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Study Notes

Lawlessness

Level:
GCSE
Board:
Edexcel

Last updated 24 Oct 2017

The American West is often described as being ‘lawless’. This means that many settlers disregarded official laws and committed crimes such as theft and murder. Lawlessness increased in the American West because of the mass migration caused by the 1848 Gold Rush. Before the Gold Rush, the population of the American West was very small so settlers had to rely on each other for survival. This meant the population lived relatively peacefully with one another. However, by 1855, 300,000 people had settled in California. The existing law enforcement systems did not keep up with this huge population increase, and lawlessness became rife.

The American West is often described as being ‘lawless’. This means that many settlers disregarded official laws and committed crimes such as theft and murder. Lawlessness increased in the American West because of the mass migration caused by the 1848 Gold Rush. Before the Gold Rush, the population of the American West was very small so settlers had to rely on each other for survival. This meant the population lived relatively peacefully with one another. However, by 1855, 300,000 people had settled in California. The existing law enforcement systems did not keep up with this huge population increase, and lawlessness became rife.

 

The Gold Miners often demonstrated complete disregard for the law. In California, gold miners would ‘stake a claim’ to a patch of land. This meant that they had the rights to any gold that they found there. Many miners would steal other miner’s claims if they looked promising, this was known as ‘claim jumping’.  Sometimes miners would try con money out of new prospectors by ‘salting a claim’. They would sprinkle some flakes of gold on the land and sell it to an inexperienced prospector for a huge profit.  Mining camps were also rife with alcohol and prostitution, which led to violence. As prospectors came from all over the world, racial tensions were also high.

 

The population boom continued into the 1850’s and thus the problem of lawlessness continued to grow. It was not uncommon for gangs to walk into a saloon, kill people, rob them and then walk away with no consequences! 

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