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American westward expansion is idealized in Emanuel Leutze’s famous painting Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way (1861). (Photo credit: Wikipedia) (please click on the picture to enlarge it)

Emanuel Leutze (24 May 1816 – 18 July 1868)


The Manifest Destiny

 (please click on the picture to enlarge it) 

John L. O’Sullivan as he appeared on the cover of Harper’s Weekly in November 1874. O’Sullivan was then attending a conference in Geneva that sought to create a process of international arbitration in order to prevent wars.

In the middle of the nineteen century a concept developed that supported the notion that the US had the right to expand and that expansion was “prearranged by Heaven.”[i]  The term “Manifest Destiny” was coined by John L. O’Sullivan (15 November 1813 – 24 March 1895), in the July–August 1845 issue of the Democratic Review.  In an article entitled Annexation, O’Sullivan advocated the annexation of Texas and, later, he would also advocate the annexation of the Oregon Country.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Americans used “Manifest Destiny” to justify expansion, at any cost, beyond Louisiana Territory.

And that 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 federated self-government entrusted to us.*

*(Manifest Destiny, Wikipedia)

States’ Rights

John O’Sullivan was also an advocate of States’ Rights.  It was his view that “the presidency had become too powerful and that states’ rights needed to be protected  against encroachment by the central government.” (Manifest Destiny, Wikipedia)

The Indian Removal Act (1830)

What stood in the way of “Manifest Destiny” was slavery.  John Quincy Adams (11 July 1767 – 23 February 1848), the sixth President of the United States (1825–1829), had adhered to the notion of “Manifest Destiny,” but he opposed expanding slavery.  Andrew Jackson (15 March 1767 – 8 June 1845), his successor, was a slave-owner who supported slavery and played a role in the Indian removal.  The Indian Removal Act (1830)[ii] was signed into law on 26 May 1830 and forced thousands of Indians living East of the Mississippi River to relocate West of the Mississippi River to Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory.

(please click on the picture to enlarge it)

The Indian Removal Act

The Divine Right of Kings

“Manifest Destiny” reminds me of the doctrine of the divine right of kings.  In the mind of Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (born 25 Sept.  1627, Dijon, Fr.—died 12 April 1704, Paris), arguably the most eloquent preacher in the history of France, kings were accountable to God only.

According to Wikipedia “[t]he belief in an American mission to promote and defend democracy throughout the world, as expounded by Abraham Lincoln and later by Woodrow Wilson and George W. Bush, continues to have an influence on American political ideology.”[iii]

The News

The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/
The Washington Posthttp://www.washingtonpost.com/
The Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/ 
Le Monde diplomatique: http://mondediplo.com/ EN
CNN News: http://www.cnn.com/
CBC News: http://www.cbc.ca/news/ 
Le Monde: http://www.lemonde.fr/
Le Monde diplomatique: http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/
Le Devoir: http://www.ledevoir.com/
Die Welt: http://www.welt.de/
[i] Frederick Merk, Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History: A Reinterpretation (New York: Knopf, 1963; reprinted Harvard University Press, 1995)
[ii]The Indian Removal Act and the Dawes Act http://www.mtholyoke.edu/~mille22c/classweb/american/dawesact.htm
[iii] National Humanities Center
© Micheline Walker
November 18th, 2012