Manifest Destiny (1845) is the idea that God meant for the US to have all of North America. Its roots go back to the 1600s to Puritan ideas of being God’s chosen people in a promised land, just like the Jews in the Bible.
Manifest Destiny makes US wars of naked conquest against Mexicans and Natives in the 1800s seem just, as the way it had to be.
“Away, away with all these cobweb tissues of rights of discovery, exploitation, settlement, contiguity, etc. … [Our claim] is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federative self-government entrusted to us.”
War with Mexico: the following April President Polk egged Mexico into war so that he could take California, New Mexico and all of what is now Texas.
The penny press, the cable news of its day, spread the cheap war cry of Manifest Destiny across the nation, making the war seem right and good.
Some opposed the war, like Lincoln, Grant, Horace Greeley and Thoreau. Frederick Douglass called it “disgraceful” and “cruel”.
“We pant to see our country and its rule far-reaching, only inasmuch as it will take off the shackles that prevent men the even chance of being happy and good … We have no ambition for the mere physical grandeur of this Republic.”
But it was about land, not about the happiness or freedom of Mexicans and Natives. They were thrown off their land, if not lynched, raped or massacred. The US had a chance to “liberate” all of Mexico but did not.
“[W]e have never dreamt of incorporating into our Union any but the Caucasian race … Ours, sir, is the Government of a white race. The greatest misfortunes of Spanish America are to be traced to the fatal error of placing these colored races on an equality with the white race.”
It all boiled down to ethnic cleansing, what Hitler will later call Lebensraum.
Manifest Destiny thinking did not end with the war:
In 1870, the Cheyenne Daily Leader informed us:
“The rich and beautiful valleys of Wyoming are destined for the occupancy and sustenance of the Anglo-Saxon race. The wealth that for untold ages has lain hidden beneath the snow-capped summits of our mountains has been placed there by Providence …”
“The Great Spirit gave it to us, [and] there was room enough for all his tribes; all were happy in their freedom … We … sorry remnants of tribes once mighty, are cornered on little spots of the earth, all ours by right – cornered like guilty prisoners, and watched by men with guns who are more than anxious to kill us off.”
- Welcome to Hispanic Heritage Month 2014
- Both Native and Chicano authors see Manifest Destiny as part of the Anglo American framing of history:
- The Eagles: The Last Resort
- The whiteness of Laura Ingalls Wilder – shot through with Manifest Destiny thinking
- Bhagat Singh Thind
- White American racism against Natives: 1600s – the roots of Manifest Destiny thinking