Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1720 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 2  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: American History

Manifest Destiny

In his Preface, Frederick Merk offers an explanation of expansionism throughout history; "Expansionism," he writes, as a thesis to his book, "is usually associated with crusading ideologies" (Merk, 1963, viii). And he proceeds to give examples as he informs readers that the U.S. expansionism ("Manifest Destiny") was not some unique strategy that was only pursued by Americans. Indeed, he claims that American Manifest Destiny was equivalent in purpose and thrust to Arab expansionism (Islam), Spanish colonialism / expansionism (Catholicism), and Napoleonic, Chinese and Russian expansionism. And while all of those instances of expansionism were based on nations' desires to spread out into the world based on an ideology - "Ideas are spread by propaganda" (ix) - the reality of expansionism comes down to cruelty, he continues. Expansionism means that the expansionist country is "...elbowing owners of property rudely to one side" and it involves "making away with their possessions."

In other words, by extending a nation's borders and expanding, that nation is actually hurting other cultures and stealing from other cultures.

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Throughout his book Merk backs up his opening assertions with more than narrative and editorial assertions; he puts history into perspective using solid research from worthy sources. Jefferson, for example, had a vision about the future of the Americas and wrote to James Monroe in 1801, said that eventually America's "rapid multiplication will expand itself beyond" the present borders of the U.S. into cover perhaps "the whole northern, if not the southern continent." That spreading population would all speak English and be governed "in similar forms, and by similar laws" (Merk, 9).

Term Paper on Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History Assignment

Merk understands how much influence newspapers had during the early 19th Century, and he turns to published editorials and other accounts from newspapers to tap the public opinion of the times. After Jefferson had negotiated the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon, the editor of the New York Evening Post, William Coleman, wrote that the "destiny of North America" belonged to the U.S. (Merk, 12). Moreover, Coleman editorialized that America had rights to the "rivers" and to "all the sources of future opulence, power and happiness, which lay scattered at our feet."

There were many more pronouncements like that, reported in Merk's book, that seemed to have egged the U.S. leaders on to populate farther and farther west. And eventually, according to Charles Brocton Brown, "romanticist and novelist," the U.S. must take "excursions into futurity" (Merk, 13). Those "excursions" would move the national boundaries "from sea to sea" and "from the North Pole to the Isthmus of Panama," Brown wrote. Those notions were not widely accepted at that time, Merk explains; they "stirred little enthusiasm" before the War of 1812. But by the 1840s, when "Manifest Destiny" became a common phrase, it became "a movement" (Merk, 24). And initially Manifest Destiny (MD) did not mean seizing new lands, but rather, Merk explains, it meant the other nearby territories and nations could gain admission the "the American union." (24). And "if properly qualified," they could apply for admission albeit they "might have to undergo schooling for a time in the meaning and methods of freedom before they were let in" (Merk paraphrases the publication Democratic Review from October 1845).

At this point in American history MD did not mean "forced admission" - which would be "a contradiction in terms, unthinkable, revolting" (Merk, 25, quoting from the New York Morning News in 1845). As mentioned earlier, Merk taps into the public opinion of the times he writes about by quoting from newspapers, which had enormous influence. The editorial in the New York Morning News went on to say that "We take from no man; the reverse rather - we give to man." Americans know that the national policy - whether "necessity or destiny" - is "just and beneficent" and therefore any criticism of U.S. policy from abroad should be met with "scorn." With the valleys of the Rocky Mountains "converted into pastures and sheep-folds" the U.S. may "with propriety" look at the rest of the world and ask, "...whom have we injured?" (Merk, 25).

Merk uses phrases like "temple of freedom" to describe the attitudes of many Americans and U.S. newspapers toward the young nation during that period. The Constitution had established safeguards for those peoples "entering the temple" and in the mid-1840s, and all people who entered the Union were accorded those freedoms. Merk freely quotes from the literary journal, Democratic Review (co-founded by Samuel J. Tilden, who also co-founded the New York Morning News); among the contributors to the Democratic Review (DR) were Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Alan Poe, James Greenleaf Whittier, among other notables, so clearly this was an august journal that had great influence (Merk, 27).

Tilden is given credit for coining the phrase, "Manifest Destiny" - and he also authored "Hands Off" (a warning to any European powers that may have ambitions towards challenging the U.S. For control of territory). Those phrases were coined in December 1845. And the phrase began taking on a more aggressive meaning at that time, and not just from editors and authors. For example, Illinois Congressman John Wentworth spoke on the evening of the adoption of the joint House-Senate resolution to annex Texas. God has "crowned...America" with the designation that America would become "...the great center from which civilization, religion, and liberty should radiate and radiate until the whole continent shall bask in their blessing" (Merk, 28).

New territory is spread out for us to subdue and fertilize," according to Senator Daniel S. Dickinson of New York (Merk, 29); "new races are presented for us to civilize, educate and absorb." Dickenson made Manifest Destiny into a kind of cultural sponge that would "absorb" peoples into its fold and make them over as liberty-loving Americans. Gradually, as noted earlier, MD became far more than just a welcoming strategy for those peoples and nations that wanted to join the family of states in America. It became a gospel, Merk writes on page 33, that "the duty of the United States" was to "regenerate backward peoples of the continent." That of course meant the Native Peoples needed to be "civilized" as part of MD.

On pages 36-37 Merk lists the multitude of newspapers in 1845 that "were highly expansionist" and supported, indeed promoted, MD. Some elected officials were militantly aggressive; to wit, House member John S. Chipman from Michigan had his eye on conquering Canada. "Michigan alone would take Canada in ninety days," he bellowed. Even respected members of the intellectual community like Ralph Waldo Emerson and William Cullen Bryant got into the act, albeit Emerson's essay ("The Young American") was more along the lines of supporting expansion with an eye to protecting the natural world. On page 40 Merk notes that there were a variety of interpretations of MD that "differed widely" in how the nation should grow and what the strategy should be as to acquiring territory.

Andrew Jackson - "the hero of the Democrats" - though in declining health (Merk, 50) sent numerous letters (in 1845) to friends urging that Texas be annexed and that the U.S. occupy Oregon, which the British hoped to annex for themselves. Part of Jackson's power (beyond him being a hero) was use of the "techniques of mass propaganda" after his rise to the presidency. Also helping push MD along were advances in technology; the steam engine made travel on land and water faster, bringing communities and ideas together. The railroads brought people together; the telegraph "fired the public imagination" (Merk, 51), and the newspapers' printing presses advanced to "a degree of effectiveness never known before" (56), churning out up to 10,000 newspapers per hour. Telegraph lines and the exploding newspaper and magazine genres brought news (and propaganda) to more people faster than every before. Manifest Destiny became "national in an invigorated form," Merk explains on page 57. And as he said earlier, "ideas are spread by propaganda," and the faster they spread, the more potent the propaganda.

And when in 1847 it came to the question of whether or not to annex Mexico, the news traveled far and fast from newspapers such as the Boston Times; seizing Mexico "is a work worthy of a great people...who are about to regenerate this world by asserting the supremacy of humanity over the accidents of birth and fortune" (Merk, 122). The New York Sun editor, Moses Y. Beach, wrote, on Oct. 22, 1847, that in taking over Mexico it amounts to a goal "to liberate and ennoble - not to enslave or debase - is our mission." If the Mexicans don't have, " the profound darkness of their vassal existence," the "intelligence and manhood to accept the ranks and rights of freeman at our hands, we must bear with their ignorance." This appallingly arrogant attitude was the norm, not the exception, of newspapers during that period of time.

Later in the 19th Century, Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge became advocates for "the efficacy of foreign remedies for domestic afflictions" (Mert, 235), and they… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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