The Early Republic (c. 1780–1816) was a chaotic period for the new nation. Territorial expansion and a rapidly increasing population spurred the young nation to look westward. Foreign competition inspired exploratory expeditions and new settlements, leading to the growth of trade and demands for more and better infrastructure. Maps defined new postal and travel routes, making it possible for the U.S. government to determine who would receive government services. Thus, maps illustrated who belonged to the nation.

Throughout this period, Native American nations remained sovereign, or self-governing, with their own institutions, citizens/members, social, economic, and religious practices. Nevertheless, U.S. mapmakers erased Native peoples from their lands to allow U.S. citizens to envision a connected transcontinental nation.