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The Confederate Lawyer
August 17, 2011

Texans, Californians, and Mountain Men
by Charles G. Mills
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GLEN COVE, NY — From 1787 to 1848, the United States rapidly expanded westward. In two generations, it grew from a small nation on the Atlantic coast to a continental nation. Men who owned small farms had multiple sons, each of whom created his own farm from the wilderness. Plantation owners in the tidewater south created more plantations in the Mississippi Territory so each of their sons could live like they did. Cattlemen increased the size of their herds and ranches so each of their many sons could follow in their footsteps. In this process, they were obeying God’s command to be fruitful and multiply and have dominion over the earth.

We had no reason to fear immigration. Our native population was growing fast enough to protect us. By 1836, the Mexicans were afraid of American immigration. Our expansion brought us into conflict with our neighbors, but we kept moving westward — and we prevailed.

The British and Canadians wanted us to stay east of the Appalachians, leaving large parts of the Midwest to the Indians. Instead, we settled Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee, and we acquired the great expanse between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains from France. In the War of 1812, we made it clear that we would settle the entirety of the Northwest Territory and the Mississippi Territory. In 1819, we acquired Florida, in part because of Andrew Jackson’s skill as a general but mostly because we were ready to settle it and farm it and no European power was.

The United States agreed that Texas was Spanish territory, but Spain then left North America. The Mexicans, who wanted the area populated, initially welcomed Americans to Texas and gave them a certain amount of autonomy. Eventually, Mexican suppression of the liberties of Texans, however, led to all out war. Texas quickly won its independence and was a republic until it became a state. This development changed Mexican attitudes, and the Mexican government stopped the legal immigration of Americans to Mexico shortly after Texas gained independence.

Part of Mexico’s original boundaries corresponds to today’s Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, and Utah. This mountainous land was not easy to patrol. Americans known as mountain men moved into this area and made their living by trapping and hunting. They largely lived without the usual structures of government, except informal rendezvous. As much as Mexico wanted to stop American expansion, it was unable to do so. In the meantime, more and more Americans were coming into Northern California from the Oregon Territory. Demography was guaranteeing a bicoastal United States.

When Texas entered the United States in 1846, Mexico started a war along the new state’s western border. In the same year, California declared its independence and was annexed by the United States. An ugly war, which lasted until 1848, ended with the United States establishing its borders close to where they are today. The United States respected the property rights of all Mexicans in the new American territory.

How did the United States expand across an entire continent so quickly? A military explanation is inadequate. The answer lies in our national character. We were not addicted to the status quo, we loved the adventure and liberty of the frontier, and we had lots of children. We wanted our children to have what we had. We were growing and spreading because this was our national character. We were doing what God commanded in Genesis. We also welcomed immigrants because they did not present a problem to our native population.

Today, the situation is quite different. We no longer seek to expand. We throw bureaucratic impediments in the way of developing Alaska. Much of the West is owned by the government and unused. We fear, rather than welcome, immigrants, and many immigrants fail to respect us. If there were any mountain men, we would arrest them for not having permits. We are content to pass on our property to our only child and do not seek more for lots of children. Small families and dependence on government have sapped the elan vitale that enabled us to rush from a small coastal nation to conquer a continent.

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The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2011 by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved.

Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles about the law.

See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.

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