School Improvement in Maryland
Clarifications: Each clarification provides an explanation of an indicator/objective to help teachers better understand the skills and/or concepts.

Standard 5.0 History

Topic B. Emergence, Expansion and Changes in Nations and Empires

Indicator 4. Analyze patterns of immigration to the United States before 1877

Objective b. Analyze the consequences of the rapid settlement of California and Oregon


During the 1840s, American settlers flooded the Overland Trail on their way to Oregon and California, and the rapid settlement of the region had dramatic consequences.

The United States and Great Britain had disputed control over the Oregon Territory for decades, and, since 1818, had agreed to “joint occupation.” In practice, however, there were very few Americans in Oregon. News of Oregon’s favorable climate and soil spread, however, and by the late 1830s and early 1840s, emigrants were streaming along the Oregon Trail. By 1845, there were about 5000 American settlers in Oregon, as compared to about 750 British residents. This rapid settlement helped the United States to gain official possession of much of Oregon. As the pace of settlement increased, Americans began clamoring for full control of the entire Oregon Territory, adopting the slogan “Fifty-four forty or fight,” and President James K. Polk began pressuring the British. He persuaded Congress to give Britain formal notice that joint-occupation would be terminated in one year. Not willing to fight for a wilderness so far away and wanting to preserve trade relations with the United States, Great Britain finally proposed the division of Oregon along the 49th parallel. Polk readily accepted the proposal, it being his secret objective all along.

California’s settlement was even more dramatically rapid, with important consequences. The discovery of gold in California in early 1848 captured the imagination of thousands of American men, who left their homes and families and headed to the Pacific coast in search of fortune. The speed of California’s growth was astounding. The population increased from 14,000 in 1848 to 100,000 by the end of 1849 and 220,000 by 1852. Boomtowns popped up seemingly overnight and society was very chaotic. There were few family groups and traditional political and social institutions to ground communities. Gradually, however, as gold fever abated, the economy diversified and agriculture, shipping, and trade expanded. Political organization also proceeded, and California applied for statehood in 1850.

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