Push and Pull Factors of the U.S. Westward Movement

Written by kaye jones
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Push and Pull Factors of the U.S. Westward Movement
Railroad expansion opened up the West to new settlers. (Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images)

During the 1840s, the territory of the United States increased its size by one-third. Prior the mass migration that accompanied these territorial changes, known as Westward Expansion, explorers and traders were the only people to venture into these unknown lands. In face of this uncertainty, there were an array of push and pull factors that made migration a necessary event.


The rising population was one factor that encouraged westward migration. From 1850 to 1880, the U.S. population had more than doubled, from 23 million to 50 million. Around 7.5 million of these were European immigrants who had fled the Continent to escape poverty, famine and antisemitism. This put increased pressure on supplies of land and resources and acted to push people westward.

Manifest Destiny

The contemporary belief that God had blessed the growth of the United States was another push factor during the Westward Movement. Known as Manifest Destiny, this idea was also linked to the notion of American racial and cultural superiority. If the settlers headed west, they would be able to "civilize" the native population and spread the Christian message westward.


With the first discovery of gold in California in 1849, thousands of settlers flocked westward in the hope of striking it rich. Although many of the 80,000 settlers who reached California never found gold, this economic motivation was enough to pull people westward. In the 1850s, further prospects took place in Colorado while Nevada, Montana and Idaho were targeted for gold in the 1860s.


Government legislation also acted as a pull factor during the Westward movement. The Homestead Act of 1862, for example, granted the adult head of a family 160 acres of land in the West in return for a small fee. It also stipulated that tenants must build a dwelling on and cultivate the land. Similarly, the Morrill Act, passed in the same year, provided new Western states with federal funding to build educational establishments for citizens. Both acts provided an impetus for migration through economic and social stability.

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