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Manifest Destiny

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Manifest Destiny

The United States of America currently encompasses land from the west coast near the Pacific Ocean to the east coast near the Atlantic. However, this wasn't always the case. In the mid-1800s, Americans used the idea of manifest destiny to justify its expansion. John L. O'Sullivan's quote regarding manifest destiny is one of the media's first mentions of the idea.

Americans' manifest destiny is to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions. 1

–John L. O'Sullivan (1845).

Manifest Destiny:

The idea that God's plan was for Americans to take and settle new territory

Manifest Destiny: A History

In the 1840s, the United States was growing. The country needed to expand onto more land for farms, businesses, and families. Americans looked west for this. At this point, Americans viewed the west as a vast and wild piece of land awaiting people to settle.

People viewed its expansion to the West as America's manifest destiny. They believed that God wanted them to settle the land and spread democracy and capitalism to the Pacific Ocean. This idea contrasted sharply with the lifestyles of so many already living on the land and ultimately led to extreme measures designed to move or remove the indigenous people in the west.

It is important to note that the idea of manifest destiny is connected to the perceived racial superiority white Americans felt in regard to the native people living on American soil. It was the Americans' destiny to spread democracy, capitalism, and religion to the indigenous people. This gave Americans justification for conquering others' land and going to war with other nations.

The phrase manifest destiny was coined by John L. O'Sullivan in 1845.

James Polk, who served from 1845 to 1849, is the American president most associated with the idea of manifest destiny. As president, he resolved a boundary dispute regarding the Oregon Territory and led the United States to victory in the Mexican-American war.

Obstacles to the principle of a Manifest Destiny

  • Armed native tribes controlled the Great Plains.
  • Mexico controlled Texas and the land west of the Rocky Mountains.
  • Great Britain controlled Oregon.

Taking control of the western land would most likely involve armed conflict with these groups. President Polk, an expansionist, was not concerned. He was ready to go to war to obtain the rights to the land. The native people in the area were viewed as an obstacle to be removed.

American missionaries were some of the first to travel west, blazing trails like the Oregon Trail, fueled by the idea that Native Americans needed to be converted to Christianity. Again, the idea that white Americans believe themselves superior to indigenous people is demonstrated in these actions.

Manifest Destiny and Slavery

There wasn't just war with Mexico and Great Britain. Americans began fighting amongst themselves, debating the premise of slavery in the new territories. As the Northerners prepared to fight slavery, the Southern States threatened to secede from the Union.

Money played a central part here, too. Southerners were looking for other places to extend their cotton-growing operations. The manifest destiny precept was attuned to the colonist ideology of the right to take for themselves. And thus, to the eyes of white Americans legitimized the right to impose their will on others.

Manifest Destiny and the West

The idea of manifest destiny can be seen in the early expansion to the West.

Oregon

In the early 1880s (approximately 1806) Meriwether Lewis and William Clark explored the northern end of the Willamette Valley. Lewis and Clark were not the first Americans in the area as fur trappers had been working there for quite some time. Missionaries came to Oregon in the 1830s, and many began traveling toward Oregon in the 1840s. There was a previous agreement between the US and Britain which had allowed for pioneers from both countries to settle in the area. Missionaries, fur trappers, and farmers settled in Oregon. This is an example of American expansion into the west.

California

Propelled by the idea of Manifest Destiny, other pioneers headed to the Mexican providence of California. As Californian ranches became connected to the American economy, many began to hope for colonization and annexation.

Colonize:

To gain political control over an area while sending citizens there to settle.

Annex:

To forcibly gain control of a country near your own.

What were the effects of Manifest Destiny on the population?

The pursuit of the idea of manifest destiny led to the acquisition of new land in the western part of the United States. What were some of the other effects of manifest destiny?

Slavery:

The United State's addition of new territory heightened the tensions between the abolitionists and slaveholders as they fiercely debated if the new states were to be free or slave states. There was already a fierce battle waging between the two groups, which only got worse when they had to decide if slavery would be allowed in the new states. This debate set the stage for the American Civil War.

Native Americans:

The Plains Indians, like the Comanches, battled with the settlers in Texas. They were relocated to a reservation in Oklahoma in 1875. This is but one example of Americans forcing native tribes into reservations.

Effects of Manifest Destiny

Manifest Destiny: the idea that God's plan was for Americans to take and settle new territory

Manifest Destiny-Manifest Destiny Effects- Studysmarter Flowchart of Manifest Destiny. StudySmarter Original.

In the 1800s, the United States had access to a large amount of unexplored land, like the land from the Louisiana Purchase. Americans at the time not only believed that God had blessed their expansion, but also believed that it was their duty to spread democracy, capitalism, and religion to indigenous people.

The idea of Manifest Destiny had many effects on the United States. Americans explored and acquired more land. The new land increased tensions between slaveholders and abolitionists as they debated if new states should allow slavery.

The newly acquired land was not unoccupied land. They had been filled with various indigenous tribes, who had been eliminated with violent tactics. Those that survived were relocated to reservations.

Manifest Destiny Summary

The notion of Manifest Destiny rallied Americans and provided a moral reason for them to expand their empire. The United States found itself needing more land for the exploding population and rapid development of farms and businesses.

Acquisition of new land began under President Thomas Jefferson in the early 1800s and continued after that, especially with the United States under the direction of President James Polk (1845-1849). The term manifest destiny describes the idea that it was God's intention that Americans annex and colonize the western part of the United States. Manifest destiny ideology supported that it was the American's destiny to spread democracy and religion to the indigenous tribes.

The expansion was not without obstacles. Some armed tribes lived on the Great Plains. Other countries controlled parts of the Western land (for example, Great Britain controlled the Oregon territory). The debate around slavery extended to the newer additions to the United States. Native tribes were forcibly removed and relocated.

Manifest Destiny - Key takeaways

  • Manifest Destiny: the idea that God's plan was for Americans to take and settle new territory.
  • Americans used the idea of Manifest Destiny as justification for colonizing and annexing future parts of the United States.
  • The United States expanded its territory, forcing native peoples out of their environments and sometimes forcing them into reservations through violent means.
  • The addition of more territory intensified the debate around slavery as both slave owners and abolitionists wondered if slavery would be allowed in the new territory.

1: John L. O'Sullivan, “An American Journalist Explains 'Manifest Destiny' (1845),” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, 2022.

Frequently Asked Questions about Manifest Destiny

Manifest Destiny is the idea that God's plan was for Americans to take and settle new territory. 

The phrase "Manifest Destiny" was coined by John L. O'Sullivan in 1845. 

The effects of the Manifest Destiny doctrine are:

  1. Acquisition of new land 
  2. Further debate on the role of slavery in new territory 
  3. Relocation of indigenous tribes

Final Manifest Destiny Quiz

Question

Who coined the phrase manifest destiny?

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Answer

John L. O'Sullivan

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Question

True or false: Americans believed that God wanted them to settle the land and spread democracy and capitalism all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

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Answer

True 

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Question

It was the Americans' destiny to spread ______, ______, and _____ to the indigenous people.


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Answer

democracy

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Question

Which former president is most associated with the idea of manifest destiny?

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Answer

James Polk

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Question

How were Native Americans affected by manifest desiny? 

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Answer

Their land was settled by pioneers and they were forced into reservations. 

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Question

True or false: manifest destiny increased the debate around slavery as people argued over slavery being allowed in the new territories.

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Answer

True

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Question

Which of the following were causes of manifest destiny?

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Answer

Americans needed more land for farming and businesses

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Question

Which is not an effect of manifest destiny? 

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Answer

Lewis and Clark created detailed maps of the American West. 

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Question

What is the meaning of manifest destiny?

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Answer

the idea that God's plan was for Americans to take and settle new territory

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Question

What is the meaning of colonize?

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Answer

the idea that God's plan was for Americans to take and settle new territory

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Question

What's the meaning of annex?

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Answer

the idea that God's plan was for Americans to take and settle new territory

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