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“It
is our manifest destiny to overspread the continental allotted by Providence
for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions” (Stegner 115).
This was a quote by John O’Sullivan, an American columnist and editor, who was
the first to coin the phrase, “Manifest Destiny”. This phrase was first used in
his essay titled, Annexation, which
advised the United States to annex the Republic of Texas and the Oregon Country
(History.com). Throughout history, the Manifest Destiny was known as the
Americans’ belief that the United States should control all of North America by
expanding westward from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Specifically,
by believing that they were destined by God to spread their religion through
missionaries westward as they expanded their nation’s territory. Manifest
Destiny was the belief of the United States and its citizens that it was God’s
will to expand their territory westward, from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to
the Pacific Ocean (Manifest Destiny). In fact, according to Jim Ollhoff in his
book, Conflicts and Independence,

People
in the United States…believed that they had the right to displace the Native
Americans and take their land. People in the United States even looked at
the large land holdings of Mexico and began to desire that land, too. The
United States began to believe that Florida, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and
California should be possessions of the United States. Some people even thought
that the United States should simply take the land, rather than buy it or
negotiate for it. (Ollhoff 16)

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The
Manifest Destiny started around 1840 and ended around 1850. The phrase, “Manifest
Destiny” was used throughout the second half of the 19th century in
order to symbolize the motivation behind Americans’ fervor to expand across the
continent (John L. O’Sullivan). The Manifest Destiny was also known as a
campaign that was “shaped by ideas of American exceptionalism” (Manifest
Destiny). American exceptionalism is “the belief that the United
States differs from other developed nations because
of its unique origins, historical evolution…, and religious institutions”
(Markakis 30). Manifest Destiny was also portrayed in multiple paintings, the
most important painting out of all of them was the American Progress by John Gast, a painter and lithographer. The American Progress was created in
Brooklyn, New York during the year 1872. The painting shows “an allegorical female
figure of America” moving westward (American Progress). The female figure represents “Progress”,
she has a gold star on her forehead known as the “Star of Empire” (Alba
100). In her right hand is a schoolbook
and in her left hand she is holding telegraph wire. The painting also shows
Native Americans frantically running away from “Progress” on horses.
This aspect of the painting emphasizes the United States’ belief in American
cultural superiority. The painting even shows farmers walking behind
“Progress” and using two oxen and a steel plow to till the land. This
aspect of the painting highlights the importance of agriculture and
technological advancements. The painting also shows a prairie schooner, which
represented the settlers’ choice of transportation on the Oregon Trail during
the California Gold Rush (Alchin). The painting relates “The concept of Manifest Destiny…to the belief
that the United States had a…divine mandate to colonize the lands west of the
Mississippi” (American Progress).

There
were many reasons behind the Manifest Destiny and why it happened. The first
reason was nationalism. Nationalism is a term used when describing a person’s sense of common belonging and
loyalty to a nation. Nationalism rises
among a group of people when they share common traits such as culture,
language, origin, and tradition (Cerulo). These patriotic feelings in the U.S.
citizens developed as a result of United States’ victory in the War of 1812. Nationalism
developed as a result of the United States’ victory in the War of 1812 because
it was the first war where the United States fought with unity, as a union of
states, unlike the previous wars. Nationalism led to the Manifest Destiny
because US citizens and their government had the greed and ambition to acquire
the inexpensive western land, especially, since “original east coast areas of
settlement were being filled up” (Northern State University). The
second reason was population increase. Due to the increasing population, there
were more jobs being created and available for the US settlers. Some examples
of those occupations are farmers to harvest crops, workers to build railroad
tracks for trains, and merchants to trade the crops and other goods created by
other specialized workers. According to PBS,

The
United States was experiencing a periodic high birth rate and increases in
population due to immigration. And because agriculture provided the primary
economic structure, large families to work the farms were considered an asset.
The United States’ population grew from more than five million in 1800 to more
than 23 million by mid-century. Thus, there was a need to expand into new
territories to accommodate this rapid growth. It is estimated that nearly
4,000,000 Americans moved to western territories between 1820 and 1850.
(Manifest Destiny: An Introduction)

The
third reason was rapid economic development. Rapid economic development led to
the Manifest Destiny because since the United States had a stable economy, they
could fund expeditions, such as the Lewis and Clark expedition, to go westward
in order to explore more territory and acquire it as well. The Lewis and Clark
expedition was a United States military expedition funded by President Thomas
Jefferson that lasted from May 14,
1804 to Sep 23, 1806. This expedition was where Captain Meriwether
Lewis and Lieutenant William Clark explored the Louisiana Purchase and the Pacific Northwest (Buckley). The Lewis and Clark Expedition
led to President Thomas Jefferson purchasing the Louisiana Purchase. According
to Howard Zinn, “Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase had doubled the territory of
the United States, extending it to the Rocky Mountains” (Zinn 149). The fourth
reason was technological advances. Technological advances such as the steel
plow, mechanical reaper, and telegraph helped the United States expand westward
by making the daily tasks of U.S. citizens more efficient. The steel plow,
invented by John Deere (The Editors of Encyclopædia), and the mechanical reaper,
invented by Cyrus McCormick (Wilson), made farming and agricultural tasks more
efficient for agrarian societies by making farming and harvesting crops more
cost-effective. The telegraph, invented by Samuel Finley Breese Morse (Mabee), made
communication easier by allowing long-distance communication between states
within a few minutes. The telegraph eliminated the need for soldiers to ride around
town on horseback and send messages. The fifth reason was reform ideas. Reform
ideas that led to the Manifest Destiny were the Education, Mentally Insane/Asylum,
Abolitionist, Temperance, and Women’s Rights movements. The Asylum Movement was
led by Dorothea Dix. She fought for basic rights for mentally insane people, she
helped pass the Bill for the Benefit of the Indigent Insane, and founded the
Harrisburg State Hospital. The Abolitionist Movement was led by Harriet Tubman,
Father G. Finney, William Lloyd Garrison, Sojourner Truth, and many other
famous reformers. These reformers had one thing in common, they all fought for
slave’s rights and the abolishment of slavery. The Temperance Movement was led
by Susan B. Anthony, preachers, women, and factory owners. They fought against
the consumption of alcoholic beverages because it led men to commit sins, have
social problems, have bad parenting skills, etc. Finally, the Women’s Rights
Movement was led by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Lucretia Mott and
Elizabeth Cady Stanton fought for women’s rights by holding the Seneca Falls
Convention and writing the Declaration of Sentiments. The Seneca Falls
Convention was an assembly held from July 19, 1848 to July 20, 1848 at Seneca
Falls, New York (Seneca Falls Convention). At this assembly, women and women’s
rights reformers signed the Declaration of Sentiments. The Declaration of
Sentiments listed the rights that every American woman, that was a citizen, was
entitled to (Cokely). The sixth reason was the acquisition of land. The
acquisition of land, such as Texas, Oregon, California, and New Mexico. The
more land the United States acquired through conquests like the Manifest
Destiny, the larger their nation expanded. This expansion resulted in the
acquisition of more land, the establishment of more settlements, and the
establishment of more authority over the other world powers, a term used to
describe a political unit (such as a nation or state) powerful enough to affect
the entire world by its influence or actions (World Power).

The
boundary dispute in Oregon between Great Britain and the United States was also
referred to as, Fifty-Four or Fight, a campaign slogan originated by Democratic
candidate James K. Polk during the Presidential Election of 1844. The slogan
portrayed the Democrat’s desire of the United States’ border on Oregon being
drawn at the 54°40′ latitude line. However, due to the Oregon Treaty of 1846, a
treaty that resolved the boundary dispute between the United States and Great
Britain over land that was located between the Columbia River and the 49th
parallel, James Polk decided to draw the U.S.’s border on Oregon at the 49th
parallel (Oregon Treaty of 1846).

The
Manifest Destiny had its advantages as well. One advantage was that the United
States expanded their territory by more than 60% than what it originally was
before the Manifest Destiny (10 Pros and Cons). The second advantage was
colonization and the imparting of cultural values (Lombardo). Since more land
was gained during Manifest Destiny, more people were needed to establish
settlements on the vast, empty plots of land. They were also needed to instill
American culture into the previous inhabitants of the land. Believers of this ideology
asserted that this will be beneficial to the Indians and the people who were in
these territories because they will learn more about the democratic, religious,
and cultural ways of the Americans (ConnectUS). The third advantage was
agricultural development. Because of all of the excess land that had been
acquired from the westward expansion, the Americans had more land to use for
farming crops to feed the growing population and more crops to sell and buy,
which boosted the economy and made it more stable (10 Pros and Cons). The boost
in agriculture also led to more efficient ways (technological advances) to farm
crops, such as the steel plow, mechanical reaper, windmill, wheat farming
technique, and the dry farming technique.

            Along with advantages, the Manifest Destiny
had its disadvantages. One disadvantage was that the Manifest Destiny brought
war and conflict to the western frontier. Critics of the Manifest Destiny
argued that it resulted in war between multiple countries and even caused the
Civil War. For example, the United States was already in conflict with Great Britain
over the division of Oregon, which gave the United States a reason to start a
war with Mexico and Spain. There was even conflict between American citizens
and the Native Americans because some of the Native Americans refused to give
up their holy villages to the United States, which resulted in bloodshed (10
Pros and Cons). Another disadvantage was slavery, especially since the Manifest
Destiny brought in tons of land for the Americans to colonize on, establish
settlements, and to start a farm on; the United States needed more labor to
work on these plantations, and the cheapest labor for them were African
American slaves and displaced Native Americans. So as the amounts of territory
expanded increased in millions, the amount of slave labor used at these
plantations increased as well. Some of the African Americans and Native
Americans were subservient, so they gave themselves away to their white masters
freely. While there were some African Americans and Native Americans who
opposed the idea of becoming a white man’s slave, and they were slaughtered and
flogged, which led to more conflict and bloodshed between the white people and
the minorities (ConnectUS). Another disadvantage was that God and religion were
used throughout Manifest Destiny. The critics of the Manifest Destiny did not
agree with the claim that the right to expand westward was given by God and his
Divine Right. The critics of the Manifest Destiny believed that “The believers
of the Manifest Destiny manipulated the words
that were attributed to God and used it to justify the act of killing someone
in order to take their land” (10 Pros and Cons). Another disadvantage of
the Manifest Destiny was that the Native American population was declining. The
Native American population was declining because of the diseases that the
American settlers carried with them. Another reason that the Native American
population was declining, was because of the violence that erupted between the
American settlers and the Native American populations. As equally as it was
disastrous for the Native Americans, it was disastrous for the American
settlers as well. The American settlers died of various diseases, such as fever,
diarrhea, cholera, measles, malaria, smallpox, and famine, as they were traveling
westward (Boyd).
The American settlers even lost their means of transportation (horses, cattle,
etc.), because of lack of resources, attacks by wild animals, attacks by Native
Americans, and most importantly disease.

The
Manifest Destiny ended around the year 1850 after 15 years of expanding
westward. The Manifest Destiny ended after the United States acquired California,
Mexico, and Texas by defeating the Spanish in the Mexican-American War. The
Mexican-American War started because Texas gained its independence from Mexico.
Texas gained its independence from Mexico during the Battle of San Jacinto,
which was a battle that took place on April 21, 1836 and lasted for only
eighteen minutes (Holley). The Battle of San Jacinto was between the Texas
militia led by Sam Houston and the Mexican army led by General Antonio Lopez de
Santa Anna. “By the end of the Battle of San Jacinto, the Texans captured Santa
Anna, who promised, in exchange for his life, that he’d retreat from Texas”
(Sears 109-110). After the Battle of San Jacinto ended, Texas became known as,
the Lone Star Republic, more formally known as, the Republic of Texas. The
Republic of Texas’ flag was known as the Burnet Flag and “bore a single
yellow star” in the center of the blue banner (Sears 110). After Texas gained
its independence, John O’Sullivan published an essay titled, Annexation, in the July-August 1845
issue of the Democratic Review. The essay requested the United States to annex
the Republic of Texas. John O’Sullivan requested for the U.S.’ annexation of
Texas by saying, “It is now time for the opposition to the Annexation of
Texas to cease…It is time for the common duty of Patriotism to the Country to
succeed;—or if this claim will not be recognized, it is at least time for
common sense to acquiesce with decent grace in the inevitable and irrevocable”
(O’Sullivan 5). O’Sullivan’s quote was attempting to tell Mexico to cease all
of their attempts at preventing the annexation of Texas into the Union. His
quote was also stating that it was time for the U.S.’ nationalistic feelings to
take over, otherwise, it was impossible for the Republic of Texas to be annexed
into the Union. After the Battle of San Jacinto, Sam Houston requested for the
United States to annex the Republic of Texas. However, at the time, since there
were thirteen slave states and thirteen free states, the annexation of Texas
would have caused the balance of slave and free states to tip. Which was why
the annexation of Texas was postponed “until President John Tyler succeeded in
pushing a joint resolution through Congress allowing Texas to join the Union in
1845 as a slave state”. The annexation of Texas angered Mexico and caused
them to break off all ties with the United States. The Mexicans were further
infuriated when the United States requested for the Rio Grande to be declared
as the southern border of Texas instead of the Nueces River. The border dispute
continued even after Democratic President James Polk “offered to purchase
California and New Mexico and…assume Mexico’s debts in exchange for the Rio
Grande border”. After a couple of days, the United States heard rumors of a
Mexican invasion, so Polk “sent General Zachary Taylor and 3,500 troops to the
Rio Grande to defend Texas”. After several of Taylor’s soldiers were killed,
Congress declared war on Mexico, which was known as, the Mexican-American War.
During the Mexican-American War, the United States captured California and
forced the Mexicans to surrender in Monterrey, Mexico (Sears 109-111). The Mexican-American
War ended because of the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on February
2, 1848. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo stated that the Rio Grande would be
the United States-Mexican border, not the Nueces River (Stout). The treaty also
stated that Mexico agrees with the US’s annexation of Texas, and agreed to sell
California and the rest of its territory north of the Rio Grande for $15
million and the assumption that the United States would take care of all of the
damage claims being put on Mexico. However, a couple of days before the signing
of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, James W. Marshall, a mechanic, discovered
gold when he was removing a sawmill for Johann Augustus Sutter “on a branch for
the American River in Eldorado County, in the lower Sacramento Valley”. The
news spread like wildfire due to “Polk’s confirmation of the discovery in his
annual message to Congress” on December 5, 1848. This sudden discovery of gold
became known as the California Gold Rush, which caused California’s population
to increase by 100,000 settlers. People from all over the United States and
even overseas from China and Australia came to take part in the California Gold
Rush. The U.S. settlers who left their hometowns in search of gold were known
as the “forty-niners”, because of the year, 1849 (Morris 207). Due to the
increasing population of California and the imbalance of slave states and free
states, on January 29, 1850, United States Senator Henry Clay delivered a
famous speech in the Senate known as the Compromise of 1850. The Compromise of
1850 consisted of eight resolutions, the most important resolution pertaining
to California was that California would be admitted into the United States as a
free state (Weinstein and Rubel 239). The annexation of California caused the
number of free states and slave states to balance out to fourteen free states
and fourteen slave states. Another reason behind how the Manifest Destiny ended
was because the dispute over the status of the new western territories
regarding slavery disrupted the American political system by reviving arguments
that broke treaties and rose sectionalism once again (Encyclopedia Brittanica).

Throughout history, the
Manifest Destiny was known as the specific movement that was characterized by
the Americans’ belief that the United States should control all of North
America by expanding westward from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.
Specifically, by believing that they were destined by God to spread their
religion through missionaries westward as they expanded their nation’s
territory.

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