The phrase “Manifest Destiny” first caught people’s attention in 1845. It was filled with a sense of mission, expansion and self-importance. The idea has a much longer history, dating back to mid 17th century: “For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.”
This idea has been accepted as ethical, apparent and inexorable, a mission for the chosen American people. It has always been the force (and excuse) behind US expansion and fueling nationalism and global conquest.
The first generation of settlers survived because of the generous help of Native Americans. People would suppose that the Thanks Giving is not only dedicated to God. A little bit of the gratitude should go to the native Indians.
Hundred years later, after the War of 1812, US economy flourished, population soared (US population grew by ten million in 25 year between 1820 and 1845) and the acquisition of land double the size of the country. The westward movement started. People of all back grounds and status marched across the Appalachian, poured into Ohio and Mississippi River valley. By 1850, more than two thirds of American population lived west of the Appalachian.
The federal government reflected the nationalist outlook by giving western land to private hands and non-Indian people. Some of the public land was even granted as a reward for military service. For example, veterans of the War of 1812 received 160 acres. Private credit system rose every where, providing people with abundant credit to make purchase.
Even though Native Americans has been living on the those lands for thousands of years, the land "belonged" to the Christian white man due to a "divine mandate" and "superior civilization." US Constitution says that the government should deal with Native Americans following international protocols. But in fact American government use treaty making as a way to acquire Indian land. In “A People and a Nation”, the book briefly mentioned that “Whether through arms or economic pressure, the federal government forced Native Americans to sign and relinquish treaties.” Who could ever tell how many misery and tears were behind these “arms and economic pressure”.
Indians tried to integrate into the market economy and adapt, but their total removal is destined to come. Americans started with assimilation, enrolling Indian students into schools, teach them English alongside the Christian Gospel. But then Americans found this kind of simulation take too long time. Indian removal was soon turned into an “honorable” federal policy.
Resistance was no use. Indians were forced to go on to the “Trail of Tears”. How many people have died, we will never know, and no one seem to be interested. The winner writes the history. But the echoes of pain will remain on this piece of land.
War with Mexico
The War with Mexico is another great illustration of how the manifest destiny served the political interests and the need of expansion. The U.S. population grew from more than five million in 1800 to more than 23 million by 1850. Thus, there was a need to expand into new territories to accommodate this rapid growth. President Polk lusted for California and huge amount of territory. And by building West Coast ports, maritime merchants can expand and promote new commerce and increased trade with countries in the Pacific. After a series of carefully planed activities, US army crossed the contested boarder and raised the conflict. Polk then drafted a biased message to the Congress and hid many crucial facts. People don’t know what’s going on, but pushed by the holy idea of manifest destiny and aroused by nationalism and sensationalist media, the whole country went into war. Some Eastern Democrats even argued that bringing Mexico into the Union was the best way to ensure future peace in the region.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo brought huge amount of precious land under American territory. Those Mexican citizens living on those lands were then victim of institutionalized racism.
Manifest destiny played a remarkably role to fuel the expansionist spirit, a fulfillment of Anglo-Saxon-Christian destiny to expand and possess the continent and spread the civilization. Racism was also obvious in public opinion, as one Illinois newspaper claimed that Mexicans were “reptiles in the path of progressive democracy”.
In comparison to Nazi
I go through the materials of “Manifest Destiny” with confusion and indignation. I can’t help comparing this idea to Nazi theory, and I find more similarity than difference. For example, in his book, Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler detailed his belief that the German people needed Lebensraum (living space) for a Großdeutschland, land, and raw materials – and that it should be taken in the East. It was the stated policy of the Nazis to kill, deport, Germanize or enslave the Polish, Russian and other Slavic populations, and to repopulate the land with racially pure Germanic peoples. How surprisingly similar this is to the US policies towards native Indians!
Both Nazi theory and Manifest Destiny boost racism and cultural superiority (Japan once also believed that its people have the finest blood in the world). Both of them have created all kind of ideas to justify their crimes and arouse people’s nationalist emotion. Normal people blindly and happily joined the crusade of murder. Both ideologies direct the nations to gain the global hegemony, create super empires, make wars, gain resources and land and kill people. They both believe that they are doing the right, good and sacred things, but they are actually creating huge misery for man kind.
Of course, the main difference is that Germany lost the war, and America thrived. Winners write history. I’m quite sure if Germany wins the war, the history will be written in a very different way, and America’s Manifest Destiny will be the evil story and be pictured as a bloody hypocrisy, which is also true, to some extend.
Manifest Destiny is not always bad. At the beginning of American history, it has helped American people fight for freedom and build their own country. President Abraham Lincoln's described the United States as "the last, best hope of Earth". President Wilson also said in 1920 after the World War I: “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.” It was true for a while, but certainly not always.
As the country grows, the negative side of this idea begins to show. This idea has helped to create wars and miseries in both America and the rest of the world, mainly in the rest of the world. God’s authorization to America is due.
American Foreign Policies
US foreign policy has been greatly influenced by the theory of Manifest Destiny, though it means different things to different people. US leaders talked about global “leadership and partnership”, viewing the US as the absolute, God-chosen superpower and leader of world affairs. US push double standards and unilateralism, take the role of international police and interfere frequently with other countries’ domestic affairs.
Bush said to American people in his 2005 inaugural address: “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.”
In fact, the Manifest Destiny has sometimes become a weapon, a weapon of Mass Destruction instead of Manifest Destiny. This weapon has been proven to be very effective, especially during the Bush administration. Public emotion can always be easily aroused and people’s approval gained when the government starts to talk about saving the world, fighting the evil forces, liberating the people under authoritarian control and so on. US-Iraq War is the best illustration.
Similarly, the US government love to talk about human right when they themselves are among the most notorious violator of human rights. They use human rights as a powerful diplomatic tool to make influence on other countries. For example, America blames Chinese activities in Sudan while America itself is supporting a medieval monarch in Saudi Arabia. This behavior is having an extremely bad effect, hurting its international image, destroying the government’s credit and making Americans’ presence in the world less and less favorable.
US has the tradition of putting itself on a higher moral ground than other countries and teach other what to do as if God himself has authorized US to be his representative on earth. US believe that America’s system is the best system ever in human history, therefore should be planted in all other countries. This may have something to do with the aggressiveness of Christianity. In comparison, Buddhism, Confucius and other eastern philosophy have never had such self-importance and aggressiveness/expansionism.
What exactly it is
In the reading “Race, Manifest Destiny, and the US War with Mexico”, the author said that “In the 1840s, the US pursuit of western territory was inspired by the idea of manifest destiny…” But actually, US is driven by the greed to acquire land and then coined and promoted such ideas like Manifest Destiny. Worse more, they are taking advantage of God. They claimed that these words come out of the mouth of God, and therefore their expansion/invasion is holy and can be justified. Normal people tend to believe what the media and government says, and they love to be inspired.
It is not that people heard the call of god and then started the expansion. The truth is, people feel the need of expansion, and then create all kinds of ideas to justify and glorify their greed. The Manifest Destiny is created to serve people’s interests and need.
The Bible was created thousand years before the birth of USA. All the theories of the divine destiny of America are created by certain people on certain purposes, driven by greed and self-interests. All the ideas are illusion and lies. They choose to believe in something even though they know it is not true, and it is extremely easy to get lost in lies when millions of people lie together to themselves.
I’m definitely not the first one to raise such argument. In fact, as soon as Manifest Destiny was coined, Representative Robert Winthrop ridiculed the 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." A lot of other people criticize the advocate of Manifest Destiny that they were citing "Divine Providence" for justification of actions that were motivated by chauvinism and self-interest. Despite this criticism, expansionists embraced the phrase and “inspired” the whole country.
O'Sullivan used this term when he argued that the United States had the right to claim "the whole of Oregon". This phrase has since then accompanied American history, influenced American thoughts and generated all kinds of policies. All these policies are not always compatible because nobody can say what exactly the manifest destiny is. This vagueness has created great convenience for policy makers. Politicians can take full advantage of this exciting slogan and make people believe they are doing what God want from them. I wonder whether God, looking down from heaven upon us, is crying or laughing.
American people love to believe in the Manifest Destiny because it gives them a sense of self-righteousness and provide them with national pride and confidence, as well as arrogance and superiority. The idea was prevailing because of the unmatched US power. But we also need to identify between normal American people and the government’s policy. In many situations, normal American citizens are also victims of the government’s desire for expansion and new world order.
Today’s world is different. US no longer enjoy the absolute superpower. People are tired of US Washington’s bossy manner and no one believes America is spreading peace and democracy around the globe. The ideas of superiority and exceptionalism are no more acceptable. The ideology of racial and cultural superiority is against the will of global citizens. The Manifest Destiny no longer belongs to America. Its trademark belongs to the whole world.