The Components Of Manifest Destiny

The notion of Manifest Destiny had many components, each serving people in different ways. Manifest Destiny reflected both the prides that characterized American Nationalism in the mid 19th century, and the idealistic vision of social perfection through God and the church. Both fueled much of the reform energy of the time. Individually, the components created separate reasons to conquer new land. Together they exemplified Americas ideological need to dominate from pole to pole.

The Religious Influence

To some, the Manifest Destiny Doctrine was based on the idea that America had a divine providence. It had a future that was destined by God to expand its borders, with no limit to area or country. All the traveling and expansion were part of the spirit of Manifest Destiny, a belief that it was God's will that Americans spread over the entire continent, and to control and populate the country as they see fit. Many expansionists conceived God as having the power to sustain and guide human destiny. "It was white man's burden to conquer and christianize the land" (Demkin, Chapter 8). For example, the idea that the Puritan notion of establishing a "city on a hill" was eventually secularized into Manifest Destiny--a sort of materialistic, religious, utopian destiny.

A Sense Of A Mission

While some were driven by what they considered God's will, others saw Manifest Destiny as the historical inevitability of American domination of North America from sea to sea. It was an altruistic way to extend American liberty to new realms. North West expansion started with the American fur trappers. In their search for new reserves of beaver, they blazed new trials and passages through the mountains. In doing so, they traversed new and fertile valleys of the Far West. Their exaggerated stories and accounts of their travels publicized the newly found region of the West and aroused interest in people contemplating agricultural possibilities. It also gave the land an air of romance and adventure.

By the 1840's, expansion was at it highest. The Santa Fe Trail went from Independence to the Old Spanish Trail, which went into Los Angeles. The Oxbow Route headed from Missouri to California. Others headed out on the Oregon Trail to the Pacific Northwest. In 1845, approximately 5,000 people traveled the Oregon Trail to Oregon's Willamette Valley. The Oregon Trail was the longest of the pioneer trail that went West. It traversed more than 2,000 miles' trough prairie, desert, and rugged mountain land from Independence, Missouri to the Northwest. In its short life, 300,000 settlers traveled this trail, marking their path by the landmarks first identified by Lewis and Clark. Thirty thousand graves mark the trial of these pioneers. In the wake of continual death and hardship the allure of Manifest Destiny continued to drive expansionist interests. Beginning with the first wagon in 1831, to the formation of the territorial government in 1848, Manifest Destiny was responsible for making America grow.

Manifest Destiny was the reason for the revived interest in territorial expansion. With a sense of mission, people were tempted by the boundless tracts and sparsely settled land lying just beyond the borders of their country. There was also the growing desire to develop trade with the Far East. Going West would eventually open new trade routes. Last but not least, there was a renewed fear that the security of the United States might be impaired by foreign intervention in areas along its borders. The easiest way to conquer those fears was to conquer land beyond its borders and expand American territories.

The Dark Side

For all the positive atmosphere and grand spirit Manifest Destiny created, it also created the dark side of American History, non darker than the plight of the American Indian. While the positive side of Manifest Destiny was a surge of enthusiasm and energy for pushing West, the negative side was the belief that the white man had the right to destroy anything and anyone -- namely Indians -- who got in the way. Tracing the path of Manifest Destiny across the West would highlight mass destruction of tribal organizations, confinement of Indians to reservations, and full blown genocide. The dark side of Manifest Destiny revealed the white man's belief that his settlement of the land and civilization of its native peoples was preordained.

The settlements that extended across the Western territories promised the American dream: the freedom and independence of a seemingly limitless land. This, coupled with the Agrarian spirit produced an attitude that nothing was gong to stand in the way of progress, the progress of Manifest Destiny. In the name of this doctrine, Americans took what ever land they wanted. With a belief that Manifest Destiny gave them a right and power to do so, many simply settled, planted and farmed Indian land.

The large-scale annihilation and movement of Native American onto Indian reservations reached its peak in the late 19th century. The U.S. government intended to destroy tribal governments and break up Indian reservations under, what was then considered, the progressive Manifest Destiny Doctrine. The arrogance that flowed from the Manifest Destiny philosophy was exemplified when Albert T. Beveridge rose before the U.S. Senate and announced:

"God has not been preparing the English-speaking and Tectonic peoples for a thousand years for nothing but vain and idle self-admiration. No! He has made us the master organizers of the world to establish system where chaos reigns... He has made us adepts in government that we may administer government among savages and senile peoples. Theodore Roosevelt, John Cabot Lodge, and John Hay, each in turn, endorsed with a strong sense of certainty the view that the Anglo-Saxon [Americans] was destined to rule the world. Such views expressed in the 19th century and in the early 20th century continues to ring true in the minds of many non-Indian property owners. The superiority of the "white race" is the foundation on which the Anti-Indian Movement organizers and right-wing helpers rest their efforts to dismember Indian tribes." (Ryser).