The Fate of Native Americans

After the Louisiana Purchase, the westward expansion increased to the ultimate detriment of the Native populations. Between 1790 and 1860 the population of non-Native Americans increased from 4 to 31 million, many of these moving west. Albert Bierstadt celebrated the rustic landscape of the West through European painting modes. Journalists such as John Soule and Horace Greeley also fueled the expansion, urging “Go West, young man, and grow up with the country.” The settlers and Indians had different views of land as well. For settlers, land was a commodity that could be divided up and traded and sold at will. The Indians, in contrast, view that land as a part of a harmonious whole of which they were an integral, but not a separable part.

The fate of the Indian tribes was tied to the Buffalo, their primary food supply. In an effort to accelerate their demise, General Philip Sheridan (1831–1888) urged settlers to kill the buffalo. This was facilitated by the construction of the transcontinental railroad.

An artist sympathetic to the plight of the Indians was George Catlin (1796–1872), a painter who, from a base in St Louis, made five trips into Indian Territory west of the Mississippi. His paintings provide us with substantial ethnographic data of the Indians and their dwellings. Catlin believed the Indians were doomed to extinction because of the westward expansion and saw himself as a recorder of their noble cultures.

The British in India and China

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries England and France vied for control of Indian and Chinese commerce. Their influence in the region was destabilization.

The Chinese reluctantly allowed trade with the West through the port of Canton. England reciprocated by importing opium which led to a massive wave of addiction and its accompanying social problems. After the death of the Emperor’s son, opium was banned in China. After China confiscated and destroyed a large shipment of opium, England declared war. China was crushed and signed the Treaty of Nanjing, ceding Hong Kong, and paying the equivalent of two billion dollars. By 1880 China was deluged by a wave of cheap machine-made goods from the West and its economy collapsed. Looking for better economic prospects abroad, many Chinese immigrated to California, especially after 1849 when gold was discovered there. The vast majority of workers on the transcontinental railroad were Chinese. The United States established friendly relations with China under the Burlingame Treaty of 1867. But during the economic recession of the late-nineteenth-century, Chinese were denied entry and citizenship by the Chinese Exclusion Act. Chinese workers also immigrated to the Caribbean, where they suffered even more savage treatment and often worked as indentured workers.

In India, millions sold themselves into indentured servitude after Britain moved from the production of goods in India to the extraction of raw materials. In 1750 India accounted for 25% of the world’s industrial production, while in 1900 that number fell to 2%.

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