The American people largely believed it was the
Manifest Destiny of the United States to expand westward. The siege of
the Alamo, the Mexican War, and the 49er Gold Rush were some of the
most important defining events during this time. As the United States
boundaries, new branch mints were established to serve the needs of the
From the earliest colonial times, rugged
pioneers had been drawn to the
vast expanses of America's frontier. Successive generations of settlers
pushed the boundaries of the United States ever more westward.
By the 1830's and 1840's, the desire to expand
across all sectors of American society. Most people came to believe it
was the purpose of the United States, or its manifest destiny, to own
all the territory between the Atlantic and the Pacific. Thus, "Manifest
Destiny" became the guiding principle under which the West was won.
|Remember the Alamo!|
In 1821, Mexico won independence for itself from
Spain. The new Mexican
government, in a move to encourage development of a thinly populated
area we know today as southeastern Texas, offered land grants to
anyone, including Americans, who would be willing to inhabit the land.
In return, settlers promised to obey Mexican law and observe Roman
The Americans in Texas protested against what
they perceived to be a
violation of their individual rights.
While Santa Anna was preoccupied at the Alamo,
Texas formally declared
its independence from Mexico on March 2. While the heroic standoff at
the Alamo continued, Sam Houston raised an army of Texans to carry the
As the election of 1844 approached, the
annexation of Texas became a
major campaign issue.
|The Mint Branches Out|
When the Philadelphia Mint began regular
production in 1793, it was
thought at the time that this facility would fulfill the coinage
demands of our new nation. Within forty years, however, pioneers had
extended the boundaries of the American frontier so distant from
Philadelphia that the Mint could not viably serve the entire nation any
|War With Mexico|
Not everyone was as enthused over the idea of
Manifest Destiny as were the Americans. Still seething over the loss of
Texas, Mexican authorities were concerned over the possibility of
giving up the vast region west of Texas, including California, to the
United States. These and other factors led to a war between the United
States and Mexico, finally breaking out in 1846.
Mexico's claim on California and the southwest
was inherited from the
Spaniards, dating back to the 15th century. Spanish law, architecture,
culture, and language prevailed throughout the area. However, Mexico's
grip on the territory was weak at best, in large part due to sparsely
populated regions, poor administration and a revolving door of corrupt
When it appeared the Mexicans were willing to
negotiate the dispute
peacefully, President Polk secretly dispatched congressman John Slidell
to Mexico City in November 1845, with instructions to pay off claims of
about $2 million by American citizens against Mexico, if Mexico would
acknowledge the Rio Grande as the southern boundary of Texas.
Furthermore, Polk authorized an offer of $25 million for the purchase
of California and $5 million for the New Mexico territory.
In January 1846, President Polk ordered troops
under General Zachary
Taylor to cross the Nueces River, southward into the disputed zone, to
the northern bank of the Rio Grande. In May, Mexican troops crossed the
Rio Grande and skirmished with American forces, killing or wounding
sixteen. If Polk had been waiting for an excuse to ask Congress for a
declaration of war against Mexico, he now had it. On May 13, Congress
obliged. War with Mexico was on.
A third expedition, under the command of General
Winfield Scott, hit
Vera Cruz following an amphibious landing in March 1847 of 14,000 men
from the Gulf of Mexico.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on
February 2, 1848, formally
ended the war. Mexico was forced to give up California, the New Mexico
territory, and recognize the Rio Grande as the border between Texas and
|The California Gold Rush and the San Francisco Mint|
By 1848, only a few hundred Americans had
settled in California. One of
them was a man named John Sutter, a European immigrant who set up a
successful sawmill in the Sacramento Valley.
Some of the gold from the fabulous strike was
sent in a special
shipment to Philadelphia. The letters "CAL." were counterstamped by
mint officials on the reverse side of 1,389 quarter eagles bearing the
1848 date to show that they were coined out of gold originating from
the California gold fields. These "CAL." quarter eagles are
unmistakable links to one of the most significant events in American
history, are quite rare and have been highly valued by generations of
By 1852, the California gold fields had yielded
millions in gold, yet
there was a severe shortage of coins to serve the Wild West population.
The deficiency of circulating coinage, the availability of a bullion
supply, and California statehood encouraged Congress to authorize a branch
mint at San Francisco, with the doors first opening in 1854. After
getting off to a slow start due to the lack of chemicals needed for
refining gold, the new San Francisco Mint started converting the
miners' gold into adequate coin supplies about three years after its
The California Gold Rush was a rare, astonishing
American history into a "Before" and "After". It was one of the biggest
mass movements of humanity since the beginning of time, and played a
large role in shaping the future of the United States.
Furthermore, Brands chronicles numerous accounts
of the people who
lived the experience, from John Fremont and Leland Stanford, to those
much less famous. He concludes by describing why these stories have a
national and international significance.
|New American Coin Denominations|
Two additional regular gold denominations were
issued beginning in 1849: the gold
dollar and the double
eagle (face value = $20.00). The 1849 double eagle is a one of a
kind specimen, on display in the numismatic collection of the
Smithsonian Institute. Starting in 1850, double eagles were minted in
quantities large enough for general circulation.
In 1851, responding to the new three cent
postage rate, the three
cent silver "trime" was authorized. Notably, the trime had a silver
bullion value worth only 86% of its face value, a measure designed to
discourage coin melting. This was the first incident where a minted
coin's face value was greater than its intrinsic metallic value.
|U.S. Coins and History Chapters|
Return to the Coins and U.S. History navigation panel to study more chapters.
|1||Allen, Jack, and John L. Betts. History:
New York, NY: American Book Company, 1967.
|2||Brinkley, Douglas. History
of the United States.
New York, NY: Penguin Putnam, Inc., 1998.
|3||Schwarz, Ted. A
History of United States Coinage.
London, England: A.S. Barnes & Company, Inc. 1980.
|4||Taxay, Don. The
U.S. Mint and Coinage.
New York, NY: Arco Publishing Company, 1966.
|5||Jordan, Winthrop D., Miriam
Greenblatt, & John S. Bowes. The Americans.
Evanstan, IL: McDougall, Littell & Company, 1988.