Article Written: April 10, 2006

Manifest Destiny
Noble Ideal or Excuse for Imperialist Expansion?

By Phil Allard

The issue: Does the U.S. have a "manifest destiny" to expand all the way to the Pacific Ocean? Or is Manifest Destiny merely an excuse to take other people's lands?

  • Arguments for Manifest Destiny: Being more advanced and enlightened than other cultures, the U.S. has a God-given right to expand its borders. In fact, the U.S. has an obligation to bring its civilizing influence to the west. Expansion will also strengthen the foundations of the Union, making it invulnerable, and is necessary to accommodate the increasing population of the U.S.
  • Arguments against Manifest Destiny: God would not grant any country the right to expand at the expense of the native inhabitants whose land would be taken, and the lives of those who would die in wars over territory. The term "Manifest Destiny" is merely an excuse for the U.S. to take other people's lands. Furthermore, spreading too far across the country will weaken the country's vital institutions, making the Union vulnerable


During the 19th century the U.S. population was expanding at a rapid pace. For a variety of reasons, intrepid Americans ventured forth to settle western lands as they heeded the famous words commonly attributed to New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley: "Go West, Young Man." Meanwhile, the nation expanded by acquiring title to more and more territory, whether by purchase or negotiation or as a result of war. Many Americans began to believe that it was the nation's "Manifest Destiny" to expand westward.

Manifest Destiny refers to a concept often used to explain or justify American expansion, especially in the decades preceding the Civil War (1861-65) and again in the late 19th century. While debate over expansion goes back to the beginnings of American expansion in the late 18th century, the phrase "Manifest Destiny" did not come into vogue until the 1840s. The phrase was coined by the editor of the United States Magazine and Democratic Review, John O'Sullivan.

In an article written in support of U.S. annexation of Texas, O'Sullivan referred to the "manifest destiny" of the United States to "overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions." (Texas was then functioning as an independent nation. Many Texans favored annexation, but the territory was also claimed by Mexico.) In other words, O'Sullivan thought it was "manifest," or evident, that the United States was destined by God to spread its rule across the continent. (While he gave a religious dimension to the idea, he might instead have said that it was simply right, or natural for America to spread across the continent.) [See John O'Sullivan Calls for the Annexation of Texas (primary document)]

The notion of Manifest Destiny explained the mindset of many expansionist policy makers of the time, who sought to push the nation's borders further west. Political leaders such as President James K. Polk (D, 1845-49), Representative James Buchanan (D, Pennsylvania) and Senator Stephen A. Douglas (D, Illinois) used it to justify efforts to acquire the Oregon Territory, California and the vast Mexican lands in the Southwest.

The belief that Americans were divinely ordained to stretch across the continent also likely motivated many pioneers to migrate west. In any case, the belief was partly rooted in a kind of "romanticism" of the time—an optimistic faith in human nature and progress toward a better society and the achievement of great dreams. The idea of Manifest Destiny was also grounded in part in a belief that American political and social institutions and American culture, particularly that of white America, were superior to the institutions and cultures of other nations and peoples. [See Historian Turner on 'The West and American Ideals' (Excerpt) (primary document)]

But in order for Americans to keep going west, lands had to be acquired through negotiation or war. It was also accepted by many that huge numbers of Indians could be uprooted to make room for settlers and a transcontinental railroad to link east and west. In addition, struggles over which new territories should be free and which should be open for slavery helped to fuel the Civil War.

By the late 1840s, the quest for Manifest Destiny had led Polk to threaten war with Britain over Oregon. It also led him to wage war with Mexico in 1846. As a result of negotiations with Britain and military victory over Mexico, the U.S. completed its westward expansion. Its landmass, which had already almost doubled with the purchase of the Louisiana territory in 1803, now grew by more than one-third with the acquisition of the Oregon Territory, California, Texas and the New Mexico and Utah territories.

As the notion of Manifest Destiny played out the country grew by leaps and bounds, and Americans settled the vast western regions of the continent. In this vein, a Philadelphia newspaper proclaimed the United States to be a nation rightfully bounded on the "East by sunrise, West by sunset, North by the Arctic Expedition, and South as far as we darn please." But expansion was not unanimously hailed; there were many critics who argued against what they saw as imperialist expansion, and who warned that Manifest Destiny had a darker side, such as the forced relocation of Indians to make way for white settlers.

Did the U.S. have a "manifest destiny" to expand its borders to stretch from ocean to ocean? Or was the concept simply an excuse for an unjust "land grab" of territory that rightfully belonged to others?

Supporters of Manifest Destiny used two main arguments. Some advocates believed that the U.S., as a more advanced culture, had a God-given right to expand its borders. Such expansion would have a civilizing influence in the west, they argued. Many asserted in particular that such expansion benefited Indians and people in newly acquired territories by spreading American democratic, cultural and religious values and institutions.

Others argued that the territorial expansion that Manifest Destiny entailed strengthened the foundations of the new union, making it invulnerable. In addition, they said, expansion into new territories was necessary to accommodate a dramatic increase in U.S. population.

Opponents of Manifest Destiny, on the other hand, argued that a just God would not grant a right to American expansion at the price of the rights and lives of tens of thousands of innocent native people. They protested that the idea of "Manifest Destiny" was extremely dangerous since it gave the U.S. an excuse to commit barbarous acts at will. When expansion led to war, opponents became even more vocal.

Other critics argued that the Constitution did not give the country the right to acquire new lands. They also warned of the dangers of expansion under Manifest Destiny: that the country's vital institutions would suffer as the country spread itself too thin. Abolitionists also criticized Manifest Destiny because they believed it would increase the possibility of the spread of slavery.

Historical Backdrop to Manifest Destiny

When the Constitution was adopted in 1787, the nation consisted of 13 colonies located in the East. In 1803, the country's landmass nearly doubled when the U.S. bought two million square miles of land from France in the Louisiana Purchase. The purchase extended the U.S. from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains and from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border. The following year, President Thomas Jefferson (D, 1801-09) commissioned Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the territory, and accounts of their exploration began to enthrall much of the country.

Many Americans were happy with the land purchase, but some doubted whether the president had a constitutional right to acquire new territory, because the Constitution did not specifically list that as a federal function. And debate soon arose over which parts of the new lands would become free states and which would become slave states. At the time, there were 11 free states and 11 slave states. A swing either way would give the North or the South an advantage in congressional representation. Congress's solution was the 1820 Missouri Compromise, which admitted Missouri as a slave state, and Maine as free, while barring slavery "forever" in the Louisiana territory north of latitude 36° 30'. [See Missouri Compromise (sidebar)]

A sense of national destiny or purpose had been part of the country's consciousness since its early days. In 1783, future President George Washington (Federalist, 1789-97) called the country a "rising empire." President James Madison (Democratic-Republican, 1809-17) spoke of "one great, respectable, and flourishing empire." But the word "empire" at that time probably meant something like "sovereign nation" rather than, say, "nation having dominion over far-flung lands and peoples," as it later came to mean. Jefferson believed that European settlers would eventually people the continent across to the Pacific, although he believed that the territory along the Pacific coast would be "a great, free and independent empire" populated by Americans "unconnected with us but by the ties of blood and interest."

A landmark statement of policy proclaimed in 1823 by President James Monroe (Democratic-Republican, 1817-25) later became a rallying point for Manifest Destiny. The so-called Monroe Doctrine stated that the U.S. would not tolerate any new intervention by a European colonial power in the Americas. The policy put on record that the U.S. believed itself the dominant power in the hemisphere. In subsequent decades, many U.S. presidents would take the Monroe Doctrine to heart.

Removal of the Indians

As settlers sought to expand their holdings, they increasingly came into contact with the Indians who inhabited those lands. In order for the U.S. to expand as settlers wished, the issue of the Indians had to be addressed. To address the "Indian problem," Congress on May 26, 1830, passed the Indian Removal Act and President Andrew Jackson (D, 1829-37), who had gained prominence fighting against the Indians in several skirmishes, signed it into law two days later. Under the act, the government would negotiate with Indians to relocate from their eastern lands to land reserved as "Indian territory" in the west. [See Indian Removal Act]

However, while the removal was intended to be voluntary, when many Indians refused to leave they were forcibly removed by U.S. troops. Thousands of Indians died during the long westward journey, including an estimated 4,000 who died along what came to be known as the "Trail of Tears."

With a policy in place for Indian removal, more lands now became available for white settlement. Several factors converged to make moving south or west appealing to many Americans. A key factor was rapid population growth, fueled by immigration and a high birthrate. Large families were considered beneficial for working farms. By the late 1830s, the U.S. population grew to more than 23 million, from some five million in 1800. It was estimated that nearly four million Americans moved to western territories between 1820 and 1850.

The government also made much of the land in the Western territories cheap or even free. By moving to frontier areas, many people in the East were able to leave an economic depression of 1839 behind them. To many of those people, frontier living was synonymous with self-sufficiency, an integral American trait. In addition, merchant marines saw an opportunity to take advantage of new commerce by building West Coast ports that they expected would lead to increased trade with Pacific countries.

President Polk and Manifest Destiny

There was perhaps no stauncher believer in the ideal of Manifest Destiny than Polk. During his campaign and after he took office, he made it known that his goal was to expand the country's territory. In his inaugural address, Polk declared: "The world beholds the peaceful triumphs of the industry of our emigrants [pioneers]....The jurisdiction of our laws and the benefits of our republican institutions should be extended over them in the distant regions which they have selected for their homes."

One of the first areas Polk set his sights on was Oregon. The vast Oregon Territory stretched between the 42nd parallel, just above Spain's Mexican lands, and the 54th parallel, just below Russia's Alaskan territory. It consisted of the areas that are now Oregon, Washington, parts of Idaho and Wyoming, as well as parts of what is now Canada. The U.S., Britain, Russia and Spain had all laid claim to parts of the territory, although Russia and Spain eventually abandoned their claims.

In 1818, the U.S. and Britain reached an agreement setting the 49th parallel as the boundary between U.S. and British territory up to the Rocky Mountains. However, when they could not agree on a border west of the Rockies, they agreed to jointly occupy the disputed territory for 10 years. When that term expired, they agreed to extend joint occupation indefinitely.

Most of those who initially traveled to Oregon were fur trappers and traders, but by the 1840s, more and more Americans were traveling there to set up homesteads. Marcus Whitman, a young doctor, and his wife, Narcissa Prentiss Whitman, had traveled to the Oregon territory in 1836 as part of a Methodist missionary movement. A few years later, Whitman returned to Boston to promote the attractions of life in the Pacific Northwest. Whitman's message reverberated all over the East Coast, and in 1843 he led nearly a thousand migrants out west along the Oregon Trail, a 2,000-mile trail that stretched from Independence, Missouri, across Oregon to Oregon City.[See Account of One Traveler's Journey Along the Oregon Trail (Excerpts) (primary document)]

As the settler population in Oregon grew, debate intensified over control of the disputed portion. Polk called on Congress to pass legislation that would protect the settlers making their way to the Pacific Northwest. He said he had no doubt that "our title to the country of Oregon is clear and unquestionable." Polk demanded that England grant the U.S. ownership all the way up to the 54th parallel, thus including a substantial chunk of what is now Canada. He indicated that he was willing to go to war with England in order to secure the land. [See President Polk's First Annual Message to Congress (Excerpts) (primary document)]

However, Polk's demand was a negotiating ploy. In his private journal he wrote that he actually did not want war with Great Britain, and as a Southerner he was not eager to add free states to the Union. He also knew that the lands above the 49th parallel were not prime farmland. But by threatening war he was able to extract a compromise, and in 1846, the U.S. and Britain agreed to establish the boundary line between American and British territories at the 49th parallel, where the U.S.-Canadian border remains today.

Perhaps the defining aspect of the Polk administration, however, was the war with Mexico. Texas had declared its independence from Mexico on March 2, 1836, when Texas was under siege by Mexican forces. Mexico never formally recognized Texas's declaration of independence, which became a bone of contention when Texas joined the United States in 1845 under Polk's stewardship.

Many American settlers who lived in Mexico did not object to becoming part of the U.S., because when the area belonged to Mexico, settlers had to become Mexican citizens and convert to Roman Catholicism. As the Anglo-Saxon population grew, so did the desire to become part of the U.S. The annexation of Texas also pleased many Southerners because Texas had been part of the original Louisiana Purchase, but had been traded to Spain in 1819 for Florida.

It was also understood that Texas would come in as a slave state. That fact, in turn, upset many people from the North, who also lamented that the war was just the kind of show of brute force they had always detested among the European powers.

Tensions between the U.S. and Mexico over Texas reached a breaking point the following year. As hostilities led to combat, Polk said, "After reiterated menaces, Mexico has passed the boundary of the United States, has invaded our territory and shed American blood upon the American Soil. She has proclaimed that hostilities have commenced, and that the two nations are at war." [See Mexican-American War]

The war would last two years. When peace was negotiated, the defeated Mexican government had little choice but to cede nearly half of its northern territories (500,000 square miles) to the U.S. Under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the Rio Grande was fixed as the southern boundary of Texas. The U.S., in return for $15 million, acquired territory that today includes the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah as well as parts of Colorado and Wyoming. In fact, critics of the war claimed that Polk intentionally provoked the war with Mexico in order to win California.

Following the conclusion of the war with Mexico, attention turned southward. Polk sought to purchase Cuba from its Spanish colonizers, but Spain refused to sell the island. Attention turned to Cuba again during the presidency of Franklin Pierce (D, 1853-57). In 1854 three American diplomats, Buchanan (ambassador to Britain at the time), Pierre Soulé (ambassador to Spain), and John Mason (ambassador to France) met in Ostend, Belgium; seeking to convince Spain that it needed to sell Cuba to the U.S. or risk a war in which it would lose Cuba by force.

The diplomats were speaking on behalf of southern slave holders who had wanted the U.S. to acquire the island and continue the practice of slavery on it. The time was urgent, slavery advocates believed, because Spain was considering emancipating all Cuban slaves because of recent slave rebellions in various Caribbean islands, including Haiti. However, the diplomatic mission to Spain had not been approved by Pierce, and he immediately renounced it. Public reaction to the affair, both at home and abroad, was exceedingly negative.

The beginning of the Civil War put a damper on Manifest Destiny desires, but they would resurface later in the century with regard to expansion to the Caribbean. In 1898, the U.S. finally succeeded in wresting Cuba from Spain in the Spanish American War. However, as during the 1830s and 1840s, the benefits and drawbacks of expansion were hotly debated. [See Spanish-American War]

The Case for Manifest Destiny

Supporters of Manifest Destiny were motivated by two beliefs: the nation's God-given destiny to expand its civilizing influence across the continent and the practical need to expand the nation's borders. Most advocates of Manifest Destiny believed that American society, being predominantly white northern European, or "Anglo-Saxon," and Christian, was more advanced and enlightened than other cultures. American novelist Herman Melville summed up that belief when he stated, "We Americans are the chosen people—the Israel of our time."

Adherents to the ideal of Manifest Destiny asserted that, as the chosen nation, the U.S. had an obligation to mankind to expand its reach and spread its culture, bringing God, technology and civilization to the west. O'Sullivan had elaborated on that idea in an 1839 article: [See John O'Sullivan on Manifest Destiny (Excerpts) (primary document)]

The far-reaching, the boundless future will be the era of American greatness. In its magnificent domain of space and time, the nation of many nations is destined to manifest to mankind the excellence of divine principles; to establish on earth the noblest temple ever dedicated to the worship of the Most High—the Sacred and the True. Its floor shall be a hemisphere—its roof the firmament of the star-studded heavens....

Others stressed a more practical need for expansion. The U.S. was experiencing a big growth in population, they said, and the U.S. needed to expand to accommodate those people. Furthermore, they contended, expansion would make the new nation more secure. Many agreed with author and diplomat George Bancroft when he said: "The acquisition of California by ourselves is the decisive point in the perfect establishment of the Union." Now the nation rested on a "foundation that cannot be moved," he continued. In his inaugural address, Polk laid out further benefits:

None can fail to see the danger to our safety and future peace if Texas remains an independent state, or becomes an ally or dependency of some foreign nation more powerful than herself. Is there one among our citizens who would not prefer perpetual peace with Texas to occasional wars, which often occur between bordering independent nations? Is there one who would not prefer free intercourse with her, to high duties on all our products and manufactures which enter her ports or cross her frontiers? Is there one who would not prefer an unrestricted communication with her citizens, to the frontier obstructions which must occur if she remains out of the Union?

Advocates of fulfilling the nation's Manifest Destiny argued that critics' concerns that expansion would weaken the union by stretching it too far had not been borne out. Polk asserted that the addition of new territories had in fact bolstered the Union:

As our population has expanded, the Union has been cemented and strengthened. As our boundaries have been enlarged and our agricultural population has been spread over a large surface, our federative system has acquired additional strength and security. It may well be doubted whether it would not be in greater danger of overthrow if our present population were confined to the comparatively narrow limits of the original thirteen States than it is now that they are sparsely settled over a more expanded territory. It is confidently believed that our system may be safely extended to the utmost bounds of our territorial limits, and that as it shall be extended the bonds of our Union, so far from being weakened, will become stronger.

Other advocates simply subscribed to the romantic notion of moving west to establish new lives on the frontier. The very idea of Manifest Destiny encouraged men and women to dream about boundless opportunity, supporters said. Senator James Semple (D, Illinois), in debate in the House over Oregon, noted that in 1843, as many as 1,500 settlers traveled to Oregon "to reclaim this vast wilderness, and to unite, by civilization and human intercourse, the shores of the Pacific with the great West of the Union." Indeed, proponents pointed out, Manifest Destiny inspired pioneers to transform plains and fertile valleys into farms and small towns, helping to build up the nation.

The government not only had a divine right to expand its influence, supporters said, it also had a duty to incorporate territories to protect those American citizens who had settled there. Semple asserted that such expansion expressed the will of the nation to expand. "It is impossible for [the government] to overlook the expression of public opinion on this point, so emphatically and universally pronounced. How was it to act? Was it to allow Great Britain to exercise jurisdiction over its citizens?" he asked.

Whatever their reasons for seeking expansion, proponents of Manifest Destiny defended the government's right to acquire new territories, even though the Constitution did not specifically give it the authority to do so. Supporters were sometimes labeled as "loose constructionists," because they interpreted the Constitution "loosely" or broadly enough to say that, under it, land acquisition was an implied power of the federal government.

Overall, for supporters of Manifest Destiny, all factors indicated that the U.S. should push westward. Buchanan perhaps best summed up the national mood regarding expansion when he stated: "Prevent the American people from crossing the Rocky Mountains? You might as well command Niagara not to flow. We must fulfill our destiny."

The Case Against Manifest Destiny

Critics of Manifest Destiny rejected the idea that it was God's will or even a good thing for the country to expand when it resulted in warfare and the subjugation and mistreatment of native peoples. Expansionists used the concept to justify their cruel treatment of those peoples, critics asserted. Manifest Destiny, with its talk of the need to "civilize" the "savages" who occupied the west, was also blatantly racist, they asserted.

Unitarian minister William Ellery Channing, in a letter written to former Senator Henry Clay (Whig, Kentucky) about the annexation of Texas, described the impact of Manifest Destiny:

[T]the Indians have melted before the white man, and the mixed, degraded race of Mexico must melt before the Anglo-Saxon. Away with this vile sophistry! There is no necessity for crime. There is no fate to justify rapacious nations, any more than to justify gamblers and robbers, in plunder ... We talk of accomplishing our destiny. So did the late conqueror of Europe [Napoleon Bonaparte]; and destiny consigned him to a lonely rock in the ocean, the prey of ambition which destroyed no peace but his own.

Critics grew particularly incensed when the concept was used to justify wars of expansion. God would not destine a nation to kill and subjugate people, they argued. If the "war be right then Christianity is wrong, a falsehood, a lie," Congregationalist minister Theodore Parker asserted in opposition to the war with Mexico.

Many in particular portrayed the Mexican-American War as a land grab, aimed at the conquest of a vulnerable neighbor with little ability to defend itself. Critics argued that Manifest Destiny was used to justify imperialism, and that the U.S. would never have tolerated being treated the way it was treating other countries. Senator Thomas Corwin (Whig, Ohio) was a particularly strong critic of the war with Mexico. According to him: [See Senator Corwin Criticizes Concept of 'Manifest Destiny' (Excerpts) (primary document)]

Had one come and demanded Bunker Hill of the people of Massachusetts, had England's lion ever showed himself there, is there a man over 13 and under 90 who would not have been ready to meet him; is there a river on this continent that would not have run red with blood; is there a field but would have been piled high with the unburied bones of slaughtered Americans before these consecrated battlefields of liberty should have been wrested from us? But this same American goes into a sister republic and says to poor, weak Mexico, 'Give up your territory—you are unworthy to possess it—I have got one-half already—all I ask of you is to give up the other!'....

Furthermore, critics asserted, overexpansion was a threat to the country; it risked spreading the nation's institutions too thin, they warned. "Possessed of a domain, vast enough for the growth of ages, it is time for us to stop in the career of acquisition and conquest," Channing wrote to Clay. "Already endangered by our greatness, we cannot advance without imminent peril to our institutions, union, prosperity, virtue, and peace."

Other critics echoed Channing's belief that the U.S. already had enough land, and should stop seeking more. Supporters of Manifest Destiny exaggerated the stresses of a growing population, they asserted. Corwin argued that the U.S. had enough land, and that it was not worth waging war for "room." He asserted:

Look at your country, extending from the Alleghany Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, capable itself of sustaining in comfort a larger population than will be in the whole Union for one hundred years to come. Over this vast expanse of territory your population is now so sparse that I believe we provided, at the last session, a regiment of mounted men to guard the mail from the frontier of Missouri to the mouth of the Columbia; and yet you persist in the ridiculous assertion, 'I want room.' One would imagine, from the frequent reiteration of the complaint, that you had a bursting, teeming population, whose energy was paralyzed, whose enterprise was crushed, for want of space.

Opposition to Manifest Destiny was also strong among the "Conscience Whigs," a small group mostly from the New England states who saw expansion as facilitating the spread of slavery. That would only increase the tension between a precariously balanced North and South, they warned. In opposing war with Mexico, Corwin presciently claimed, "Should we prosecute this war another moment, or expend one dollar in the purchase or conquest of a single acre of Mexican land, the North and the South are brought into collision on a point where neither will yield. Who can foresee or foretell the result!"

Not only was Manifest Destiny morally wrong, critics argued, but its realization through territorial expansion was unconstitutional. Those critics, called "strict constructionists," maintained that the Constitution never expressly gave the country a right to acquire new lands, so the government did not have the right to acquire territory. That view had also been expressed by opponents of the Louisiana Purchase.

In short, opponents questioned both the ideal of Manifest Destiny and its practical consequences. "I spurn the notion that patriotism can only be manifested by plunging the nation into war or that the love of one's country can only be measured by one's hatred to any other country," declared Representative Robert Winthrop (Whig, Massachusetts) in congressional debate in January 1846. He warned of the "danger of fixing our views so exclusively on our own real or imagined wants as to overlook the rights of others."

U.S. Becomes a World Power

When O'Sullivan wrote the following words in the article "The Great Nation of Futurity," in The United States Democratic Review in 1839, he was giving voice to a sentiment that many American agreed with:

The far-reaching, the boundless future will be the era of American greatness. In its magnificent domain of space and time, the nation of many nations is destined to manifest to mankind the excellence of divine principles... [H]er high example shall smite unto death the tyranny of kings, hierarchs, and oligarchs, and carry the glad tidings of peace and good will where myriads now endure an existence scarcely more enviable than that of beasts of the field. Who, then, can doubt that our country is destined to be the great nation of futurity?

At the time O'Sullivan wrote the article, many Americans felt strongly that their nation was ordained for great things by their Christian God. They believed that the U.S. was destined to grow and prosper and that its expansion would serve to benefit mankind. The goal of territorial expansion became the expressed goal of many politicians, including Polk.

Motivated in part by this overarching belief, the U.S. built a transcontinental railroad, peopled much of a continent and built a prosperous nation. However, the principle also had its critics, who pointed out that in the process the U.S. went to war with Mexico, risked a war with Great Britain, and displaced tens of thousands of Indians.

Despite lack of agreement on the value of Manifest Destiny, the U.S. would eventually expand from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, and from the 49th parallel in the North to the Rio Grande River in the South. The U.S. would become a world power with seemingly boundless resources, particularly since the end of World War II (1939-45).

Discussion Questions & Activities

1) What factors were responsible for fueling U.S. expansion across the continent? Do you think it was inevitable that the U.S. would take possession of the continent from ocean to ocean? Why or why not?

2) What did John O'Sullivan mean when he described the U.S. as the "great nation of futurity"?

3) Many critics of Manifest Destiny claimed that it resulted in barbaric treatment of the Indians, who were often forced off their lands to make room for white settlers. Could the U.S. have expanded westward without displacing the Indians?

4) Describe what the U.S. would be like today if it had not followed an expansionist agenda, and Spain, France and Russia still possessed territory on the continent.

5) Imagine that you are a settler traveling to the territory of Oregon: Write a letter to a friend back home describing your journey.


Boller, Paul F. Jr. Presidential Campaigns. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.

Hartnett, Stephen. Democratic Dissent & The Cultural Fictions of Antebellum America. Champaign, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2002.

Horton, James Oliver and Lois Horton. Slavery and the Making of America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Messages and Papers of the Presidents, Volume V: James Polk. Bureau of National Literature, 1897

Messages and Papers of the Presidents, Volume VI: James Polk. Bureau of National Literature, 1897.

O'Sullivan, John L. "Annexation." The United States Democratic Review, July-August 1845, 5.

O'Sullivan, John L. "The Great Nation of Futurity," The United States Democratic Review, November 1939, 426.

Schurz, Carl. "Manifest Destiny." Harper's magazine. October 1893.

Seigenthaler, John. James K. Polk. New York: Times Books, 2003.

Turner, Frederick Jackson. The Frontier in American History, New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1920.

Webster, Kimball. The Gold Seekers of '49: A Personal Narrative of the Overland Trail and Adventures in California and Oregon from 1849 to 1854. Manchester, N.H.: Standard Book Company, 1917.