Manifest Destiny

Manifest Destiny is a term used to describe the reason behind the US expansion into the West. What are the social, political and economical effects of this idea on the people living in the United States colonies and the West? Manifest Destiny is a term coined by John L. Sullivan in 1845 when talking about the annexation of Texas. He believed, along with other expansionists, that it’s inevitable that the US population would spread across North America because the land is given by Providence to the United States and that it’s natural that the land should be part of the country.

The idea of westward expansion and Manifest Destiny had positive and negative effects on the politics, society and the economics of the United States and the Native Americans living there at the time. Policies that were created and Presidents that were elected favored the people of the United States and the Native Americans had no choice but to suffer from the changing and expanding movement. There were many political effects of Manifest Destiny that shaped the whole movement westward.

It was a generally accepted practice to remove Native Americans. Expansionists were determined to get land either through war or negotiation. Although it was supposed to be voluntary for the Native Americans to leave, many Native Americans who were already living there refused and were therefore forced out of their homes and off their land. Andrew Jackson, in his second State of the Union Address in 1830, spoke about the “benevolent” policy in which the United States government will pay for the resettlement of the Native American people.

The policy was not really benevolent; tribes were annihilated and land titles were taken. Although Jackson wanted fair exchange, the Native Americans did not want to be removed from their land. Another political effect was that America waged war with Mexico in attempt to take control of Texas. The Mexican-American War was a defining point of the Polk Administration. President James Polk, who was very pro-expansion, felt it was necessary to send military personnel into Mexico due to the threat of invasion into Texas by the Mexican forces. Mexico had made this

threat solely because Texas was to be annexed into the United States. Polk sent a diplomacy envoy into Mexico and they rejected it and went further to invade US territory and people were killed. Polk said in his war message that he felt he had no choice in protecting US citizens and boundaries because both issues were intertwined. One issue could not be addressed without addressing the other issue. At the time, critics of Manifest Destiny and the war with Mexico felt that Polk instigated the Mexican War because he wanted the land from Mexico.

Under the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo which came at the end of the war, the Rio Grande was fixed as the Southern border of Texas. Also, for 15 million dollars, the US acquired land that is today the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and parts of Colorado and Wyoming1. Manifest Destiny and the laws and policies created to support the idea, had many negative social impacts on the Native Americans. Clearly, there was a need for their land as people moved westward but the Indians suffered.

President Jackson planned to take over most, if not all, Indian land whether the Indians liked it or not. According to Chief John Ridge in 1826, the Cherokee Nation was completely surrounded by Tennessee, Carolina, Alabama, Georgia and the Creek Nation. He was not happy about this because the white population brought slaves with them and this caused a mixture of African and Cherokee blood which he considered a misfortune and disgrace. He was also upset about the missionaries that were sent to try and convert the Cherokee to their beliefs.

The missionaries also persisted to force the Indians to lead domestic lives. The Indians did not want to change to their culture but they were forced to. The removal process was not very pleasant for the Indians; they were either forced off their land or killed. They faced terrible conditions as depicted in John Burnett’s story of the Trail of Tears. John Burnett witnessed the helpless Cherokees pulled from their homes and driven at bayonet point. They were herded into wagons and headed westward. Most of the Cherokee people did not have sufficient cover to protect against the harsh climate.

By the time the westward journey ended, four thousand Cherokees had died all because the whites wanted their land. The Cherokee sent an envoy to Jackson to which Jackson decreed that all of their land must be given to the white people. In addition to the social and political changes that impacted the Indians, there were changes aimed at the economy which also negatively affected the Indians. One act that negatively affected the Indians was the Pacific Railway Act of 1862. This act was created to help the construction of a railroad and telegraph lines from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean.

Permission was given to the company creating the railroad that they can take away any land touching that of which the railroad is to be built on within 200 feet in width. Although the railroad was a great impact of Manifest Destiny because it allowed for quicker transportation of goods and people to and from the west, it legally allowed for Indian land titles to be extinguished. However, there were many positive economic aspects for American citizens who were moving westward. The Homestead Act of 1862 was an incentive for people to move west.

The Homestead Act stated that any citizen who was 21 years or older and had been loyal to America was entitled to public land in the West at a very low cost. The goal of the Homestead Act was to encourage people to settle out westward in the newly acquired Louisiana Territory because of the idea that the United States would populate the land from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Without people moving and living in the land, the United States would not fulfill its destiny [Doc 6]. The land of California was another economic incentive that justified Manifest Destiny and the movement westward.

California held economic advantages such as abundant resources including mineral, agricultural, commercial and manufacturing and a good vantage point to trade with countries bordering the Pacific Ocean. In President Polk’s State of the Union Address in 1847, he justified the right of the United States to acquire California by saying that the Mexican government would not be able to properly control the land over the far distance in between. Furthermore, if the United States would give up control over it, a European power would attempt to claim it by either force or purchase. He also mentioned the

Monroe Doctrine which states that “no foreign power shall with our consent be permitted to plant or establish any new colony or dominion on any part of the North American continent must be maintained.”

In other words, it would go against our destiny to allow another country to settle land that is in our entitlement. Manifest Destiny was the idea that the United States was entitled to all of the North American land. Pro-expansionists used this idea to take over land either by purchase or by war. The idea of entitlement fueled westward expansion and there were laws created to achieve control over all of the land.

The dark side of Manifest Destiny was that the United States had no regard for the Indians who were living on the land before any other group of people in the world. The defenseless Indians had to deal with whatever the United States did to them. They were kicked out of their land, killed, and they suffered tremendous losses. Despite the negative side of Manifest Destiny, the United States would not be the great country that it is today without the positive and negative consequences that took this country from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.