The years following the War of 1812 saw a massive migration of white settlers into the Old Northwest, the Old Southwest and the Far West. Between the years 1800 and 1820 the American population nearly doubled and by 1830 a quarter of the people lived west of the Appalachians. Westward movement was made easier by government efforts to push Native American peoples even farther west. A series of new states were admitted to the Union: Indiana in 1816, Mississippi in 1817, Illinois in 1818, Alabama in 1819 and Missouri in 1821.
The Old Northwest (part of today’s Midwest) was accessed by settlers floating down the Ohio River. Thousands debarked at Cincinnati, one of the leading cities of early 19th century America, and fanned out to the north and west.
The Old Southwest (today’s Deep South) was first settled by small farmers who cleared the lands and operated subsistence farms. These settlers were generally from the existing states of Virginia and the Carolinas and were attracted by the rich soil, especially in the “Black Belt” of Alabama and Mississippi. Later the large operator, the plantation owners, bought out the small farmers, pushing them even farther westward.
The Far West had been Spanish territory, but in 1821 Mexico won her independence and opened its lands to all traders. Hundreds of Americans poured into the areas of Texas, New Mexico and California, setting the stage for commerce and conflict. The attraction of the Far West was more than farmland; the lure of timber, gold, silver and grazing lands motivated many to endure the hardships of the region.
One of the most notable features of the westerners was their seeming rootlessness. They would purchase a plot of land, work it for a few years, then often sell it at a profit and move farther west.
See also Indian Wars .