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Manifest Destiny

The phrase “Manifest Destiny” was coined in 1845. Its advocates believed that the United States was destined, by God, to expand its control and spread democracy and capitalism throughout the entirety of North America. This philosophy is what drove U.S. territorial expansion in the 19th century, and the idea was used to justify the coercive removal of Native Americans from their homes.

U.S. territorial expansion in the 19th century

History.com Editors. “Manifest Destiny.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 5 Apr. 2010, www.history.com /topics/westward-expansion/manifest-destiny.

The United States and Britain resolved the question of the Canadian border in 1842 with a treaty. However, the question of the Oregon Territory, which stretched from the Pacific to the Rocky Mountains, was not resolved by this treaty. President Polk, who had won in 1844, was a strong supporter of Manifest Destiny and had one the election with a slogan about the Oregon territory. He believed the U.S. had rights to the territory. However, he needed the issue of the Oregon Territory resolved so he could tackle other issues, such as getting California from Mexico. As a result, he and his administration agreed to a compromise in 1846, and Oregon was split, which helped avoid a conflict with Britain.

In the first half of the 19th century, the U.S. population grew from roughly 5 million people in 1800 to over 23 million people by 1850. This happened as the result of a high birth rate and immigration. Due to the rapid population growth, millions of Americans turned westward in search of new land. President Jefferson initiated the United States’ westward expansion in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase, which nearly doubled the size of the United States, stretching from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. He also sponsored Lewis and Clark’s expedition, and sought to get Spanish Florida, although Florida would not be secured until 1819 under President Monroe. Despite securing Florida, Monroe was still criticized by some for ceding Texas to Spain because some Americans believed they had rights to Texas and many Americans were settling in Texas. Monroe invoked Manifest Destiny in 1823 when he warned European nations not to interfere with the United States’ westward expansion, saying any European attempt to colonize the “American continents” would be considered an act of war.

By 1845, the idea that the United States must necessarily expand all the way to the Pacific Ocean had become widely accepted by people of various classes, regions, and political parties. The phrase “Manifest Destiny” first appeared in an editorial in The Democratic Review in their July-August 1845 issue. The writer of the editorial criticized those who opposed annexing Texas in the piece, and urged the nation to stand unified in “the fulfillment of our manifest destiny.” The phrase is believed to be originated by John O’Sullivan, who was the editor of The Democratic Review at the time. The phrase was also used in 1945 in reference to the Oregon Territory, another area the United States was eager to take control of.

Driven by Manifest Destiny and the desire for territorial expansion, the U.S. had gotten into an all-out war with Mexico by time the Oregon issue was settled in 1846. The Mexican-American War ended in 1848 with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. This treaty made all or part of modern day California, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and Wyoming into U.S. territory. The war with Mexico was just one of the consequences of Manifest Destiny and the rapid expansion in the early 1800s. The United States’ aggressive territorial expansion also led to the displacement and horrific mistreatment of Native American, Hispanic and other occupants of the territories which the United States ultimately came to occupy or acquire. The territorial expansion also affected the debate about slavery because it raised the question of whether new states would allow slavery or not. This conflict would ultimately lead to the Civil War.

After Mexico won its independence from Spain, it passed a law in 1830 suspending U.S. immigration into Texas. However, there were more American settlers in Texas than Hispanic settlers, so after Texas won its own independence in 1836, its new leaders wanted to join the United States. Both President Jackson and President Van Buren refused, fearing that integrating Texas into the United States could cause war with Mexico or resistance from Americans who thought annexing Texas was linked to the desire to expand slavery into the Southwest. Nonetheless, President Tyler - who won in 1840 - wanted to annex Texas and an agreement reached in April of 1844 made Texas eligible for admission as a U.S. territory and potentially later as a state, too. Congress opposed this agreement, but President Polk - who won in 1844 - was pro-annexation and pushed the bill through during his presidency. Texas was admitted as a state in December of 1845.