Manifest Destiny (Roark, 2002)

James L. Roark, et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 382-384.
The sense of uniqueness and mission was as old as the Puritans, but by the 1840s the conviction of superiority had been bolstered by the young nation’s amazing success. What right had Americans, they asked, to keep the blessings of liberty, democracy, and prosperity to themselves? The west needed the civilizing power of the hammer and plow, the ballot box and pulpit, that had transformed the East.

In the summer of 1845, New York journalist John L. O’Sullivan coined the term manifest density as the latest justification for white settlers to take the land they coveted. O’Sullivan was an armchair expansionist, but he took second place to no one in his passions for conquest of the West. O’Sullivan called on Americans to resist any foreign power – British, French, or Mexican – that attempted to thwart “the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions…[and] for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federative self-government entrusted to us.” Almost overnight, the magic phrase manifest destiny swept the nation and proved an ideological shied for conquering the West.

As important as national pride and racial arrogance were to manifest density, economic gain made up its core. Land hunger drew hundreds of thousands of average Americans westward. Some politicians, moreover, had become convinced that national prosperity depended on capturing the rich trade of the Far East. To trade with Asia, the United States needed the Pacific ports that stretched from San Francisco to Puget Sound.
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