Many Americans remained obsessed with the western part of North America. Beginning under Thomas Jefferson and continuing throughout the first half of the 19th century, the federal government sustained this interest in and obsession with the West by financing exploration and surveying expeditions.
The most famous of these expeditions was that of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, whom President Jefferson commissioned to explore the Louisiana Purchase.
Between 1804 and 1806, the Lewis and Clark expedition secured American claims to much of the American West by traveling up the Missouri River, across the Rocky Mountains to the mouth of the Columbia River on the Pacific coast, and back again.
EXAMPLEThe party established relationships with many Native American tribes in the region, which paved the way for American fur traders like John Jacob Astor to establish trading posts along the Missouri and Columbia rivers, solidifying American claims to Oregon.
EXAMPLELewis and Clark accurately mapped the region through which they traveled, and these maps provided a valuable reference to future explorers, surveyors, and settlers.
Lewis and Clark, as well as subsequent explorers of western expeditions, also encountered a variety of people in the West.
EXAMPLEBy 1820, Jedidiah Morse estimated that nearly half a million Native Americans lived in the United States, most of whom were situated west of the Mississippi River in the lands comprising the Louisiana Purchase.
EXAMPLEThe West also included a number of people of Spanish descent. By the 1820s, anywhere between a third and a half million of such individuals lived in present-day California, New México, and Texas. These territories were originally under Spain's control until 1821, when Mexico gained independence.
Despite its contradictions, many Americans continued to embrace Jefferson’s concept of the West as an “empire of liberty.” Economics and ideology continued to provide the major motivations behind western settlement. Land and property ownership remained among the most important goals for aspiring commercial farmers. These farmers could use the nation’s rivers, as well as new transportation technologies such as canals and railroads, to move their goods to market. In addition, much like Jefferson, a number of Americans were convinced in the superiority of their political and economic institutions compared to those of Native Americans or neighboring countries such as Mexico. By the 1840s, Americans were convinced that most — if not all — of North America was to come under the civilizing rule of the United States.
When coming to this conclusion, Americans looked to two places in particular: Texas and Oregon.
Beginning in 1819, Spain began actively encouraging Americans to settle their northern provinces, particularly Texas (Tejas). At the time, Texas was sparsely settled, and the few farmers and ranchers who lived there were under constant threat of attack by Indian tribes, especially the Comanche, who supplemented their hunting with raids in pursuit of horses and cattle.
To increase the non-Indian population in Texas and provide a buffer zone between its hostile tribes and the rest of Mexico, Spain began to recruit empresarios.
Moses Austin, a once-prosperous entrepreneur reduced to poverty by the Panic of 1819, requested permission to settle 300 English-speaking American residents in Texas. Spain agreed on the condition that the resettled people convert to Roman Catholicism. On his deathbed in 1821, Austin asked his son Stephen to carry out his plans. Mexico, which had won independence from Spain the same year, allowed Stephen to take control of his father’s grant and passed additional colonization laws to encourage migration to the region.
Thousands of Americans, primarily from slave states, flocked to Texas and quickly came to outnumber the Tejanos (Mexican residents of Texas).
Many of the Americans who migrated to Texas were convinced of the superiority of American institutions and, as a result, ignored many Mexican laws and customs.
EXAMPLEAmerican migrants ignored Mexico’s requirement that all settlers in Texas convert to Catholicism.
Slavery complicated the situation in Texas even further. Mexico had abolished slavery upon declaring independence, but Austin’s original land grant allowed Americans to bring slaves into the territory. Plentiful land, along with soil and a climate suited to cotton cultivation, encouraged the spread of slavery into Texas.
The growing presence of American settlers and slaves in Texas, along with their reluctance to abide by Mexican law, caused the Mexican government to grow wary and consolidate its control over the region. In 1835, when an army under General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna arrived to exert Mexican authority in the area, Americans and their Tejano allies revolted, initiating the Texas War for Independence.
After suffering some initial losses, most notably the killing of 187 American and Tejano defenders of the Alamo in San Antonio, a Texas army under Sam Houston defeated Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, and forced the general to sign a treaty that recognized Texas independence. By the time he returned to Mexico, however, Santa Anna was removed from power. In addition, the Mexican Congress refused to be bound by Santa Anna’s treaty with Texas and continued to insist that the territory still belonged to Mexico.
The new Republic of Texas promptly applied for admission to the United States. Yet, mindful of the debate over Missouri almost 20 years earlier, American politicians were reluctant to admit Texas to the Union (a process known as annexation) or, indeed, even to recognize it as a sovereign nation. Annexation would almost certainly mean war with Mexico, and the admission of a state with a large slave population would bring the issue of slavery once again to the fore in national politics. Thus, Congress shelved the issue of annexation and, for the time being at least, Texas became the fledgling Lone Star Republic.
The second western place that many Americans fixated upon by the 1840s was Oregon.
Beginning in 1818, Great Britain and the United States had agreed upon a joint occupation of the territory. Great Britain's influence in the area was manifested by the Hudson's Bay Company, which sent agents throughout the territory on behalf of the fur trade, as this type of trade remained a big business in the region.
However, American influence increased in the region during the late 1830s and early 1840s. More and more people migrated to the area by making a 2,000-mile journey along the Oregon Trail. Many of these individuals and families settled in the Willamette Valley (situated in the southern part of the territory) in search of Thomas Jefferson’s “empire of liberty,” namely the opportunity to own land and prosper by utilizing the region’s natural resources.
A variety of technological developments — specifically well-constructed wagons, the electric telegraph, and improved infrastructure in the eastern United States (canals and railroads) — facilitated this movement westward and allowed the American population in Oregon to surpass that of the Hudson’s Bay Company by the mid-1840s.
Permanent American settlement in the territory tipped the balance of power in Oregon in favor of the United States. The balance of power in the region, which had originally been in favor of Great Britain during the time of Lewis and Clark, had shifted in favor of the United States.
Americans agreed upon a term to explain the events occurring in Texas and Oregon, which appeared to display the superiority of American institutions and the inevitability of American expansion: Manifest Destiny.
A New York journalist named John L. O'Sullivan is credited for coining the term. During the summer of 1845, O'Sullivan addressed the issue of westward expansion and Texas annexation in the Democratic Review, which was among the most widely-read publications in the United States at the time. He asserted that the addition of Texas to the United States represented "the fulfillment of our Manifest Destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions." He went on to assume that other territories in western North America, most notably California, would soon follow suit.
Regardless of who invented the slogan, Manifest Destiny quickly entered the American vernacular by serving as a label for what Thomas Jefferson would have referred to earlier as the “empire of liberty.” Moreover, Manifest Destiny would serve to justify policies that would otherwise be seen as evidence of American imperialism during the late 19th and 20th centuries.
American historians have concluded that Manifest Destiny comprised of three key elements:
Thus, the ideas behind Manifest Destiny were simple: white Americans were destined — indeed, divinely ordained — to expand their political, economic, and cultural institutions throughout North America. For instance, examine the image below, Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way, which Emanuel Leutze completed in 1861:
John L. O’Sullivan may have coined the phrase “Manifest Destiny” and Emanuel Leutze may have presented the idea in dramatic fashion, but the concept had its roots in Jefferson’s “empire of liberty.” The central figure in the center of Leutze’s painting, with one arm stretched toward the west while the other holds a woman (who is, in turn, holding a child) suggests that the West was available for the benefit of all Americans. The men below him, holding axes in the forest, express faith that Americans were capable of conquering the western wilderness. What the image fails to portray, however, is that other individuals already occupied the West. Thus, not only would Americans use Manifest Destiny to justify their perceived right to acquire territory from other groups, they would also use the concept to absolve themselves of any questionable tactics they employed in order to acquire western territory.
This tutorial curated and/or authored by Matthew Pearce, Ph.D
Source: Map of Western United States based on expedition of Lewis and Clark, 1814, PD, http://bit.ly/2l2oF9k, Map of the United States, 1842-1845, PD, http://bit.ly/2lxRSGh, Emanuel Leutze, Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way (1861), PD, http://bit.ly/2lzNcAh, Derived from Openstax tutorial 11,http://bit.ly/2lzKI5c, 11.1 http://bit.ly/2lzHOxl, 11.3 http://bit.ly/2kuYgOe, 11.4 http://bit.ly/2kuXf8N. Some sections edited or removed for brevity. John O’Sullivan Quote retrieved from The American Yawp http://bit.ly/2nMdIKC