Expansion of the West

1463 Words3 Pages

During late seventeen hundreds and the early eighteen hundreds America focused on growth and development. In 1803, America bought from France 828,000 square miles of land that ranged from the Mississippi to the Rockies for the bargain price of $15,000,000. This pristine land had not yet been ravaged by the rigorous process of growing cotton, so Southern farmers were excited about the prospect. However, most farmers were also afraid of what lay in the West, be it “savages,” dangerous wildlife or inhospitable terrain. The government believed that American citizens needed convincing that travelling west, settling and stabilizing this new land was a smart thing to do. To help convince the populace, the government turned to a new media, photography. The product of this invention astounded and perplexed many viewers who believed that the photos they saw depicted the absolute truth. Their ignorance of the selective bias of photographers paved the way for rumors and myths that influenced many to venture into dangerous areas, having little idea what really lay ahead. Photography in the early American West was a manipulative tool of the government’s interest by portraying the West as a safe land filled with opportunity.
Many Americans believed that they were entitled to the vast land that their government had just purchased and even more land to the west of it. One reason was the incredible sense of superiority that the Americans felt in their own virtue and their superior form of government. Another reason was that the Americans thought that the native Americans didn't appreciate the land that they occupied and that the Americans should liberate it, making the land more useful and productive. These reasons were all based in the ideolog...

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...on and 80% of the non-white population self-reported as illiterate in 1870 (National Assessment). Photographs, however, were a universal language. Andrew Jacksons' vision of Indian removal was becoming a reality faster than he could ever have realized. Russell presented the importance of railroads across the nation reinforced the idea of expanding civilization and technological progress. Watkins' pictures of Yosemite national park established it as a national park in 1890 (Yosemite). Sullivan was able to provide a candid view of the early American West, something most other photographers at the time did not do, and in doing so provided historical insight for the betterment of the nation. The American Government's usage of compelling imagery during the time of western expansion was a prime component of the growth that the country experienced during the 19th century.

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