Manifest Destiny Essay Titles About Life

As of December 31, 2014, I retired from full-time teaching in Humboldt State University's Department of History. While this website will remain online, it is no longer maintained.

History 110 - Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer
Whose Manifest Destiny?  The Federal Government and the American Indians

During the era of Manifest Destiny, Indian people across the continent continued to be the object of stereotypes - savage men and women who had no legitimate rights to land - land they could not and would not tame for profit. Those stereotypes have been slow to diminish. As westernern novelist Larry McMurtry explains, "Thanks largely to the movies, the lies about the West are more potent than the truth" (New York Review of Books, "Broken Promises," 10/23/97, p. 16). We can really see how potent these stereotypes of Indians and the "Wild West" were in this short video, How Hollywood Stereotyped the Native Americans at

These stereotypes have also been perpetuated by our textbooks which tell us that Indians massacred good, strong, Protestant pioneers moving across land that was theirs for the taking. But similar to the stereotypes put forth by Hollywood, there are few facts to back this up. Indeed, during the 17 years of the largest westward movement - 1842-1859 - of more than 400,000 pioneers crossing the Great Plains, less than 400 - or less than 0.1% - were killed by American Indians. (Loewen, Teaching What Really Happened, 2012: p. 69)

These stereotypes and inaccuracies - some historians call them outright lies - are key to our story about Manifest Destiny. Over the next two days, we will continue to address and deconstruct these stereotypes and lies.

Whose Manifest Destiny?  The Federal Government and the American Indian
Discussion Goals:
  1. To study the attitudes and actions of European colonists that helped shape the philosophical foundations of American Indian policy.
  2. To examine relevant federal policies through the end of the nineteenth century.
  3. To learn about the opposition to Indian Removal.
  4. To understand California's "Indian Problem" and the conflicting white interpretation of how to handle this problem.
  5. To chronologically examine the massacre at Indian Island in Eureka, California on February 16, 1860.

Goal #1: To study the attitudes and actions of European colonists that helped shape the philosophical foundations of American Indian policy

In order to understand how American Indians were treated during the era of Manifest Destiny, we need to step back in time a bit - back into the colonial era. It was during the first 170 years of American history that the foundations for American Indian policies were laid. During most of the colonial era, the British Crown dealt with the Indian tribes as foreign sovereign nations. How have we defined sovereignty in other discussions?

While the colonists recognized the political sovereignty of Indian nations, their relations with the Indians were guided by two attitudes that encouraged them to ignore the reality of Indian sovereignty.

  1. Intolerance.  Most colonists were intolerant and fearful of American Indians whom they perceived to be a single, standard, homogeneous, and heathen Indian nation - and as such, a threat to white progress, humanity, and most importantly - Christianity.
    • Such intolerance was not simply rooted in racism.  Indeed, initially colonists were more fearful of the sin that accounted for their "degenerate conditions" than their racial differences.
    • As the Puritan minister Cotton Mather wrote, "probably the Devil" had delivered these "miserable savages" to America, "in hopes that the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ would never come here to destroy or disturb his absolute empire over them."  (As quoted in Henretta,, America's History, 1997:55.)
  2. Belief in the superiority of Christianity and Western civilization over non-Christian, non-Western peoples.
    • During the medieval Crusades, Pope Innocent IV (1243-1254) decreed that Europeans had a divine mandate to protect the spiritual well-being of all people, including non-believing infidels.  Thus, Christians claimed the "right of conquest" - the natural, God-given right of Christians to conquer and then assume sovereignty over non-Christian peoples throughout the world.
    • This belief was modified by Pope Alexander IV (1492-1503) in response to Columbus's "discovery" of the Americas.   The "doctrine of discovery" claimed that any Christian European discovery of territory held by  non-believers gave Christians title to the land.
    • Under Elizabeth (1558-1603), the British added a new twist to the both the rights of conquest and discovery: indigenous peoples could be justly conquered in order to "counter the odious religious and economic influence" that the Spanish were spreading in the "New World"  - Catholicism and the failure to fully utilize the profitable and primarily agricultural nature of the land.

These attitudes help to shape four colonial policies to deal with the Indian Nations:

  1. Pre-emption/Dispossession.  Using the Doctrine of Discovery, referred to as pre-emption in colonial times, the colonists claimed that they held title to all Indian land and that the Indians only had the right to occupy the land. Should Indians decide to sell their land, they could only sell it to the colonial conquerers.
  2. Removal.  But dispossession did not rid the colonists of the Indian "problem."  American Indians, they argued, needed to be removed from their land and relocated elsewhere. As this map indicates, the Delaware Nation (Lenape) were removed from their traditional homeland in Pennsylvania as early as 1682 and by 1750, were mostly settled in Ohio. Once the United States came into being, they were removed several more times.
  3. Assimilation.  Wherever Indians lived, it was necessary for them to assimilate into American society - to adopt the characteristics of white Americans by accepting Christianity, as well as European culture and tradition.
  4. Elimination.  But what if Indians did not want to willingly give up their land or assimilate?  According to the historical values of Christianity, the colonists had the right to wage a "just war" against those who would not accept God's law or those who used violence against God's "elected" governors.   One of the first such "just wars" began on March 22, 1622, when the Algonquin Indians, the indigenous residents of what the English settlers called Jamestown, surprised the residents and killed 347 settlers in retribution for European encroachment upon their lands.

Thereafter, the colonial governor set the policy for dealing with American Indians with this pronouncement:  "It is infinitely better to have no heathen among us, who were but as thorns in our sides, than to be at peace and league with them."   (As quoted in Utley and Washburn, 1977:17.)  The colonists had tried to convince the Indians to barter for land.  But when the Indians refused, and finally resisted, they violated all natural laws and thereafter, possessed no rights which the English must respect - not even the right to life.  Accordingly the colonists set about eliminating the natives from the entire Tidewater area. By January 1623, the Virginia Council of State proudly reported that more Indians had been killed in the previous year since the beginning of the colony.

By the middle of the 1700s, the British Crown gradually reinterpreted the nature of tribal sovereignty. As individual colonists continually encroached upon Indian lands, the British Crown assumed a protectorate position - arguing that the King must protect the tribes against colonial excesses and injustice. Thus, in 1755, the British government assumed direct responsibility for Indian affairs.

  • The British were worried about the French who continued to gain the loyalty of frontier tribes. So British representatives recruited tribes to fight on the British side during the French and Indian War.
  • At the War's end, the British adopted the first formal policy directed at protecting the Indians - The Proclamation of 1763 which established a western boundary along the crest of the Appalachian Mountains across which white settlers could not cross. As such, it provided a boundary that distinguished "Indian Country" from non-Indian country.

By the end of the colonial era, then, intolerance and Christian superiority guided colonial attitudes. In turn, the King adopted a protectionist attitude toward the American Indians. As we shall see, these attitudes helped to shape the Indian policies of the newly-created United States government.

Goal #2: To examine relevant federal policies through the end of the nineteenth century

After the colonists won independence from England, the newly-created United States government immediately claimed ownership of all Indian lands west of the Appalachians - land that had been designated as Indian Country (shown in red on the map) by the King's Proclamation Line of 1763. Americans justified taking this land because the Indians who had fought with the French during the French and Indian War had lost the war, and subsequently, also lost their land.

Within seven years after the end of the Revolutionary War, the new American government created three distinct policies that determined how the Americans would deal with Indians in what had since 1763 been known as Indian Country: the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and the Indian Trade and Intercourse Act of 1790.

  1. 1787 - The Northwest Ordinance proclaimed that the federal government would observe "The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians; their land and property shall never be taken without their consent; and, in their property, rights, and liberty, they shall never be invaded or disturbed" except "in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress."
  2. "Commerce Clause in Article 1, Section 8, the Constitution declares that Congress has the power "to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes."
    • What the Constitution says is that there are three entities that possess sovereign status in the eyes of the U.S. - foreign nations, states, and Indian nations. Under the Constitution, then, Indian nations had the same relationship with the U.S. as foreign nations. All relations between the U.S. and Indian Nations, then, must be conducted through treaties.
    • Further, according the Robert Miller, the Constitution in the clause invokes the Doctrine of Discovery by again claiming that Indian tribes can only make treaties - sell or give their land - with the federal government, their legitimate conquerer.
  3. 1790 - Indian Trade and Intercourse Act. This Congressional Act placed nearly all interaction between Indians and non-Indians under federal - not state - control,  as well as:
    • established the boundaries of Indian country,
    • protected Indian lands against non-Indian aggression,
    • subjected trading with Indians to federal regulation, and
    • stipulated that injuries against Indians by non-Indians was a federal crime.
    • The conduct of Indians among themselves while in Indian country was left entirely to the tribes. These Acts were renewed periodically until 1834.

In 1824, the Indian Intercourse Act was amended. In this act, Congress created Indian Territory in the west that included the land area in all of present-day Kansas, most of Oklahoma, and parts of what later became Nebraska, Colorado, and Wyoming. The area was set aside for Indians who were to be removed from their ancestral lands which, in turn, would be settled by non-Indians. The area steadily decreased in size as the maps below of 1834, 1854, 1876, and 1889 indicate.

Thus, the legal and geographical nature of Indian Country changed dramatically in the Nineteenth Century. As the maps above indicate, Indian people saw their lands greatly diminished between 1763 and 1889:

  • Indian Country was originally designated in 1793 under the King's Proclamation Line.
  • The boundaries moved west of the Mississippi under the Indian Trade and Intercourse Act of 1834.
  • By 1876, with the admission of Kansas and Nebraska to the Union, Indian Country had shrunk to what is now the state of Oklahoma, excluding the panhandle.
  • By 1889 after the passage and initial implementation of General Allotment Act and the creation of Oklahoma Territory, Indian Country had shrunk to its final form.

From the very beginning of the US government, Indian policies have been contradictory - in writing, most aimed to act in good faith toward the Indians, but in practice, these policies endorsed actions most beneficial to the non-Indian population. Indeed, because Indian nations were legally recognized as sovereign, the federal government immediately faced what soon became known to non-Indians as the "Indian problem" - while European Americans wanted to move westward and conquer all the land to the Pacific Ocean, it was clear that the hundreds of sovereign Indian nations were not going to willingly or voluntarily give up their land. Consequently, the United States government took two steps:

  • signing hundreds of treaties with Indian nations, treaties which in turn were bolstered by a series of US Supreme Court Decisions; and
  • passing hundreds of laws designed to define relations between the federal government and Indian nations.

Treaties and Supreme Court Decisions

Treaties are legal, government-to-government agreements between two legitimate governments - in this case, the United States and an Indian nation. When an Indian nation signed a treaty, it agreed to give the federal government some or all of its land as well as some or all of its sovereign powers. In return, the federal government entered into a trust responsibility with the Indian Nation in which the federal government promised that in exchange for their land, it would:

  • represent the best interests of the tribe;
  • protect the safety and well-being of tribal members; and
  • fulfill its treaty obligations and commitments.

Treaties were not the only legal entities that defined the federal relationship with Indian Nations. As early as 1823, the US Supreme Court also assumed that role. In what is known as the Marshall Trilogy, the Supreme Court established the doctrinal basis for interpreting federal Indian law and defining tribal sovereignty.

  • Johnson v. McIntosh (1823). This case involved the validity of two conflicting land claims sold by an Indian nation to two white men in 1773 and 1775. The Court held that while the Indians had the right to "occupy" the land, tribes had no power to grant lands to anyone other than the federal government.  The federal government, in turn, held title to all Indian lands based upon the "doctrine of discovery."  Thus, the right of Indians to sovereignty was limited as European Americans had exclusive title to the land which they had "discovered."
  • Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831). The Cherokee Nation sued the State of Georgia for passing laws and enacting policies that limited their sovereignty and were forbidden in the Constitution.  The Court ruled that Indian were neither US citizens, nor independent nations, but rather were "domestic dependent nations" whose relationship to the US "resembles that of a ward to his guardian."  Thus, Indian nations did not possess all the attributes of sovereignty that the word "nation" usually implies.  This ruling set a legal basis for the trust responsibility.
  • Worcester v. Georgia (1832).  A missionary from Vermont who was working on Cherokee territory sued the State of Georgia which had arrested him, claiming that the state had no authority over him within the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation.  The Court ruled in Worchester's favor, holding that state laws did not extend to Indian country, and futher clarifying that Indian Nations were under protection of the federal government.  Congress, therefore, had plenary, or overriding power over all Indian Nations.

Thus, beginning with Johnson v. McIntosh, the Supreme Court produced two competing theories of tribal sovereignty:

  • the tribes have inherent powers of sovereignty that predate the "discovery" of America by Columbus; and
  • the tribes have only those attributes of sovereignty that Congress gives them.

Over the years, the Court has relied on one or the other of these theories in deciding tribal sovereignty cases. Whichever theory the Court favored in a given case largely determined the powers the tribe had and what protections they received against federal and state government encroachment.

The Marshall Trilogy cases bolstered the federal land-taking powers of the 371 treaties that were ratified by the U.S. until 1868. Indians during the era of Manifest Destiny were relegated to a kind of limited sovereignty that was to be governed by paternalistic trust and subject to the interpretation of the US government and its courts. By 1871, that paternalistic trust was clearly-articulated by Congress when it decided to end all government-to-government treaties with Indian nations. No longer would Indians have any negotiating power or say about their treatment at the hands of the US government. Thereafter, such determinations would be made as Congress passed various federal policies and laws. And in so doing, the federal government's trust responisibility began to erode.

Federal Indian Policies and Laws

The loss of Indian Country was just one of several legal ways that Indian sovereignty was diminished during the 19th Century. As Euro-Americans moved westward, they began to demand access to more territory - the vast majority of which was occupied by American Indians. Thus, from 1830 throughout the remainder of the Nineteenth Century, the federal government responded with five policies that aimed to open up Indian land to white settlement: removal, reservations, allotment boarding schools, and elimination. The federal implementation of each policy further eroded Indian sovereigny.

  1. Removal. By the early 1830s, about 80,000 members of the Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw,and Seminole Nations lived on land that many Americans felt could be more profitably farmed and settled by non-Indians. But all five nations had signed treaties with the federal government guaranteeing the right to live in their ancestral lands and maintain their sovereign systems of tribal government. Not surprisingly, these nations were unwilling to give up their land and to negotiate new treaties with the federal government that would give away any of their territory.
    • President Andrew Jackson decided that a new federal policy would be necessary in order to remove the Indians from their lands. Thus, he supported the Removal Act of 1830 which gave the President the right to make land "exchanges" by forcibly removing the five tribes from their ancestral lands against their will. Consequently, over the next several decades, more than 40 tribes were removed to Indian Country - the area that now comprises the state of Oklahoma.
    • President Jackson rationalized the removal program as a benevolent effort that gave the Indians one last chance to assimilate and give up their culture. In his address to Congress of December 1833, Jackson told American law makers the following:

      "Surrounded by our settlements, these Indians have neither the intelligence, the industry, the moral habits nor the desire of improvement which are essential to any favorable change in their condition.  Established in the midst of another and a superior race, and without appreciating the causes of their inferiority or seeking to control them, they must necessarily yield to the force of circumstance and ere long disappear." ( President Andrew Jackson, Message to Congress, December 1833)

    • More than 40 tribes were removed to the area that came to be known as Indian Territory - the area that now comprises the state of Oklahoma. Between 1830 and 1840, somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 Indians living in the East were forcibly resettled by the US Army. While the removal policy helped to alleviate the immediate "Indian problem," as more and more Americans continued to move westward they found many other Indian tribes living in freedom throughout the continent. Because these Indians prevented non-Indians from settling in many desirable areas, and because many white settlers did not feel safe living amidst the Indian "danger," another new policy was created to deal with the Indians. This time, Indians would be confined to a land reserved exclusively for their own use - areas that came to be called reservations.
  2. Reservations. The men who created the reservation system believed that if Indians could be confined to one particular geographical place reserved for them, they could become 'civilized" and assimilated into American life and transformed into good Christian farmers. They could be encouraged to stop being Indians and to become like white men. Thus, the reservations were to make sure the remaining tribes were converted to Christianity; taught English, sewing, and small-scale farming; and ultimately, to be Americanized.
    • Within reservation borders, Indians were not permitted to leave, except by permission. Those who left were arrested and severely punished. As a former BIA director proclaimed, Indians were like "children" who dislike school and preferred to "play truant at pleasure." "I used to have to be whipped myself to get me to school and keep me there, yet I always liked to study when once within the school-room walls. (Francis Walker, as quoted in Takaki, 233-34).
      • Indian Agents enforced federal policies on the reservations. They, in turn, were assisted by clerks, doctors, field matrons, farmers, teachers, and blacksmiths - mostly white people who worked on the reservations.
      • Additionally, they were helped by the reservation police and Courts of Indian Offenses which were staffed by Indians. Their role was to suppress tribal culture and traditional activities. Thus, the government embarked upon an avenue of divide and conquer.
    • Although treaties were the primary method for creating reservations, Congress suspended formal treaty making in 1871. Thereafter, executive order, congressional acts, or any legal combination recognized by the federal government were used to establish federal reservations. By the end of the 19th Century, 56 of 162 federal reservations had been established by executive order. After 1919, only an act of Congress could establish reservations.
    • While some Indians adjusted to life on the reservation, the vast majority did not become more like the white man. Indeed, most fought to maintain their Indian culture and traditions. While the reservation system continued to grow and resulted in the loss of even more territory (as seen at the right in the map of Indian Reservations in the 20th Century), it was clear that all Indians were not going to be confined to reservations and that the vast majority were not going to become Americanized.
    • Thus, arose the necesssity for another new federal policy - allotment.
  3. Allotment. Many Americans believed that Indians would never become Americanized as long as they lived in large reservation communities in which they celebrated their cultural and spiritual traditions and owned land communally. Further, American policy makers believed that the reservation did not give the Indian an incentive to improve his or her situation. So, the federal government's new policy was designed to detribalize the Indian by destroying the idea of communal land ownership on the reservations. This policy became law under the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 - the federal government's first, large-scale, official attempt to allot all remaining Indian land. The important provisions of the Act were:
    • a head of family would receive a grant of 160 acres, a single person or orphan under 18 years of age would receive a grant of 80 acres, and persons under the age of 18 would receive 40 acres each;
    • the allotments would be held in trust by the U.S. Government for 25 years;
    • eligible Indians had four years to select their land but afterwards the selection would be made for them by the Secretary of the Interior;
    • U.S. citizenship would be conferred upon allotees who abandoned their tribes and adopted "the habits of civilized life."
    • All land not alloted reverted to the control of the U.S. government and could be sold. Consequently, land owned by Indians decreased from 138 million acres in 1887 to 48 million acres in 1934. This map illustrates the devastating loss of Indian land between 1775 and 1894. The Dawes Act further diminished the 1894 Indian land another 60 percent.
  4. Boarding Schools. At the same time that the Dawes Act was being conceptualized, American policy makers were also experimenting with a new assimilation policy. Some reasoned that for Indians to really become assimilated, Indian children would have to be taken from their tribal environment and reeducated. Thus it was that in 1879, a former Indian fighter, Colonel Richard Pratt, created the first large Indian boarding school in the nation - the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania - dedicated to totally Americanizing Indian children.
    • Within a few years, federal authorities forced Indian parents to either send their children to an off-reservation boarding school such as Carlisle, or to boarding schools established in remote areas of Indian reservations. The boarding school had become the primary tool of assimilationists. And what awaited the Indian children upon their arrival? We know from many first-hand accounts that the teachers spent the first few days forcing the children to discard their Indian ways and adopt American ways.

    • Children were forbidden to speak their native language, often under threat of physical punishment.
    • Their long hair was clipped to the skull, sometimes as part of a public ritual in which the child was forced to renounce his or her Indian origins.
    • Their loose-fitting clothing and moccasins were taken away and burned. Boys were then given military uniforms and girls were forced to wear tight-fitting, Victorian-style dresses.
    • They were told never to use their Indian names and were given an American name instead.
    • They were forbidden to practice any cultural or religious rituals, usually under threat of punishment, and were instead told that they would be expected to become devoted Christians.
    • Once the rules were clear, then children became involved in the daily routine which was defined by military drill and structure. Children attended school one half of each day, and the other half was spent in training for several skills - mechanics, printing, and agriculture.
    • The results of the boarding schools policy were catastrophic for American Indians:
      • Indians suffered enormous loss of their cultures and languages.
      • Indian family life was greatly disrupted by forcing Indian children to attend boarding schools.
      • Many Indian children were neither accepted into American society, nor were they able to comfortably resettle into traditional Indian society.
  5. Elimination. The rationale for eliminating Indians grew out of a belief that Indian resistance was equivalent to a declaration of war against the US. Using such a rationale, in the late 1800s the US Army declared war upon several tribes, began eliminating resisters, and sought to absolutely subjugate any survivors. But war was hardly a last resort nor was it something used only at the end of the nineteenth century.
    • A review of official miliary records, some of which are incomplete, shows that from 1776 to 1907, the US Army was involved in 1,470 official actions against Indians. These figures do not include actions against the Indians undertaken by either the US Navy - of which there were probably dozens - or the hundreds of hostile actions undertaken by private armies against American Indians.
    • The vast majority of military Indian fighting under the auspices of the US government did occur between 1866 and 1891. According to official records for this 25-year period, the Army was involved in 1,065 combat engagements with Indians. In total, 948 soldiers were killed and another 1,058 wounded, as well as 4,371 Indians who were killed and another 1,279 who were wounded.

By the turn of the Twentieth Century, the American Indian population had been dramatically reduced, not only due to the policies adopted by the US government, but also due to disease and malnutrition - both of which had been byproducts of Indian contact with European Americans and American federal policy

  • The American Indian population - estimated to have been between 6-10 million prior to European contact - was only about 250,000 at the turn of the century.
  • Indian land ownership had dramatically declined. After allotment provisions of the Dawes Act, these lands were further reduced by almost two-thirds - from 138 million acres of land in 1890 to 48 million acres by 1934.
  • Indians in all nations had been reduced to membership within a domestic dependent semi-sovereign nation under the paternalistic tutelage of the US government.

Many people have called the culmination of these federal policies an act of genocide.

Do any of these federal policies and acts constitute genocide?In 1944, the word genocide was created from the Greek word "genos" meaning race - plus "cide" from Latin "cidium" meaning to kill or an act of killing. In 1948, the U.N. adopted its definition - that genocide involves actions committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, religious, political, or economic group. Such actions against a group include:

  • killing its members;
  • causing serious bodily or mental harm to members;
  • deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the groups’ physical destruction in whole or in part;
  • imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and
  • forcibly transferring its children to another group.

Cultural genocide occurs when governments officially sanction the removal and/or repression of a particular group and subsequently eliminates and/or weakens parts of that group.

Goal #3: To learn about the opposition to Indian Removal.

Until very recently, historians generally believed there was little to no opposition to one of the federal government's Indian policies - removal. However, in the late 1990s an historian named Mary Hershberger published and article in the Journal of American History in which she wrote not only of opposition to the Indian Removal Act, but also about the key role women played in opposing the Act. This is what happened:

  • After the Indian Removal Act was officially introduced to Congress in late 1829, Catherine Beecher began circulating a "Ladies Circular" petition to mobilize opposition to the Act and influence congressmen and senators. She is soon joined by her sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose experience in opposition to removal lead to her involvment in the abolitionist movement and eventually to her authorship of one of the most important anti-slavery books every written, Uncle Tom's Cabin.
  • Martin Van Buren's niece was one of many well-known women who became politicized during the fight against Indian removal. In 1832 when Andrew Jackson runs again for President with Van Buren as his vice-president, she told her uncle and the president that she hoped they lost the election due to Jackson's stand on Indian removal.
  • Many women were opposed, especially those from New England who did not want to see fellow Christians lose their land, Christian missionaries who had worked among the Indians and knew them to be civilized, and abolitionists who did not want to see American Indian land converted into slave country.
  • Largely due to women publishing articles and circulating petitions like the one to the left opposing the Act in 1830, opposition to removal began to gather steam. Historians have estimated that the number of oppositional articles, essays, and pamphlets that were printed and reprinted is estimated to have reached over half a million readers.

Although the women were not able to stop the passage of the Indian Removal Act - which was passed in the House by a narrow vote of 102-97 and by the Senate with a vote of 28-19 - many women became politicized and empowered by their efforts. It will be many of these very same women who will come together 18 years later at The Seneca Falls Convention which began the American Women's Rights Movement.

Women were not the only Americans who opposed the Act. Many Christian missionaries, including the well-respected Jeremiah Evarts, also objected to passage of the Act. Future United States President Abraham Lincoln strongly opposed it, as did Senator Theodore Frelinghuysen of New Jersey and Congressman Davy Crockett of Tennessee who vocally spoke out against the Act. The Act was ultimately passed only after strong and bitter debate in Congress during which opponents argued that the rights of Indian nations and the honor of the US were more important than U.S. expansion.

That this debate spoke to a large audience is indicated by Martin Van Buren, who wrote regarding the struggle: "(this issue) will in all probability long as the government itself, and will in time, (continue to) occupy the minds and feelings of our people."

The debate over Indian Removal should be familar by now as it brought into focus a number of conflicting views on how the U.S. was to grow. Which principles should Americans use to guide the development of this republic. Thus, both extraordinary and ordinary women and men raised the same questions that Sam Haynes tells us were debated 16 years later during the Mexican American War: "Is the U.S. going to be a good nation or is it going to become a great nation? Is it going to become a nation that will protect the sovereignty of neighboring nation states, or a nation that will aggressively pursue its own self interests?" ( James K. Polk and the Expansionist Impulse.)

Goal #4 - To understand California's "Indian Problem" and the conflicting white interpretation of how to handle this problem.

By 1848 - just before gold was discovered in California - somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 Indians and less than 2,000 white people lived in California. Later that year when gold was discovered, the population mix began a dramatic alteration. By the time California became a state in 1850, California Indians were a minority and a "problem" for the newly-migrated Californians. For the next decade, the "problem" of what to do with California's Indian population was tackled by the new state government and the people of California, as well as the federal government. But each of these stakeholders had various and conflicting interpretations of how to handle the "Indian problem."

  1. The State of California wanted to:
    • protect white settlers and miners from Indian attack,
    • protect white property from Indian loss or attack, and
    • regulate Indians as a labor force
  2. California citizens wanted the Indians removed from Northern California as quickly as possible.
  3. The Federal government was bound by its trust responsibility to Indian Nations throughout the United States to maintain some degree of safety and well-being among the Indian People of California.

During its first ten years as a state, California neither recognized Indians as citizens with civil rights, nor did it treat Indians as sovereign people. As soon as the state government was created, the new legislators - those men largely ruled by pro-slavery and pro-southern sentiments - passed a series of legislative acts that legally did the following

  • Legalized Indian slavery by allowing whites to obtain control over Indian children especially through kidnapping, to contract for Indian services, to outlaw Indian vagrancy.
  • Denied Indians equal protection under the law by forbidding Indians to defend themselves in a court of law, describing the only type of life acceptable via Euro-American customs, allowing the courts to contract Indians out as servants.
  • Pomoted vigilante justice by empowering and funding militias.

Examples of such Legislation:

  • In 1850, California's first legislature passed the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians - which wrote the following into law.
    • Indians could not testify against whites.
    • Landowners could not permit Indians who were peaceably residing on their land to continue to do so.
    • Whites would be able to obtain control over Indian children.
    • If any Indian ws convicted of a crime, any white person could come before the court and contract for the Indian's service.
    • It was illegal to sell or administer alcohol to Indians.
    • Indians convicted of stealing a horse, mule, cow, or any other valuable could receive any number of lashes not to exceed 25, and fines not to exceed $200.
    • Any Indian found strolling, loitering where alchohol was sold, begging, or leading a "profligate course of life" would be liable to arrest.
  • California passed a law in 1854 "making it a crime to disinter, mutilate or remove the body of any deceased person" - but Indian bodies were understood to be exempt from the law. This begins a period of Indian grave robbing that does not end until federal legislation is passed in the late 20th Century that specifically makes this practice illegal.
  • In 1860, California passed an amendment to the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians [Approved April 18, 1860.] In essence, this amendment declared that Indians who were not already indentured/enslaved could be kidnapped.

What were the goals of such legislation?

  1. Promote Indian slavery. Californians interpreted the 1850 law in such a way that all Indians, including children, faced indentured servitude through a simple procedure of arrest and "hiring out" through any local justice-of-the-peace. Once they were indentured, the term limitation was almost always ignored, thus resulting in slavery.
    • The result was a profitable slave trade in Indian men, women, and children throughout Northern California. Children were readily bought and sold, for household work; and women were purchased for both household work and sexual liaisons.
    • Another practice occurred when officials picked up Indians as vagrants. These officials would then turn the Indians over to the ranchers and other people who needed laborers. After four months, the employer would return the Indians to the city, usually to a place where alcohol was served. Shortly after their return, the Indians would be picked up once again as vagrants, and returned to the labor force.
    • In 1860, the Act was amended to allow for any Indian not already indentured to be kidnapped.
  2. Deny Indians equal protection under the law by forbidding Indians to defend themselves in a court of law, describing the only type of life acceptable via Euro-American customs, allowing the courts to contract Indians out as servants.
    • Under the 1850 Act, article 6 states that "in no case shall a white man be convicted of any offence upon the testimony of an Indian." This clearly is denial of equal protection - the belief that Indians did not deserve equal protection under the law in the land they had occupied for generations, or justice in the case of murder or abuse.
    • Enslaving Indians and denying them equal protection became illegal in 1866, when, to comply with the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution, the State Legislature repealed the law.
    • The 14th Amendment provides that no state should infringe on any citizen's "privileges or immunities" nor "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law," nor deny to any person "the equal protection of the law."
    • But all this did was remove the legal barriers. Persons who were already enslaved were not immediately released, nor was the law adequately enforced until the end of the century.
    • It was not until 1872 that the California Constitution was amended to allow Indians to testify in courts of law.
  3. Pomote vigilante justice by empowering and funding militias. In 1850 with the first California constitution, Article VII gave the Governor the power "to call for the militia, to execute the laws of the State, to suppress insurrections, and repel invasions." In his annual address to the California Legislature on Jan. 7, 1851, Governor Burnett highlighted significant events of 1850, including "repeated calls ... upon the Executive for the aid of the militia to resist and punish the attacks of the Indians upon the frontier." During 1850, Governor Burnett called out the militia two times. Additionally ...
    • In April 1850, the California Legislature enacted two laws: An Act concerning Volunteer or Independent Companies, and An Act concerning the organization of the Militia.
      • The Volunteer Act provided that citizens of any one county could: organize into a volunteer or independent company; arm and equip themselves in the same manner as the army of the United States; prepare muster rolls (attendance records) twice a year; and render prompt assistance and full obedience when summoned or commanded under the law. This is a copy of discharge papers from one of the Trinity Rangers.
      • The lengthy Militia Act established that all "free, white, able-bodied male citizens, between the ages of eighteen and forty-five years, residing in [the] State" were subject to state-mandated military duty.
    • In 1851, the legislature set the rates of pay for the troops - $1,100,000 for the "suppression" of Indian hostilities.
    • In 1857, the Legislature issued bonds for $410,000 for the same purpose.
    • Both of the 1850 acts were repealed and replaced in 1855 and amended in 1856 and 1857 - but neither repealed the militia nor the money provided to militias. In 1866, the National Guard replaced militias in this capacity.

Studies conducted in the late 20th Century of the California archives found that while it was impossible to determine exactly the total number of units and men engaged in militia attacks against the California Indians during the period of 1850 to 1859, the official record verifies that the governors of California called out the militia on "Expeditions against the Indians" on a number of occasions, and at considerable expense - $843,573.48. (Comptroller of the State of California, Expenditures for Military Expeditions Against Indians, 1851-1859, Sacramento: The Comptroller, Secretary of State, California State Archives, Located at "Roster" Comptroller No. 574, Vault, Bin 393.)

Goal #5: To chronologically examine the massacre at Indian Island in Eureka, California on February 16, 1860

Pre-Contact.  About 1500-2000 Wiyot people lived in their ancestral territory that included the current tows of McKinleyville, Blue Lake, Arcata, Eureka, Kneeland, Loleta, Fortuna, Ferndale, and Rohnerville.  Indian Island was and remains the center of the Wiyot People’s world.  It is home to the ancient village of Tuluwat and the traditional site of the World Renewal Ceremony held annually to welcome the new year.  The ceremony lasted between 7-10 days and began with the men leaving the island and returning the next day with the needed supplies.  The elders, women, and children remained behind. The ground beneath Tuluwat village is an enormous clamshell mound (or midden). This mound, measuring over six acres in size and estimated to be over 1,000 years old, is an irreplaceable physical history of the Wiyot way of life. Contained within it are remains of meals, tools, and ceremonies, as well as many burial sites.

1850.  The town of Eureka was founded by a group of miners who needed a more convenient route to the overland trail from Sacramento the California gold fields.  Shortly thereafter, Humboldt Bay became the busiest port between San Francisco and Portland.  As Eureka’s population and economy grew, its white residents became increasingly uneasy about local Indians whom ranchers blamed for thefts and cattle loss.  Merchants began to see Indian villages that thrived along the Bay as a direct threat to their growing trade.

1860. An army officer at Fort Humboldt observed, "Cold-blooded Indian killing being considered honorable, shooting Indians and murdering even squaws and children that have been domesticated for months and years, without a moment's warning and with as little compunction as they would rid themselves of a dog." An editorial in the Humboldt Times opined, "The whites cannot afford horses and cattle for their [Indian] sustenance, and will not. Ergo, unless Government provides for the Indians, the settlers must exterminate them."

In early February, the Humboldt Volunteer Militia was created, two years after Humboldt citizens sent the following letter to the governor:

"It has now been two months since the Indians in this vicinity started in open hostility to us, though so far they have confined their operations to the trail connecting this County to Weaverville. This being our direct channel of communication with the Sacramento Valley, and a trail over which the United States Mail must pass once a week, it is of the utmost importance that it should be kept open. The Indians on this trail first manifested their hostility to us by shooting a man who was traveling alone. We supposed that a few men would be sufficient to punish the Indians and make them ask for peace, and accordingly, a party was organized, provided for by private means and sent in search of the hostiles. After trailing the Indians for several days, they were attacked from ambush and one man was killed. In the meantime their camp which they had left unguarded was attacked, and ten mules were killed. This party consisted of only twelve men. Subsequently, another party of twenty-five men went out who were provisioned at a heavy private expense. In endeavoring to drive the Indians from the vicinity of the trails, they were fired upon in a deep canyon, and one man was killed, another wounded. The company has now disbanded, not feeling inclined to incur further danger and hardships at their own expense. The trails are now closed, there being no travel over them except by night or in large parties. The question now is what is there done? There are no troops here at the garrison and the people are not able to carry on a war at their own expense. The people of the county are of the opinion that if the militia could be called out, and arms furnished, the merchants would feel encouraged to furnish supplies, and wait for the State to pay. We can furnish the men if they can only be supplied."

On February 16, The Indian Island Massacreoccured. A group of white settlers armed with hatchets, clubs, and knives paddled to Indian Island where Wiyot men, women, and children were sleeping after a week of ceremonial dancing.  Two other villages were raided on the same night – one on the Eel River and another on the South Spit.  Somewhere between 80-100 people were killed on Indian Island.  A baby, Jerry James, was the only infant that survived the massacre on the Island.  Another 200-600 Wiyot were massacred in the other raids.

Journalist Bret Harte published a front-page editorial in The Northern Californian in which he expresses horror over the massacre. Subsequently, he was run out of the county and moved to San Francisco.

After 1860.  An estimated 200 Wiyot people still lived in the area.  Federal troops collected the surviving Wiyot people from other villages and confined them to the Klamath River Reservation.  After a disastrous flood on the Klamath, the Wiyot were moved to the Smith River Reservation and later to the Hoopa and Round Valley Reservations.

1870.  A shipyard repair facility was built on part of the Island and operated there until the 1980s.  During that time, it dumped creosote, solvents, and other chemicals that were used to maintain ships.

Late 19th Century.  Non-Indian settlers built dikes and channels on Indian Island that changed tidal action along the shore and caused some erosion of the clamshell-shaped mound.

Early 1900s.  A church group purchased 20 acres in the Eel River estuary for homeless Wiyot people.  This land later became known as the Table Bluff Rancheria of Wiyot Indians.

1910.  Under 100 full blood Wiyot people were estimated to be living in Wiyot territory.

1913. Anthropologist Alfred Kroeber sent one of his staff members, Llewellyn Loud to Humboldt County to collect Indian human remains. Loud conducted most of his work at Indian Island. He recorded 24 skeletons existing in 22 graves that existed prior to the 1860 massacre.

1918. Loud published his report and thereafter, Indian Island became a popular site for local hobbyists and entrepreneurs to search for collectables and human remains.

1923. Eureka dentist, H. H. Stuart began extensive excavations of Indian graves at Indian Island. He eventually dug up 382 graves.

1960. The City of Eureka acquired ownership of most of Indian Island.

1961. Eureka High School teacher and collector of local history, Cecile Clarke received uanimous approval from the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors "to excavate and preserve relics of Indian tribes native to this region" on Indian Island.

1963-69. Clarke and her team excavated sites on Indian Island. It carried out radiocarbon dates tests confirming the site's original occupation as 880A.D.

1992.  In February, the first candlelight vigil was held to remember those who lost their lives in the Massacre and to help the community heal.  About 75 people participated that year and by 1996, over 300 participated.  The Wiyot hope that at some  point, the vigil can be held on Indian Island which remains inaccessible to the Wiyot.

2001.  The Wiyot Tribe purchased 1.5 acres of Indian Island and began cleaning the debris and pollutants left on the village site.

May 18, 2006.  The Eureka City County unanimously approved a resolution to return 60 acres, comprising the northeastern tip, of Indian Island to the Wiyot Tribe. Some of the remaining Wiyot people lived on the 88-acre Table Bluff Reservation and 550 members were enrolled in the Wiyot nation.

February 28, 2009. The Wiyot Tribe had its 17th candlelight vigil

February 2010. The Wiyot Tribe commemorated the 150 year anniversary of the Indian Island Massacre.

"Whose Manifest Destiny?    The Federal Government and the Native Americans"

  1. By the end of the 19th Century:
    • The Indian population had dramatically decreased.  Over 10 million native peoples lived in the US at the time of its birth; by 1900, less than 225,000 people remained and the majority of tribes had dwindled to the brink of extinction.
    • All surviving Indians had been forced onto reservations or lived on allotted lands where they were expected to shed their "Indianness" and become civilized, Christianized, and Anglicized.
    • The self-sufficiency and ecological balance that characterized the Indian tribes at the time of European settlement had been destroyed.  From the early 1800s forward, the Native Americans were forced into a position of economic dependency upon the US government.
    • The majority of Indian tribal landholdings had passed into white ownership.  Between 1887 and 1934, tribal lands dwindled from 138 million acres to 48 million, 20 million of which were arid or semi-arid.
    • The divide and conquer strategy had successfully divided the remaining Indians living on reservations.  Those Indians who were willing to obey the government agents were assured that they would fare much better on reservations (the "good Indians") than those who continued to uphold traditional Indian values, cultures, and spirituality (the "bad Indians.")
  2. Nineteenth Century federal policies were directly responsible for the above consequences.  Such policies, taken as a whole, indicate that the loss of 95% of a specific population of people over a 100-year period was not inadvertent, nor was it an inevitable or unintended byproduct of progress.  Rather, these policies were the result of intentional decisions made by federal policymakers to officially remove the so-called "Indian problem." 
  3. The Doctrine of Discovery - the Pope's international law declaring that White, Christian Europeans had the right to discover and conquer the land of heathens and that such people thereafter only had the right of occupation - was incorporated into colonial law, U.S. law, and then institutionalized through the 1823 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Johnson v. McIntosh. Today the Doctrine of Discovery still governs the rights of Indian people who cannot sell, or lease , or develop their land without permission of the Department of Interior .
  4. Treaties - the legal, government-to-government agreements between the United States and an Indian Nation - formed the original cornerstone of American Indian policy.  In signing a treaty, a trust relationship was created in which the Indian nation agreed to give the federal government some or all of its land as well as some of its sovereign powers and, in return, that relationship bound the United States to represent the best interests of the tribe, protect the safety and well-being of tribal members, and fulfill its treaty obligations and commitments.
  5. As early as 1823, the US Supreme Court began to reinterpret the meaning of Indian sovereignty and thereafter, produced two competing theories: tribes have inherent powrs of sovereignty that predate the "discovery" of America; and tribes only have the attributes of sovereignty that Congress gives them.  The Supreme Court cases known as the Marshall Trilogy gave Indians a kind of limited sovereignty that was to be governed by paternalistic trust and subject to the interpretation of the US government.
  6. The signing of treaties, the rendering of Supreme Court decisions, and the passing of policies and laws gradually eroded the sovereignty of American Indian nations by seeking to achieve at least two specific goals:
    • eliminating the Indian threat to peaceful westward expansion; and
    • attempting to destroy Indian cultural, spiritual, economic, and political traditions by assimilating Indians into American life.
  7. When considering the definition of cultural genocide - when a government officially sanctions the removal and/or repression of a particular group that subsequently eliminates and/or weakens part of that group - the actions of the federal government can be considered genocidal in both intent and consequence.
    • However, the genocidal policies failed to destroy them as a people, nor did they destroy their cultural and spiritual heritage. 
    • Those who survived the first 200 years of European contact are the ancestors of a large Indian population in the US today.  Currently, over 500 federally-recognized nations exist in the United States, with an officially recognized population of about 2 million people.
  8. Indians are not relics of some idealized past, but rather, are members of contemporary American society.  As such, Native Americans must be seen as participants in an ongoing shared experience of all Americans who are looking for a common discourse about how to coexist.  If seen in this light, the Anglo guilt about genocide can become less of a contemporary reproach, and more a shared knowledge of lost opportunity - we had the chance to create a harmonious coexistence, but gave it up in favor of economic "progress."  Today, however, we have another opportunity to enter into a common dialog with Indian peoples as equals and as members of their own sovereign nations.

For other uses, see Manifest Destiny (disambiguation).

In the 19th century, 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
  • 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[3]

Historian 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".[4]

Historians have emphasized that "manifest destiny" was a contested concept—pre-civil warDemocrats 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 conquest."[5]

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;[6] however, the unsigned editorial titled "Annexation" in which it first appeared was arguably written by journalist and annexation advocate Jane Cazneau.[7] 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.[8]

Merk concluded:

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.[9]


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.[10][11]

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 Mexico or 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 source."[12]

Origin of the term[edit]

Journalist John L. O'Sullivan, an influential advocate for Jacksonian democracy and a complex character described by Julian Hawthorne as "always full of grand and world-embracing schemes",[13] wrote an article in 1839,[14] which, 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.[15]

Six years later, in 1845, O'Sullivan wrote another essay titled Annexation in the Democratic Review,[16] in which he first used the phrase manifest destiny.[17] In this article he urged the U.S. to annex the Republic of Texas,[18] 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".[19] Overcoming Whig opposition, Democrats annexed Texas in 1845. O'Sullivan's first usage of the phrase "manifest destiny" attracted little attention.[20]

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.[21]

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.[22]

O'Sullivan's original conception of manifest destiny was not a call for territorial expansion by force. He believed that the expansion of the 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 both countries.[23]

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".[24] 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[edit]

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.[25]

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.[26] In his influential 1776 pamphlet Common Sense, Thomas Paine echoed this notion, arguing that the American Revolution provided an opportunity to create a new, better society:

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."[27] 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.[28] 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 the United States as "the last, best hope of Earth". The "mission" of the 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".[29]

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".[30] 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.[31]

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".[32]

Alternative interpretations[edit]

With the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, which doubled the size of the United States, 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.[33]

However, not all Americans or their political leaders believed that the 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".[34] In July 1848, Alexander Stephens denounced President Polk's expansionist interpretation of America's future as "mendacious".[35]

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.[36]

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.[37] 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.[38]

Era of continental expansion[edit]

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 to the beginning of the American Civil War, has been called the "age of manifest destiny".[39] 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.[40]

War of 1812[edit]

Further information: War of 1812

One of the causes of the 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.[41][42] The American victories at the Battle of Lake Erie and the 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 States.

To end the War of 1812John 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 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 towards the United States a system of arresting their natural growth within their own territories, for the sake of preserving a perpetual desert for savages.[43]

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.[44]


The 19th-century belief that the United States would eventually encompass all of North America is known as "continentalism,"[45][46] 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 federal Union.[47]

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 from Spain to the United States and extending the U.S. border with Spanish 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.

The 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 influence in 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 America".[48]

All Oregon[edit]

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). Presidential candidate 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.

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'".[49]

Mexico and Texas[edit]

Manifest destiny played an important role in the expansion of Texas and American relationship with Mexico.[50] In 1836, the Republic of Texasdeclared 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 Party.[51]

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.[52]

All Mexico[edit]

Main article: All of Mexico Movement

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.[53]

This was a controversial proposition for two reasons. First, idealistic advocates of manifest destiny like 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 of 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.[54] 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.[55]

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.[56] Conversely, proponents of annexation of "All Mexico" regarded it as an anti-slavery measure.[57]

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,[58] while those in Mississippi supported it.[59]


After the 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".[60] The Wilmot Proviso and the continued "Slave Power" narratives thereafter, indicated the degree to which manifest destiny had become part of the sectional controversy.[citation needed]

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."[61] 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 needed]

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 incidents elsewhere. Mexico was a favorite target of organizations devoted to filibustering, like the Knights of the Golden Circle.[62] William Walker got his start as a filibuster in an ill-advised attempt to separate the Mexican states Sonora and Baja California.[63]Narciso López, a near second in fame and success, spent his efforts trying to secure Cuba from the Spanish Empire.

The 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.[64]

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 effort by 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 that the 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.[65]

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."[66]

Homestead Act[edit]

Main article: Homestead Acts

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.[67] Before the Civil War, Southern leaders opposed the Homestead Acts because they feared it would lead to more free states and free territories.[68] After the mass resignation of Southern senators and representatives at the beginning of the war, Congress was subsequently able to pass the Homestead Act.

Native Americans[edit]

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.[69][70][71][72] 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 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,[73] they had to live like the whites or inevitably be pushed aside by them.[74] 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.[74]

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.[75]

Beyond North America[edit]

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 world's sake."[76]

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."[77] 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 long afterwards.[78]

For example, when President William McKinley advocated annexation of the 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 merely imperialism.[79]

Spanish–American War and the Philippines[edit]

In 1898, the United States intervened in the Cuban insurrection and launched the 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.[80]

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 States.

The acquisition of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines after the war with 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."[81]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."[82] The Philippines was eventually given its independence in 1946; Guam and 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. Subtitled "The United States and the Philippine Islands", it was a widely noted expression of imperialist sentiments,[83] 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 denounced the war and any form of overseas expansion, writing, "'Destiny' is not as manifest as it was a few weeks ago."[84]

Legacy and consequences[edit]

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,[85] continues to have an influence on American political ideology.[86][87] Under Douglas MacArthur, the Americans "were imbued with a sense of manifest destiny" says historian John Dower.[88]

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.

President 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.[89]

"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.'"[90]

Relationship with German Lebensraum ideology[edit]

German geographer Friedrich Ratzel visited North America beginning in 1873[91] and saw the effects of American manifest destiny.[92] 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.[93] Ratzel promoted overseas colonies for Germany in Asia and Africa, but not an expansion into Slavic lands.[94] 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.[92] Harriet Wanklyn (1961) argues that Ratzel's theory was designed to advance science, and that politicians distorted it for political goals.[95]

See also[edit]


American Progress, (1872) by John Gast, is an allegorical representation of the modernization of the new west. Columbia, a personification of the United States, is shown leading civilization westward with the American settlers. She is shown bringing light from the East into the West, stringing telegraph wire, holding a school textbook that will instill knowledge,[1] and highlights different stages of economic activity and evolving forms of transportation.[2]
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 Oregon.
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 first Fort Laramie as it looked prior to 1840. Painting from memory by Alfred Jacob Miller
American occupation of Mexico City in 1847
Across The Continent, an 1868 lithograph illustrating the westward expansion of white settlers
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).


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