Manifest Destiny History
Manifest Destiny Purpose
Expansion of the United States
Manifest Destiny Definition
The term "manifest destiny" first appeared in print in July 1845 in the
"Democratic Review." Journalist John L. O'Sullivan supported the United States' claim to Texas and declared that the United States had a manifest destiny to spread across the continent.
The United States believed its mission was to extend the "boundaries
of freedom" to others by imparting its idealism and belief in democratic institutions to those who were capable of self-government.
It "excluded those people who were perceived as being incapable of self-government," such as Native American people and
those of non-European origin. See also Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and Gadsden Purchase.
But there were additional forces and political agendas at work. As the population
of the original 13 Colonies grew and the U.S. economy developed, the desire and attempts to expand into new land increased. For many colonists,
land represented potential income, wealth, self-sufficiency and freedom. Expansion into the western frontiers offered opportunities
for self-advancement. See also Monroe Doctrine.
|Manifest Destiny Map
|Map of US Territorial Growth and Expansionism
To understand Manifest Destiny, it's important to understand the United
States' need, desire and justification to expand. The following points illustrate some of the economic, social and political
pressures promoting U.S. expansion:
The United States was experiencing a periodic high birth rate and increases
in population due to immigration. And because agriculture provided the primary economic structure, large families to work
the farms were considered an asset. The U.S. population grew from more than five million in 1800 to more than 23 million by
mid-century. Thus, there was a need to expand into new territories to accommodate this rapid growth. It's estimated that nearly
4,000,000 Americans moved to western territories between 1820 and 1850.
The United States suffered two economic depressions — one in 1818 and
a second in 1839. These crises drove some people to seek their living in frontier areas.
Frontier land was inexpensive or, in some cases, free.
Expansion into frontier areas opened opportunities for new commerce and individual
Land ownership was associated with wealth and tied to self-sufficiency, political
power and independent "self-rule."
Maritime merchants saw an opportunity to expand and promote new commerce
by building West Coast ports leading to increased trade with countries in the Pacific.
of Congress; National Park Service; Department of the Interior; PBS Online; National Archives
Recommended Reading: Seizing Destiny: The Relentless
Expansion of American
Territory. From Publishers
In an admirable and important addition to his distinguished oeuvre, Pulitzer Prize–winner Kluger (Ashes to Ashes, a
history of the tobacco wars) focuses on the darker side of America's rapid expansion westward. He begins with European settlement
of the so-called New World, explaining that Britain's
successful colonization depended not so much on conquest of or friendship with the Indians, but on encouraging emigration.
Kluger then fruitfully situates the American Revolution as part of the story of expansion: the Founding Fathers based their
bid for independence on assertions about the expanse of American virgin earth and after the war that very land became the
new country's main economic resource. Continued below...
The heart of
the book, not surprisingly, covers the 19th century, lingering in detail over such well-known episodes as the Louisiana Purchase
and William Seward's acquisition of Alaska.
The final chapter looks at expansion in the 20th century. Kluger provocatively suggests that, compared with western European
powers, the United States
engaged in relatively little global colonization, because the closing of the western frontier sated America's
expansionist hunger. Each chapter of this long, absorbing book is rewarding as Kluger meets the high standard set by his earlier
work. Includes 10 detailed maps.
Viewing: Lewis & Clark - The Journey
of the Corps of Discovery (1997) (DVD) (240
minutes) (PBS) (September 28, 2004). Review: Another reliably well-crafted, generally engrossing documentary from Ken Burns,
Lewis & Clark employs the director's now-familiar approach to his subjects, from its elegant juxtaposition of period illustrations
and portraits against newly filmed footage of historic sites to Burns's repertory of accomplished actors to provide gravitas
for quotes from the key figures. Granted the formula has become familiar enough to allow parody, but Burns knows how to invest
his historical investigations with movement and drama, making this four-hour journey a worthwhile trip. Continued below…
by Hal Holbrook, Dayton Duncan's script explicates the agenda presented by Thomas Jefferson to Meriwether Lewis and William
Clark, placing it in the context of the young country's gamble in Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase, and the
expedition's goals for opening the West. While preserving the heroic scale of the undertaking, Burns also finds time to delve
into the politics of the venture and the disparate personalities of the two explorers; in particular, Duncan and Burns look
at the career of Lewis, the presidential protégé, his moody demeanor, and his untimely death. The film also looks beyond its
titular leaders to examine the personalities of their corps of soldiers, their boatmen, and the Indians they met and depended
on, most notably their female Shosone guide, Sacagawea. --Sam Sutherland
Recommended Reading: What Hath
God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848
(Oxford History of the United States)
(Hardcover: 928 pages). Review: The newest volume in
the renowned Oxford History of the United States-- A brilliant portrait of an era that saw dramatic transformations in American
life The Oxford History of the United States
is by far the most respected multi-volume history of our nation. The series includes two Pulitzer Prize winners, two New York
Times bestsellers, and winners of the Bancroft and Parkman Prizes. Now, in What Hath God Wrought, historian Daniel Walker
Howe illuminates the period from the battle of New Orleans to the end of the Mexican-American
War, an era when the United States expanded
to the Pacific and won control over the richest part of the North American continent. Continued below…
narrative portrays revolutionary improvements in transportation and communications that accelerated the extension of the American
empire. Railroads, canals, newspapers, and the telegraph dramatically lowered travel times and spurred the spread of information.
These innovations prompted the emergence of mass political parties and stimulated America's economic development from
an overwhelmingly rural country to a diversified economy in which commerce and industry took their place alongside agriculture.
In his story, the author weaves together political and military events with social, economic, and cultural history. He examines
the rise of Andrew Jackson and his Democratic party, but contends that John Quincy Adams and other Whigs--advocates of public
education and economic integration, defenders of the rights of Indians, women, and African-Americans--were the true prophets
of America's future. He reveals the power
of religion to shape many aspects of American life during this period, including slavery and antislavery, women's rights and
other reform movements, politics, education, and literature. Howe's story of American expansion -- Manifest Destiny -- culminates
in the bitterly controversial but brilliantly executed war waged against Mexico
to gain California and Texas for the United States. By 1848, America had been transformed. What Hath God Wrought provides a monumental narrative
of this formative period in United States
The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861
(Paperback), by David M. Potter. Review: Professor
Potter treats an incredibly complicated and misinterpreted time period with unparalleled objectivity and insight. Potter masterfully
explains the climatic events that led to Southern secession – a greatly divided nation – and the Civil War: the social, political
and ideological conflicts; culture; American expansionism, sectionalism and popular sovereignty; economic and tariff
systems; and slavery. In other words, Potter places under the microscope the root causes
and origins of the Civil War. He conveys the subjects in easy to understand language to edify the reader's
understanding (it's not like reading some dry old history book). Delving
beyond surface meanings and interpretations, this book analyzes not only the history, but the historiography of the time period
as well. Continued below…
rejects the historian's tendency to review the period with all the benefits of hindsight. He simply traces the events, allowing
the reader a step-by-step walk through time, the various views, and contemplates the interpretations of contemporaries and
other historians. Potter then moves forward with his analysis. The Impending Crisis is the absolute gold-standard of historical
writing… This simply is the book by which, not only other antebellum era books, but all history books should be judged.
Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History (Harvard University Press). Description: "Before this book first appeared in 1963, most historians wrote
as if the continental expansion of the United States was inevitable. 'What is most impressive,'
Henry Steele Commager and Richard Morris declared in 1956, 'is the ease, the simplicity, and seeming inevitability of the
whole process.' Continued below...
The notion of 'inevitability,' however, is perhaps only a secular variation on the theme of the expansionist
editor John L. O'Sullivan, who in 1845 coined one of the most famous phrases in American history when he wrote of 'our manifest
destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.' Frederick Merk rejected inevitability in favor of a
more contingent interpretation of American expansionism in the 1840s. As his student Henry May later recalled, Merk 'loved
to get the facts straight.'" --From the Foreword by John Mack Faragher About
the Author: Frederick Merk was Gurney Professor of American History, Harvard University.
Reading: Manifest Destiny: American Expansion and the Empire of Right (Critical Issue Book). From Booklist:
In this concise essay, Stephanson explores the religious antecedents to America's quest to control
a continent and then an empire. He interprets the two competing definitions of destiny that sprang from the Puritans' millenarian
view toward the wilderness they settled (and natives they expelled). Here was the God-given chance to redeem the Christian
world, and that sense of a special world-historical role and opportunity has never deserted the American national self-regard.
But would that role be realized in an exemplary fashion, with America
a model for liberty, or through expansionist means to create what Jefferson
called "the empire of liberty"? Continued below…
bubbles in two periods Stephanson examines closely, the 1840s and 1890s. In those times, the journalists, intellectuals, and
presidents he quotes wrestled with America's
purpose in fighting each decade's war, which added territory and peoples that somehow had to be reconciled with the predestined
future. …A sophisticated analysis of American exceptionalism for ruminators on the country's purpose in the world.
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