With the 1783 Treaty of Paris, the Americans won title to all the land between the Atlantic and Mississippi, from Canada to Florida.
Twenty years later, in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of State James Madison seized Napoleon’s offer and bought for $15 million the vast Louisiana Territory extending from New Orleans into Canada and so far west it virtually doubled the size of the United States.
In 1818, Andrew Jackson, hero of the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812, was ordered by President James Monroe to march south to repel the murderous forays by Seminole Indians from Florida into Georgia.
Exceeding his orders, Jackson stormed into Florida, crushed the Seminoles, hanged two British “spies” he found there, put the Spanish governor on a boat to Cuba and came home, a national hero again, after almost igniting another war with the British.
Secretary of State John Quincy Adams now coolly confronted the Spanish. If they could not control the Indians, Adams told the Spanish ambassador, we would. And to avoid more visits by General Jackson, the best solution for Madrid was to cede this derelict province to the United States.
Spain capitulated. Florida was ours.
In 1835, American settlers in the Mexican province of Texas, under the leadership of Jackson’s old lieutenant and fellow Indian fighter Sam Houston, seceded. At San Jacinto, they forced General Santa Anna to accept the independence of a new Lone Star Republic.
In his last days in office in 1845, President John Tyler brought Texas into the Union, and his successor, James Polk, sent an army to Texas to ensure that the U.S. border was now the Rio Grande, much farther south than the Mexicans claimed it to be.
In the subsequent 1846-48 war, the U.S. army invaded Mexico and marched to the capital, where Nicholas Trist of the State Department negotiated a peace whereby Mexico ceded half of its country — what became the American Southwest, plus California.
President Ulysses S. Grant, a veteran of that war, would call it the “most unjust war ever fought.” Yet, Mexico would, in the Gadsden Purchase of 1853, sell an area twice the size of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. It would become part of the states of New Mexico and Arizona.
The Mexicans even offered to sell Baja California for $10 million. Congress declined the offer, saying we now had quite enough land.
When the Civil War ended, Secretary of State William Seward — who narrowly survived an assassination attempt the night John Wilkes Booth murdered Lincoln — sought to buy the islands of Greenland, Iceland, St. Thomas and the Dominican Republic. He failed, but he bought Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million, putting himself in the history books.
Thus, from the day President John Adams left office, in just 67 years, America had grown to become the world’s second- or third-largest nation.