Library of Congress


The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Collection Connections > Music for the Nation ca. 1820-1860

Back to Collection Connections

Old Folks at Home - cover sheet music

[Detail] Old Folks at Home - sheet music

Expansion and Migration

The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 opened a large amount of land in the west to settlement by European Americans. Several factors encouraged expansion into the west. The growing population, dependent on agriculture as the primary economic activity, required more land. Economic depressions in 1818 and 1839 motivated some settlers to seek their fortunes on the frontier. Indeed, the opportunity for advancement where land — the traditional symbol of wealth — was inexpensive or free drew many across the Mississippi. In the 1840s, the phrase "Manifest Destiny" was coined to provide a sense of mission for expansion. Manifest Destiny suggested that it was the fate of the United States to expand from the Atlantic to the Pacific, spreading the ideals of self-government across the land. (Note that these ideals were not applied to all Americans; African Americans, Native Americans, women, and others were excluded.) The discovery of gold and silver in western areas drew even more settlers toward the Pacific.

A number of songs in Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, ca. 1820-1860 reflect the nation's expansion. Among these are the following:

Examine several of the songs listed above. Locate other songs about expansion by conducting a Keyword Search using such terms as gold rush or west . Then answer the following questions:

  • What reasons for settling in the west were mentioned in the songs?
  • Can you find any evidence of the sense of mission implied by the term "Manifest Destiny"?
  • What hardships of settling in the west were mentioned in the songs? What benefits of settling in the west were mentioned?
  • Do you find any mention of Native Americans in the songs? If so, in what context were they mentioned? If not, why do you think that is so?