In the 19th century, manifest destiny was a widely held belief in
United States that its settlers were destined to expand across
North America. There are three basic themes to manifest destiny:
The special virtues of the American people and their institutions
The mission of the
United States to redeem and remake the west in the
image of agrarian America
An irresistible destiny to accomplish this essential duty
Frederick Merk says this concept was born out of "a sense of
mission to redeem the
Old World by high example ... generated by the
potentialities of a new earth for building a new heaven".
Historians have emphasized that "manifest destiny" was a contested
concept—pre-civil war Democrats endorsed the idea but many prominent
Americans (such as Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and most Whigs)
rejected it. Historian
Daniel Walker Howe writes, "American
imperialism did not represent an American consensus; it provoked
bitter dissent within the national polity ... Whigs saw America's
moral mission as one of democratic example rather than one of
Newspaper editor John O'Sullivan is generally credited with coining
the term manifest destiny in 1845 to describe the essence of this
mindset, which was a rhetorical tone; however, the unsigned
editorial titled "Annexation" in which it first appeared was arguably
written by journalist and annexation advocate Jane Cazneau. The
term was used by Democrats in the 1840s to justify the war with Mexico
and it was also used to divide half of Oregon with the United Kingdom.
But manifest destiny always limped along because of its internal
limitations and the issue of slavery, says Merk. It never became a
national priority. By 1843 John Quincy Adams, originally a major
supporter of the concept underlying manifest destiny, had changed his
mind and repudiated expansionism because it meant the expansion of
slavery in Texas.
From the outset Manifest Destiny—vast in program, in its sense of
continentalism—was slight in support. It lacked national, sectional,
or party following commensurate with its magnitude. The reason was it
did not reflect the national spirit. The thesis that it embodied
nationalism, found in much historical writing, is backed by little
real supporting evidence.
2 Origin of the term
3 Themes and influences
4 Alternative interpretations
5 Era of continental expansion
5.1 War of 1812
5.2.1 All Oregon
Mexico and Texas
5.3.1 All Mexico
5.5 Homestead Act
5.6 Native Americans
6 Beyond North America
Spanish–American War and the Philippines
7 Legacy and consequences
8 Relationship with German
9 See also
12 Further reading
12.1 Journal articles
13 External links
There was never a set of principles defining manifest destiny,
therefore it was always a general idea rather than a specific policy
made with a motto. Ill-defined but keenly felt, manifest destiny was
an expression of conviction in the morality and value of expansionism
that complemented other popular ideas of the era, including American
exceptionalism and Romantic nationalism. Andrew Jackson, who spoke of
"extending the area of freedom", typified the conflation of America's
potential greatness, the nation's budding sense of Romantic
self-identity, and its expansion.
Yet Jackson would not be the only president to elaborate on the
principles underlying manifest destiny. Owing in part to the lack of a
definitive narrative outlining its rationale, proponents offered
divergent or seemingly conflicting viewpoints. While many writers
focused primarily upon American expansionism, be it into
across the Pacific, others saw the term as a call to example. Without
an agreed upon interpretation, much less an elaborated political
philosophy, these conflicting views of America's destiny were never
resolved. This variety of possible meanings was summed up by Ernest
Lee Tuveson: "A vast complex of ideas, policies, and actions is
comprehended under the phrase "Manifest Destiny". They are not, as we
should expect, all compatible, nor do they come from any one
Origin of the term
John L. O'Sullivan, sketched in 1874, was an influential columnist as
a young man, but he is now generally remembered only for his use of
the phrase "manifest destiny" to advocate the annexation of Texas and
John L. O'Sullivan
John L. O'Sullivan was an influential advocate for
Jacksonian democracy and a complex character, described by Julian
Hawthorne as "always full of grand and world-embracing schemes".
O'Sullivan wrote an article in 1839 that, while not using the term
"manifest destiny", did predict a "divine destiny" for the United
States based upon values such as equality, rights of conscience, and
personal enfranchisement "to establish on earth the moral dignity and
salvation of man". This destiny was not explicitly territorial,
but O'Sullivan predicted that the
United States would be one of a
"Union of many Republics" sharing those values.
Six years later, in 1845, O'Sullivan wrote another essay titled
Annexation in the Democratic Review, in which he first used the
phrase manifest destiny. In this article he urged the U.S. to
annex the Republic of Texas, not only because Texas desired this,
but because it was "our manifest destiny to overspread the continent
allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly
multiplying millions". Overcoming Whig opposition, Democrats
annexed Texas in 1845. O'Sullivan's first usage of the phrase
"manifest destiny" attracted little attention.
O'Sullivan's second use of the phrase became extremely influential. On
December 27, 1845, in his newspaper the New York Morning News,
O'Sullivan addressed the ongoing boundary dispute with Britain.
O'Sullivan argued that the
United States had the right to claim "the
whole of Oregon":
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.
That is, O'Sullivan believed that Providence had given the United
States a mission to spread republican democracy ("the great experiment
of liberty"). Because Britain would not spread democracy, thought
O'Sullivan, British claims to the territory should be overruled.
O'Sullivan believed that manifest destiny was a moral ideal (a "higher
law") that superseded other considerations.
O'Sullivan's original conception of manifest destiny was not a call
for territorial expansion by force. He believed that the expansion of
United States would happen without the direction of the
U.S. government or the involvement of the military. After
Americans immigrated to new regions, they would set up new democratic
governments, and then seek admission to the United States, as Texas
had done. In 1845, O'Sullivan predicted that California would follow
this pattern next, and that Canada would eventually request annexation
as well. He disapproved of the
Mexican–American War in 1846,
although he came to believe that the outcome would be beneficial to
Ironically, O'Sullivan's term became popular only after it was
criticized by Whig opponents of the Polk administration. Whigs
denounced manifest destiny, arguing, "that the designers and
supporters of schemes of conquest, to be carried on by this
government, are engaged in treason to our Constitution and Declaration
of Rights, giving aid and comfort to the enemies of republicanism, in
that they are advocating and preaching the doctrine of the right of
conquest". On January 3, 1846, Representative Robert Winthrop
ridiculed the concept in Congress, saying "I suppose the right of a
manifest destiny to spread will not be admitted to exist in any nation
except the universal Yankee nation". Winthrop was the first in a long
line of critics who suggested that advocates of manifest destiny were
citing "Divine Providence" for justification of actions that were
motivated by chauvinism and self-interest. Despite this criticism,
expansionists embraced the phrase, which caught on so quickly that its
origin was soon forgotten.
Themes and influences
Historian William E. Weeks has noted that three key themes were
usually touched upon by advocates of manifest destiny:
the virtue of the American people and their institutions;
the mission to spread these institutions, thereby redeeming and
remaking the world in the image of the United States;
the destiny under God to do this work.
The origin of the first theme, later known as American Exceptionalism,
was often traced to America's
Puritan heritage, particularly John
Winthrop's famous "City upon a Hill" sermon of 1630, in which he
called for the establishment of a virtuous community that would be a
shining example to the Old World. In his influential 1776 pamphlet
Thomas Paine echoed this notion, arguing that the
American Revolution provided an opportunity to create a new, better
We have it in our power to begin the world over again. A situation,
similar to the present, hath not happened since the days of Noah until
now. The birthday of a new world is at hand...
Many Americans agreed with Paine, and came to believe that the United
States' virtue was a result of its special experiment in freedom and
democracy. Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to James Monroe, wrote, "it
is impossible not to look forward to distant times when our rapid
multiplication will expand itself beyond those limits, and cover the
whole northern, if not the southern continent." To Americans in
the decades that followed their proclaimed freedom for mankind,
embodied in the Declaration of Independence, could only be described
as the inauguration of "a new time scale" because the world would look
back and define history as events that took place before, and after,
the Declaration of Independence. It followed that Americans owed
to the world an obligation to expand and preserve these beliefs.
The second theme's origination is less precise. A popular expression
of America's mission was elaborated by President Abraham Lincoln's
description in his December 1, 1862, message to Congress. He described
United States as "the last, best hope of Earth". The "mission" of
United States was further elaborated during Lincoln's Gettysburg
Address, in which he interpreted the Civil War as a struggle to
determine if any nation with democratic ideals could survive; this has
been called by historian Robert Johannsen "the most enduring statement
of America's Manifest Destiny and mission".
The third theme can be viewed as a natural outgrowth of the belief
that God had a direct influence in the foundation and further actions
of the United States. Clinton Rossiter, a scholar, described this view
as summing "that God, at the proper stage in the march of history,
called forth certain hardy souls from the old and privilege-ridden
nations ... and that in bestowing his grace He also bestowed a
peculiar responsibility". Americans presupposed that they were not
only divinely elected to maintain the North American continent, but
also to "spread abroad the fundamental principles stated in the Bill
of Rights". In many cases this meant neighboring colonial holdings
and countries were seen as obstacles rather than the destiny God had
provided the United States.
Faragher's analysis of the political polarization between the
Democratic Party and the Whig Party is that:
Most Democrats were wholehearted supporters of expansion, whereas many
Whigs (especially in the North) were opposed. Whigs welcomed most of
the changes wrought by industrialization but advocated strong
government policies that would guide growth and development within the
country's existing boundaries; they feared (correctly) that expansion
raised a contentious issue, the extension of slavery to the
territories. On the other hand, many Democrats feared
industrialization the Whigs welcomed... For many Democrats, the answer
to the nation's social ills was to continue to follow Thomas
Jefferson's vision of establishing agriculture in the new territories
in order to counterbalance industrialization.
Another possible influence is racial predominance, namely the idea
that the American Anglo-Saxon race was "separate, innately superior"
and "destined to bring good government, commercial prosperity and
Christianity to the American continents and the world". This view also
held that "inferior races were doomed to subordinate status or
extinction." This was used to justify "the enslavement of the blacks
and the expulsion and possible extermination of the Indians".
Louisiana Purchase in 1803, which doubled the size of the
Thomas Jefferson set the stage for the continental
expansion of the United States. Many began to see this as the
beginning of a new providential mission: If the
United States was
successful as a "shining city upon a hill", people in other countries
would seek to establish their own democratic republics.
However, not all Americans or their political leaders believed that
United States was a divinely favored nation, or thought that it
ought to expand. For example, many Whigs opposed territorial expansion
based on the Democratic claim that the
United States was destined to
serve as a virtuous example to the rest of the world, and also had a
divine obligation to spread its superordinate political system and a
way of life throughout North American continent. Many in the Whig
party "were fearful of spreading out too widely", and they "adhered to
the concentration of national authority in a limited area". In
July 1848, Alexander Stephens denounced President Polk's expansionist
interpretation of America's future as "mendacious".
In the mid‑19th century, expansionism, especially southward toward
Cuba, also faced opposition from those Americans who were trying to
abolish slavery. As more territory was added to the
United States in
the following decades, "extending the area of freedom" in the minds of
southerners also meant extending the institution of slavery. That is
why slavery became one of the central issues in the continental
expansion of the
United States before the Civil War.
Before and during the Civil War both sides claimed that America's
destiny were rightfully their own. Lincoln opposed anti-immigrant
nativism, and the imperialism of manifest destiny as both unjust and
unreasonable. He objected to the Mexican War and believed each of
these disordered forms of patriotism threatened the inseparable moral
and fraternal bonds of liberty and Union that he sought to perpetuate
through a patriotic love of country guided by wisdom and critical
self-awareness. Lincoln's "Eulogy to Henry Clay", June 6, 1852,
provides the most cogent expression of his reflective patriotism.
Era of continental expansion
John Quincy Adams, painted above in 1816 by Charles Robert Leslie, was
an early proponent of continentalism. Late in life he came to regret
his role in helping U.S. slavery to expand, and became a leading
opponent of the annexation of Texas.
The phrase "manifest destiny" is most often associated with the
territorial expansion of the
United States from 1812 to 1860. This
era, from the end of the
War of 1812
War of 1812 to the beginning of the American
Civil War, has been called the "age of manifest destiny". During
this time, the
United States expanded to the Pacific Ocean—"from sea
to shining sea"—largely defining the borders of the contiguous
United States as they are today.
War of 1812
Further information: War of 1812
One of the causes of the
War of 1812
War of 1812 may have been an American desire
to annex or threaten to annex British Canada in order to stop the
Indian raids into the Midwest, expel Britain from North America, and
gain additional land. The American victories at the Battle of
Lake Erie and the
Battle of the Thames
Battle of the Thames in 1813 ended the Indian raids
and removed one of the reasons for annexation. The American failure to
occupy any significant part of Canada prevented them from annexing it
for the second reason, which was largely ended by the Era of Good
Feelings, which ensued after the war between Britain and the United
To end the
War of 1812
War of 1812 John Quincy Adams,
Henry Clay and Albert
Gallatin (former Treasury Secretary and a leading expert on Indians)
and the other American diplomats negotiated the
Treaty of Ghent
Treaty of Ghent in
1814 with Britain. They rejected the British plan to set up an Indian
state in U.S. territory south of the Great Lakes. They explained
the American policy toward acquisition of Indian lands:
The United States, while intending never to acquire lands from the
Indians otherwise than peaceably, and with their free consent, are
fully determined, in that manner, progressively, and in proportion as
their growing population may require, to reclaim from the state of
nature, and to bring into cultivation every portion of the territory
contained within their acknowledged boundaries. In thus providing for
the support of millions of civilized beings, they will not violate any
dictate of justice or of humanity; for they will not only give to the
few thousand savages scattered over that territory an ample equivalent
for any right they may surrender, but will always leave them the
possession of lands more than they can cultivate, and more than
adequate to their subsistence, comfort, and enjoyment, by cultivation.
If this be a spirit of aggrandizement, the undersigned are prepared to
admit, in that sense, its existence; but they must deny that it
affords the slightest proof of an intention not to respect the
boundaries between them and European nations, or of a desire to
encroach upon the territories of Great Britain. . . . They will not
suppose that that Government will avow, as the basis of their policy
United States a system of arresting their natural growth
within their own territories, for the sake of preserving a perpetual
desert for savages.
A shocked Henry Goulburn, one of the British negotiators at Ghent,
remarked, after coming to understand the American position on taking
the Indians' land:
Till I came here, I had no idea of the fixed determination which there
is in the heart of every American to extirpate the Indians and
appropriate their territory.
The 19th-century belief that the
United States would eventually
encompass all of
North America is known as "continentalism," a
form of tellurocracy. An early proponent of this idea, John Quincy
Adams, became a leading figure in U.S. expansion between the Louisiana
Purchase in 1803 and the Polk administration in the 1840s. In 1811,
Adams wrote to his father:
The whole continent of
North America appears to be destined by Divine
Providence to be peopled by one nation, speaking one language,
professing one general system of religious and political principles,
and accustomed to one general tenor of social usages and customs. For
the common happiness of them all, for their peace and prosperity, I
believe it is indispensable that they should be associated in one
Fort Laramie as it looked prior to 1840. Painting from
memory by Alfred Jacob Miller
Adams did much to further this idea. He orchestrated the Treaty of
1818, which established the Canada–US border as far west as the
Rocky Mountains, and provided for the joint occupation of the region
known in American history as the
Oregon Country and in British and
Canadian history as the New Caledonia and Columbia Districts. He
negotiated the Transcontinental Treaty in 1819, transferring Florida
Spain to the
United States and extending the U.S. border with
Mexico all the way to the Pacific Ocean. And he formulated the
Monroe Doctrine of 1823, which warned Europe that the Western
Hemisphere was no longer open for European colonization.
Monroe Doctrine and "manifest destiny" formed a closely related
nexus of principles: historian Walter McDougall calls manifest destiny
a corollary of the Monroe Doctrine, because while the Monroe Doctrine
did not specify expansion, expansion was necessary in order to enforce
the Doctrine. Concerns in the
United States that European powers
(especially Great Britain) were seeking to acquire colonies or greater
North America led to calls for expansion in order to
prevent this. In his influential 1935 study of manifest destiny,
Albert Weinberg wrote: "the expansionism of the [1830s] arose as a
defensive effort to forestall the encroachment of Europe in North
Manifest destiny played its most important role in the Oregon boundary
dispute between the
United States and Britain, when the phrase
"manifest destiny" originated. The Anglo-American Convention of 1818
had provided for the joint occupation of the Oregon Country, and
thousands of Americans migrated there in the 1840s over the Oregon
Trail. The British rejected a proposal by U.S. President John Tyler
(in office 1841-1845) to divide the region along the
49th parallel, and instead proposed a boundary line farther south
along the Columbia River, which would have made most of what later
became the state of Washington part of British North America.
Advocates of manifest destiny protested and called for the annexation
of the entire
Oregon Country up to the Alaska line (54°40ʹ N).
James K. Polk
James K. Polk used this popular outcry to his
advantage, and the Democrats called for the annexation of "All Oregon"
in the 1844 U.S. Presidential election.
American westward expansion is idealized in Emanuel Leutze's famous
Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way
Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way (1861). The title
of the painting, from a 1726 poem by Bishop Berkeley, was a phrase
often quoted in the era of manifest destiny, expressing a widely held
belief that civilization had steadily moved westward throughout
As president, however, Polk sought compromise and renewed the earlier
offer to divide the territory in half along the 49th parallel, to
the dismay of the most ardent advocates of manifest destiny. When the
British refused the offer, American expansionists responded with
slogans such as "The Whole of Oregon or None!" and "Fifty-Four Forty
or Fight!", referring to the northern border of the region. (The
latter slogan is often mistakenly described as having been a part of
the 1844 presidential campaign.) When Polk moved to terminate the
joint occupation agreement, the British finally agreed in early 1846
to divide the region along the 49th parallel, leaving the lower
Columbia basin as part of the United States. The
Oregon Treaty of 1846
formally settled the dispute; Polk's administration succeeded in
selling the treaty to Congress because the
United States was about to
begin the Mexican–American War, and the president and others argued
it would be foolish to also fight the British Empire.
Despite the earlier clamor for "All Oregon", the
Oregon Treaty was
popular in the
United States and was easily ratified by the Senate.
The most fervent advocates of manifest destiny had not prevailed along
the northern border because, according to Reginald Stuart, "the
compass of manifest destiny pointed west and southwest, not north,
despite the use of the term 'continentalism'".
Mexico and Texas
Manifest destiny played an important role in the expansion of Texas
and American relationship with Mexico. In 1836, the Republic of
Texas declared independence from
Mexico and, after the Texas
Revolution, sought to join the
United States as a new state. This was
an idealized process of expansion that had been advocated from
Jefferson to O'Sullivan: newly democratic and independent states would
request entry into the United States, rather than the United States
extending its government over people who did not want it. The
annexation of Texas was attacked by anti-slavery spokesmen because it
would add another slave state to the Union. Presidents Andrew Jackson
and Martin Van Buren declined Texas's offer to join the United States
in part because the slavery issue threatened to divide the Democratic
Before the election of 1844, Whig candidate
Henry Clay and the
presumed Democratic candidate, former President Van Buren, both
declared themselves opposed to the annexation of Texas, each hoping to
keep the troublesome topic from becoming a campaign issue. This
unexpectedly led to Van Buren being dropped by the Democrats in favor
of Polk, who favored annexation. Polk tied the Texas annexation
question with the Oregon dispute, thus providing a sort of regional
compromise on expansion. (Expansionists in the North were more
inclined to promote the occupation of Oregon, while Southern
expansionists focused primarily on the annexation of Texas.) Although
elected by a very slim margin, Polk proceeded as if his victory had
been a mandate for expansion.
Main article: All of
American occupation of
Mexico City in 1847
After the election of Polk, but before he took office, Congress
approved the annexation of Texas. Polk moved to occupy a portion of
Texas that had declared independence from
Mexico in 1836, but was
still claimed by Mexico. This paved the way for the outbreak of the
Mexican–American War on April 24, 1846. With American successes on
the battlefield, by the summer of 1847 there were calls for the
annexation of "All Mexico", particularly among Eastern Democrats, who
argued that bringing
Mexico into the Union was the best way to ensure
future peace in the region.
This was a controversial proposition for two reasons. First,
idealistic advocates of manifest destiny like
John L. O'Sullivan
John L. O'Sullivan had
always maintained that the laws of the
United States should not be
imposed on people against their will. The annexation of "All Mexico"
would be a violation of this principle. And secondly, the annexation
Mexico was controversial because it would mean extending
U.S. citizenship to millions of Mexicans. Senator John C. Calhoun
of South Carolina, who had approved of the annexation of Texas, was
opposed to the annexation of Mexico, as well as the "mission" aspect
of manifest destiny, for racial reasons. He made these views clear
in a speech to Congress on January 4, 1848:
We have never dreamt of incorporating into our Union any but the
Caucasian race—the free white race. To incorporate Mexico, would be
the very first instance of the kind, of incorporating an Indian race;
for more than half of the Mexicans are Indians, and the other is
composed chiefly of mixed tribes. I protest against such a union as
that! Ours, sir, is the Government of a white race.... We are anxious
to force free government on all; and I see that it has been urged ...
that it is the mission of this country to spread civil and religious
liberty over all the world, and especially over this continent. It is
a great mistake.
This debate brought to the forefront one of the contradictions of
manifest destiny: on the one hand, while identitarian ideas inherent
in manifest destiny suggested that Mexicans, as non-whites, would
present a threat to white racial integrity and thus were not qualified
to become Americans, the "mission" component of manifest destiny
suggested that Mexicans would be improved (or "regenerated", as it was
then described) by bringing them into American democracy.
Identitarianism was used to promote manifest destiny, but, as in the
case of Calhoun and the resistance to the "All Mexico" movement,
identitarianism was also used to oppose manifest destiny.
Conversely, proponents of annexation of "All Mexico" regarded it as an
Growth from 1840 to 1850
The controversy was eventually ended by the Mexican Cession, which
added the territories of
Alta California and Nuevo México to the
United States, both more sparsely populated than the rest of Mexico.
Like the All Oregon movement, the All
Mexico movement quickly abated.
Historian Frederick Merk, in Manifest Destiny and Mission in American
History: A Reinterpretation (1963), argued that the failure of the
"All Oregon" and "All Mexico" movements indicates that manifest
destiny had not been as popular as historians have traditionally
portrayed it to have been. Merk wrote that, while belief in the
beneficent mission of democracy was central to American history,
aggressive "continentalism" were aberrations supported by only a
minority of Americans, all of them Democrats. Some Democrats were also
opposed; the Democrats of Louisiana opposed annexation of Mexico,
while those in Mississippi supported it.
Mexican–American War ended in 1848, disagreements over the
expansion of slavery made further annexation by conquest too divisive
to be official government policy. Some, such as John Quitman, governor
of Mississippi, offered what public support they could offer. In one
memorable case, Quitman simply explained that the state of Mississippi
had "lost" its state arsenal, which began showing up in the hands of
filibusters. Yet these isolated cases only solidified opposition in
the North as many Northerners were increasingly opposed to what they
believed to be efforts by Southern slave owners—and their friends in
the North—to expand slavery through filibustering. Sarah P. Remond
on January 24, 1859, delivered an impassioned speech at Warrington,
England, that the connection between filibustering and slave power was
clear proof of "the mass of corruption that underlay the whole system
of American government". The
Wilmot Proviso and the continued
"Slave Power" narratives thereafter, indicated the degree to which
manifest destiny had become part of the sectional
Without official government support the most radical advocates of
manifest destiny increasingly turned to military filibustering.
Originally filibuster had come from the Dutch vrijbuiter and referred
to buccaneers in the West Indies that preyed on Spanish commerce.
While there had been some filibustering expeditions into Canada in the
late 1830s, it was only by mid-century did filibuster become a
definitive term. By then, declared the New-York Daily Times "the fever
of Fillibusterism is on our country. Her pulse beats like a hammer at
the wrist, and there's a very high color on her face." Millard
Fillmore's second annual message to Congress, submitted in December
1851, gave double the amount of space to filibustering activities than
the brewing sectional conflict. The eagerness of the filibusters, and
the public to support them, had an international hue. Clay's son,
diplomat to Portugal, reported that Lisbon had been stirred into a
"frenzy" of excitement and were waiting on every dispatch.[citation
Filibuster William Walker, who launched several expeditions to Mexico
and Central America, ruled Nicaragua, and was captured by the British
Navy before being executed in Honduras.
Although they were illegal, filibustering operations in the late 1840s
and early 1850s were romanticized in the United States. The Democratic
Party's national platform included a plank that specifically endorsed
William Walker's filibustering in Nicaragua. Wealthy American
expansionists financed dozens of expeditions, usually based out of New
Orleans, New York, and San Francisco. The primary target of manifest
destiny's filibusters was Latin America but there were isolated
Mexico was a favorite target of organizations
devoted to filibustering, like the Knights of the Golden Circle.
William Walker got his start as a filibuster in an ill-advised attempt
to separate the Mexican states Sonora and Baja California. Narciso
López, a near second in fame and success, spent his efforts trying to
secure Cuba from the Spanish Empire.
United States had long been interested in acquiring Cuba from the
declining Spanish Empire. As with Texas, Oregon, and California,
American policy makers were concerned that Cuba would fall into
British hands, which, according to the thinking of the Monroe
Doctrine, would constitute a threat to the interests of the United
States. Prompted by John L. O'Sullivan, in 1848 President Polk offered
to buy Cuba from
Spain for $100 million. Polk feared that
filibustering would hurt his effort to buy the island, and so he
informed the Spanish of an attempt by the Cuban filibuster Narciso
López to seize Cuba by force and annex it to the United States,
foiling the plot. Nevertheless,
Spain declined to sell the island,
which ended Polk's efforts to acquire Cuba. O'Sullivan, on the other
hand eventually landed in legal trouble.
Filibustering continued to be a major concern for presidents after
Polk. Whigs presidents
Zachary Taylor and
Millard Fillmore tried to
suppress the expeditions. When the Democrats recaptured the White
House in 1852 with the election of Franklin Pierce, a filibustering
John A. Quitman
John A. Quitman to acquire Cuba received the tentative
support of the president. Pierce backed off, however, and instead
renewed the offer to buy the island, this time for $130 million.
When the public learned of the
Ostend Manifesto in 1854, which argued
United States could seize Cuba by force if
Spain refused to
sell, this effectively killed the effort to acquire the island. The
public now linked expansion with slavery; if manifest destiny had once
enjoyed widespread popular approval, this was no longer true.
Filibusters like William Walker continued to garner headlines in the
late 1850s, but to little effect.
Expansionism was among the various
issues that played a role in the coming of the war. With the divisive
question of the expansion of slavery, Northerners and Southerners, in
effect, were coming to define manifest destiny in different ways,
undermining nationalism as a unifying force. According to Frederick
Merk, "The doctrine of Manifest Destiny, which in the 1840s had seemed
Heaven-sent, proved to have been a bomb wrapped up in idealism."
Main article: Homestead Acts
Norwegian settlers in North Dakota in front of their homestead, a sod
The Homestead Act of 1862 encouraged 600,000 families to settle the
West by giving them land (usually 160 acres) almost free. They had to
live on and improve the land for five years. Before the Civil War,
Southern leaders opposed the
Homestead Acts because they feared it
would lead to more free states and free territories. After the
mass resignation of Southern senators and representatives at the
beginning of the war, Congress was subsequently able to pass the
Across The Continent, an 1868 lithograph illustrating the westward
expansion of white settlers
Manifest destiny had serious consequences for Native Americans, since
continental expansion implicitly meant the occupation and annexation
of Native American land, sometimes to expand slavery. This ultimately
led to confrontations and wars with several groups of native peoples
via Indian removal. The
United States continued the
European practice of recognizing only limited land rights of
indigenous peoples. In a policy formulated largely by Henry Knox,
Secretary of War
Secretary of War in the Washington Administration, the
U.S. government sought to expand into the west through the
purchase of Native American land in treaties. Only the Federal
Government could purchase Indian lands and this was done through
treaties with tribal leaders. Whether a tribe actually had a
decision-making structure capable of making a treaty was a
controversial issue. The national policy was for the Indians to join
American society and become "civilized", which meant no more wars with
neighboring tribes or raids on white settlers or travelers, and a
shift from hunting to farming and ranching. Advocates of civilization
programs believed that the process of settling native tribes would
greatly reduce the amount of land needed by the Native Americans,
making more land available for homesteading by white Americans. Thomas
Jefferson believed that while American Indians were the intellectual
equals of whites, they had to live like the whites or inevitably
be pushed aside by them. Jefferson's belief, rooted in
Enlightenment thinking, that whites and Native Americans would merge
to create a single nation did not last his lifetime, and he began to
believe that the natives should emigrate across the Mississippi River
and maintain a separate society, an idea made possible by the
Louisiana Purchase of 1803.
In the age of manifest destiny, this idea, which came to be known as
"Indian removal", gained ground. Humanitarian advocates of removal
believed that American Indians would be better off moving away from
whites. As historian Reginald Horsman argued in his influential study
Race and Manifest Destiny, racial rhetoric increased during the era of
manifest destiny. Americans increasingly believed that Native American
ways of life would "fade away" as the
United States expanded. As an
example, this idea was reflected in the work of one of America's first
great historians, Francis Parkman, whose landmark book The Conspiracy
of Pontiac was published in 1851. Parkman wrote that after the British
conquest of Canada in 1760, Indians were "destined to melt and vanish
before the advancing waves of Anglo-American power, which now rolled
westward unchecked and unopposed". Parkman emphasized that the
collapse of Indian power in the late 18th century had been swift and
was a past event.
Beyond North America
Annexation of the
Republic of Hawaii
Republic of Hawaii in 1898
As the Civil War faded into history, the term manifest destiny
experienced a brief revival. Protestant missionary Josiah Strong, in
his best seller of 1885 Our Country argued that the future was
devolved upon America since it had perfected the ideals of civil
liberty, "a pure spiritual Christianity", and concluded "My plea is
not, Save America for America's sake, but, Save America for the
In the 1892 U.S. presidential election, the Republican Party
platform proclaimed: "We reaffirm our approval of the Monroe doctrine
and believe in the achievement of the manifest destiny of the Republic
in its broadest sense." What was meant by "manifest destiny" in
this context was not clearly defined, particularly since the
Republicans lost the election.
In the 1896 election, however, the Republicans recaptured the White
House and held on to it for the next 16 years. During that time,
manifest destiny was cited to promote overseas expansion. Whether or
not this version of manifest destiny was consistent with the
continental expansionism of the 1840s was debated at the time, and
For example, when President
William McKinley advocated annexation of
Republic of Hawaii
Republic of Hawaii in 1898, he said that "We need Hawaii as much
and a good deal more than we did California. It is manifest destiny."
On the other hand, former President Grover Cleveland, a Democrat who
had blocked the annexation of Hawaii during his administration, wrote
that McKinley's annexation of the territory was a "perversion of our
national destiny". Historians continued that debate; some have
interpreted American acquisition of other Pacific island groups in the
1890s as an extension of manifest destiny across the Pacific Ocean.
Others have regarded it as the antithesis of manifest destiny and
Spanish–American War and the Philippines
A cartoon of
Uncle Sam seated in restaurant looking at the bill of
fare containing "Cuba steak", "Porto Rico pig", the "Philippine
Islands" and the "Sandwich Islands" (Hawaii).
In 1898, the
United States intervened in the Cuban insurrection and
Spanish–American War to force
Spain out. According to
the terms of the Treaty of Paris,
Spain relinquished sovereignty over
Cuba and ceded the Philippine Islands, Puerto Rico, and
Guam to the
United States. The terms of cession for the
Philippines involved a
payment of the sum of $20 million by the
United States to Spain. The
treaty was highly contentious and denounced by William Jennings Bryan,
who tried to make it a central issue in the 1900 election. He was
defeated in landslide by McKinley.
The Teller Amendment, passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate
before the war, which proclaimed Cuba "free and independent",
forestalled annexation of the island. The
Platt Amendment (1902),
however, established Cuba as a virtual protectorate of the United
The acquisition of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the
Philippines after the
Spain marked a new chapter in U.S. history.
Traditionally, territories were acquired by the
United States for the
purpose of becoming new states on equal footing with already existing
states. These islands, however, were acquired as colonies rather than
prospective states. The process was validated by the Insular Cases.
The Supreme Court ruled that full constitutional rights did not
automatically extend to all areas under American control.
Nevertheless, in 1917, Puerto Ricans were all made full American
citizens via the Jones Act. This also provided for a popularly elected
legislature, a bill of rights and authorized the election of a
Resident Commissioner who has a voice (but no vote) in Congress.
According to Frederick Merk, these colonial acquisitions marked a
break from the original intention of manifest destiny. Previously,
"Manifest Destiny had contained a principle so fundamental that a
Calhoun and an O'Sullivan could agree on it—that a people not
capable of rising to statehood should never be annexed. That was the
principle thrown overboard by the imperialism of 1899." Albert J.
Beveridge maintained the contrary at his September 25, 1900, speech in
the Auditorium, at Chicago. He declared that the current desire for
Cuba and the other acquired territories was identical to the views
expressed by Washington, Jefferson and Marshall. Moreover, "the
sovereignty of the Stars and Stripes can be nothing but a blessing to
any people and to any land."
The Philippines was eventually given
its independence in 1946;
Puerto Rico have special status to
this day, but all their people have
United States citizenship.
The English poet
Rudyard Kipling wrote "The White Man's Burden" to
Americans, calling on them to take up their share of the burden.
United States and the Philippine Islands", it was a
widely noted expression of imperialist sentiments, which were
common at the time. The nascent revolutionary government desirous of
independence, however, resisted the
United States in the
Philippine–American War in 1899; it won no support from any
government anywhere and collapsed when its leader was captured.
William Jennings Bryan
William Jennings Bryan denounced the war and any form of overseas
expansion, writing, "'Destiny' is not as manifest as it was a few
Legacy and consequences
The belief in an American mission to promote and defend democracy
throughout the world, as expounded by
Thomas Jefferson and his "Empire
of Liberty", and continued by Abraham Lincoln,
Woodrow Wilson and
George W. Bush, continues to have an influence on American
political ideology. Under Douglas MacArthur, the Americans
"were imbued with a sense of manifest destiny" says historian John
The U.S.'s intentions to influence the area (especially the Panama
Canal construction and control) led to the separation of Panama from
Colombia in 1903
After the turn of the nineteenth century to the twentieth, the phrase
manifest destiny declined in usage, as territorial expansion ceased to
be promoted as being a part of America's "destiny". Under President
Theodore Roosevelt the role of the
United States in the New World was
defined, in the 1904
Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, as
being an "international police power" to secure American interests in
the Western Hemisphere. Roosevelt's corollary contained an explicit
rejection of territorial expansion. In the past, manifest destiny had
been seen as necessary to enforce the
Monroe Doctrine in the Western
Hemisphere, but now expansionism had been replaced by interventionism
as a means of upholding the doctrine.
Woodrow Wilson continued the policy of interventionism in
the Americas, and attempted to redefine both manifest destiny and
America's "mission" on a broader, worldwide scale. Wilson led the
United States into World War I with the argument that "The world
must be made safe for democracy." In his 1920 message to Congress
after the war, Wilson stated:
... I think we all realize that the day has come when Democracy is
being put upon its final test. The
Old World is just now suffering
from a wanton rejection of the principle of democracy and a
substitution of the principle of autocracy as asserted in the name,
but without the authority and sanction, of the multitude. This is the
time of all others when Democracy should prove its purity and its
spiritual power to prevail. It is surely the manifest destiny of the
United States to lead in the attempt to make this spirit prevail.
This was the only time a president had used the phrase "manifest
destiny" in his annual address. Wilson's version of manifest destiny
was a rejection of expansionism and an endorsement (in principle) of
self-determination, emphasizing that the
United States had a mission
to be a world leader for the cause of democracy. This U.S. vision of
itself as the leader of the "Free World" would grow stronger in the
20th century after World War II, although rarely would it be
described as "manifest destiny", as Wilson had done.
"Manifest destiny" is sometimes used by critics of U.S. foreign
policy to characterize interventions in the Middle East and elsewhere.
In this usage, "manifest destiny" is interpreted as the underlying
cause of what is denounced by some as "American imperialism." A more
positive-sounding phrase devised by scholars at the end of the
twentieth century is "nation building," and State Department official
Karin Von Hippel notes that the U.S. has "been involved in
nation-building and promoting democracy since the middle of the
nineteenth century and 'Manifest Destiny.'"
Relationship with German
Friedrich Ratzel visited
North America beginning in
1873 and saw the effects of American manifest destiny. Ratzel
sympathized with the results of "manifest destiny", but he never used
the term. Instead he relied on the
Frontier Thesis of Frederick
Jackson Turner. Ratzel promoted overseas colonies for Germany in
Asia and Africa, but not an expansion into Slavic lands. Later
German publicists misinterpreted Ratzel to argue for the right of the
German race to expand within Europe; that notion was later
incorporated into Nazi ideology, as Lebensraum. Harriet Wanklyn
(1961) argues that Ratzel's theory was designed to advance science,
and that politicians distorted it for political goals.
United States portal
Thomas Hart Benton—Missouri senator, proponent of western expansion
Stephen A. Douglas—prominent spokesman of "Young America"
Horace Greeley—popularized the phrase "Go West, young man."
Duff Green—writer, politician, and prominent manifest destiny
Frances Fuller Victor—prominent western historian and fiction writer
who captured the spirit of western expansion
Young America movement—a political and literary movement with
connections to manifest destiny
^ Mountjoy, Shane, Manifest Destiny: Westward Expansion. Infobase
Publishing (2009), p. 19.
^ "John Gast, American Progress, 1872". Picturing U.S. History. City
University of New York. Archived from the original on June 15,
^ Robert J. Miller (2006). Native America, Discovered And Conquered:
Thomas Jefferson, Lewis & Clark, And Manifest Destiny. Greenwood.
^ Merk 1963, p. 3
^ Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of
America 1815–1848, (2007) pp. 705–06
^ "29. Manifest Destiny". American History. USHistory.org.
^ Hudson, Linda S. Mistress of Manifest Destiny: A Biography of Jane
McManus Storm Cazneau, 1807–1878. Texas State Historical
Association, 2001. ISBN 0-87611-179-7.
^ Merk 1963, pp. 215–216
^ Merk 1963, p. 215
^ Ward 1962, pp. 136–37
^ Hidalgo, Dennis R. (2003). "Manifest Destiny". Encyclopedia.com
taken from Dictionary of American History. Retrieved June 11,
^ Tuveson 1980, p. 91.
^ Merk 1963, p. 27
^ O'Sullivan, John. "The Great Nation of Futurity". The United States
Democratic Review Volume 0006 Issue 23 (November 1839).
^ O'Sullivan, John L., A Divine Destiny for America Archived October
16, 2004, at the Wayback Machine., 1845.
^ O'Sullivan, John L. (July–August 1845). "Annexation". United
States Magazine and Democratic Review. 17 (1): 5–11. Retrieved May
^ See Julius Pratt, "The Origin Of 'Manifest Destiny'", American
Historical Review, (1927) 32#4, pp. 795–98 in JSTOR. Linda S. Hudson
has argued that it was coined by writer Jane McManus Storm; Greenburg,
p. 20; Hudson 2001; O'Sullivan biographer Robert D. Sampson disputes
Hudson's claim for a variety of reasons (See note 7 at Sampson 2003,
^ Adams 2008, p. 188.
^ Quoted in Thomas R. Hietala, Manifest design: American
exceptionalism and Empire (2003) p. 255
^ Robert W. Johannsen, "The Meaning of Manifest Destiny", in Johannsen
^ McCrisken, Trevor B., "Exceptionalism: Manifest Destiny" in
Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy (2002), Vol. 2, p. 68
^ Weinberg 1935, p. 145; Johannsen 1997, p. 9.
^ Johannsen 1997, p. 10
^ "Prospectus of the New Series", The American Whig Review Volume 7
Issue 1 (Jan 1848) p. 2
^ Weeks 1996, p. 61.
^ Justin B. Litke, "Varieties of American Exceptionalism: Why John
Winthrop Is No Imperialist", Journal of Church and State, 54 (Spring
^ Ford 2010, pp. 315–19
^ Somkin 1967, pp. 68–69
^ Johannsen 1997, pp. 18–19.
^ Rossiter 1950, pp. 19–20
John Mack Faragher et al. Out of Many: A History of the American
People, (2nd ed. 1997) p. 413
^ Reginald Horsman. Race and Manifest Destiny. pp. 2, 6.
^ Witham, Larry (2007). A City Upon a Hill: How Sermons Changed the
Course of American History. New York: Harper.
^ Merk 1963, p. 40
^ Byrnes, Mark Eaton (2001). James K. Polk: A Biographical Companion.
Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO. p. 145.
^ Morrison, Michael A. (1997). Slavery and the American West: The
Eclipse of Manifest Destiny and the Coming of the Civil War. Chapel
Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
^ Mountjoy, Shane (2009). Manifest Destiny: Westward Expansion. New
York: Chelsea House Publishers.
^ Joseph R. Fornieri (April–June 2010). "Lincoln's Reflective
Patriotism". Perspectives on Political Science. 39 (2): 108–17.
^ Kurt Hanson; Robert L. Beisner. American Foreign Relations since
1600: A Guide to the Literature, Second Edition. ABC-CLIO.
p. 313. ISBN 978-1-57607-080-2.
^ Stuart and Weeks call this period the "era of manifest destiny" and
the "age of manifest destiny", respectively.
^ Nugent, pp. 74–79[citation not found]
^ The acquisition of Canada this year, as far as the neighborhood of
Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching, and will give us experience
for the attack of Halifax the next, and the final expulsion of England
from the American continent.—To William Duane. vi, 75. Ford ed., ix,
366. (M., August 1812.)
^ Charles M. Gates (1940). "The West in American Diplomacy,
1812–1815". Mississippi Valley Historical Review. 26 (4): 499–510.
doi:10.2307/1896318. JSTOR 1896318. quote on p. 507.
^ PBS, The War of 1812, Essays.
^ Continental and Continentalism, sociologyindex.com. Archived May 9,
2015, at the Wayback Machine.
^ Adams quoted in McDougall 1997, p. 78.
^ McDougall 1997, p. 74; Weinberg 1935, p. 109.
^ Treaty popular: Stuart 1988, p. 104; compass quote p. 84.
^ Ramon Eduardo Ruiz, ed., The Mexican War--was it Manifest Destiny?
^ Lyon Rathbun, Lyon "The debate over annexing Texas and the emergence
of manifest destiny." Rhetoric & Public Affairs 4#3 (2001):
^ Mark R. Cheathem; Terry Corps (2016). Historical Dictionary of the
Jacksonian Era and Manifest Destiny. Rowman & Littlefield.
^ Merk 1963, pp. 144–47; Fuller 1936; Hietala 2003.
^ W. Paul Reeve (2015). Religion of a Different Color: Race and the
Mormon Struggle for Whiteness. Oxford UP. p. 6.
^ Calhoun, John C. (1848). "Conquest of Mexico".
TeachingAmericanHistory.org. Retrieved October 19, 2007.
^ McDougall 1997, pp. 87–95.
^ Fuller 1936, pp. 119, 122, 162 and passim.
^ Billy H. Gilley (1979). "'Polk's War' and the Louisiana Press".
Louisiana History. 20: 5–23. JSTOR 4231864.
^ Robert A. Brent (1969). "Mississippi and the Mexican War". Journal
of Mississippi History. 31 (3): 202–14.
^ Ripley 1985
^ "A Critical Day". The New York Times. March 4, 1854.
^ Crenshaw 1941
^ Greene 2006, pp. 1–50[citation not found]
^ Crocker 2006, p. 150.
^ Weeks 1996, pp. 144–52.
^ Merk 1963, p. 214.
^ Lesli J. Favor (2005). "6. Settling the West". A Historical Atlas of
America's Manifest Destiny. Rosen.
^ "Teaching With Documents:The Homestead Act of 1862". The U.S.
National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved June 29,
^ Robert E. Greenwood PhD (2007). Outsourcing Culture: How American
Culture has Changed From "We the People" Into a One World Government.
Outskirts Press. p. 97.
^ Rajiv Molhotra (2009). "
American Exceptionalism and the Myth of the
American Frontiers". In Rajani Kannepalli Kanth. The Challenge of
Eurocentrism. Palgrave MacMillan. pp. 180, 184, 189, 199.
^ Paul Finkelman and Donald R. Kennon (2008). Congress and the
Emergence of Sectionalism. Ohio University Press. pp. 15, 141,
254. CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
^ Ben Kiernan (2007). Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and
Extermination from Sparta to Darfur. Yale University Press.
pp. 328, 330.
^ Prucha 1995, p. 137, "I believe the Indian then to be in body
and mind equal to the white man," (Jefferson letter to the Marquis de
Chastellux, June 7, 1785).
^ a b American Indians. Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. Retrieved April
Francis Parkman (1913) . The conspiracy of Pontiac and the
Indian war after the conquest of Canada. p. 9.
^ Strong 1885, pp. 107–08
^ Official Manual of the State of Missouri. Office of the Secretary of
State of Missouri. 1895. p. 245.
^ Republican Party platform Archived October 18, 2007, at the Wayback
Machine.; context not clearly defined, Merk 1963, p. 241.
^ McKinley quoted in McDougall 1997, pp. 112–13; Merk 1963,
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(1): 43–52. doi:10.2307/1891336. JSTOR 1891336.
^ Merk 1963, p. 257.
^ Beveridge 1908, p. 123
^ Kipling, Rudyard. "The White Man's Burden".
^ Bryan 1899.
^ Charles Philippe David and David Grondin (2006). Hegemony Or
Empire?: The Redefinition of Us Power Under George W. Bush. Ashgate.
^ Stephanson 1996, pp. 112–29 examines the influence of
manifest destiny in the 20th century, particularly as articulated by
^ Scott, Donald. "The Religious Origins of Manifest Destiny". National
Humanities Center. Retrieved October 26, 2011.
^ John W. Dower (2000). Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World
War II. W. W. Norton. p. 217.
^ "Safe for democracy"; 1920 message; Wilson's version of manifest
destiny: Weinberg 1935, p. 471.
^ Karin Von Hippel (2000). Democracy by Force: U.S. Military
Intervention in the Post-Cold War World. Cambridge University Press.
^ Mattelart 1996, pp. 212–16.
^ a b Klinghoffer 2006, p. 86.
^ "A German Appraisal of the United States". The Atlantic Monthly.
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Friedrich Ratzel and the Origins
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Territorial expansion of the United States
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Treaty of Cession of Tutuila
Treaty of Cession of Tutuila (1900)
Treaty of Cession of Manuʻa (1904)
Treaty of the Danish West Indies
Treaty of the Danish West Indies (1917)
Concept: Manifest destiny
Indigenous and minority rights
Free, prior and informed consent
in the United States
African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights
Bureau of Indian Affairs
Council of Indigenous Peoples(Taiwan)
Fundação Nacional do Índio
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada
National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples
National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (Philippines)
United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
Assembly of First Nations
Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador
Congress of Aboriginal Peoples
Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin
Indigenous Environmental Network
Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism
International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs
National Indigenous Organization of Colombia
Native American Rights Fund
Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization
Zapatista Army of National Liberation
Dakota Access Pipeline protests
Lands inhabited by indigenous peoples
American Indian reservation
Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007
2009 Peruvian political crisis
Depopulation of Diego Garcia
High Arctic relocation
Indigenous rights • Min