Image from Lincoln/Net, courtesy of Newberry Library
This 1855 engraving of Thomas Cole’s “The Last Refuge” depicts a Native American man pursued to the top of single pillar of rock in the wilderness, his “last refuge” from the encroachment of American settlement. Although all American citizens contributed to this dynamic to some degree, a significant number, especially Whigs in the urban North, regretted its impact on Native Americans. Hoping that their country would devote its energies to the more intensive development of territory east of the Mississippi River, or even east of the Appalachian Mountains, they associated rapid western settlement with the spread of cotton agriculture, slavery, and an American future as an agricultural nation dependent upon industrial Britain to buy its raw materials. They also feared it would undermine Christianity’s influence on Americans’ lives, especially those living on the frontier.
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