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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.

Our national birth (and the Declaration of Independence) was the beginning of a new history, which separates us from the past and connects us only with the future….

We are the nation of progress, of individual freedom, of universal enfranchisement. Our future history will be to establish on earth the moral dignity and salvation of man -- the undeniable truth and goodness of God. America has been chosen for this mission among all the nations of the world, which are shut out from the life-giving light of truth. Her high example shall put an end to the tyranny of kings, and carry the happy news of peace and good will to millions who now endure an existence hardly better than that of beasts of the field. Who, then, can doubt that our country is destined to be the great nation of the future?

Vocabulary

Enfranchisement
the right to vote
Tyranny
cruel and oppressive government
Endure
suffer through

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 time now for all opposition to annexation of Texas to stop...

Texas is now ours. She is no longer to us a mere geographical space. She is no longer to us a mere country on the map....

The time has come for everyone to stop treating Texas as an alien, and to stop 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.

Vocabulary

Thwarting
opposing
Hampering
slowing down
Allotted
given
Providence
God

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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