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US History4You 6.2 Westward Expansion

US History4You 6.2 Westward Expansion

Author: Bryce Schoenherr

In this US History4You tutorial, we will cover the movement of farmers and railroads.

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I just need to check with the Head Historian on a few things, which I can do on the 22 (a Thursday).  The final touches won't be complete till Thursday or Friday.  The quiz is still possible though!

Settlements on the Prairie

Concept to Know-Railroads & Congress

   In 1850 to 1871, the government told railroad companies that they could grant land to railroad companies, if SEE HEAD HISTORIAN TO SPECIFY.  One company split in two so they could expand faster.  Central Pacific started at the west coast and had to work their way through the mountains.  Union Pacific started at Omaha and planned to meet Central Pacific in Utah.  It took about 3 years and cost about $50,000,000.  Parts of these expenses were made up to get more money from the government, but we'll talk more about that in another unit.

   By the 1880s, there were 5 transcontinental railroads shortening the trip across America from over four months to three and a half days.  Railroads would sometimes go to Europe and pay people to come to America to get pre-paid land(this was part of getting extra money and land from the government).

   Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act in 1862 after people called land squatters would settle onto land without paying(also after the southern states seceded).  The Homestead Act offered 160 acres to anyone who would farm it for 5 years after paying a small fee.  If they did that, they could have the land for themselves.  This act caused up to 600,000 families to move west from 1862-1900.

Did You Know

   Daniel Freeman became the first person to file for a claim with the Homestead Act.

  • Exodusters--Southern African-American settlers in Kansas
  • Railroad, state agents, speculators profit; 10% of land to families
  • Government strengthens act, passes new legislation for settlers

   In 1872, Yellowstone National Park was created to protect wilderness in the west.  More parks would be opened to preserve areas of nature.  It was important to do that when they did, because by the 1890s, there was no "frontier" left.  Americans were scattered all across the country so that there was no "unsettled west".

Concept to Know-Farmers

   On the prairie, there are hardly any trees, so farmers would dig homes into ravines and hills.  Some created soddies which were houses built out of blocks of sod or turf.  Most families were alone, so they had to self-reliant.  Women would do part of the shearing, plowing, and other farm chores.  They also did traditional chores like canning and carding wool.  Women would also support schools and churches.

   Congress worked toward helping farmers.The Morrill Act of 1862 helped create agricultural colleges.  The 1887 Hatch Act created agricultural experiment stations.

   Investors would build bonanza farms near railway stations.  Bonanza farms were huge farms with one crop.  Draughts from 1885-1890 bankrupted those operations though.

Populists and Bimetallism

Concept to Know-Farmers Struggle

   Before the Civil War ended, farmers took out loans to buy more land.  They planned to grow more crops to earn more money and pay off the loans.  After the Civil War, the government took greenbacks out of circulation.  Many farmers went into debt because they had to pay back more than what they received.  The prices of crops fell and this all happened because of inflation.  Debtors convinced the government to put more money in circulation, so Congress passed the Bland-Allison Act.  It did put some money in circulation, but it wasn't close to enough.

Did You Know-Inflation vs. Deflation


  • Money Worth Less
  • Prices Rise
  • More money


  • Money Worth More
  • Prices Lower
  • Less money

   Companies were merciless on the poor farmers.  Railroads overcharged to ship grain and suppliers charged high interest for products.  This would cause farmers to get mortgages.

   Oliver Kelly started the Patrons of Husbandry, also known as the Grange, to be a social gathering for farmers.  At first, it was a local, educational meeting, but by the 1870s, they were fighting railroads.  The Farmer's Alliance rose up too and helped out.  They gave lectures on interest rates and government control of railroads and banks.  Eventually, they gained 4 million members.

   Farmers and their supporters went to the next level and created the Populist Party.  Some of their views were:

  • increased money supply
  • graduated income tax
  • federal loans
  • senate members elected by popular vote
  • secret ballots
  • 8 hour work days

   By 1892, the Populists were elected to many levels of government.  Eventually, the Democratic Party started to adopt the Populism views.

Concept to Know-Panic of 1893

   Many railroads built up faster than the market and went bankrupt.  The government ran out of gold and banks were rushed causing a panic, which led to a depression.  Banks and businesses alike crashed.  For people living at the time, this was the Great Depression.

Did You Know-Great Depression

   The Great Depression you know today happened in 1929 and its results lasted till 1939.  Franklin D. Roosevelt fixed the worst effects in the '30s, but it ended once America joined WWII, boosting its industry.

Concept to Know-Bimetallism

   For the most part, parties were regional.  Democrats were Southern or Western farmers or laborers.  Republicans were mostly Northeastern business owners or bankers.

   Democrats and Populists thought of bimetallism, the idea of a system that used both gold and silver to back money.  They believed that there would be more money to help boost them out of debt.  These people became known as Silverites.  Republicans though, wanted to keep the gold standard in which only gold backed money.  They wanted the economy to be more stable, even if the currency was more expensive.  They became known as Gold Bugs.  People(only Reps or Dems/Pops?) thought that paper money was worthless unless it could be exchanged for metal.

   The 1896 election was coming up, so Republicans chose William McKinley.  Democrats chose William Jennings Brian, but the Populists wanted him too.  So they agreed that he would run for both of them, but if Populists won, they chose the vice president, or vice versa.

   William Jennings Brian became known for his (SEE HEAD HISTORIAN) speeches where he would jump on a train and ride from town to town, giving speeches supporting bimetallism.  His most famous speech was the Cross of Gold speech.  It was called this because of the following passage:

"You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold"

   William McKinley's campaign effort wasn't as exciting.  He gave (SEE HEAD HISTORIAN) speeches where he sat on his porch and invited people to come listen to him give speeches.  Despite Brian's efforts, the deciding factor was done by McKinley supporters.  He would have them go around and tell business leaders that if Brian won, their stores were likely to fail.  The business owners were also persuaded to tell workers things like, "If you vote for Brian, don't come to work tomorrow."

   Like how Democrats and Republicans were centralized in some places, each candidate's voters specialized in certain regions.  William Jennings Brian was mostly voted for in the South and the agricultural Midwest.  McKinley won the industrial Midwest.  McKinley ended up winning and the Populist Party dissipated, but their ideas were implemented in the 20th century.


Script Writer: Bryce Schoenherr

Head Historian: {PRIVATE}

Historians: Bryce Schoenherr