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Manifest Destiny A Historical Expansionist Doctrine History Essay

Manifest Destiny was an historical expansionist doctrine or belief prevalent in the 19th century that the United States had the God-given right to expand into and possess the whole of the North American continent. This idea of Manifest Destiny strongly influenced the attitudes of the people and the policies of the U.S. government. American’s believed that they were bringing God and civilization to the lands in the west; however, Manifest Destiny also had negative consequences. This paper will focus on how the meaning of manifest destiny has evolved between 1840 and 1920 from the drive for territorial expansion to becoming the promotion of self determination and democracy for other countries. What caused this change in meaning? Historians have given various causal factors for this change – some of which we will delve into.

The expansionists had a desire and need for westward expansion and believed it was a god-given right for the U.S. to grow to its full potential geographically.  Expansionists also wanted to prevent Great Britain and Spain from claiming more of the North American continent for themselves.  They also wanted to avoid the overcrowding, poverty and misery that plagued the landless British laboring class.  European immigration into the Eastern U.S. increased land hunger and further propelled westward migration.  The Monroe Doctrine preempted European nations, especially Spain, France, and Britain from the further colonization in the Western Hemisphere.   In 1823, Mexico opened up Texas to colonization which enabled U.S. emigrants to flow into the sparsely populated state.  Along with the Monroe Doctrine’s promulgation, the 1818 Anglo-American Convention between the U.S. and Britain opened up the Oregon Country to west bound emigration.  Adding immensely to this migration was the Homestead Act of 1841.  Later the Cushing Treaty of 1844 allowed maritime trade with China’s major seaports fueling more westward migration to California.  The annexation of Texas followed by the US – Mexican War in 1846 resulted in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo giving the U.S., Arizona, California, New Mexico, and parts of Colorado, Nevada, and Utah.  In 1853, the Gadsen Purchase bought southern Arizona and southern New Mexico for $10,000,000 from Mexico to have a route for a proposed southern transcontinental railroad.

As a result of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Gadsen Purchase, expansionists then wanted to annex areas in the Caribbean, Central America, and the Pacific (especially Hawaii).  That same year the Gold Rush influx swelled into California, accelerating its population growth, giving further momentum for westward migration.  America’s West expanded further with the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867, followed two years later by the completion of the first transcontinental railroads.

In 1892, the Republican platform stated "We reaffirm our approval of the Monroe doctrine and believe in the achievement of the manifest destiny of the Republic in its broadest sense." [1] When they won the presidency in 1896, “Manifest Destiny was cited to promote overseas expansion”. [2] Theodore Roosevelt in 1904 stated his “Roosevelt Corollary” to the Monroe Doctrine (under which United States Marines were frequently sent to Central America). Under this Corollary “if any nation in the Western Hemisphere appeared politically and financially so unstable as to be vulnerable to European control, the United States had the right and obligation to intervene.” [3] 

This extension of the Monroe Doctrine extended the U.S.'s sphere of influence to the entire Western Hemisphere and was nicknamed the “Big Stick Policy.” “The Big Stick” was used to intervene in Latin America and as justification for “acquiring the Panama Canal through forced revolution.” [4] 

Manifest Destiny's ideological pursuit as an instrument of national policy, however, caused negative outcomes following some overseas ventures inspired by American businesses and their diplomatic supporters. An anti-imperialistic movement led by Andrew Carnegie and Mark Twain was organized in resistance to such expansionist schemes. They feared such exploits would make countries involved to become ungovernable and more prone to internal civil strife. The Boer War atrocities were cited as examples for restraining further overseas expansionism. Contrary to the anti imperialists was the widely held belief by many that the “closing of the frontier” had produced widespread fear that America’s natural resources would dwindle, necessitating foreign alternatives” (Brinkley). Following the annexation of the Philippines in 1898, “United States troops fought a brutal war against the same Philippine independence movement it had encouraged to fight Spain. The war dragged on for fourteen years. Before it was over, about 120,000 American troops were deployed and more than 4,000 died; more than 200,000 Filipino civilians and soldiers were killed “(Brinkley).

The forced removal of Native Americans between 1814-1858 was a tragic consequence of continental expansion. Likewise, the westward migration of settlers to the Southwest U.S. and California caused the indigenous population, especially the Mexicans and Native Americans to become the victim of brutal displacement, impoverishment, and unspeakable human misery. The colonization of the North American continent and its Native American population has been the source of legal battles since the early 1800s. Surviving Native Americans have been resettled onto separate tracts of land (reservations), which have been given a certain degree of autonomy within the United States federal government. Consequently, many of those impacted are still suffering, economically and heath-wise from these deprivations.

Prior to World War 1, President Wilson used U.S. military force to intervene in both Mexico and Central America countries whenever American companies or citizens were endangered. After that war, Wilson shifted away from his focus on oversea expansionism toward staunchly making the World safe for existing democracies and fostering the establishment of new-post war ones. In his 1920 address to Congress, he 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”. { Safe for democracy"; 1920 message; Wilson's version of Manifest Destiny: Weinberg, p. 471. } “This was the first and 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”.{ Weinberg}.

Roosevelt's Corollary would later guide U.S. hemispheric diplomacy by succeeding Presidents from prior to World War I until the Cold War era under Reagan. As an ideologue of manifest destiny, in 1988, he stated that the U.S. should “colonize the galaxy, in an optimistic appeal to fulfill our manifest destiny. It is only in a universe without limits that we will find a canvas large enough for the vastness of the human imagination” (Brinkley).

American’s took the land believing we could become a democratic society.

And there is no end to it. What US did itself to become itself has expanded beyond it’s borders,

Focus on the consequences the expansion had xxx

We try to change their laws, take their land, police them, become democratic

What they brought, in fact, was death, disease and wars to the Native Americans and Mexicans who occupied these lands. Americans used the idea of Manifest Destiny to justify their dishonest, cruel, and racist treatment of the Indians and Mexicans who already occupied these lands. Americans looked upon Native ...

It forced thousands of natives off the land

Countless wars were fought with Native Americans and the Mexicans

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