American Westward movement, advocated by many as the divine destiny of the United States, is the movement of the people from the settled regions of the United States to lands farther west between early 17th and late 19th century. The earliest and most significant of the factors which contributed to the westward spread of ‘American frontier’ was the economic motives of the colonists.
Fur traders in New England, New York and Pennsylvania bartered with the Native Americans in the Ohio River Valley and the Great Lakes for beaver pelts. Southerners reached to the Mississippi and beyond to trade with native Americans for deerskins. Later, the farmers who could not meet their mortgage payments on their lands as a result of the depression caused by the financial collapse in 1837 also moved westward for free land. Epidemics was another major contributing factor for the westward movement.
In the East, more people died of such diseases as typhoid, dysentery, tuberculosis, scarlet fever and malaria than from any other cause. Yellow fever so decimated the population of New Orleans and settlements along the Mississippi River to the north that the regional death rate exceeded its birth rate for nearly a century and in the 1830s an epidemic of cholera, which had started in Asia, rampaged through Europe, and came across the Atlantic on passenger ships, struck the East Coast and spread inland.
The third significant contributing factor was The American Civil War. The civil war caused so much misery that thousands of people looked upon west as a means of escape from their devastated homes. To these people the West was the means to achieve health, wealth and happiness. The significance of these factors lies in the fact that the western expansion they caused resulted in making United States one of the most powerful countries in the world.
Further, the American expansion also meant that the west was dominated by Anglo-American ways of life and institutions rather than French or Spanish ones; because latter were also trying to expand in North America in 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. However, the American westward movement curbed their efforts in this regard. Nonetheless, though the American westward movement was very beneficial for the United States, it proved fatal to the Native Americans who were the indigenous people settled in these lands. Their culture and way of life suffered destruction as a result of the westward expansion.