Manifest Destiny

In an editorial the in United States Magazine and Democratic Review in July 1845, John O'Sullivan became the first person to use the term "manifest destiny" to encourage the spirit of expansionism. Over the following years the Manifest Destiny doctrine claimed that it should be the objective of the United States to absorb all of North America. This expansionism eventually ended in the acquisition of Texas, Oregon and California.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) John O'Sullivan, United States Magazine and Democratc Review (July, 1845)

California will, probably, next fall away from the loose adhesion which, in such a country as Mexico, holds a remote province in a slight equivocal kind of dependence on the metropolis. Imbecile and distracted, Mexico never can exert any real government authority over such a country. The impotence of the one and the distance of the other, must make the relation one of virtual independence; unless, by stunting the province of all natural growth, and forbidding that immigration which can alone develop its capabilities and fulfill the purposes of its creation, tyranny may retain a military dominion, which is no government in the legitimate sense of the term.

In the case of California this is now impossible. The Anglo-Saxon foot is already on its borders. Already the advance guard of the irresistible army of Anglo-Saxon emigration has begun to pour down upon it, armed with the plough and the rifle, and marking its trail with schools and colleges, courts and representative halls, mills and meetinghouses. A population will soon be in actual occupation of California, over which it will be idle for Mexico to dream of dominion. They will necessarily become independent. All this without agency of our government, without responsibility of our people - in the natural flow of events, the spontaneous working of principles, and the adaptation of the tendencies and wants of the human race to the elemental circumstances in the midst of which they find themselves placed.

And they will have a right to independence - to self-government - to the possession of the homes conquered from the wilderness by their own labors and dangers, sufferings and sacrifices - a better and a truer right than the artificial title of sovereignty in Mexico, a thousand miles distant, inheriting from Spain a title good only against those who have none better. Their right to independence will be the natural right of self-government belonging to any community strong enough to maintain it - distinct in position, origin and character, and free from any mutual obligations of membership of a common political body, binding it to others by the duty of loyalty and compact of public faith. This will be their title to independence; and by this title, there can be no doubt that the population now fast streaming down upon California

will both assert and maintain that independence.

Whether they will then attach themselves to our Union or not, is not to be predicted with any certainty. Unless the projected railroad across the continent to the Pacific be carried into effect, perhaps they may not; though even in that case, the day is not distant when the empires of the Atlantic and Pacific would again flow together into one, as soon as their inland border should approach each other. But that great work, colossal as appears the plan on its first suggestion, cannot remain long unbuilt.

Its necessity for this very purpose of binding and holding together in its iron clasp our fast-settling Pacific region with

that of the Mississippi Valley - the natural facility of the route - the ease with which any amount of labor for the construction can be drawn in from the overcrowded populations of Europe, to be paid in the lands made valuable by the progress of the work itself - and its immense utility to the commerce of the world with the whole eastern coast of Asia, alone almost sufficient for the support of such a road - these considerations give assurance that the day cannot be distant which shall witness the conveyance of the representatives from Oregon and California to Washington within less time than a few years ago was devoted to a similar journey by those from Ohio; while the magnetic telegraph will enable the editors of the San Francisco Union, the Astoria Evening Post, or the Nootka Morning News, to set up in type the first half of the President's inaugural before the echoes of the latter half shall have died away beneath the lofty porch of the Capitol, as spoken from his lips.

Away, then, with all idle French talk of balances of power on the American Continent. There is no growth in Spanish America! Whatever progress of population there may be in the British Canadas, is only for their own early severance of their present colonial relation to the little island 3,000 miles across the Atlantic; soon to be followed by annexation, and destined to swell the still accumulating momentum of our progress.

And whosoever may hold the balance, though they should cast into the opposite scale all the bayonets and cannon, not only of France and England, but of Europe entire, how would it kick the beam against the simple, solid weight of the 250, or 300 million - and American millions - destined to gather beneath the flutter of the stripes and stars, in the fast hastening year of the Lord 1945!

(2) William Gilpin, governor of Colorado, statement to Congress (1846)

In the undine and fluvial regions of the Iowa Mesopotamia; in the grand delta of the concentrated trunk of the Mississippi; in the wonderful Piedmont that slopes down from the eastern base of the Rocky mountains, and accompanies them through our whole territory; and, above all, in the sublime expanse of prairie plains around which these are gathered, as eaglets to the bosom of their dame, has the infinite taste of the Creator grouped in radiant glory the softest and most brilliant beauties of his creation. Nor in less choice and transcending sublimity has he piled towards heaven the titanic structures of basalt that tower over our western seaboard... To know and appreciate the wonderful grandeur and value of this new country, is glorious to the patriotic and sensible. To deny its excellence and traduce its value, is the characteristic of a narrow heart and a peddling politician.

The calm, wise man sets himself to study aright and understand clearly the deep designs of Providence - to scan the great volume of nature - to fathom, if possible, the will of the Creator, and receive with respect what may be revealed to him.

Two centuries have rolled over our race upon this continent. From nothing we have become 20,000,000. From nothing we are grown to be in agriculture, in commerce, in civilization, and in natural strength, the first among nations existing or in history. So much is our destiny so far; up to this point - transacted, accomplished, certain, and not to be disputed. From this threshold we read the future.

The untransacted destiny of the American field is to subdue the continent - to rush over the vast field to the Pacific Ocean - to animate the many hundred millions of its people, and to cheer them upward - to set the principle of self-government at work - to agitate these herculean masses - to establish a new order in human affairs - to set free the enslaved - to regenerate superannuated nations - to change darkness into light - to stir up the sleep of a hundred centuries - to teach old nations a new civilization - to confirm the destiny of the human race - to carry the career of mankind to its culminating point - to cause stagnant people to be reborn - to perfect science - to emblazon history with the conquest of peace - to shed a new and resplendent glory upon mankind - to unite the world in one social family - to dissolve the spell of tyranny and exalt charity - to absolve the curse that weights down humanity, and to shed blessings round the world. Divine task! immortal mission! Let us tread fast and joyfully the open trail before us. Let every American heart open wide for patriotism to glow undimmed, and confide with religious faith in the sublime and prodigious destiny of his well-loved country!

(3) Thomas Corwin, speech in Congress (February, 1847)

What is the territory, Mr. President, which you propose to wrest from Mexico? It is consecrated to the heart of the Mexican by many a well-fought battle with his old Castilian master. His Bunker Hills and Saratogas and Yorktowns are there! The Mexican can say, "There I bled for liberty; and shall I surrender that consecrated home of my affections to the Anglo-Saxon invaders? What do they want with it? They have Texas already. They have possessed themselves of the territory between the Nueces and the Rio Grande. What else do they want? To what shall I point my children as memorials of that independence which I bequeath to them when those battlefields shall have passed from my possession?" Sir, had one come and demanded Bunker Hill of the people of Massachusetts, had England's lion ever showed himself there, is there a man over thirteen and under ninety who would not have been ready to meet him; is there a river on this continent that would not have run red with blood; is there a field but would have been piled high with the unburied bones of slaughtered Americans before these consecrated battle fields of liberty should have been wrested from us? But this same American goes into a sister republic and says to poor, weak Mexico, "Give up your territory, you are unworthy to possess it; I have got one halt already and all I ask of you is to give up the other?" England might as well, in the circumstances I have described, have come and demanded of us, "Give up the Atlantic slope; give up this trifling territory from the Alleghany mountains to the sea; it is only from Maine to St. Mary's; only about one third of your Republic, and the least interesting portion of it." What would be the response? They would say, we must give this up to John Bull. Why? "He wants room." The Senator from Michigan says he must have this. Why, my worthy Christian brother, on what principle of justice? "I want room!"

Sir, look at this pretense of want of room. With twenty million people you have about one thousand million acres of land, inviting settlement by every conceivable argument, bringing them down to a quarter of a dollar an acre, and allowing every man to squat where he pleases. But the Senator from Michigan says we will be two hundred millions in a few years, and we want room. If I were a Mexican I would tell you, "Have you not room in your own country to bury your dead men? If you come into mine we will greet you with bloody hands and welcome you to hospitable graves."

(4) Daniel S. Dickinson, speech in Congress (February, 1847)

North America presents to the eye one great geographical system, every portion of which, under the present facilities for communication, may be made more accessible to every other than were the original States to each other at the time they formed the Confederacy; it is soon to become the commercial centre of the world. And the period is by no means remote, when man, regarding his own wants and impulses, and yielding to the influences of laws more potent than those which prescribe artificial boundaries, will ordain that it shall be united in political as well as natural bonds, and form but one political system, and that a free, confederated, self-governed republic, represented in a common hall in the great valley of the west - exhibiting to an admiring world the mighty results which have been achieved for freedom in the western hemisphere.

Then will a more perfect Union be formed, and justice be established upon enduring foundations - the domestic tranquillity ensured, the common defence be provided for, the general welfare promoted, and the blessings of liberty secured to posterity.

Our form of government is admirably adapted to extended empire. Founded in the virtue and intelligence of the people, and deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed, its influences are as powerful for good at the remotest limits as at the political centre.

We are unlike all communities which have gone before us, and illustrations drawn from comparing us with them, are unjust and erroneous.

The social order which characterizes our system is as unlike the military republics of other times, as is the religion of the Savior of men to the impositions of Mahomet. Our system wins by its justice, while theirs sought to terrify by its power. Our territorial boundary may span the continent, our population be quadrupled, and the number of our States be doubled, without inconvenience or danger. Every member of the Confederacy would still sustain itself, and contribute its influences for the general good; every pillar would stand erect, and impart strength and beauty to the edifice. In matters of national legislation, a numerous population, extended territory, and diversified interests, would tend to reform abuses which would otherwise remain unredressed, to preserve the rights of the States, and to bring back the course of legislation from the centralism to which is hastening.