Manifest Destiny was thebelief that the United States was destined to expand from the Atlantic seaboardto the Pacific Ocean; it has also been used to advocate for or justify otherterritorial acquisitions.
Promoters of Manifest Destiny believed that expansionwas not only good, but that it was obvious and certain. Originally a politicalcatch phrase of the 19th century, ‘Manifest Destiny’ eventually became astandard historical term, often used as a synonym for the expansion of theUnited States across the North American continent. In the early 1840s John L.O’Sullivan, editor of the Democratic Review, inaugurated the expressionManifest Destiny to depict American expansionism. The Allure of the vastwestward expansion for regular American citizens was the promise of increased opportunityand prosperity through the enlargement of Americas territories. However, thepolitical and social ramifications of which would prove to inflict monumental actsof violence, most notably the genocide of native American Indians and theMexican American war, these acts inevitably shaped American history. Many causes fuelingAmerica’s need to expand and acquire new lands existed. One of the reasons wasAmericans were experiencing a large birthrate increase due to immigration.
Andbecause agriculture provided the primary economic structure during this periodin America, naturally families were enticed by the promise of land. Thepopulation in 1800 was more than five-million and by the mid-century grew tomore than twenty-three million. The increase in population would cause a nationto strive for increased land to accommodate the growth and to preventover-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…Thereis 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 pleafor the working class, those who were most effected by the great economic depressionof 1818, to head for the frontiers, but for all American citizens that superiorland ownership indicated wealth and political power. To Some, the Manifest Destiny was based on the idea that America had adivine providence. Americans of the early 19th century saw theexpansion of America as an adventure of provenance and a journey to not onlyexpand to new territory’s but to also spread the word of God. In a notablepiece of artwork propaganda by John Gast titled “Americas Progress” it depictsthe settlers lead by an Angel like figure holding what appears to be the bibleand creating a source of light for the Godfearing Europeans, driving nativesacross the land into the yet to be colonised west.
Using the light as a visualrepresentation of the light and guidance of religion in the east to dark andunknown world in the west.2This theory of a divine power leading the westward expansion was one that manyexpansionists adopted during this time of change. Stephen R. Demkin comments “Itwas white man’s burden to conquer and christionise the land”.
3Heavily implying the religious motives that lay within the foundations of theManifest Destiny, striving for a form of utopian destiny. However, with thebenefit of hindsight I believe that the idea of the Manifest Destiny beingAmericas destiny and god given, was used as a ploy to mask the genocidalatrocities that were inflicted upon the Native Indians. While Indian removal as a policy wasfirst envisioned by Thomas Jefferson, and structured by James Monroe, it wasAndrew Jackson who heavily pushed for and eventually signed the Indian removalact of 1830. During his Union address in December 6th 1830, Jackson addressedthe removal act as a plea to the Native Indians “to cast off their savagehabits and become an interesting, civilized, and Christian community”4 . Thislends itself to the American belief that the expansion of territories stemmedfrom a religious standpoint. Unsurprisingly the majority of Indian tribes didnot comply with the laws that were placed upon them, therefore many tribes wereforcibly removed from their lands, most notably the Cherokee, Chickasaw andSeminole. These barbarically enforced migrations aptly named the ‘Trail ofTears’, sent many tribes out with little if any recourses to cope through thewinter months of migration. Its estimated that close to 100,000 American Indiansdied due to disease and starvation because of the Indian removal act.
This issupported by Howard Zinn who states, “the cost of human life cannot be accuratelymeasured, in suffering not even roughly measured”.5 This isa harrowing but crucial indication that although most saw the Manifest Destinyas one of a positive expansion towards prosperity, in doing so it plaguedAmerican history forever with the cost of many innocent lives. The Louisiana purchaseof 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. Napoleonwas on the verge of a war with Great Britain and needed money to finance thewar. President Jefferson took advantage of this situation and offered to buyNew Orleans from France.
After much deliberation with the French, President ThomasJefferson acquired the Louisianan territory, including New Orleans for$15million, gaining 827,000 square miles which at the time would have doubledthe size of America. The Magnitude of the Louisiana purchase is emphasized byJefferson in a letter he wrote to French Economist Pierre Samuel Du Pont wherehe states, “This event of France possessing herself of Louisiana is the embryoof a tornado which will burst on the countries on both shored of the Atlanticand involve in its effects their highest destinies”.6 Americas chase of expansion through dominationis furthered by the tenacious message that the Monroe Doctrine of 1822 sentacross America, and more Importantly Europe. TheMonroe Doctrine was the communication vehicle used by President Monroe toconvey to the American people, and foreign nations, the strength of the U.S.and its determination to remain independent and free of interference from anyforeign nations. As anticipated this was received with immense enthusiasm bymany Americans, inciting an improved sense of pride throughout the nation.
1 Horace Greeley – New York tribune1941 2 John Gast “American Progress”artwork 3 Demkin, Stephen R. Lecture Notes. HIS 110-83.
1996. 4 AndrewJackson – Union address December 6th 1830 5 Howard Zinn – A peoples History ofthe United States6 Thomas Jefferson – letter to Du Pont – April 25th 1802