All throughout the history of America, there has always been a philosophy, a phenomenon that has been considered to be instrumental to man’s travels through time. This philosophy is called “Manifest Destiny,” a movement that was an intangible part of American history, but nonetheless, an integral part.
What is Manifest Destiny?
This term was coined by the prominent newspaper editor, John O’Sullivan, in 1845. Manifest Destiny was the mindset of the American people in the 19th century, as they believed that the expansion of the American territory from coast to coast and across North America was destined by God. In the early 1800s, Andrew Jackson led an army of men during the Florida crisis and conquered forts and cities. He also punished Seminal Indians who supported Spanish troops. America’s expansion was not only focused on territory, but also on achieving freedom and economic stability for Americans.
The term “Manifest Destiny” was also considered to be related to America’s territorial expansion from 1812 to 1860. This expansion started with the beginning of the War of 1812 (in 1812), and ended about one year before the start of the American Civil War, which started in April of 1861. Notable figures were behind the expansion, such as John Quincy Adams who approved the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
In 1836, Texas declared its independence from Mexico and became a state of the United States after the Texas Revolution. This, however, did not take place without controversy because Texas added to the slave states of the Union. Manifest Destiny was what made America look beyond its borders and go as far as Asia and the Far East.
Components of Manifest Destiny
Acting on the belief in Manifest Destiny means that Americans exhibited nationalism. There were those who believed that it was Divine Providence. In other words, they believed that it was God’s will and America’s destiny to expand into different geographies. For others, it was more of a call or obligation to extend the liberty of America by domination over other places.
Although Manifest Destiny was embraced by many, it was a disputed philosophy with opposing views. Here are the pros and cons of Manifest Destiny.
List of Pros of Manifest Destiny
1. There was territorial expansion.
Generally, expansions mean improvement and progress. Proponents of the movement said that with Manifest Destiny, America became what it is today, one of the most powerful countries in the world. When our forefathers followed what was destined for America, the United States was able to acquire more properties, as well as gold. This also made it possible for more immigrants to have a chance to start new lives. Without the territorial expansion, none of this would have happened.
2. It brought more land for farming and improvement.
Those who were in favor of the movement said that with the acquisition of more land, there was more agricultural land made available, which was good for the economy and for the supply of food for the people. Manifest Destiny made it possible for the merchants and farmers to produce more crops to consume and sell.
3. It was good for trade and industry.
Proponents said that acting on the belief in Manifest Destiny opened new doors for trading to other countries. By acquiring lands from other places and even other countries, like Alaska which was bought from Russia, there were more routes for trade and barter. Also, those who wanted to live somewhere else for economic purposes and greener pastures were given the opportunity to do so.
4. As it doubled the land area of the U.S., it also increased goods, services, and wealth.
Some advocates said that not only did the movement increase the size of the country, expanding to other countries and not just states, but that it also added to farmlands needed for crops and ranching lands for meat. Moreover, with the territorial expansion not only in Asia but also in Europe, more ports for trade were opened and all these added to the reserves of the country, thus, it brought about more wealth. The gold rush of 1849 is one of the significant events in American history and this happened within the period of Manifest Destiny.
5. It paved the way for Americans to share their culture.
When new territories were acquired, people who lived there were influenced by the way of life of Americans. With Manifest Destiny, American culture also expanded. Americans are known to be lovers of individuality and freedom. These are just a few of the good traits to learn from the American culture and given this chance, many people seemingly/arguably benefited from this. Believers asserted that this was beneficial to the Indians and the people who were in the territories because they learned about the democratic, religious, and cultural ways of Americans.
6. It offered the chance for exploration.
Advocates of Manifest Destiny claimed that expansion gave Americans the chance to discover places other than the community they grew up in. This was not only great for economic improvement but also for personal gain, spiritually, emotionally, and socially. By being settlers, Americans were able to maximize their potential, discover new ways of living and learn to be innovative. As a whole, this brought more benefits than drawbacks to the American people.
List of Cons of Manifest Destiny
1. It brought about war and conflict.
Opponents of Manifest Destiny argued that this philosophy resulted in war between countries and even civil war. As early as 1822, the U.S. was already in conflict with Great Britain over the division of Oregon. It also gave a reason for the U.S. to start a war with Mexico and Spain. These are not the only conflicts that took place. Critics also said that “Manifest Destiny” was another word for “imperialism,” which led to the United States taking over countries like Guam, the Philippines and Puerto Rico.
2. It was a time of slavery.
One of the drawbacks of U.S. territorial expansion was the proliferation of slavery. Although Americans promised not to take the land of other people, like the Native Americans, without their consent and other than through peaceful means, history showed that this did not happen. Slavery of the Native Americans was at its peak during this time and many were killed and displaced during the expansion. Although there were those who submitted themselves freely and perhaps from fear, there were also those who overtly showed defiance, which led to more bloodshed and conflict.
3. It led to the death and suffering of many people, particularly, the Indians.
Opponents claim that Manifest Destiny brought about suffering to the people whose land was taken from them without their consent. Along the way, many people were killed and there was mass destruction of tribes. Indians were brought to reservations as well. With the belief that expansion was a destiny, Americans were convinced they could just conquer and own any land they wanted, to the point of nearly annihilating Native Americans.
4. It used the name of God or Divine Providence to manipulate other people.
Critics did not agree with the claim of some that Manifest Destiny came from the Divine Providence and that it is actually God who made this happen. For opponents, this appeared to be mere manipulation for personal gain. Opponents claim that in order to achieve the goal of this movement or belief, land was taken forcibly from people, while inhabitants were made to suffer and were abused.
5. It is unconstitutional.
Those who are not in favor of what Manifest Destiny stood for said that what Americans in the south of America did, which was spread slavery, was against the constitution, and so is taking other territories that do not belong to them. They also argued that those who pushed for territorial expansion already knew that Native Americans would be uprooted to make room for American settlers and international railroad links, and yet they still proceeded. For critics, this is clearly a violation of the rights of the Native Americans. Abolitionists said that the constitution did not give America the right to acquire new land. They also added that letting people live in other places had the negative effect of leaving fewer people to protect the American institutions.
6. God will not allow for a territorial expansion that would lead to murder.
Opponents also argued that God has no hand in Manifest Destiny because He will not order America or any people to expand its territories by putting the lives and safety of other people at risk. They said that although some areas were acquired, others were the result of war and oftentimes acts that were barbaric and unconstitutional.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.