Though the actual term “Manifest Destiny” was coined in 1845 by John O’Sullivan a democrat leader and the editior of “The Morning Post”. It was a concept going back to when the pilgrim fathers landed at Plymouth Rock. From the very first settlements in America the pilgrims, the settlers at Jamestown and all along the eastern seaboard, they began expanding litttle by little into the interior. Certainly from the 18th century Americans had come to believe that is was their right, and in fact their duty to bring Christianity and republicanism into the uninhabited western areas of the United States. Of course what these expanisionists did not take into consideration, was that the regions they were expanding into were inhabited by Indians, French, and Spanish speaking peoples. The land was only ‘uninhabited” by English-speaking white people. Manifest Destiny is not a specific time, date, or event in American history. It is more an ideaology, a movement that spans many years. It really created American history, it is what drove its people from coast to coast. Expanding the continent and bringing America’s ideals, government, religion from coast to coast.
Though Manifest Destiny was officially coined in 1845, it really existed throughout American history. From the French and Indian war the colonists began pushing the French off the continent. In 1754 America began the contest for control of the American continent. It took a war to remove the French from the Ohio valley. Now with the removal of the French danger, the stage was set for the colonies to expand and eventually unite against England itself.
In fact one grievance against Britian was the mother country’s attempt to prevent the colonists from settling beyond the Appalachians, “Proclamation of 1763” 1 On July 4, 1776 America declared her independence from Britian. This was only the beginning of seven long years of war, costing many lives and leaving the country’s economy in a shambles. However, it was truly the beginning of America as a continental, independent nation. Finally with peace and the Treaty of Paris in 1783, Britian ceded to the United States all the lands to the Mississippi River. Now the war was over and by 1789 our Constitution was ratified. The government, under the leadership of President Washington, came into its own. The country was now poised on the threshold of growth, prosperity and expansion.
With Thomas Jefferson, our second president the United States through him had a vision of a power that would stretch to the Pacific coast, in an “Empire of Liberty”.2 The Louisiana Purchase was a “direct result” of Jefferson’s true vision of an America that would go from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans. Even before Jefferson purchased the Louisianna territory, thousands of land hungry Americans had already migrated to the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys. This mass migration displaced many Indian tribes.
Jefferson knew that whoever controlled the port of New Orleans, owned the Mississippi River and had the power to open or close the port to commerce at will, as he phrased it “ a hand on the throat of the American economy”.3 He knew the Mississipi would draw the country together. The Louisiana Territory brought 828,000 sq. miles for 15 million dollars (about 3 cents an acre) to the United States. Jefferson’s dream of an “Empire for Liberty” had come to pass. The nation had been more than doubled in size. President Jefferson commissioned Lewis and Clark to explore this vast new territory. From 1804-1805, Lewis and Clark journeyed with the Corps of Discovery to map out the newly purchased territory. Lewis and Clark with 33 individuals began their journey from St. Louis up the Missouri River through the “Stoney Mountains” now the Rockies to the Pacific
Ocean. With this exploration came the realization that there was no easy all water route to the Pacific. That dream which had persisted for centuries had died. However, it would do little to stop the westward expansion. The American west was opened. Americans began moving into the Louisana Purchase lands at a much faster pace and in such large numbers that no one could have predicted this mass influx of people. The Louisiana Purchase began a shift toward the west away from the eastern seaboard. The next decades saw Americans rush in to settle this new land in the west.
Manifest Destiny continued with the United States possession of Florida from Spain in 1819. In return for Florida, the United States renounced its claim to Texas, but not for long. Within two years Moses Austin brought 300 families in to settle Texas and the American continent began its march westward.
This large migration of people started three major conflicts. First the Indian tribes of the trans-Mississippi, second problems with Mexico over emigration into the province of Texas and third with the admission of slavery into the Louisiana Territiory.
The Indian conflicts caused border wars with a myriad of Indian tirbes that lasted into the 1890’s. The second led to the Texas uprising in 1835 which culminated with the Mexican War in 1845 and the annexation of Texas along with all of the Southwest, including California by the United States. Finally the third which was temporarily solved by the Compromise of 1820 (Missouri Compromise). The “Great Compromise” brought about by Henry Clay the “Great Compromiser”. This compromise was supposed to solve the questrion of where slavery could
expand. This satisfied both sides for the time being. 4
With the election of President Polk in 1845, there was a renewal of “Jacksonian expansionism” 5 Polk was aggressive in instituting America’s claims to territory along its southern border with Mexico, as well as along the Canadian border with Great Britian. The dispute with Great Britian was resolved peacefully and diplomatically, while the argument with Mexico resulted in armed border clashes. This gave Polk reason to declare war with Mexico.
The American Army consisting of regulars and volunteers was finally victorious. United States battle deaths in the Mexican war was not heavy by modern standards, about 2% killed in combat with the greatest taken by diseases, about 14%, totaling 16% casualties. Under the command of Zachery Taylor and Winfield Scott, forays into Mexico ensued with the capture of Mexico City. This forced Mexico to sue for peace. In the Treaty of Guadelupe-Hidalgo Mexico ceded all of what is America’s southwest from the Rio Grande River westward to the Pacific to America. This was America’s first war waged primarily as an aggresive war. Mexico was forced to give up California, Arizona, and New Mexico and recognize the RioGrande as the United States southern border. The United States also paid Mexico 15 million dollars for all this land. While this gained some 850,000 square miles for the United States, it also gained the United States a legacy of distrust of “los yanquis” 6
Also during the time of Polk’s presidency, there were approximately 3,000-4,000 Americans living in the Oregon country who wanted union with the United States. Americans in the Oregon country were also filtering into the interior valleys of California by the mid 1840’s. Polk avoided conflict with England over the Oregon Canadian border by accepting the 49 parallel as the boundry of the United States. He ignored some American cries for the United States to push north to “Fifty-Four Forty or Fight”. 7 With the peaceful settlement of the Oregon border, the overland trails, the most important being the
“Oregon Trail”8 took on a new importance. Much to the calamity of the Indians. These trails carried thousands of Americans into Indian country, displacing the Indian tribes as had been done all across the nation.
So this term “Manifest Destiny” first coined by John O’Sullivan an American newspaper editor in 1845 came to pass. This term described the westward expansion from the fledgling 13 colonies hugging America’s Atlantic coast to her expansion clear to the Pacific Ocean. Through purchase, war, annexation, removal of native peoples and just true grit of an American people deterrminded to use the full potential of a people and country rich in land, resources and pure ambition.
The true surprise was that such an seemingly never ending amount of land would have taken a very long time to conquer. It had taken approximately 200 years to reach the Mississippi, but in a mere 40 years, America now had reached the Pacific Ocean. While America can be looked on as an aggresser in its push against whatever, and whoever stood in her way toward the dream of Manifest Destiny, it can also be looked on in a more positive light. Manifest Destiny was a fulfillment of a dream of ordinary Americans, farmers, missionaries, soldiers, simple pioneers (men, women and children) pushing themselves, their faith, and their beliefs ackross the continental United States. In looking back this expansion seems to be a very adventurous and romantic time. However, it was a massive undertaking, and certainly not easily won. For the ultimate prize of a continental United States many paid the highest price, they paid with their blood.
1. R. A. Guisepi, Manifest Destiny, 2004, http://history-world.org/westward_movement.htm (4 April 2008)
2. Amborse, Stephen E. & Brinkley, Douglas G. The Mississsippi and The Making of A Natiion From The Louisiana Purchase to Today, Page 11
3. Amborse, Stephen E. & Brinkley, Douglas G. The Mississsippi and The Making of A Natiion From The Louisiana Purchase to Today, Page 12
4. The Great Courses, Taught by Professor Allan C. Guelzo Eastern University; Professor Gary W. Gallagher, University of Virginia; Professor Patrick N. Allitt, Emory University, The History Of The United States 2nd Edition, Course Guide Book., Page 111
5. The Great Courses, Taught by Professor Allan C. Guelzo Eastern University; Professor Gary W. Gallagher, University of Virginia; Professor Patrick N. Allitt, Emory University, The History Of The United States 2nd Edition, Course Guide Book., Page 115
6. Manaifest Destiny and Expansion in the Americas,
7. PBS, US Mexican war Prelude to War,
8. R. A. Guisepi, Manifest Destiny, 2004,
Amborse, Stephen E. & Brinkley, Douglas G. The Mississsippi and The Making of A Natiion From The Louisiana Purchase to Today. National Geographic Society, 1145 17th St. N.W., Washington D.C. 200036-46888 Copyright 2002
Bennet, William J. America The Last Best Hope Volume I From the Age Of Discovery To A World War. Nelson Current Copyright 2006 ISBN I-59555-055-0
The Great Courses, The History Of The United States 2nd Edition, Course Guide Book. Taught by Professor Allan C. Guelzo Eastern University; Professor Gary W. Gallagher, University of Virginia; Professor Patrick N. Allitt, Emory University
Copyright The Teaching Company 2003
R. A. Guisepi, Manifest Destiny, History World International, 2004,
Manifest Destiny and Expansion in the Americas, January 2006, < http://humwww.ucsc.edu/gruesz/manifest.htm>(4 April 2008)
Our American History Textbook, Manifest Destiny Period 1820 – 1860, 4 April 2008,< http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/database/article_display.cfm?HHID=311>(4 April 2008)
PBS, US Mexican war Prelude to War,1995-2006