Manifest Destiny was a term coined by John O’Sullivan in 1845. It encompassed the idea that the United States was destined to occupy all the land between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
The Origins of Manifest Destiny
For some, the concept of Manifest Destiny was a blessing, but for others, it was a curse. It was rooted in the assumption that the United States was destined to occupy the territory between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.The roots of Manifest Destiny can be stretched back to the colonial era. John Winthrop had proclaimed that America shall be ‘a city upon a hill’ to suggest that the continent was destined for greatness.
The infamous Benjamin Franklin had claimed during the American Revolution that ‘we can begin the world anew’ by reordering the nature of government. These early sentiments were the precursor to Manifest Destiny and certainly fit within its framework.In a succession of events and treaties, the U.S. acquired the Ohio Valley, which extended the nation to the Mississippi River, followed by the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, which extended the border to the Rocky Mountains.
In 1819, Florida was added, but the real changed occurred with events in Texas.
The Background in Texas
The background for Manifest Destiny originated with the complex events in Texas. In 1836, Texans routed an army led by the Mexican leader Santa Anna in an attempt to regain Texas for Mexico. Texas now sought annexation by the U.S., but given the hot button issue of slavery, the U.
S. refused to bring it into the Union. So, Texas became an independent republic.
Ten years later, Santa Anna returned to power. War broke out between the U.S. and Mexico in 1846, and calls for annexation returned in full force.
John O’Sullivan and Manifest Destiny
This is where John O’Sullivan, the journalist who first coined the term ‘manifest destiny’ comes in.
It was in the July-August 1845 issue of the Democratic Review. He wrote an editorial titled ‘Annexation,’ in which he forcefully advocated for the annexation of Texas. He wrote of ‘the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.’He used the same expression in an 1847 editorial in another paper, where he wrote: ‘And that claim is by 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.’For O’Sullivan, Manifest Destiny was rooted in America’s God-given right to spread across the continent, accompany its vast landscape, subdue its backward inhabitants, and bring civilization to its people. Despite his boast of destiny, there were contrasting opinions of his vision.
Contrasting Opinions on Manifest Destiny
Manifest Destiny was descriptive of a mood, rather than official government policy.
However, many agreed with its sentiments.President James K. Polk supported the war against Mexico and the annexation of the Oregon Territory, which included modern-day Oregon and Washington State. He argued that since Mexico was ‘inferior in both race and power’ that it must ‘bend to the will of its neighbor.
‘ This thinking typified the sentiments of Manifest Destiny and unfortunately, the dark side of this vision!Not everyone agreed with this. Senator Henry Clay called the war ‘lamentable’ and said that it was ‘no war of defense, but unnecessary and of offensive aggression.’ General Ulysses S. Grant wrote ‘there was never a more wicked war than that waged by the United States on Mexico’ and that it was ‘one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.’ Noted Unitarian Pastor William Ellery Channing warned that aggressive expansion traded ‘reason and moral principle for brute force’ and damaged American ‘institutions and virtue.
The Legacy of Manifest Destiny
Ideas are often expressed through art, and Manifest Destiny was no exception. American painters could not resist the imagery of Manifest Destiny and painted its themes on canvas. The two most notable are Emanuel Leutze’s Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way(1861), which shows the triumph of pioneers moving West. Another is John Gast’s American Progress (1872), which depicts the symbolic and mythical Columbia hovering over the rush of Western pioneers as if they were guided by a guardian angel.Following the Civil War, the country embarked on another round of expansion, but this time overseas. Although the terminology changed, the general thesis of Manifest Destiny, that the U.
S. was destined to expand and civilize the world, retained powerful appeal thanks to the writings of John O’Sullivan. Like a good idea that is constantly recycled, Manifest Destiny remained a potent inspiration for future political leaders.
Manifest Destiny was rooted in the assumption that the U.S.
was destined to occupy the continental region between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Since independence, the U.S. had embarked on an endless chain of territorial expansion.Although the U.
S. had already acquired the Ohio Valley, the Louisiana Purchase, and Florida, it was the annexation of Texas that prompted John O’Sullivan, the journalist who first coined the term ‘manifest destiny,’ to argue that the U.S. was destined, by Providence, to occupy these lands, namely Texas and the Southwest.Not everyone supported this viewpoint, as evidenced by widespread opposition to the Mexican-American War, from figures like Senator Henry Clay, General Ulysses S. Grant, and Unitarian pastor William Ellery Channing.
However, O’Sullivan captured the mood of the war hawks and expansionists, like President James K. Polk, who supported this notion of expansion from the view point of Manifest Destiny.