“Manifest Destiny” and US of A

“Manifest Destiny”, the phrase caught my imagination when I read about it the first time in Irving Stone’s book – Immortal Wife. This was an account of the wife of John C Fremont who was widely known as “Pathfinder of the Rocky Mountains“. He lead as many as 4 expeditions to the American West. Fremont became one of the first two U.S. senators elected from the new state of California in 1850.  He lost the 1856 presidential election to Democrat James Buchanan  as the first presidential candidate to the new Republican party and carried most of the North.

American history can be divided into four phases.

  1. Up until the declaration of American Independence. The initial settlement, the war of independence till the Declaration on July 4 1786.
  2. Age of Manifest Destiny and the expansion of the United States – From independence to 1860
  3. The American Civil War between 1861 and 1865
  4. Reconstruction Era, World War II, The Super power years – right after the civil war till date.

Manifest destiny was a widely held belief in the 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
  • America’s mission to redeem and remake the west in the image of agrarian America
  • An irresistible destiny to accomplish this essential duty

Historian agree that 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”.

The phrase “manifest destiny” is most often associated with the expansion of United States from 1812 to 1860. This era, from the end of the War of 1812 to the beginning of the American Civil War has been called the “age of manifest destiny”United States expanded from ‘sea to shining sea’  to the Pacific Ocean, during this period. The contiguous United States borders were largely defined during that period.

Manifest destiny played its most important role in the Oregon, expansion of Texas, California, New Mexico and in defining American relationship with Mexico. In 1836, Texas, sought to join the United States as a new state. It was this process of expansion that had been advocated from Jefferson to O’Sullivan as newly democratic and independent states that  would seek entry into the United States, rather than the United States extending its government over territories.

Thomas Benton, the father in law of Fremont, Horace Greeley with the phrase “Go West,  Young Man”,  Duff Green and Stephen Douglas were some of the other vocal proponents of the westward expansion.

In the twentieth century, the phrase manifest destiny declined in usage, as  expansion stopped to be promoted as being a part of America’s “destiny”. In President Theodore Roosevelt’s time,  there was an explicit rejection of territorial expansion.Expansionism had been replaced by interventionism as a means of upholding the Monroe doctrine.

The belief in an American mission to promote and defend democracy throughout the world, as expounded by Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, continues to have an influence on American political ideology. Under Douglas MacArthur, the Americans “were imbued with a sense of manifest destiny” according to historian John Dower. The legacy is not an easy one.

References: Wikipedia

Further Reading : Men to match my Mountains by Irving Stone

Manifest Destiny: Westward Expansion (Milestones in American History)

Movies : John Wayne, Henry Fonda, James Stewart of a Prescott Family moving to the frontiers –  How the West was Won

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