Ho! For the Kansas Plains By James G. Clark
Historical Period: National Expansion and Reform, 1815-1860
The American Revolution was followed by a century of revolutionary American expansion. Over the course of the 19th century, the United States acquired vast stretches of new territory, from the Ohio River valley to the Rocky Mountains to the forests of the Pacific Northwest. When the U.S. first gained its independence in 1783, its territory had only reached a few hundred miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean. In 1860, it stretched 3,000 miles across an entire continent, and the fledgling nation had become a major power.
People poured into the new territories, and as they did, songs about expansion spread with them. Songs such as "Westward, Ho!" and "My Home’s on the Prairie Lea" were popular in Eastern cities and Western towns alike, and mostly took an optimistic view of the nation’s westward movement. Verses about the pleasures of a carefree life on the Great Plains were common; songs describing the hardships of a prairie winter were rare.
Some songs, however, contained references to the political issues that often lay behind the call for expansion. In the 1850s, the territory of Kansas was a battleground between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces, and settlers from the North and South rushed into the territory, each side hoping to outnumber the other. This song encourages new settlers to come to Kansas, just as a conventional expansion song might. However, it also explains why they should do so and provides some clues about which side of the slavery issue the songwriter supports.
For more background information on this period, visit these presentations.
- American Memory Timeline (National Expansion and Reform)
- America’s Library — Jump Back in Time (Western Expansion & Reform)
- Music Copyrighted in Federal District Court 1820-1860