Manifest Destiny was the
belief that the United States was destined to expand from the Atlantic seaboard
to the Pacific Ocean; it has also been used to advocate for or justify other
territorial acquisitions. Promoters of Manifest Destiny believed that expansion
was not only good, but that it was obvious and certain. Originally a political
catch phrase of the 19th century, ‘Manifest Destiny’ eventually became a
standard historical term, often used as a synonym for the expansion of the
United States across the North American continent. In the early 1840s John L.
O’Sullivan, editor of the Democratic Review, inaugurated the expression
Manifest Destiny to depict American expansionism. The Allure of the vast
westward expansion for regular American citizens was the promise of increased opportunity
and prosperity through the enlargement of Americas territories. However, the
political and social ramifications of which would prove to inflict monumental acts
of violence, most notably the genocide of native American Indians and the
Mexican American war, these acts inevitably shaped American history.



Many causes fueling
America’s need to expand and acquire new lands existed. One of the reasons was
Americans were experiencing a large birthrate increase due to immigration. And
because agriculture provided the primary economic structure during this period
in America, naturally families were enticed by the promise of land. The
population in 1800 was more than five-million and by the mid-century grew to
more than twenty-three million. The increase in population would cause a nation
to strive for increased land to accommodate the growth and to prevent
over-population which could eventually lead to poverty. In 1841 Horace Greeley,
a publisher for the New York tribune wrote “Do not lounge in the cities…There
is room and health in the country away from the crowds of idlers and imbeciles.
Go west before you are fitted for no life but that of the factory”1.
I believe Greeley is indicating that westward expansion was not simply a plea
for the working class, those who were most effected by the great economic depression
of 1818, to head for the frontiers, but for all American citizens that superior
land ownership indicated wealth and political power.

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To Some, the Manifest Destiny was based on the idea that America had a
divine providence. Americans of the early 19th century saw the
expansion of America as an adventure of provenance and a journey to not only
expand to new territory’s but to also spread the word of God. In a notable
piece of artwork propaganda by John Gast titled “Americas Progress” it depicts
the settlers lead by an Angel like figure holding what appears to be the bible
and creating a source of light for the Godfearing Europeans, driving natives
across the land into the yet to be colonised west. Using the light as a visual
representation of the light and guidance of religion in the east to dark and
unknown world in the west.2
This theory of a divine power leading the westward expansion was one that many
expansionists adopted during this time of change. Stephen R. Demkin comments “It
was white man’s burden to conquer and christionise the land”.3
Heavily implying the religious motives that lay within the foundations of the
Manifest Destiny, striving for a form of utopian destiny. However, with the
benefit of hindsight I believe that the idea of the Manifest Destiny being
Americas destiny and god given, was used as a ploy to mask the genocidal
atrocities that were inflicted upon the Native Indians. While Indian removal as a policy was
first envisioned by Thomas Jefferson, and structured by James Monroe, it was
Andrew Jackson who heavily pushed for and eventually signed the Indian removal
act of 1830. During his Union address in December 6th 1830, Jackson addressed
the removal act as a plea to the Native Indians “to cast off their savage
habits and become an interesting, civilized, and Christian community”4 . This
lends itself to the American belief that the expansion of territories stemmed
from a religious standpoint. Unsurprisingly the majority of Indian tribes did
not comply with the laws that were placed upon them, therefore many tribes were
forcibly removed from their lands, most notably the Cherokee, Chickasaw and
Seminole. These barbarically enforced migrations aptly named the ‘Trail of
Tears’, sent many tribes out with little if any recourses to cope through the
winter months of migration. Its estimated that close to 100,000 American Indians
died due to disease and starvation because of the Indian removal act. This is
supported by Howard Zinn who states, “the cost of human life cannot be accurately
measured, in suffering not even roughly measured”.5 This is
a harrowing but crucial indication that although most saw the Manifest Destiny
as one of a positive expansion towards prosperity, in doing so it plagued
American history forever with the cost of many innocent lives.


The Louisiana purchase
of 1803 acted as a powerful catalyst for the westward expansion of America.
French ruler Napoleon Bonaparte controlled a large piece of land west of the Mississippi,
stretching all the way to the Rocky Mountains, named the Louisiana territory. Napoleon
was on the verge of a war with Great Britain and needed money to finance the
war. President Jefferson took advantage of this situation and offered to buy
New Orleans from France. After much deliberation with the French, President Thomas
Jefferson acquired the Louisianan territory, including New Orleans for
$15million, gaining 827,000 square miles which at the time would have doubled
the size of America. The Magnitude of the Louisiana purchase is emphasized by
Jefferson in a letter he wrote to French Economist Pierre Samuel Du Pont where
he states, “This event of France possessing herself of Louisiana is the embryo
of a tornado which will burst on the countries on both shored of the Atlantic
and involve in its effects their highest destinies”.6

 Americas chase of expansion through domination
is furthered by the tenacious message that the Monroe Doctrine of 1822 sent
across America, and more Importantly Europe. The
Monroe Doctrine was the communication vehicle used by President Monroe to
convey to the American people, and foreign nations, the strength of the U.S.
and its determination to remain independent and free of interference from any
foreign nations. As anticipated this was received with immense enthusiasm by
many Americans, inciting an improved sense of pride throughout the nation.  

1 Horace Greeley – New York tribune

2 John Gast “American Progress”

3 Demkin, Stephen R. Lecture Notes. HIS 110-83. 1996. 

4 Andrew
Jackson – Union address December 6th 1830

5 Howard Zinn – A peoples History of
the United States

6 Thomas Jefferson –  letter to Du Pont – April 25th 1802


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