History Of Term “Manifest Destiny”
The term “Manifest Destiny” was used by John L. O’Sullivan in 1845. He wrote it in a New York political journal, “ in a spirit of hostile interference against us, for the avowed object of thwarting our policy and hampering our power, limiting our greatness and checking the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions” (O’Sullivan). The term is used to describe the ideology of westward expansion. Land gravitated many settlers to the West. There were many native americans already inhabiting much of the land though. This later became a source of conflict between the settlers and the natives. Most of the time people used violence to force the natives off of their land.
Racial superiority made white people feel like their actions were justified. Meaning that because they were white they felt like they had a right to claim other people’s land. One of the basic reasons that the Manifest Destiny was a popular ideology in its time was because white colonists felt they were superior to the Native Americans and anyone else who got in their way. Many white travelers killed Native Americans who had lived in the west for generations. Many communities of Indians were wiped out or forced to flee because whites had the belief that it was their right to have the land. They were farmers and miners who wanted to start a new life, but it came at the expense of many lives.
The Americans and the British both competed for the Oregon Country. It is located in the Northwest corner of the U.S and was valued for its Pacific coast. In the late 1830’s settlers began to go on a path called the Oregon Trail. The white settlers packed their wagons and headed west, but they feared the Plains Indians because they thought they were savages. The media played a big role in affecting people’s perspective on Native Americans. “Pictures of Native Americans engaged in agriculture, education, or other nonthreatening activities attracted less attention than clichéd representations of white heroes and Indian villains, balanced treatment being less important than the reinforcement of attitudes underscoring the need to suppress savagery. The public apparently never tired of vivid illustrations and exciting stories about Indian violence, and editors and artists typically catered to popular taste” (Mifflin 3). It became very clear to the media that the images that portrayed the Native Americans poorly would get more sales, rather than actually being truthful about Native Americans and their culture. “Travelers also helped spread diseases that severely weakened groups such as the Southern Cheyennes” (Beyreis 16). In reality, the whites were more of a threat to the Indians because they brought alcohol and deadly epidemics. It took about six months to get from the colonies to the new western lands. Life on the trail was extremely difficult. They encountered things like heat, drought, rivers, disease, exhaustion, and in the cold months they faced freezing temperatures and starvation. Many people died on the journey to the west. Many women died during childbirth while they were traveling by wagon, and many children died because their immune systems were weaker so they had a hard time fighting off disease without medicine. Obviously there weren’t many doctors along the trail.
The Mormons were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This was founded by Joseph Smith in 1830. After many years of persecution in the East, Brigham Young moved the religious group west to what is now Utah. They settled by the Great Salt Lake which was in Mexican territory. The Mormons traveled in 3,700 wagons and 12,000 Mormons made their way to the Great Salt Lake. In 1850, the Mormon community was annexed to the U.S and Brigham Young explained to the public that many Mormons practice polygamy (Roark 345). This forced the government to lead 2,500 troops into Utah to establish authority. This was called the Mormon War. This war showed that Americans saw Mormons as a threat to the morals of America (Roark 345). This war has had a long lasting impact, seeing that most Mormons are still most populated in areas like Salt Lake City where they settled down during their persecution.
Many settlers moved to Texas while the Tejano lived there, and soon they began to outnumber the Spanish-speaking population. When the Mexicans outlawed any further immigration to Texas, the Americans rebelled. This made the Mexican government send troops to the northern territory. Many of the rebels to shelter in a former Franciscan mission called the Alamo. An army of 2,000 men crashed through the walls and killed all the rebels inside. American troops got their revenge when general Sam Houston crushed Santa Anna’s troops and established the Lone Star Republic. In 1837 Texas was considered independent from Mexico (Roark 347). In order to buy the land owned by Mexico and Britain it took a lot of political action. Tensions rose between Mexico and America when America annexed Texas in 1845 (Roark 348). James K. Polk insisted on taking Mexico’s northern territories and then it became clear that war was on the horizon. Polk wanted California and New Mexico and planned to buy them. Mexico refused to sell the territories to America, so Polk gathered up an army to intimidate the Mexican government. A Mexican Calvary attacked a party of American soldiers and killed, wounded, and captured them. Congress passed a declaration of war and the U.S army only had 8,600 soldiers in the war. They were up against 30,000 Mexican soldiers.Eventually 112,000 white Americans joined the battle against the Mexicans. Polk expected a war where U.S troops invaded the northern territories of Mexico and won in a battle or two. At first this was effective, Zachary Taylor’s troops had success in Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma (Roark 352). Taylor was recognized as a war hero and became the commander of the Mexican campaign. Colonel Kearny captured the town of Santa Fe without having to shoot a shot. The American armies intimidated the Mexicans in Santa Fe. Kearny took San Diego and Los Angeles (Roark 352). By 1846 America was paving the way to capturing more and more of the Mexican territories. Taylor and his troops pushed 5,000 of his troops to General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna where he was gathering over 21,000 soldiers. Santa Anna’s troops attacked Taylor’s army. The Americans got the victory but suffered large casualties (Roark 352). The Mexicans lost over 3,000 soldiers and fled the battle. The American troops were winning battle after battle and felt very confident, but there was won battle they could not win, disease. Many soldiers died of dysentery, malaria, smallpox, cholera, and yellow fever (Roark 352). Fighting in the war was less dangerous than just marching through the untouched lands. Even though these men were heroes, they were not invincible to sickness.
Even though Mexico lost thousands of soldiers they still would not trade land for peace. General Scott marched his troops into the Mexican capital and began an attack. Americans scaled the walls at the castle of Chapultepec. Mexican troops evacuated the city to prevent further casualties. In 1848 American and Mexican officials signed the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The treaty gave America Texas, California, and New Mexico. The U.S received more than 500,000 square miles from this treaty, and America paid Mexico fifteen million dollars for the territory. Polk had finally achieved his dream, and because of the Manifest Destiny the United States now stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
One of history’s wildest stampedes is the California Gold Rush. Small towns turned into booming cities because men from all over the world wanted to hit the jackpot and find gold. “The gold that flowed out of California, which had remained hidden until just after the Americans took over, seemed to justify the American notion of Manifest Destiny and the country’s preordained right to inhabit the continent” (Danver 1). The chance for someone to get lucky and find gold was so intriguing to so many people. By 1853, San Francisco had a population of 50,000 people mining for gold. In 1852, 81 million ounces of gold came from California (Roark 355). Most miners never got lucky though, so many became farmers or opened up businesses. Some Americans traded furs, hides, and lumber to make a living (Roark 355). The great adventure that these families had is a great example of how hard Americans are willing to work to provide for their families.
The Manifest Destiny has some long lasting effects that we can still see in today’s society. For example, the territory that we gained during that time is now a part of the U.S. The United States spans from coast to coast because of the brave people who decided to settle in the west. One thing that is noticeable in today’s society is that Native Americans have very little land compared to before the Manifest Destiny. When Indians were forced out of the new settlements, they settled in little communities that they still live on to this day. One of the biggest things that still affects us is the resources of the west. Agriculture is one of the main contributions of the western states.
One famous painting inspired by the ideology of Manifest Destiny is called American Progress. It was painted by John Gast in 1872. The painting is a representation of the Manifest Destiny. On the right side of the painting is the colonies that are established and peaceful. Then on the left you can see the west, which is uncivilized and is chaotic. There are buffalo running which represents nature being disrupted. There are Native Americans seen fleeing the white settlers. In the picture you can see things like wagons and railroads. There are telegraph poles being built and there is an angelic figure guiding the way to the west. The angel represents the God given right to expand the U.S across the continent.
The Manifest Destiny will forever been known in history as a pivotal time for Americans. To this day we still feel the effects of westward expansion because of how much it has changed our society. Although westward expansion caused a lot of turmoil between the white Americans and native Americans, it still helped grow our nation into what it is today. Without the Manifest Destiny we wouldn’t have the agriculture in the midwest or the gold rush in California. We wouldn’t have the railroads that stretch across the continent. America wouldn’t be the same if we hadn’t taken a risk to move out west and pursue a life of hard work and prosperity.
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