Manifest Destiny Essay, Research Paper
This paper takes a philosophical view of the Manifest Destiny phenomenon and attempts to provide logical evidence that Manifest Destiny can be argued as the sole reason for why America itself has a history. Few Americans had ever assumed that the boundaries of the United States would stand forever unchanged. Manifest Destiny was the driving force responsible for changing the face of American history. It was the philosophy that created a nation.
Manifest Destiny — The Intangible Of American History
American history was built on a chronological record of significant events, each event having a cause and subsequent effect on another event. Historical events are presented in history as being tangible, being tied to a date, or an exact happening. Manifest Destiny on the other hand, is a phenomenon. It can not be tied to a date, event or even a specific period of time. Manifest Destiny existed and still exists as the philosophy that embraces American history as a whole. Manifest Destiny is an intangible ideology that created American history. In its simplest form, Manifest Destiny can be defined as, “A Movement.” More specifically, it would be the systematic body of concepts and beliefs that powered American life and American culture.
Coining the Phrase
In 1845, a democratic leader and influential editor by the name of John L. O’Sullivan gave the movement its name. In an attempt to explain America’s thirst for expansion, and to present a defense for America’s claim to new territories he wrote:
“…. the right of our manifest destiny to over spread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federaltive development of self government entrusted to us. It is right such as that of the tree to the space of air and the earth suitable for the full expansion of its principle and destiny of growth.” (Brinkley 352)
Manifest Destiny became the rallying cry throughout America. The notion of Manifest Destiny was publicized in the papers and was advertise and argued by politicians throughout the nation. The idea of Manifest Destiny Doctrine became the torch, that lit the way for American expansion.
A Movement As Old As America Itself
Although the movement was named in 1845, the philosophy behind Manifest Destiny always existed throughout American History. For example, in 1818 Andrew Jackson, while taking a broad interpretation of vague instructions from President Monroe, led military forces into the Floridas during the Florida crisis. In a systematic and ruthless way, he punished the Seminal Indians for taking up arms with the Spanish, destroyed Spanish forces, and captured several cities and forts. (Demkin, Chapter 8). Americans who had moral reservations about the rough tactics of Jackson, soothed their consciences with a familiar, but not yet named philosophy. Their reasoning, the Floridas were part of American territory; therefore, destiny intended that America should have them.
The reason why Americans where in Florida in the first place, is yet another example of Manifest Destiny. The people of the deep South, wanting more fertile land, exercise what they considered to be their right. The planter class, without any political approval or permission, just took over and started settling and planting the Florida territories. This move was an example of the arrogance that the Americans had towards expansion. Americans believed that they had a right to any land they wanted.
First used in 1845, the term Manifest Destiny conveyed the idea that the rightful destiny of the US included imperialistic expansion. This idea certainly contributed to several wars. For example, in 1846 the United States declared war on Mexico and proceeded to win much of what is now the Southwestern United States. The war with Mexico was just one out of a series of aggressive acts that can be tied to America’s Manifest Destiny. Manifest Destiny emerged naturally and inevitability out of fundamental want and need to explore and conquer new lands and establish new borders. With this growth came moral, cultural, social ideological and economical differences between people, states and countries. Were these differences not the reasons why America fought for their independence in the Revolutionary War? Were these differences not the primary cause for the American Civil War?
The idea of Manifest Destiny is as old as America itself. The philosophy sailed with Christopher Columbus across the Atlantic. It resided in the spirits of the Jamestown colonist and it landed at Plymouth Rock with the Pilgrims. It also traveled with the fire and brimstone preachers during the Great Awakening and built the first national road. Throughout history there are numerous examples of Manifest Destiny. However, in early American history, synonyms were used to explain the not yet named Phenomenon. American history books are filled with words such as, Explorers, Frontier, Territories, Expansionism, Settlers, Idealism, Sectionalism and Immigration. Without Manifest Destiny, phrases and terms such as “Beyond the Great American Desert,” “The North West Passage,” and “The Oregon Trail,” would be just empty examples of white man’s travels.
A Disputed Philosophy
Much of the talk about Manifest Destiny had many people suggesting that America should assume the role as a world power. James Monroe in 1822 echoed this idea in his famous Monroe Doctrine when he warned Europe and the rest of the world to “Stay out of the Western Hemisphere” (Demkin Chapter 8).
In the months following the Spanish-American War, the idea of expansionism grew stronger across the United States. In Congress, legislators called for the annexation of all Spanish territories. Some newspapers even suggested the annexation of Spain itself. Expansionists such as Roosevelt, former President Harrison, and Captain Mahan argued for creating an American empire. However, others, including Grover Cleveland, Andrew Carnegie, and Mark Twain, opposed these ideas.
Manifest Destiny became a disputed philosophy. The following are two examples of the different views of the American people. This is evidence of the opposing attitudes towards the Manifest Destiny ideology. In a 1837 letter to Henry Clay, William E. Channing wrote:
“Did this county know itself, or were it disposed to profit by self-knowledge, it would feel the necessity of laying an immediate curb on its passion for extended territory…. We are a restless people, prone to encroachment, impatient of the ordinary laws of progress… We boast of our rapid growth, forgetting that, throughout nature, noble growths are slow….. It is full time that we should lay on ourselves serious, resolute restraint. Possessed of a domain, vast enough for the growth of ages, it is time for us to stop in the career of acquisition and conquest. Already endangered by our greatness, we cannot advance without imminent peril to our institutions, union, prosperity, virtue, and peace….. It is sometimes said, that nations are swayed by laws, as unfailing as those which govern matter; that they have their destinies; that their character and position carry them forward irresistibly to their goal;….
that … the Indians have melted before the white man, and the mixed, degraded race of Mexico must melt before the Anglo-Saxon. Away with this vile sophistry! There is no necessity for crime. There is no fate to justify rapacious nations, any more than to justify gamblers and robbers, in plunder. We boast of the progress of society, and this progress consists in the substitution of reason and moral principle for the sway of brute force….We talk of accomplishing our destiny. So did the late conqueror of Europe (Napoleon) ; and destiny consigned him to a lonely rock in the ocean, the prey of ambition which destroyed no peace but his own.” (Blum 276)
As an example of the opposing attitude and the attitude that was voiced by the majority of Americans at the time, the following article appeared in the Democratic Review in 1845.
“Texas has been absorbed into the Union in the inevitable fulfillment of the general law which is rolling our population westward…. It was disintegrated form Mexico in the natural course of events, by a process perfectly legitimate on its own part, blameless on ours…. (its) incorporation into the Union was not only inevitable, but the most natural, right and proper thing in the world…. California will, probably, next fall away from…Mexico…. Imbecile and distracted, Mexico never can exert any real governmental authority over such a country…. The Anglo-Saxon foot is already on its borders. Already the advance guard of the irresistible army of Anglo-Saxon emigration has begun to pour down upon it armed with the plow and the rifle, and markings its trail with schools and colleges, courts and representative halls, mills and meeting houses. A population will soon be in actual occupation of California, over which it will be idle for Mexico to dream of dominion… All this without agency of our government, without responsibility of our people- -in natural flow of events, the spontaneous working of principles, and the adaptation of the tendencies and wants of the human race to the elemental circumstances in the midst of which they find themselves placed.” (Blum 277)