In the 1800s, the United States was a beacon of hope for many people. The American economy was growing rapidly, offering jobs to newcomers. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights held out the hope of political and religious freedom. Not everyone shared in the prosperity or the ideals of democracy. Still, by the early 1900s, the United States had undertaken reforms to ensure equality for all its citizens.
Most people migrating west traveled in wagons, like the settlers moving through this mountain pass.
From the earliest years of its history, the United States had followed a policy of expansionism, or extending the nation's boundaries. At first, the United States stretched only from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River. In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson bought the Louisiana territory from France. In one stroke, the Louisiana Purchase virtually doubled the size of the nation.
By 1846, the United States had expanded to include Florida, Oregon, and the Republic of Texas. The Mexican War (1846–1848) added California and the Southwest.
With growing pride and confidence, Americans claimed that their nation was destined to spread across the entire continent, from sea to sea. This idea became known as Manifest Destiny. Some expansionists even hoped to absorb Canada and Mexico.