How Manifest Destiny Has Shaped Us
The concept of Manifest Destiny has existed in many forms throughout time. The idea that one was destined to expand its boundaries is and always has been a basic tenant of mankind. The need to travel beyond your known environment has pushed us to reach the ultimate in exploration first from one region to the next, then from one continent to the next, and even now in exploration of one planet to the next.
However, the Manifest Destiny as laid out in American history is probably the single most important philosophy that has helped to shape and build the nation as we know it today. In fact, many would argue that America would never have survived had it not been for the rationalization that we were destined to expand our horizons and explore new lands.
It was the one tool used to justify the American superiority over other nations and the right to seek conquest and eventually control other societies that were different from our own. Without it, America’s boundaries would probably not have grown much further than the those surrounding the original 13 colonies, would likely have never fought for independence, and would not still be on a continuous search for new lands to conquer.
There are three basic components of Manifest Destiny; a religious influence, a mission to accomplish, and a sense of duty needed to achieve it.
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The Religious Influence
Likely the most powerful force behind the success of Manifest Destiny is the idea that there is a divine direction that is impelling the people to move forward in their conquest. We’ve seen this religious influence in other areas of history as well. The Crusades for example, caused many to pass through the world in conquest of other nations because they believed that it was God’s will.
The American concept of Manifest Destiny is that God has placed his Almighty power behind them to populate and subdue the land as they see fit. This did not always present itself as a means of expansion but we see it in other aspects during the growth of the Americas. For example, as one professor put it, “It was white man’s burden to conquer and Christianize the land.”(1) This concept led to the justification of slavery, the decimation of Native American tribes, and countless wars against other cultures throughout the rise of America’s history.
Understanding the will of God was only part of Manifest Destiny though. The altruistic view that the American liberties needed to be spread to the rest of the world was also key. The need to expand and grow became enough of an impetus to seek more land to build their wealth and reap greater rewards. By the time the 1840s rolled around expanding the borders became the most important aspect of being American. The Oxbow Route from Missouri to California, The Oregon Trail that opened up the way to the Pacific Ocean, The Lewis and Clark Expedition, and the formation of territorial government established in 1848 were all factors in the swift expansion of America’s borders. None of these would have happened had the people involved not had a strong sense of mission about the adventures.
The Sense of Duty
The third component of Manifest Destiny is their sense of duty. This created the darkest and ugliest side of American history. This was the side that gave license to causes like genocide, building reservations, and causing mass destruction on so many levels. These produced a kind of attitude that they would accomplish their goals no matter what impact it had on the peoples they interacted with.
It was this Manifest Destiny that allowed Americans to believe that they not only had the right but also the duty under the direction of God to destroy, oppress, or take whatever was needed to fulfill his will. And because he had the power to make it all happen, it was their destiny to do so. This was expressed clearly in the words of Albert T. Beveridge spoke before the US Senate in the early 1900s and said:
“He has made us the master organizers of the world to establish system where chaos reigns…He has made us adepts in government that we may administer government among savages and senile peoples.”(2)
So, while it is not a common tenant today nor is it written in our code of laws, it is still a philosophy that is buried deep within the hearts of many Americans and it is what has literally given us the drive to continue to reach for more as we pass through time.
1. Demkin, Stephen R. Lecture Notes. HIS 110-83. 1996. Delaware County Community Collage
2. Ryser, Rudolph C. A Publication of the Center for World Indigenous Studies. The Internet., June 1992