Digital History

Westward Expansion

Manifest Destiny Previous Next
Digital History ID 3259



In 1845 John L. O'Sullivan, editor of the Democratic Review, referred in his magazine to America's "Manifest Destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions." One of the most influential slogans ever coined, "manifest destiny" expressed the romantic emotion that led Americans to risk their lives to settle the Far West.

The idea that America had a special destiny to stretch across the continent motivated many people to migrate West. The very idea of manifest destiny encouraged men and women to dream big dreams. "We Americans," wrote Herman Melville, one of this country's greatest novelists, "are the peculiar, chosen people--the Israel of our time."

Manifest destiny inspired a 29-year old named Stephen F. Austin to talk grandly of colonizing the Mexican province of Texas with "North American population, enterprise and intelligence." It led expansionists, united behind the slogan "54° 40' or fight!," to demand that the United States should own the entire Pacific Northwest all the way to the southern border of Alaska.

Aggressive nationalists invoked the idea to justify Indian removal, war with Mexico, and American expansion into Cuba and Central America. More positively, the idea of manifest destiny inspired missionaries, farmers, and pioneers, who dreamed only of transforming plains and fertile valleys into farms and small towns.

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