Historians have long tethered American overland migration to U.S. westward expansion, and they have presumed that Americans who left U.S. borders for Oregon and California in the early 1840s desired—and even assumed—that the United States would soon conquer the Far West. This article examines the words and actions of western migrants before U.S. expansion in 1846. It argues that, in fact, migrants left U.S. borders because their economic prospects were poor in the United States and thus that most migrants cared little whether the United States conquered the West in the near future. Indeed, some of the more ambitious migrants were even hostile to U.S. expansion, for they longed for a western republic of their own. Ultimately, Americans who traveled west did not ascribe to the idea of the United States’ Manifest Destiny but instead were seeking their own individual destinies.

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