is a term that was used in the
19th century to designate the belief that the United States was
destined, even divinely ordained, Lawrence Davidson: Christian Zionism as a
Representation of American Manifest Destiny
Rodrigue Tremblay: The myth of Manifest
Destiny, Take Two
Snodgrass, Judith. Presenting Japanese Buddhism to the West
Caldwell, Wilber W. American Narcissism: The Myth of National
, p. 91.
Anders Stephanson: Manifest Destiny: American
Expansion and the Empire of Right
to expand across the
North American continent, from the Atlantic seaboard to the Pacific
Ocean. Sometimes Manifest Destiny was interpreted so broadly as to
include the eventual absorption of all North America: Canada,
Mexico, Cuba and Central America. Advocates of Manifest Destiny
believed that expansion was not only ethical but that it was
readily apparent ("manifest") and inexorable ("destiny"). Although
initially used as a catch phrase to inspire the United States'
expansion across the North American continent, the 19th century
phrase eventually became a standard historical term.
The term, which first appeared in print in 1839, was used in 1845
by a New York journalist, John L.
, to call for the
annexation of Texas. Thereafter, it was used to encourage American
settlement of European colonial and Indian lands in the Great
Plains and the west. It was revived in the 1890s, this time with
supporters, as a theoretical justification for U.S. expansion outside of
.The term fell out of usage by U.S. policy makers
early in the 20th century, but some commentators believe that
aspects of Manifest Destiny, particularly the belief in an American
"mission" to promote and defend democracy throughout the world,
continues to have an influence on American political
Context and interpretations
Manifest Destiny was always a general notion rather than a specific
policy. The term combined a belief in expansionism with other
popular ideas of the era, including American exceptionalism
, Romantic nationalism
, and a belief in
the natural superiority of what was then called the "Anglo-Saxon
race".While many writers focus
primarily upon American expansionism when discussing Manifest
Destiny, others see in the term a broader expression of a belief in
America's "mission" in the world, which has meant different things
to different people over the years. This variety of possible
meanings was summed up by Ernest Lee Tuveson, who wrote:
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.
The concept of the Manifest Destiny has acquired a variety of
meanings over the years, and its inherent ambiguity has been part
of its power. In the generic political sense, however, it was
usually used to refer to the idea that the American government was
"destined" to establish uninterrupted political authority across
the entire North American continent, from one ocean to the
Journalist John L. O'Sullivan
, an influential advocate for
, wrote an article in 1839 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.
Six years later O'Sullivan wrote another essay which first used the
phrase Manifest Destiny
. In 1845, he published a piece
in the Democratic Review
which he urged the United States to annex the Republic of Texas
, 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". Amid much
controversy, Texas was annexed
shortly thereafter, but O'Sullivan's first usage of the phrase
"Manifest Destiny" attracted little attention.
O'Sullivan's second use of the phrase became extremely influential.
December 27, 1845 in his newspaper the New York Morning
News, O'Sullivan addressed the ongoing boundary dispute with
Britain in the Oregon
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
That is, O'Sullivan believed that Providence
had given the United States a
mission to spread republican
("the great experiment of liberty") throughout North
America. Because Britain would not use Oregon for the purposes of
spreading 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
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 "Anglo-Saxons"
emigrated 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.
of the outbreak of the Mexican-American War
in 1846, although
he came to believe that the outcome would be beneficial to both
Ironically, O'Sullivan's term became popular only after it was
criticized by Whig
opponents of the Polk administration
On January 3, 1846, Representative Robert Winthrop
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. O'Sullivan
died in obscurity in 1895, just as his phrase was being revived. In
1927, a historian determined that the phrase had originated with
Themes and influences
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
- the mission to spread these institutions,
thereby redeeming and remaking the world in the image of the U.S.;
- the destiny under God to accomplish this
The origin of the first theme, later known as American Exceptionalism
, was often
traced to America's Puritan
particularly John Winthrop
"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
. In his influential 1776 pamphlet Common Sense
, Thomas Paine
echoed this notion, arguing that
the American Revolution
an opportunity to create a new, better society:
We have it in our power to begin the world over
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 had embarked upon a special experiment in freedom and
democracyâ€”and a rejection of Old World monarchy in favor of
innovation of world historical importance. President Abraham Lincoln
's description, in his
December 1, 1862 message to Congress, of the United States as "the
last, best hope of Earth" is a well-known expression of this idea.
Lincoln's Gettysburg Address
which he interpreted the Civil
as a struggle to determine if any nation with America's
ideals could survive, has been called by historian Robert Johannsen
"the most enduring statement of America's Manifest Destiny and
Not all Americans who believed that the United States was a
divinely favored nation thought that it ought to expand. Whigs
especially argued that the "mission" of the United States was only
to serve as virtuous example to the rest of the world. If the
United States was successful as a shining "city on a hill," people
in other countries would seek to establish their own democratic
republics. Thomas Jefferson
initially did not believe it necessary that the United States
should grow in size, since he predicted that other, similar
republics would be founded in North America, forming what he called
an "empire for liberty." However, with the Louisiana Purchase
in 1803, which doubled
the size of the United States, Jefferson set the stage for the
continental expansion of the United States. Many began to see this
as the beginning of a new "mission"â€”what Andrew Jackson
in 1843 famously described as
"extending the area of freedom." As more territory was added to the
United States in the following decades, whether or not "extending
the area of freedom" also meant extending the institution of
became a central issue in a growing divide over the interpretation
of America's "mission."
Effect on continental expansion
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
the beginning of the American Civil
, has been called the "Age of Manifest Destiny." During this
time, the United States expanded to the Pacific Oceanâ€”"from sea to shining sea
defining the borders of the contiguous United States
The nineteenth century belief that the United States would
eventually encompass all of North America is known as
"continentalism". An early proponent of this idea was John Quincy Adams
, a leading figure in
U.S. expansion between the Louisiana
in 1803 and the Polk
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.
Adams did much to further this idea. He orchestrated the Treaty of 1818
, which established the
as far west as the Rocky Mountains, and provided for the
joint occupation of the region known in American history as the
and in British and
Canadian history as the New
. He negotiated the Transcontinental Treaty
purchasing Florida from Spain 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
The Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny were closely related
ideas: 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 that "the expansionism of the
[1830s] arose as a defensive effort to forestall the encroachment
of Europe in North America."
British North America
Manifest Destiny was primarily directed at territory inhabited by
Mexicans and American Indians, the
concept played a role in U.S. relations with British North America (later Canada)
to the north.
From the time of the American Revolution, the
United States had expressed an interest in expelling the British Empire
from North America. Failing to
do that in both the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812,
Americans came to accept the British presence on their northern
border, but fears of possible British expansion elsewhere in North
America were a recurrent theme of Manifest Destiny.
During the American Revolution and the early years of independence
there were both peaceful and violent attempts to include Canada in
the United States. The Revolutionaries
hoped French Canadians
would join the Thirteen Colonies
in the effort to throw
off the rule of the British Empire. Canada was invited to send
representatives to the Continental
, and was pre-approved for joining the United States in
the Articles of
. In the Paris
attempted to persuade Britain to cede Canada to the
United States. Canada fought off invasion during the War of Independence
, and again
during the War of 1812
. None of these
measures proved successful in bringing Canada onto the side of the
These attempts to expel the British Empire from North America are
sometimes cited as early examples of Manifest Destiny in action.
Some scholars, however, including Canadian historian Reginald
Stuart, argue that these events were different in character from
those during the "Era of Manifest Destiny." Before 1815, writes
Stuart, "what seemed like territorial expansionism actually arose
from a defensive mentality, not from ambitions for conquest and
annexation." From this point of view, Manifest Destiny was not a
factor in the outbreak of the War of 1812, but rather emerged as a
popular belief in the years after the war.
Filibustering in Canada
Americans became increasingly accepting of the presence of British
colonies to the north after the War of 1812, although Anglophobia
continued to be widespread in the
United States. Many Americans, especially those along the border,
were hopeful that the Rebellions of
would bring an end to the British Empire in North America
and the establishment of a republican government in Canada. Of
those events John O'Sullivan wrote: "If freedom is the best of
national blessings, if self-government is the first of national
rights, ... then we are bound to sympathise with the cause of the
Canadian rebellion." Americans like O'Sullivan viewed the
Rebellions as a reprise of the American Revolution, andâ€”unlike most
Canadians at the timeâ€”considered Canadians to be living under
oppressive foreign rule.
Despite this sympathy with the cause of the rebels, belief in
Manifest Destiny did not result in widespread American reaction to
the Rebellions, in part because the Rebellions were over so
quickly. O'Sullivan, for his part, advised against U.S.
intervention. Some American "filibuster
soldiers often motivated by a belief in Manifest Destinyâ€”went to
Canada to lend aid to the rebels, but President Martin Van Buren
sent General Winfield Scott
to arrest the filibusters and
keep peace on the border. Some filibusters persisted in secretive
groups known as the Hunter Patriots
and tried to stir up war in order to "liberate" Canadaâ€”the
so-called "Patriot War
" was one such
eventâ€”but American sentiment and official government policy were
against these actions. The Fenian raids
after the American Civil War shared some resemblances to the
actions of the Hunters, but were otherwise unrelated to the idea of
Manifest Destiny or any policy of American expansionism.
Manifest Destiny played its most important role in, and was coined
during the course of, the Oregon
with Great Britain. The Anglo-American Convention of
had provided for the joint occupation of the Oregon Country
, and thousands of Americans
migrated there in the 1840s over the Oregon
. The British rejected a proposal by President
John Tyler to divide the region along
49th parallel, and instead
proposed a boundary line further south along the Columbia River, which would have made what is
now the state of Washington part of British North America.
Manifest Destiny protested and called for the annexation of the
entire Oregon Country up to the Alaska line (54Â°40Ê¹ N).
Presidential candidate James K.
used this popular outcry to his
advantage, and the Democrats called for the annexation of "All
Oregon" in the 1844
As president, however, Polk renewed the earlier offer to divide the
territory 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 to divide the region along
the 49th parallel, and the dispute was settled by the Oregon Treaty
Despite the earlier clamor for "All Oregon," the treaty was popular
in the U.S. and was easily ratified by the Senate, particularly
because the United States was by that time at war with Mexico. Many
Americans believed that the Canadian provinces would eventually
merge with the United States anyway, and that war was
unnecessaryâ€”and counterproductiveâ€”in fulfilling that destiny. 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'."
Mexico and Texas
Destiny proved to be more consequential in U.S. relations with
In 1836, the Republic of Texas declared independence
Mexico and, after the Texas
, sought to join the United States as a new state.
This was an idealized process of expansion which 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 controversial as 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
Before the election of 1844, Whig candidate Henry Clay
and the presumed Democratic candidate,
ex-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
After the election of Polk, but before he took office, Congress
approved the annexation of Texas
Polk moved to occupy a portion of Texas which was also claimed by
Mexico, paving 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.
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.
these views clear in a speech to Congress on January 4, 1848:
[W]e have never dreamt of incorporating into our Union
any but the Caucasian raceâ€”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
I protest against such a union as that!
Ours, sir, is the Government of a white
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.
This debate brought to the forefront one of the contradictions of
Manifest Destiny: on the one hand, while racist
ideas inherent in Manifest Destiny suggested
that Mexicans, as non-whites, were a lesser race and thus 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. Racism was used to promote Manifest Destiny,
but, as in the case of Calhoun and the resistance to the "All
Mexico" movement, racism was also used to oppose Manifest Destiny.
Conversely, proponents of annexation of "All Mexico" regarded it as
an anti-slavery measure.
The controversy was eventually ended by the Mexican Cession
, which added the territories
ofAlta California and Nuevo
MÃ©xico 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
(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 very small
(but influential) minority of Americans. Merk's interpretation is
probably still a minority opinion; scholars generally see Manifest
Destiny, at least in the 1840s, as a popular belief among Democrats
and an unpopular one among Whigs.
Filibustering in the South
After the Mexican-American War ended in 1848, disagreements over
the expansion of slavery made further territorial annexation too
divisive to be official government policy. Many Northerners were
increasingly opposed to what they believed to be efforts by
Southern slave ownersâ€”and their friends in the Northâ€”to expand
slavery at any cost. The proposal of the Wilmot Proviso
during the war, and the
emergence of various "Slave Power
conspiracy theories thereafter, indicated the degree to which
Manifest Destiny had become controversial.
Without official government support, the most radical advocates of
Manifest Destiny increasingly turned to military filibustering
. While there
had been some filibustering expeditions into Canada in the late
1830s, the primary target of Manifest Destinyâ€™s filibusters was
Latin America, particularly Mexico and Cuba. Though illegal, the
filibustering operations in the late 1840s and early 1850s were
romanticized in the U.S. press. Wealthy American expansionists financed
dozens of expeditions, usually based out of New Orleans.
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 LÃ³pez
to seize Cuba by force and
annex it to the U.S., and the plot was foiled. Nevertheless, Spain
declined to sell the island, which ended Polk's efforts to acquire
Cuba. O'Sullivan, on the other hand, continued to raise money for
filibustering expeditions, eventually landing him in legal
Filibustering continued to be a major concern for presidents after
Polk. Whigs presidents Zachary Taylor
and Millard Fillmore
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
Filibusters like William
continued to garner headlines in the late 1850s, but
with the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1860, the "Age of
Manifest Destiny" came to an end. 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
Manifest Destiny had serious consequences for Native Americans
since continental expansion implicitly meant the occupation of
Native American land. 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 legal purchase of Native American land in treaties.
Indians were encouraged to sell their vast tribal lands and become
"civilized", which meant (among other things) for Native American
men to abandon hunting and become farmers, and for their society to
reorganize around the family unit rather than the clan or tribe.
The United States therefore acquired lands by treaty from Indian
nations, often under circumstances which suggest a lack of
voluntary and knowing consent by the native signers. Advocates of
civilization programs believed that the process of settling native
tribes would greatly reduce the amount of land needed by the
Indians, making more land available for homesteading by white
Americans. Thomas Jefferson
believed that while American Indians were the intellectual equals
of whites, they had to live like the whites or inevitably be pushed
aside by them. , 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
and maintain a separate society, an idea made possible by
the Louisiana Purchase
In the age of Manifest Destiny, this idea, which came to be known
as "Indian Removal
", gained ground.
Although some humanitarian advocates of removal believed that
American Indians would be better off moving away from whites, an
increasing number of Americans regarded the natives as nothing more
than savages who stood in the way of American expansion. 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
Americans 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
, whose landmark book The Conspiracy of Pontiac
published in 1851. Parkman wrote that Indians were "destined to
melt and vanish before the advancing waves of Anglo-American power,
which now rolled westward unchecked and unopposed."
Beyond North America
As the Civil War faded into history, the term Manifest
experienced a brief revival. In the 1892 U.S. presidential
, the Republican Party
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." What was meant by "manifest destiny" in this context was
not clearly defined, particularly since the Republicans lost the
election. In the 1896
, 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
. 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.
For example, when President William
advocated annexation of the Territory 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
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 the overseas expansion of the
1890s as an extension of Manifest Destiny across the Pacific Ocean; others have regarded it as the antithesis of
Spanish-American War and the Philippines
after the sinking of the USS
Maine in the harbor at Havana, Cuba, the United
States intervened on the side of Cuban rebels who were fighting the
Spanish Empire, beginning the Spanish-American War.
advocates of Manifest Destiny in the 1840s had called for the
annexation of Cuba, the Teller
, passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate before the
war, proclaimed Cuba "free and independent" and disclaimed any U.S.
intention to annex the island. After the war, the Platt Amendment
(1902) established Cuba as a
of the United
States. If Manifest Destiny meant the outright annexation of
territory, it no longer applied to Cuba, since Cuba was never
Cuba, the United States did annex Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines after the war with Spain.
acquisition of these islands 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,
a process validated by the Insular
Cases, in which the U.S. Supreme
Court ruled that full constitutional rights did not
automatically extend to all areas under American control.
this sense, annexation was a violation of traditional Manifest
Destiny. According to Frederick Merk, "Manifest Destiny had
contained a principle so fundamental that a Calhoun and an
O'Sullivan could agree on itâ€”that a people not capable of rising to
statehood should never be annexed. That was the principle thrown
overboard by the imperialism of 1899." (The Philippines was
eventually given its independence in 1946; Guam and Puerto Rico
have special status to this day, but all their people are full
citizens of the United States.)
On the other hand, Manifest Destiny had also contained within it
the idea that "uncivilized" peoples could be improved by exposure
to the Christian, democratic values of the United States.
decision to annex the Philippines, President McKinley has been
quoted as echoed this theme: "There was nothing left for us to do
but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize
(this quotation has been disputed
). Rudyard Kipling
's poem "The White Man's Burden
", which was
subtitled "The United States and the Philippine Islands", was a
famous expression of these sentiments, which were common at the
time. A nascent revolutionary
desirous of independence, however, resisted this
effort to "uplift and civilize", resulting in the outbreak of the
1899. After the war began, William Jennings Bryan
, an opponent
of overseas expansion, wrote that "â€˜Destinyâ€™ is not as manifest as
it was a few weeks ago."
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
the role of the United States in the New World was
defined, in the 1904 Roosevelt
to the Monroe
, 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
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
...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
, although rarely would it be described as "Manifest
Destiny", as Wilson had done.
Today, in standard scholarly usage, Manifest Destiny
describes a past era in American history, particularly the 1840s.
However, the term is sometimes used by the political left and 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 perceived by some as
German geographer Ratzel visited North America beginning in 1873
and saw the effects of American manifest destiny. Ratzel
sympathized with the results of "manifest destiny", but he never
used the term. Instead he relied on the Frontier Theory
of Frederick Jackson Turner
promoted overseas colonies for Germany in Asia and Africa, but not
an expansion into Slavic lands. 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. Harriet Wanklyn, (1961) argues that Ratzel's theory was
designed to advance science, and that politicians distorted it for
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