Freedom: A History of US

Webisode 3. Segment 5
Westward Ho!

The Declaration of Independence See It Now - The Declaration of Independence contains these words: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."

But what is happiness? And how do you pursue it? There were lots of answers to that question. Some said happiness was being rich. Some said it was going to school, or having a fine family. Some said it could be found in religion, or in being free. Many said happiness was having land. And as the original thirteen states grew more crowded, those who sought land looked west across the Appalachians.

On the frontier no one cared if you were Puritan or Anglican. It didn't matter if your father was a lord or a pauper. Could you be depended upon? Did you tell the truth? Could you shoot straight? Were you brave? That's what mattered on the frontier. And the frontier offered something equally important: land. Land meant everything in a society that lived by farming. Owning land made you feel really free. And since in most parts of the country only people who owned land could vote, you really were more free.

One of those who went was Daniel BooneSee It Now - Daniel Boone, the grandson of an independent-minded Quaker and weaver who moved his whole family to the New World in 1717. In 1755, while fighting for the British in the French and Indian War, Daniel Boone heard stories of a land across the mountains that the Indians called kentake—which meant "meadowland." It was said to be a beautiful land, filled with high grasses, birds, buffalo, deer, and beaver. Boone went searching for a way to get over the mountains, and finally found an Indian trail that led through a gap into the rich grasslands of Kentucky. It became known as the Wilderness Road See It Now - The Wilderness Road, and it went for 300 miles. By 1790, almost 200,000 people had gone west along the Wilderness Road. Some kept going further and further west, all the way to the Rocky Mountains See It Now - Rocky Mountain Settlers. A German-born fur trader described the mountain men See It Now - Mountain Men who went there to explore and trap beaver for the fur market: "In small parties they roam through … the mountain passes. No rock is too steep for them; no stream too swift…. Danger seems to exercise a magic attraction over most of them."

By the 1820s, soon after Mexico became independent of Spain, wagon loads of traders were pushing southwest, cutting deep ruts in a path that was called the Santa Fe Trail . In 1831 Josiah Gregg traveled the trail with 100 wagons. Finally he arrived in Santa Fe, as he described: "The arrival produced a great deal of bustle and excitement among the natives. 'Los Americanos!' 'Los carros!' … [was] heard in every direction; and crowds of women and boys flocked around to see the newcomers Check The Source - The Santa Fe Trail."

Only a few American women See It Now - A Pioneer Family had traveled the Santa Fe Trail in 1846 when eighteen-year-old Susan Magoffin headed west from Missouri. Newly married and pregnant, she was excited by the adventure. From her tent on the trail she wrote these words: Hear It Now - Susan Magoffin "Oh this is a life I would not exchange for a good deal! There is such independence, so much free uncontaminated air, which impregnates the mind, the feelings, nay every thought, with purity. I breathe free without that oppression and uneasiness felt in the gossiping circles of a settled home."

They had ancestors who had hugged parents and grandparents, wiped away tears, and set out for a New World. Now another generation of men, women, and children was heading west, toward a little-known world, where land was free and fertile and opportunity seemed to be waiting. They were going for the reasons that usually make people move: because they wanted a better life for themselves and their children, or because they were adventurous or restless Check The Source - Elizabeth Dixon Smith Greer on the Oregon Trail. One Missouri farmer wrote home to explain why he was taking the Oregon trail northwest: Hear It Now - Missouri Farmer "Out in Oregon I can get me a square mile of land. And a quarter section for each of you all. Dad burn me, I am done with the country. Winters it's frost and snow to freeze a body; summers the overflow from Old Muddy drowns half my acres; taxes take the yield of them that's left. What say, Maw, it's God's country Check The Source - The Oregon Trail See It Now - The Oregon Trail."

In 1835 a young Frenchman named Alexis de TocquevilleSee It Now - Alexis de Tocqueville wrote of "the holy cult of freedom" he encountered everywhere he traveled in America. He wrote: Hear It Now - Alexis de Tocqueville "Do not ask me to analyze this sublime sentiment; it must be felt. It enters of itself into … hearts … prepared to receive it; it fills them; it enraptures them."

People were coming to America from all over the world. Mostly these immigrants knew little about America except that it was a land of freedom. But that was what they wanted: freedom and a chance to work.

A Norwegian immigrant put it this way: Hear It Now - Norwegian Immigrant "I feel free and independent among a free people … and I am very proud of belonging to a mighty nation, whose institutions must in time come to dominate the entire civilized world."




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