Manifest Destiny

Figure 1.--Nothing so captures the ethic of American Manifest Destiny than the iconic painting, 'Westward the course of empire takes its way' by Emanuel Leutze (1816-68). The mamouth work was painted in 1862 during the Civil War. It was painted on the House Wing, west stairway of the U.S. Capitol. Leutze was brought to America as a boy by his father. but later trained in America and Germany. He was a strong believer in american exceptionalism and liberal reforms. He is best known for his painting 'Washington crossing the Deleware'. Putyour cirsor n the image to see the rest of the painting.

Manifest Destiny is the idea that the fledgling United States not only could, but was destined to encompass a continent. British power prevented expansion north and the Hispanic populstion to the south meant that it was the West that became emodied in the American consciouness--that america should stretch from coast to coast. It became the fuel behind western settlement. The concept of Manifest Destiny existed more than a century before the term came to be used by Americans. From a very early point Americans began thinking about westward expansion. The 13 colonies thay develpped made claims west far beyond the Apalachins into the Ohio Valley toward the all important Mississippi River. The southern colonies made similar claims. Notably the title of Leutze's painting is a verse from the poem 'On the prospect of planting arts and learning in America” by Bishop George Berkeley (1685–1753). A major obstacle to the Colonist's continental ambitions became the British who could read a map as well as the Americans. The British could not govern an entire continent. Only if the colonists were pinned to the Atantic seabord could they be governed and divided up like Europe into small territories. This was not the vision the Colonists had. They had visions of land beyond the Apalachins which is why a Col. Washington led the Virginia militia into the Ohop Valley to fighting the French and in the process set off the French and Indian War/Seven Years War. It is also why the Quebec Act moving Cannada's borders into the Ohio Valley and poromoting the American Colonists from settling west of the aplachins so shocked the Americans. It was one of the causes of the Revolution--a cause commonly not given its true importance. And it is no accident that the term 'continental was used for both the Continental Congress and Continental Army. It shows the vision of the men who declared independence from Britain and British restrictions on westward expansion. The term Manifest Destiny did not appear until the mid-19th century when the issue of Oregon and Texas arose. It was the idea that Anglo-Saxon Americans’ had a providential mission to expand their civilization and institutions across North America. This expansion was not just territorial expansion, but the progress of individual liberty--political (democracy) and economic (capitalism) freedom. The generous terms of the Treaty of Paris (1783) extenedthe new Republic's borders to the Mississippi. The Louisiana Purchase extended the territory further wst beyond the Mississopi (1803). The term Manifest Destiny was pinned by journalist qnd editor John L. O’Sullivan as the United States focused on rTexas and reaching the Pacifc (1845). He wrote, "... our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions." [O'Sullivan] The term was popularized by those desiring to add Texas and Oregon Territory to the Union. Oregon was settled peacefully with the British by spliting it. Texas led to the Mexican war and the acquisition of the Southwest, populated primarily by Native Americans. Manifest Destiny was originally a partisan Democratic issue, largely because southrners wanted new slave states and norternWhigs sought to restict the spread of slavery. After the Civil War it became a widely held national consensus ;eading to the acquisition of Alaska from the Russians which at first rediculed in the press. There was interest in expansion south to the Caribbean and Central America, but there was no national consensus on this, primarily because of the Hispanic population. Racial attitudes were no dominant among the early proponents of Manifest Destiny. It was at first more of a cultural concept. This gradually evolved and by the turn-of-the 20th century, racial superiority became an importnt part of the concept. Eventually the idea expnded beyond the Pacific coast. The concept included the idea that America's Anglo-Saxon heritage’ made the United States supremely fit to extend its influence beyond its continental boundaries into the Pacific. The inerest in the Pacific led to the Spanish-American War and the acquisition of the Hawaiian Islands and the Philippine Islands (1898). This proved to be a brief infatuation with empire. After only three decades, th United States in the 1930s began the process of independence for the Philippines. It prove to be the beginning of Decolonization. This would be a process the Europeans with their massive empires would not evnn contmp;ste until after World War II.


O'Sullivan, John L. United States Magazine and Democratic Review (July-August 1845). O'Sullican's article was about the annexation of Texas.

Stark, Peter. Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire (2014), 256p.


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Created: 4:32 AM 3/8/2014
Last updated: 7:00 PM 9/3/2016