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Manifest Destiny

Manifest Destiny
In the mid-nineteenth century, newspaper editor John O'Sullivan coined the term 'manifest destiny' to
describe the belief that God intended for the United States to occupy North America from Atlantic to
“Manifest Destiny, a phrase coined in 1845, is the idea that the United States is destined—by
God, its advocates believed—to expand its dominion and spread democracy and capitalism
across the entire North American continent. The philosophy drove 19th-century U.S. territorial
expansion and was used to justify the forced removal of Native Americans and other groups
from their homes. The rapid expansion of the United States intensified the issue of slavery as
new states were added to the Union, leading to the outbreak of the Civil War. (HISTORY.COM
US President James K. Polk (1845-1849) is the leader most associated with Manifest Destiny.
Manifest Destiny inflamed sectional tensions over slavery, which ultimately led to the Civil War.
From sea to shining sea
In 1845, newspaper editor John O’Sullivan coined the term “Manifest Destiny” to describe the ideology
of continental expansionism.
Though the term was new, the ideas underlying it were much older, dating back to the first colonial
contact between Europeans and Native Americans. The ideology that became known as Manifest
Destiny included a belief in the inherent superiority of white Americans, as well as the conviction that
they were destined by God to conquer the territories of North America, from sea to shining sea.
The ideology of Manifest Destiny justified extreme measures to clear the native population from the
land, including forced removal and violent extermination. For proponents of Manifest Destiny, the
American Indians were mere impediments to the forward march of racial and technological progress,
and they advocated pursuing a policy of Indian Removal.
According to American Historians David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler (2021) – “Before the American
Civil War (1861–65), the idea of Manifest Destiny was used to validate continental acquisitions in the
Oregon Country, Texas, New Mexico, and California. The purchase of Alaska after the Civil War briefly
revived the concept of Manifest Destiny, but it most evidently became a renewed force in U.S. foreign
policy in the 1890s, when the country went to war with Spain, annexed Hawaii, and laid plans for an
isthmian canal across Central America.”
Painting: John Gast, American Progress, 1872. The artist depicts Columbia, an allegorical figure of
America, bring elements of 'civilization' west. As railroads, settlers, and telegraph wires come west,
American Indians and bison scatter before them. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Origin of the term
John L. O’Sullivan, the editor of a magazine that served as an organ for the Democratic Party and
of a partisan newspaper, first wrote of “manifest destiny” in 1845, but at the time he did not
think the words profound. Rather than being “coined,” the phrase was buried halfway through
the third paragraph of a long essay in the July–August issue of The United States Magazine, and
Democratic Review on the necessity of annexing Texas and the inevitability of American
expansion. O’Sullivan was protesting European meddling in American affairs, especially by France
and England, which he said were acting.
“our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence
has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated selfgovernment entrusted to us.
O’Sullivan’s observation was a complaint rather than a call for aggression, and he referred to
demography rather than pugnacity as the solution to the perceived problem of European
interference. Yet when he expanded his idea on December 27, 1845, in a newspaper column in
the New York Morning News, the wider audience seized upon his reference to divine
superintendence. Discussing the dispute with Great Britain over the Oregon Country, O’Sullivan
again cited the claim to
the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent
which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and
federated self-government entrusted to us.
Some found the opinion intriguing, but others were simply irritated. The Whig Party sought to
discredit Manifest Destiny as belligerent as well as pompous, beginning with Massachusetts Rep.
Robert Winthrop’s using the term to mock Pres. James K. Polk’s policy toward Oregon.
Yet unabashed Democrats took up Manifest Destiny as a slogan. The phrase frequently appeared
in debates relating to Oregon, sometimes as soaring rhetoric and other times as sarcastic
derision. As an example of the latter, on February 6, 1846, the New-Hampshire Statesman and
State Journal, a Whig newspaper, described “some windy orator in the House [of
Representatives]” as “pouring for his ‘manifest destiny’ harangue.”
Over the years, O’Sullivan’s role in creating the phrase was forgotten, and he died in obscurity
some 50 years after having first used the term “manifest destiny.” In an essay in The American
Historical Review in 1927, historian Julius W. Pratt identified O’Sullivan as the phrase’s
originator, a conclusion that became universally accepted.
 Heidler, D. S. and Heidler, . Jeanne T. (2021, August 20). Manifest Destiny. Encyclopedia
Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/event/Manifest-Destiny
Heidler and Heidler (2021) noted that “Despite disagreements about Manifest Destiny’s validity at the
time, O’Sullivan had stumbled on a broadly held national sentiment. Although it became a rallying cry as
well as a rationale for the foreign policy that reached its culmination in 1845–46, the attitude behind
Manifest Destiny had long been a part of the American experience.” They continued “The impatient
English who colonized North America in the 1600s and 1700s immediately gazed westward and instantly
considered ways to venture into the wilderness and tame it. The cause of that ceaseless wanderlust
varied from region to region, but the behaviour became a tradition within one generation. The western
horizon would always beckon, and Americans would always follow. After the American Revolution
(1775–83), the steady advance of the cotton kingdom in the South matched the lure of the Ohio Country
in the North.“
Louisiana Purchase
Thanks to a high birth rate and brisk immigration, the U.S. population exploded in the first half of the
19th century, from around 5 million people in 1800 to more than 23 million by 1850.
Such rapid growth—as well as two economic depressions in 1819 and 1839—would drive millions of
Americans westward in search of new land and new opportunities.
President Thomas Jefferson kicked off the country’s westward expansion in 1803 with the Louisiana
Purchase, which at some 828,000 square miles nearly doubled the size of the United States and
stretched from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. In addition to sponsoring the western
expedition of Lewis and Clark of 1805-07, Jefferson also set his sights on Spanish Florida, a process that
was finally concluded in 1819 under President James Monroe.
Image credit: https://www.history.com/topics/westward-expansion/louisiana-purchase
Image credit: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.Louisiana Purchase - Students | Britannica Kids | Homework Help
In 1803 United States President Thomas Jefferson set the example of getting new territory by purchase
rather than by war. He did so by buying from France the vast tract of land known as Louisiana. The
Louisiana Purchase included the western half of the Mississippi River basin—far more land than what is
now the state of Louisiana. Out of this territory were carved the entire states of Missouri, Arkansas,
Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Oklahoma, as well as Louisiana. In addition, the
Louisiana Purchase included most of the land in what are now the states of Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming,
Montana, and Minnesota.
But critics of that treaty faulted Monroe and his secretary of state, John Quincy Adams, for yielding to
Spain what they considered legitimate claims on Texas, where many Americans continued to settle.
In 1823, Monroe invoked Manifest Destiny when he spoke before Congress to warn European nations
not to interfere with America’s Westward expansion, threatening that any attempt by Europeans to
colonize the “American continents” would be seen as an act of war. This policy of an American sphere of
influence and of non-intervention in European affairs became known as the “Monroe Doctrine.” After
1870, it would be used as a rationale for U.S. intervention in Latin America.
The U.S. acquires Spanish Florida
Spanish minister Do Luis de Onis and U.S. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams sign the Florida
Purchase Treaty, in which Spain agrees to cede the remainder of its old province of Florida to the United
Spanish colonization of the Florida peninsula began at St. Augustine in 1565. The Spanish colonists
enjoyed a brief period of relative stability before Florida came under attack from resentful Native
Americans and ambitious English colonists to the north in the 17th century. Spain’s last-minute entry
into the French and Indian War on the side of France cost it Florida, which the British acquired through
the first Treaty of Paris in 1763. After 20 years of British rule, however, Florida was returned to Spain as
part of the second Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolution in 1783.
Spain’s hold on Florida was tenuous in the years after American independence, and numerous boundary
disputes developed with the United States. In 1819, after years of negotiations, Secretary of State John
Quincy Adams achieved a diplomatic coup with the signing of the Florida Purchase Treaty, which
officially put Florida into U.S. hands at no cost beyond the U.S. assumption of some $5 million of claims
by U.S. citizens against Spain. Formal U.S. occupation began in 1821, and General Andrew Jackson, the
hero of the War of 1812, was appointed military governor. Florida was organized as a U.S. territory in
1822 and was admitted into the Union as a slave state in 1845.
Texas Independence
Cries for the “re-annexation” of Texas increased after Mexico, having won its independence from Spain,
passed a law suspending U.S. immigration into Texas in 1830.
Nonetheless, there were still more Anglo settlers in Texas than Hispanic ones, and in 1836, after Texas
won its own independence, its new leaders sought to join the United States. The administrations of both
Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren resisted such calls, fearing both war with Mexico and opposition
from Americans who believed calls for annexation were linked with the desire to expand slavery in the
But John Tyler, who won the presidency in 1840, was determined to proceed with the annexation. An
agreement concluded in April 1844 made Texas eligible for admission as a U.S. territory, and possibly
later as one or more states.
Despite opposition to this agreement in Congress, the pro-annexation candidate James K. Polk won the
1844 election, and Tyler was able to push the bill through and sign it before he left office.
Caught in the upheaval coincidental to that expansion, Southeast Indians succumbed to the pressure of
spreading settlement by ceding their lands to the United States and then relocating west of the
Mississippi River under Pres. Andrew Jackson’s removal policy of the 1830s. The considerable hardships
suffered by the Indians in that episode were exemplified by the devastation of the Cherokees on the
infamous Trail of Tears, which excited humanitarian protests from both the political class and the
Oregon Territory
An 1842 treaty between Great Britain and the United States partially resolved the question of where to
draw the Canadian border, but left open the question of the Oregon Territory, which stretched from the
Pacific Coast to the Rocky Mountains over an area including what is now Oregon, Idaho, Washington
State and most of British Columbia.
Polk, an ardent proponent of Manifest Destiny, had won election with the slogan “54˚ 40’ or fight!” (a
reference to the potential northern boundary of Oregon as latitude 54˚ 40’) and called U.S. claims to
Oregon “clear and unquestionable” in his inaugural address.
But as president, Polk wanted to get the issue resolved so the United States could move on to acquiring
California from Mexico. In mid-1846, his administration agreed to a compromise whereby Oregon would
be split along the 49th parallel, narrowly avoiding a crisis with Britain.
Impact of Manifest Destiny: The Civil War, Native American Wars
By the time the Oregon question was settled, the United States had entered into all-out war with
Mexico, driven by the spirit of Manifest Destiny and territorial expansion.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War in 1848, added an additional
525,000 square miles of U.S. territory, including all or parts of what is now California, Arizona, Colorado,
New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.
Despite the lofty idealism of Manifest Destiny, the rapid territorial expansion over the first half of the
19th century resulted not only in war with Mexico, but in the dislocation and brutal mistreatment of
Native American, Hispanic and other non-European occupants of the territories now being occupied by
the United States.
U.S. expansion also fueled the growing debate over slavery, by raising the pressing question of whether
new states being admitted to the Union would allow slavery or not—a conflict that would eventually
lead to the Civil War.
Less than a century after breaking from the British Empire, the United States had gone far in creating its
own empire by extending sovereignty across the continent to the Pacific, to the 49th parallel on the
Canadian border, and to the Rio Grande in the south. Having transformed a group of sparsely settled
colonies into a continental power of enormous potential, many Americans thought the achievement so
stunning as to be obvious. It was for them proof that God had chosen the United States to grow and
Realizing its Manifest Destiny with triumph over Mexico in 1848 gave the United States an immense
domain that came with spectacular abundance and potential. (Under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo,
which ended the war, the United States acquired more than 525,000 square miles [1,360,000 square
km] of land, including present-day Arizona, California, western Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas,
and Utah.) California’s climate made much of it a natural garden, and its gold would finance decades of
impressive growth. Burgeoning Pacific trade required opening diplomatic relations with heretofore
isolationist Japan and created American trade in places that before had always been European
commercial preserves. Yet the dispute over the status of the new western territories regarding slavery
disrupted the American political system by reviving arguments that shattered fragile compromises and
inflamed sectional discord.
In fact, those disputes brought the era of Manifest Destiny to an abrupt close. Plans to tie the eastern
United States to the Pacific Coast with a transcontinental railroad led to the country’s final land
acquisition before the Civil War when U.S. Minister to Mexico James Gadsden purchased a small parcel
of land in 1853 to facilitate a southern route. For that reason alone, the Gadsden Purchase provoked the
North, and Americans soon found themselves embroiled in additional arguments that foiled the railroad
while killing any possible consensus for further expansion.
The New Manifest Destiny
After the Civil War, reconstructing the Union and promoting the industrial surge that made the United
States a premier economic power preoccupied the country. In the 1890s, however, the United States
and other great powers embraced geopolitical doctrines stemming from the writings of naval officer and
historian Alfred Thayer Mahan, who posited that national greatness in a competitive world derived from
the ability to control navigation of the seas. The coincidence of Mahanian doctrine emerging in tandem
with Herbert Spencer’s belief that unfettered competition promoted progress led to a naval arms race
that revolutionized seagoing architecture and hastened the replacement of sail with steam. Although
they accommodated bigger guns and could meet schedules regardless of weather, fuel-hungry
steamships required far-flung coaling stations, which encouraged naval powers to plant their flags on
remote outposts and define their interest in places never before connected to their security or
Americans dubbed this freshly found national endeavour the “New Manifest Destiny.” As before, it was
a way of clothing imperial ambitions in a higher purpose ostensibly decreed by Providence. The SpanishAmerican War of 1898 arose from popular outrage over Madrid’s reportedly barbarous colonial policies
in Cuba and, more immediately, in response to the destruction of the U.S. battleship Maine, but it ended
with the United States acquiring remnants of Spain’s dwindling global empire. Similarly, the annexation
of Hawaii in 1898 provided the United States Navy with the desirable port facilities at Pearl Harbor.
The New Manifest Destiny curiously reversed the political lines of support of its forbearer. In the 1840s
Manifest Destiny was primarily a Democrat Party doctrine over Whig dissent, but the New Manifest
Destiny was a Republican program, especially under Pres. Theodore Roosevelt’s vigorous promotion of
it, and Democrats tended to object to it. The Progressive wings of both parties, however, gravitated to
advancing American idealism, which led to intervention in World War I and Pres. Woodrow Wilson’s
Fourteen Points as a statement of high globalism. Wilson’s program ultimately failed to sustain a
consensus among the American people. Just as expansionism before the Civil War collapsed under the
press of the slavery controversy, Wilsonian internationalism retreated before the United States’
traditional isolationism after the war.
Conflicting interpretations
Manifest Destiny has caused controversy among historians trying to sort out its origins and assess its
significance. In 1893 historian Frederick Jackson Turner put forth what proved a durable interpretation
in his seminal essay “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.” In Turner’s view, taming the
western wilderness shaped the pioneers as much as they shaped the land they settled, making them
robust and capable in continuing the American tradition of pacifying and inhabiting whatever lay beyond
the western horizon. In that regard, Turner provided an explanation for American exceptionalism, but,
beginning in the mid-1980s, scholars styling themselves New Western Historians challenged his ideas.
They rejected the view that Americans were agents of change, let alone purveyors of progress. Rather,
the New Western Historians stressed the role of the coalition of government and influential
corporations in overwhelming indigenous populations. In addition, they did not see the West
fundamentally shaping American exceptionalism, the existence of which they doubted in any case. They
focused instead on how competing cultures melded to create a singular heritage that was nevertheless
broad and varied.
Manifest Destiny
Illustration by Udo J. Keppler from Puck magazine, 1895, depicting Uncle Sam dreaming of conquest.
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (reproduction no. LC-USZC4-4908)
Whatever the validity of those conflicting views, in the simplest interpretation Manifest Destiny
expressed the American version of an age-old yearning for improvement, change, and growth. Those
who promoted it might have done so from venal or virtuous motives, and those who opposed it were
seemingly vindicated by the Civil War in their grim warnings about the steep costs of a spreading
imperium, but the events of American expansionism were a tale more than twice-told in the course of
History.com Editors. (2010, April 5). Manifest destiny. History.com. Retrieved January 31, 2022,
from https://www.history.com/topics/westward-expansion/manifest-destiny
Julius W. Pratt, “The Origin of ‘Manifest Destiny’,” The American Historical Review (July 1927).
Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (New York: Norton, 2005).
Michael Golay, The Tide of Empire: America’s March to the Pacific
Era of U.S. Continental Expansion, History, Art & Archives: U.S House of Representatives.
Heidler, D. S. and Heidler, . Jeanne T. (2021, August 20). Manifest Destiny. Encyclopedia Britannica.
Chapter 11: Manifest Destiny (pusd.us)
History in the Making (ung.edu)
Microsoft Word - Westward Expansion Notes for Teacher Page (stcharles.k12.la.us)
DOPAEA_FL_SE_TP_892806.indd (bridgepreporange.com)