1) Was Canada considered a collection of colonies
    2) Why wasn’t Canada/it’s colonies part of the 13 colonies; what set the 13 apart?
    3) When/how was congress formed? The senate? Have they been around since the formation of the country?

    1. Adam says:

      C’mon Phil, this question is worth a full-blown paper, not an internet comment – of course you would do this to me. We could probably do a full episode on this. That being said, I’ll give it a shot:

      1) Based on the other questions, I’m guessing you mean at the time of the Revolutionary War, at which point Canada was mostly the Province of Quebec (not at all the same borders as the current province and encompassing Southern Ontario), Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, the Island of St John (became PEI), and Rupert’s Land (a big chunk of land owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company that was mostly used for the fur trade and wrapped around the Bay and extended into the prairies).
      2) The 13 colonies are just the colonies that rebelled in the Revolutionary War; they weren’t a distinct group before that which just happened to work together against Britain. The revolution is what made them distinct. There were 20 British colonies at the outset of the war. The other three that didn’t rebel were East and West Florida and the Indian Reserve territory.
      3) Congress technically pre-dates the United States – the First Continental Congress was the body of representatives from various colonies that presented grievances to King George III, and the Second Continental Congress was the body that governed the war in 1775 and lasted until 1781. From 1781 to 1789 Congress acted as executive and legislative branch until the US government was reorganized into something like the system they have now, adding the Presidency and the Senate.

      I’m sure that opens up more questions than it answers, but hopefully it’s a start!

      1. Phil says:

        You know I’m always gonna ask the hard questions man, it’s what I do!

        As you guessed – more questions:

        1) The answer to this might be obvious, but what made Rupert’s Land useful for the fur trade? I’m guessing it’s where the things with fur lived?

        2) Why did the other 7 colonies choose not to rebel? How did Florida go from having not rebelled to joining the United States?

        3) Not a question, but during these episodes I followed the Mississippi river from it’s delta to it’s source. Damn that river is LONG.

        1. Adam says:

          1) The Hudson’s Bay Company had a mandate over the entire watershed connecting to the Bay, meaning that if a river eventually emptied there, they had control all along it and then into the interior a reasonable distance. Part of it was that the area was rich in fur-bearing animals, but more important was that there were networks of forts along the rivers bringing fur back to the Bay. In the summer months when the ice retreated, the HBC sailed the goods through the Arctic Ocean to Europe. It was far more efficient and cost-effective than trying to take them over land to the Great Lakes and the St Lawrence.

          2) Quebec didn’t rebel because they had only been conquered by Britain in 1763 and had nothing at all in common with the British colonists – they were French, Catholic, and being given a pretty good deal compared to the Thirteen Colonies in terms of their self-governance in an effort to win the good will of the people. They had nothing to gain from rebelling. Nova Scotia was the site of the main British naval base (Halifax), so they knew they didn’t have a chance, as well as being made up of a highly loyal population. Island of St John was too small and too poor to risk rebellion. Newfoundland was geographically and culturally isolated from the Thirteen Colonies, and highly exposed to both Europe and Nova Scotia. Rupert’s Land had the most to lose by rebelling, as it was land owned by a crown chartered corporation that would lose its charter and infrastructure without Britain. East and West Florida had only been given to Britain in 1763, having been Spanish for centuries before that, and had about as much in common culturally with the Thirteen Colonies as Quebec did (and would return to Spanish control not long after). They wouldn’t join the United States until Florida was annexed by the United States in 1821. The Indian Territory had little in the way of governance that could rebel, meaning that it didn’t really have a place at the table; what’s more, there were many different nations living in that section of land that can’t really be categorized as having a unified political will. The territory was occupied by the British army until the war of 1812, at which point it was occupied by the US army, and then it was cleared out under Andrew Jackson for US expansion as discussed in the episode.

          3) Yeah, it’s a huge geographical feature. It’s no wonder it shows up in so many places historically.

  2. Harry says:

    Just started listening to the podcast and I am hooked!

    In the first part of this episode you spoke about a dialect of the American founding fathers having over the Louisiana purchase. It was inevitably about race and I think you did a very good job at explaining why a non imperial, intellectual, democracy loving country would find it morally hard to justify buying the orleans territory.
    However you also mentioned race which brings me to my question.

    – what are you using as your sources for the Americans being hesitant of expanding into territory that would ultimately have non white people in it. Was it letters or manuscripts on the subject? I would be very fascinating in reading the primary source.


    1. Adam says:

      Hey Harry,

      Sorry for the slow response – this was a trickier one to answer than some questions I get, since I put this together over two years ago. I believe the specific point you’re referring to is that there were concerns over whether French, Spanish, Black, and Native American people were capable of responsibly participating in democratic society. This argument was actually raised by Jefferson’s Federalist opponents in Congress while debating the treaty before its ratification in 1803, and is consistent with some of the ideas surrounding race and liberty at the time.

      I apologize for not having exact pages on hand, but a fantastic source for anything from the first hundred years of American government has been made available digitally at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lawhome.html. It’s not the most modern looking site, but the Louisiana Purchase was debated mainly by the 7th congress. Searching for “Louisiana” in the 7th congress will give you more material than you’re likely willing to read – reading this stuff isn’t much more exciting than watching C-SPAN is today. Hope that helps!

      1. hARRY says:


        Perfect! I can’t wait to research this more. I appreciate your help, sorry for taking you back in time two years ago haha. I just started listening to the show and I am bouncing around at this point. Thanks again!

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