Manifest Destiny

What is Manifest Destiny?

The first known use of the term “Manifest Destiny” was in 1845 by newspaper editor John O’Sullivan. The term described 19th century mindset of American expansionist policy in the continent. Manifest Destiny was not a political philosophy or a government’s policy but a conviction that expanding American values and freedom would benefit those influenced by it.

O’Sullivan believed that expansion should not be based on force. Emigration of citizens would help created democratic institutions and spread American democracy. Eventually those territories would seek admission to the union. Those disapproving the concept argued that they were promoting the right to conquest and that was against the American Constitution.

This historical belief of Manifest Destiny is based on the principle that the United States is destined by God to expand through the North American continent to spread it democratic values and special virtues of the American people and its institutions. Many settlers believed that it was God’s mandate to spread Christianity. Missionaries settled in the new territories west of the Mississippi converting Native Americans into Christianity and saving their souls. Economic interests, especially the fur trade and then gold mining, motivated migration to California and the North West.

The concept of westward expansion started in 1803 with the purchase of the Louisiana Territory and the Corps of Discovery Expedition led by Lewis and Clark which established a government presence in the North West. The War of 1812 was a reaffirmation of America’s independence from Britain which gave America the confidence to expand.

The concept of Manifest Destiny gained popularity during the Jackson Administration to promote the annexation of Texas and Western territories. The Annexation of Texas in 1845 added a new state to the Union. The following year the Mexican American war increased the US territory by more than one third. The increase of territory and new states asking for inclusion into the Union also meant the expansion of slavery. In the 1840’s clashes started to unfold between southern slaveholding states and northern free states. Southern slaveholders wanted to expand to new territories which would increase their power in Congress. Northern politicians wanted to limit slavery to current slave states without expanding it.

A previous attempt at keeping the balance between slave and free states was reached by the Missouri Compromise in 1820. Conflict was again building up with some southern states wanting to secede from the Union. All effort was invested in keeping the Union together. War was temporarily avoided by the passing of the Compromise of 1850.


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