US Border Maintenance and Disputes


The Louisiana purchase, the Convention of 1818, the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, and the Adams-Onis Treaty were all watershed moments that further defined the borders of the United States. After the lucrative transaction of the Louisiana purchase took place, America gained over 500 million acres of territory at rate of 4¢ per acre. The territory encompassed 15 states and two Canadian provinces. After a massive gain in territory such as the Louisiana purchase, it left much of the land unfulfilled and vacant. This became ground for disputes between foreign nations. Nearly a decade later, the battle for land between Great Britain and US was put to bed as the Treaty of 1818 was signed. The 49th parallel, referring to latitude degree, acted as set line between the two countries. Only one year later, the Adam-Onis treaty was signed as the United States gained Florida from Spain. In exchange for the territory, the southern most border to Mexico was drawn along the Sabine River. Regardless of the treaties, land disputes continued. In Maine, US and Great Britain clashed once again. The Webster-Ashburton Treaty simply reiterated the 49th parallel, and agreed to call for a final end to slave trade through the sea. In summary, America expanded extensively through this time period, and by doing so, opened itself up to foreign intrusion.

Stunning Visual

This map does a excellent job of depicting the evolving territory of the US. In the top right, it shows the disputed area alleviated by the Webster-Ashburton treaty. On the Pacific coast, the map conveys the joint ownership of the Oregon Country between US and Britain which was established during the Convention of 1818. The Missouri Territory refers to the land gained by the Louisiana Purchase, as Florida is also shown as a part of the Adams-Onis Treaty.


Primary Source

"General Jackson came to my house this morning, and I showed him the boundary line which has been offered to the Spanish Minister.… He said there were many individuals who would take exception to our receding so far from the boundary of the Rio del Norte, which we claim, as the Sabine, and the enemies of the Administration would certainly make a handle of it to assail them: but the possession of the Floridas was of so great importance to the southern frontier of the United States, and so essential even to their safety, that the vast majority of the nation would be satisfied with the western boundary as we propose, if we obtain the Floridas.…

-John Quincy Adams

The quote above clearly shows both sides of the exchange. While many believed that the US needed to keep the border to Mexico strong, the acquisition of Florida was simply too advantageous to decline.  

Long-Term Significance

Although the majority of the effects were immediate, the resolution of these boundary disputes also had long-term significance. With increased land mass, the United states had access to more resources. From this, the U.S. prospered from cross-Atlantic trade with countries in Europe. Additionally, with less conflict around the borders of the United States, the inhabitants of the country were made safer and less fearful of prone invasions from Britain, Spain, and France. The clarity of the borders allowed the United States to focus on advancing industrially and develop as a country, rather than fighting off neighboring threats. This aided in the development of the United States into a major power in the world.

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