Manifest Destiny

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Manifest Destiny is a term coined by a New York City newspaper editor to mean that there is a need for continental expansion by the United States. This, he believed, is the “mission” or the destiny that Americans should manifest.

Manifest destiny is done by imparting idealism and democratic beliefs to places capable of self-government. This was instigated by the fact that when the population of the thirteen colonies increased there was also a marked increase in the U.S. economy. It seemed that the growth of economy is proportional to the growth of land and population.

This belief had spurred the need to expand into new lands. Colonists equate land with possible additional income, increase wealth, better economy, self-sufficiency and financial independence. The expansion into the western frontiers was seen as a chance for self-improvement.

There were many factors that forced United States to pursue “manifest destiny” or continued expansion. These include:

* a relatively high birth rate and swelling of population due to immigration. At that time, agriculture was the foremost economic activity; it was desirable to have a large family. From a handful five million in 1800 it grew to more than twenty-three million by mid-century. Expanding to new territories could provide much needed land for the growing population. In 1820 to 1850, about 4,000,000 Americans moved to Western territories.
* Economic depression in 1818 and another in 1839 drove people to look for source of income in frontier areas
* the expansion to frontier areas was seen as a chance to practice new trades and to improve oneself
* due to strong reliance in agricultural means to live, during those times, it was believed that land ownership provided wealth and economic freedom, political influence and ability to “self-rule’
* Businessmen in the maritime industry saw the opportunity to create West Coast ports that would enable them to trade with countries in the Pacific

The 1840s was seen as the period of great territorial growth for United States. In a span of four years, United States domain grew to an additional 1.2 million square miles or by more than sixty percent. The territorial expansion was done in such quick succession that people saw it as inevitable. The Americans believed it was their “manifest destiny” to rule the continent.

The rapid expansion, despite being referred to as a “manifest destiny”, did not really enjoy popular support. Whig Party leaders was firmly against territorial growth. The Democrats who supported the expansion even had their doubts and wanted to define the limits of land expansion and the means it was acquired.

Ardent supporters of territorial expansion wanted additional land by all means including waging war with other nations. Others did not want to use force because they pointed out that the lands near them would voluntarily subject themselves under the Union to avail of Republican rule. Manifest destiny as a whole was comprised of people who wanted to pursue different motives and expressed several concerns.

It was first thought that the expansion would affect the close bonds that tied the Unions. They believed, a larger country would be more difficult to govern. But these hesitations paved the way for the United States to aggressively pursued territorial expansion in the early nineteenth century because of several contributing factors:

* Technological advancements
* Practical considerations
* a gnawing anxiety that Americans felt toward Great Britain

Technological advancements brought about by the creation of steamboats in 1840s had helped propelled economy in America’s waterways. Railroads were created to connect east and west towns. The telegraph which made long distance communication faster was also invented in 1844.

Practical considerations for expansionists include the need to acquire more slaves especially in the South. This move was seen as necessary to improve the political influence in Washington and to cater to its growing population. The Panic of 1837 which contributed to low demand and high supply for American agricultural produce created the need to find new markets, one of the perceived advantages of territorial expansion.

The most important reason that called for rapid expansionism was anticipated move of Great Britain in 1840s with Mexico’s aid to impede Washington’s efforts to take control of the Texas Republic and their plan to obtain California. U.S. expansionism became an urgent matter due to these plans.


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