Webisode 3. Introduction
Liberty for All?
Westward movement marked the early centuries of our country's history. To the west lay freedom and the opportunity for a better life for diverse groups in diverse times: the Pilgrims and Puritans in the seventeenth century, the frontiersmen in the eighteenth century, and the pioneers, prospectors, and politicians in the nineteenth century.
The Pilgrims moved west across the Atlantic Ocean in a harrowing voyage on the Mayflower. Their Mayflower Compact, which established a "Civil Body Politic," was the first self-government in the New World. Close behind them came the Puritans, who also sought religious freedom but failed to extend it to others, with some tragic results. Roger Williams, banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his views on both religion and the natives, established Rhode Island with a new level of freedom: representa-tive government, separation of church and state, and religious tolerance.
By the eighteenth century, as the American colonists began to think of freedom from England, they thought of other freedoms as well. In 1777, Thomas Jefferson drafted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. In 1789, freedom of religion became the law of the land with the passage of the First Amendment to the Constitution.
The move westward continued as the seaboard colonies became thickly populated. Daniel Boone and other trailblazers opened the way across the Appalachian Mountains. A steady stream of settlers, including European immigrants, followed the Wilderness Road into Kentucky or the Santa Fe Trail to southwestern regions.
Even the White House took on a frontier flavor with the election of Andrew Jackson, the first president from the west. Jackson redefined the role of the presidency as being of the people, not over them. However, during his administration the tragic Indian Removal Act forced 18,000 Native Americans on a six-month march into Oklahoma Territory. Many died of exposure, hunger, and exhaustion on this Trail of Tears.
The discovery of gold at John Sutter's mill in 1848 unleashed an epidemic of gold fever and a stampede westward to California. While some found their fortunes in gold, many earned barely enough to keep themselves alive. Some entrepreneurs struck gold not in prospecting but in providing gold seekers with supplies, transportation, and lodging.
Manifest destiny, the conviction that the United States had the right and duty to spread democracy across the continent, was the ultimate westward vision. President James Polk compromised with England to secure a northern boundary for Oregon, and initiated the bloody, two-year Mexican War in which the United States gained Texas, New Mexico, and California.
In the first three centuries of our country's history, the land seemed limitless, as did the opportunities for freedom and a better life for anyone who had the courage, conviction, and strength to move westward.
learn more at: www.pbs.org/historyofus
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