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Even while the United States were crowded along the Atlantic coast, Americans developed the idea that the nation was destined to stretch across the continent. This idea was called ‘Manifest Destiny.’ Examine the images below, read the two texts by Joseph O’Sullivan, and try to determine why many Americans supported Westward expansion.

Map of the United States with the contiguous British & Spanish Possessions by John Melish (1816)

Source: A map of the United States made by John Melish in 1816. According to the David Rumsey Collection, this is “the first large scale detailed map made in the U.S. that showed the entire country from the Atlantic to the Pacific.” (Figure below).

A map of the United States made by John Melish in 1816

Map of the United States – Ormando Gray (1872)

Source: Map of the United States made by Ormando Willis Gray, published in Philadelphia in 1872. (Figure below).

Map of the United States made by Ormando Willis Gray

Section Questions:

  1. Sourcing: When was Melish’s map made?
  2. Contextualization: What territory was part of the United States at that point?
  3. Close Reading: Compare Melish’s map to Gray’s 1872 map. What land did Melish include, even though it was not part of the United States?
  4. Why would Melish draw a map that included land that was not yet a part of the United States in 1816?

American Progress – John Gast

Source: John Gast painted American Progress 1872 to represent the spirit of Manifest Destiny. This image is of a chromolithograph made around 1873 by George A. Croffut, based on Gast’s painting.(Figure below).

This image is of a chromolithograph made around 1873 by George A. Croffut

Questions:

  1. What do you think the woman in this painting represents? How is this symbolized in the painting?

The Great Nation of Futurity – John O’Sullivan

Source: An article by John O’Sullivan called “The Great Nation of Futurity,” from The United States Democratic Review in 1839. John O’Sullivan was a writer and editor of a well-known newspaper around the time of the Mexican-American war. Most people give him the credit for coining the term “Manifest Destiny.” As you read the quotes below, try to figure out what he thinks of America.

The American people having derived their origin from many other nations, and the Declaration of National Independence being entirely based on the great principle of human equality, these facts demonstrate at once our disconnected position as regards any other nation; that we have, in reality, but little connection with the past history of any of them, and still less with all antiquity, its glories, or its crimes. On the contrary, our national birth was the beginning of a new history, the formation and progress of an untried political system, which separates us from the past and connects us with the future only; and so far as regards the entire development of the natural rights of man, in moral, political, and national life, we may confidently assume that our country is destined to be the great nation of futurity....

Yes, we are the nation of progress, of individual freedom, of universal enfranchisement. Equality of rights is the cynosure of our union of States, the grand exemplar of the correlative equality of individuals; and while truth sheds its effulgence, we cannot retrograde, without dissolving the one and subverting the other. We must onward to the fulfilment of our mission -- to the entire development of the principle of our organization -- freedom of conscience, freedom of person, freedom of trade and business pursuits, universality of freedom and equality. This is our high destiny, and in nature's eternal, inevitable decree of cause and effect we must accomplish it. All this will be our future history, to establish on earth the moral dignity and salvation of man -- the immutable truth and beneficence of God. For this blessed mission to the nations of the world, which are shut out from the life-giving light of truth, has America been chosen; and her high example shall smite unto death the tyranny of kings, hierarchs, and oligarchs, and carry the glad tidings of peace and good will where myriads now endure an existence scarcely more enviable than that of beasts of the field. Who, then, can doubt that our country is destined to be the great nation of futurity?

Questions:

  1. What does John O’Sullivan think America stands for?
  2. What, according to John O’Sullivan, is America’s mission?

Annexation – John O’Sullivan

Source: An article by John O’Sullivan, “Annexation,” from the United States Magazine and Democratic Review, 1845.

It is now time for the opposition to the Annexation of Texas to cease, all further agitation of the waters of bitterness and strife, at least in connexion with this question, --even though it may perhaps be required of us as a necessary condition of the freedom of our institutions, that we must live on for ever in a state of unpausing struggle and excitement upon some subject of party division or other. But, in regard to Texas, enough has now been given to party. It is time for the common duty of Patriotism to the Country to succeed;--or if this claim will not be recognized, it is at least time for common sense to acquiesce with decent grace in the inevitable and the irrevocable.

Texas is now ours. Already, before these words are written, her Convention has undoubtedly ratified the acceptance, by her Congress, of our proffered invitation into the Union; and made the requisite changes in her already republican form of constitution to adapt it to its future federal relations. Her star and her stripe may already be said to have taken their place in the glorious blazon of our common nationality; and the sweep of our eagle's wing already includes within its circuit the wide extent of her fair and fertile land. She is no longer to us a mere geographical space--a certain combination of coast, plain, mountain, valley, forest and stream. She is no longer to us a mere country on the map....

Why, were other reasoning wanting, in favor of now elevating this question of the reception of Texas into the Union, out of the lower region of our past party dissensions, up to its proper level of a high and broad nationality, it surely is to be found, found abundantly, in the manner in which other nations have undertaken to intrude themselves into it, between us and the proper parties to the case, in a spirit of hostile interference against us, for the avowed object of thwarting our policy and hampering our power, limiting our greatness and checking the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions....

Questions:

  1. Close Reading: What do you think John O’Sullivan means by the following phrase: “our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions”?

Section Question:

  1. Based on all of these documents, how did Americans feel about expanding westward?

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