THE REPUBLICANS AND THE GREAT WEST
=Expansion and Land Hunger.=—The first of the great measures which drove the Republicans out upon this new national course—the purchase of the Louisiana territory—was the product of circumstances rather than of their deliberate choosing. It was not the lack of land for his cherished farmers that led Jefferson to add such an immense domain to the original possessions of the United States. In the Northwest territory, now embracing Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and a portion of Minnesota, settlements were mainly confined to the north bank of the Ohio River. To the south, in Kentucky and Tennessee, where there were more than one hundred thousand white people who had pushed over the mountains from Virginia and the Carolinas, there were still wide reaches of untilled soil. The Alabama and Mississippi regions were vast Indian frontiers of the state of Georgia, unsettled and almost unexplored. Even to the wildest imagination there seemed to be territory enough to satisfy the land hunger of the American people for a century to come.
=The Significance of the Mississippi River.=—At all events the East, then the center of power, saw no good reason for expansion. The planters of the Carolinas, the manufacturers of Pennsylvania, the importers of New York, the shipbuilders of New England, looking to the seaboard and to Europe for trade, refinements, and sometimes their ideas of government, were slow to appreciate the place of the West in national economy. The better educated the Easterners were, the less, it seems, they comprehended the destiny of the nation. Sons of Federalist fathers at Williams College, after a long debate decided by a vote of fifteen to one that the purchase of Louisiana was undesirable.
On the other hand, the pioneers of Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee, unlearned in books, saw with their own eyes the resources of the wilderness. Many of them had been across the Mississippi and had beheld the rich lands awaiting the plow of the white man. Down the great river they floated their wheat, corn, and bacon to ocean-going ships bound for the ports of the seaboard or for Europe. The land journeys over the mountain barriers with bulky farm produce, they knew from experience, were almost impossible, and costly at best. Nails, bolts of cloth, tea, and coffee could go or come that way, but not corn and bacon. A free outlet to the sea by the Mississippi was as essential to the pioneers of the Kentucky region as the harbor of Boston to the merchant princes of that metropolis.
=Louisiana under Spanish Rule.=—For this reason they watched with deep solicitude the fortunes of the Spanish king to whom, at the close of the Seven Years’ War, had fallen the Louisiana territory stretching from New Orleans to the Rocky Mountains. While he controlled the mouth of the Mississippi there was little to fear, for he had neither the army nor the navy necessary to resist any invasion of American trade. Moreover, Washington had been able, by the exercise of great tact, to secure from Spain in 1795 a trading privilege through New Orleans which satisfied the present requirements of the frontiersmen even if it did not allay their fears for the future. So things stood when a swift succession of events altered the whole situation.