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Nowadays, “manifest” and “destiny” signify hope and success.

They give us faith and hope that everything will be as it should be and that the pieces of our lives will fall into place over time. However, regarding U.S. history, the term “Manifest Destiny” has an entirely different meaning.

In this article, we will be exploring what Manifest Destiny is, how it affected American civilization and the lives of those who fell victim to its tyrannical understanding of societal balance.

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What is Manifest Destiny?

Firstly, we must begin by looking at what Manifest Destiny is. In the 19th century, Manifest Destiny was used to describing the belief that the U.S. was destined to increase its dominance and spread capitalization and democracy across the North American continent.

Advocates of the concept justified their behavior by saying it was the fate of God. They believed it was not merely their right but their destiny to take control of North America and “share” their way of life with the masses.

Looking at this today with the knowledge and respect we now have for all cultures, it’s clear to see the problematic tendencies of this belief system. It funded the flawed concept that capitalism was the only appropriate way to live. This idea also spurred a long-standing increase in colonization that still affects our world today.

The philosophy directly impacted the issue of slavery, as the United States territorial expansion under this belief was commonly used to justify the forced removal of Native American groups from their homes. With more territories being ruled by America, slavery also increased, eventually leading to the outbreak of the Civil War.

The events that led to the Civil War

Manifest Destiny had a significant effect on American history, not just because of what it stood for as a concept but because of the philosophies it caused. Below are some of the key events that led to the Civil War:

The Louisiana Purchase

To fully understand what the Louisiana Purchase means, it’s essential to gain some context of America at this time. In the 19th century, particularly the first half, the U.S. population exploded from 5 million in 1800 to 23 million by 1850. This was, in large part, due to high birth rates as well as brisk immigration.

This rapid growth and the 1819 and 1839 economic depressions forced millions of Americans westward in search of new opportunities and land. This westward expansion began in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase under President Thomas Jefferson. The ‘Louisiana Purchase’ refers to 828,000 square miles of land that stretched from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. This nearly doubled the size of the United States at the time. However, although this was a significant step in the country’s expansion, it didn’t come without its share of complications.

The Louisiana Purchase caused the expedition carried out by Clark and Lewis. The two-year expedition saw the men voyage west to see how much land was available. It was sponsored by Jefferson and labeled a massive success due to how much information it could gather.

In addition to this, Jefferson also set his sights on Spanish Florida. This process was finally concluded under President James Monroe in 1819 but resulted in many scrutinies. Monroe and his secretary of state, Quincy Adams, were criticized for yielding to Spain despite many Americans residing in Texas.

Monroe spoke before Congress in 1823 to warn European nations not to interfere with America’s westward expansion, thus invoking Manifest Destiny. He said that any attempt by these nations to colonize the “American continents” would be considered war. This became known as the “Monroe Doctrine” and referred to the American sphere of influence and non-intervention in European affairs. It was later used as the rationale for U.S. intervention in Latin America after 1870.

Texas gains independence

In 1830, after winning its independence from Spain, Mexico passed a law suspending U.S. immigration into Texas. Following this, there was a significant public outcry for the “re-annexation” of Texas.

In 1836, Texas won independence, and its new leaders sought to join the United States. The administrations of both Martin Van Buren and Andrew Jackson resisted these calls as they feared this move would have resulted in a war with Mexico. They were also worried about opposition from Americans who believed the calls for annexation were due to a desire to expand slavery in the Southwest.

However, after winning the presidency in 1840, John Tyler was adamant about pursuing annexation. Despite pro-annexation candidate James K. Polk winning the next election in 1844, Tyler could put the bill through before leaving office. This agreement meant Texas was eligible for admission as a U.S. territory and later a state.

The question of Oregon Territory

Another key event was the dispute regarding the Oregon Territory. In 1842, the treaty between Great Britain and the U.S. was formed, almost completely resolving the question of where the Canadian border was to be drawn. However, it left the question of where Oregon was, as the land stretched from the Pacific Coast to the Rocky Mountains.

Despite winning his campaign with a slogan of “54 40’ or fight!”, which was a reference to the potential northern border of Oregon as latitude 54 40, Polk, who was an ardent proponent of Manifest Destiny, did not end up taking this approach. He even said that the United States’s claim over Oregon was a “clear and unquestionable” in his inaugural address.

As President, he prioritized the U.S.’s acquisition of California from Mexico. Still, to resolve the issue with Oregon Territory, he agreed to a compromise whereby Oregon would be split along the 49th parallel, allowing him to avoid a crisis with Britain in 1846 narrowly.

The Coining of ‘Manifest Destiny’

After the admittance of Texas to the union in December 1845, the idea that the United States must expand westward towards the Pacific Ocean was accepted mainly, taking firm hold amongst citizens from all regions, classes, and political beliefs.

The phrase “Manifest Destiny” became the most well-known expression of this mindset and first emerged in an editorial published in the July/August 1845 issue of The Democratic Review.

The impact of Manifest Destiny

As we see above, Manifest Destiny has significantly impacted U.S. history. Some of the key points to remember are:

  • The U.S. ended up in a war with Mexico over Manifest Destiny and its spirit of territorial expansion.
  • The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American war. Created in 1848, this added 525,000 square miles to U.S. territory (now known as Arizona, Colorado, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Utah).
  • It led to the horrific mistreatment of Native American, Hispanic, and other non-European residents of the territories.
  • It fuelled expanding debate over whether these new states would permit slavery, which led to the Civil War.