Manifest Destiny

How and why did America expand westward?

The quotes below signify the different opinions of those who favored westward expansion and those that did not:

It is America’s right to stretch from sea to shining sea. Not
only do we have a responsibility to our citizens to gain valuable
natural resources we also have a responsibility to civilize this
beautiful land.


America has no right to take the lands west of the Louisiana
Territory. Those lands are rightfully owned by Mexico and to enter
into conflict with the Mexicans just to expand and take that land
would violate the principles of this great nation.

As America hurtled towards self destruction we embarked on a
period of expansion fueled by the notion that we could take the land
west of our current boundaries merely because we wanted too. Just as
distorted as this myopic view of the world was the fact that we were
oblivious to the problems this expansion would create on an already
fractious society.

I. Manifest Destiny

A. How did America expand its borders in the 1800’s?

1. Louisiana – Purchased in 1803 by President Thomas
Jefferson for 15 million dollars.

2. Florida – Ceded (given) to the United States as a part of
the Adams – Onis Treaty in 1819. A US army led by Andrew
Jackson had been perched on the border of Florida. Realizing
they would be unable to keep the territory (nor did they want
it because of the harsh climate) the Spaniards gave it up.

3. Texas – American settlers had come to Texas and built
planations and farms. The settlers, led by Stephan Austin,
asked Mexico for admission into the Mexican nation as an
independent state. The Mexicans refused and war broke out
highlighted by Santa Anna’s attack on the Alamo. Texas declared
herself independent in 1836 and its first President was Sam
Houston. In 1845 Texas was annexed by the United States and
became the 28th state.

4. Oregon – Questions over the Oregon territories had long
existed. Russia, France, Britin and the United States all had
claims in the area. Russia and France gave upo their claims and
then England negotiated a treaty with the United States to draw
the boundry at 49 north latitude, where it remains today.

5. Mexican Cession – Tensions between America nad her
southern neigbor had been high for some time and had only
increased as a result of America’s annexation of Texas.
President Polk, with his eye on luring Texas into war, sent US
troops over the border across the Rio Grande river, a disputed
border. When Mexico attacked the US Polk responded by claiming
that the Mexicans had perpetrated an unprovoked attack.
Congress declared war and the US demolished the weaker Mexican
army. As a result of the treaty that ended the war the US
gained the Mexcian Cession and paid Mexico 15 million dollars
for their loss.

6. Gadsden Purchase – The US realizing the importance of
this territory for railroad building paid Mexico 10 million
dollars. Considering the price paid for Louisiana and the
Cession lands this was a large amount. We paid this much due to
a feeling of guilt over our participation in the Mexican
American War.

B. How did the US justify this territorial expansion?

1. Simply put, Manifest Destiny. The term Manifest
Desitny was first coined by Congressman Robert Winthrop and
then made popular by newspaper publisher John O’Sullivan in the
1840’s. It meant that it was Gods will that Americans expand
from sea to sea.

Americans claimed they were bringing God, technology and
civilization to the the west. Of course they also brought
death, disease and war but that was never publicized.

I found this song on the web which may give you one
perspective on Manifest Destiny:

Manifest Destiny
More blood on the hands of Christ
They called themselves Christians
And gave themselves the rights
Disguised as missionaries
They were really after gold
Many Indians died for that
How many’s never told

Photo of the bodies of Native Americans
being carted away in the name of Manifest

C. What problems were caused by westward expansion?

1. As you should know by now the main issue was the
extension of slavery into the territories. The South was for it
and the North against it. Various controversies surfaced but
the passage of the Missouri Compromise was thought to have
solved them. The nation was wrong.

Back To