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Manifest Destiny and Its Legacy
Away, away with all these cobweb tissues of the rights of
discovery, exploration, settlement…[The American claim] is
by right of our manifest destiny to spread and to possess the
whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the
development of the great experiment of liberty…
John L. O’Sullivan, Democratic Review, 1845
Main Ideas
• Manifest Destiny led to American expansionism
(economic and territory)
• The Mexican-American War increased the size of
the United States
• Southern Manifest Destiny ambitions-the increase
of sectionalism
• The slavery-expansion conflict
• Economic expansion was interrupted by the Panic
of 1857
• The Legacy of Manifest Destiny
Manifest Destiny
John L. O'Sullivan, sketched in
1874, was an influential columnist
as a young man, but is now
generally remembered only for his
use of the phrase "Manifest Destiny"
to advocate the annexation of Texas
and Oregon.
• The theme of America’s manifest
destiny was used by a host of
supporters of territorial expansion
after the term was penned by
• The phrase manifest destiny
expressed the popular belief that
the United States had a divine
mission to extend its power and
civilization across North America
Forces that Drove Manifest
John Quincy Adams, painted
above in 1816 by Charles
Robert Leslie, was an early
proponent of continentalism.
Late in life he came to regret
his role in helping U.S. slavery
to expand, and became a
leading opponent of the
annexation of Texas
1850s (MD): expansionists wanted westward
to Pacific and southward into Mexico,
Cuba, and Central America
1890s (MD): expansionists wanted islands in
the Pacific and the Caribbean
Forces that drove manifest destiny:
(1) nationalism
(2) population increase
(3) rapid economic development
(4) technological advances
(5) reform ideals
Conflicts Over Texas, Maine, and
• U.S. interest in pushing its
borders southward into Texas
(Mexican province) and
westward into Oregon
Territory (claimed by
Britain) was largely the
result of American pioneers
migrating into these lands
during the 1820s-1830s.
American westward expansion is idealized in Emanuel
Leutze's famous painting Westward the Course of Empire
Takes Its Way (1861). The title of the painting, from a 1726
poem by Bishop Berkeley, was a phrase often quoted in the
era of Manifest Destiny, expressing a widely held belief that
civilization had steadily moved westward throughout history.
Stephen F. Austin was
an important figure in
early Texas.
• In 1823, after winning its
independence from Spain, Mexico
hoped to attract settlers to farm its
northern frontier (Texas)
-American banker Moses Austin
secured a land grant
-Moses Austin died and his son
Stephen Austin brought 300
American families to Texas
-By 1830, Americans outnumbered
the Mexicans by three to one
Texas Revolt
• A change in Mexico’s government in
1834 promoted General Antonio Lopez
de Santa Anna to dictator
• When Santa Anna insisted on enforcing
Mexico’s laws in Texas, a group of
Americans led by Sam Houston revolted
and declared independence (March 1836)
Sam Houston
• Important battles for independence:
(1) Goliad (first battle; Mexican victory)
(2) Alamo in San Antonio (Mexican victory)
(3) San Jacinto River (Texan victory; Houston
captures Santa Anna)
(4) Santa Anna signed treaty recognizing Texas’
Texas Annexation Denied
Republic of Texas
• President Sam Houston applied to
the U.S. government for annexation
and hoped to be added as a state
• Both presidents Jackson and Van
Buren put off requests for annexation
because of political opposition
among northerners to the expansion
of slavery (war with Mexico was
also a real concern)
• President John Tyler worked to get
Texas annexed in 1844, however the
Senate rejected his treaty of
Boundary Dispute in Maine
Treaty Ratification
• In the early 1840s, a dispute over
lumber rights (territory) erupted into
open fighting
• Known as the Aroostook War, the
conflict was soon resolved in a treaty
negotiated by U.S. Secretary of State
Daniel Webster and British
ambassador Lord Alexander Ashburton
• In the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of
1842, the disputed territory was split
between Maine and British Canada (set
the boundary of Minnesota territory
Boundary Dispute in Oregon
• At one time, the Oregon territory was disputed by four different
nations: Spain, Russia, Great Britain, and the United States
Britain based claims:
(1) Hudson Fur Company historic connection
(2) small British community
U.S. based claims:
(1) discovery of the Columbian River (Cap. Robert Gray 1792)
(2) overland expedition (Lewis and Clack expedition)
(3) fur trading post and fort in Astoria, Oregon (John Jacob Astor)
(4) American Farmers/Protestant missionaries settlers
Election of 1844
Polk was the last
strong pre–Civil War
president, and he is
the earliest of whom
there are surviving
photographs taken
during a term in
• Leading the northern wing of the Democratic party,
former president Martin Van Buren opposed
immediate annexation
• Challenging him for the Democratic nomination was
the proslavery, proannexation southerner John C.
• The Democratic convention was deadlocked, and after
hour of wrangling, the Democrats finally nominated a
“dark horse” (lesser known)
• James K. Polk of Tennessee, protégé of Andrew
Jackson, favored annexation of Texas, “reoccupation”
of Oregon, and the acquisition of California
• The Democratic slogan “Fifty-four or Fight!” appealed
strongly to American westerners and southerners
Election of 1844 continued…
In the election, Polk won in the South and
West, while Clay drew support in the
Northeast. Polk lost both his home state,
North Carolina, and his state of residence,
Tennessee, the most recent successful
presidential candidate to do so. but won
New York, where Clay lost votes to the
antislavery Liberty Party candidate James
G. Birney. Also contributing to Polk's victory
was the support of new immigrant voters,
who opposed the Whigs' policies.
• Henry Clay of Kentucky, the
Whig nominee, attempted to
straddle the controversial issue of
Texas annexation (he was against
it and then for it)
• This strategy alienated New York
State voters who abandoned the
Whig party to support the
antislavery Liberty Party
• The loss of New York State
proved decisive and Polk won the
Annexing Texas and Dividing
The Oregon Territory,
established by the Oregon
• Outgoing president John Tyler took
the election as a signal to push
through annexation in Congress
• Congress voted in favor of
annexation in 1845 with the
possibility of war with Mexico
• Polk compromised on the issue of
Oregon (boundary decided at the
49th parallel)
The Slavery-Expansion Conflict
• Attitude of the parties:
* Both parties tried to keep the slavery question out of
national politics.
* They argued that slavery was a local issue.
• Slavery and the territories:
* Federal policy in the administration of the territories
would either promote or discourage the expansion of slavery.
* This becomes the crucial issue! The controversy was not
whether the nation should expand, but what should be the
status of slavery in the newly acquired lands.
War With Mexico
• The U.S. annexation of Texas led quickly to
diplomatic trouble with Mexico
• President Polk dispatched John Slidell as his
special envoy to the government of Mexico
• Polk wanted Slidell to:
(1) persuade Mexico to sell California and New
Mexico territories to U.S.
(2) settle a dispute concerning the MexicoTexas border
John Slidell, from
photo portrait by
Mathew Brady
Mexico refused to sell and demanded the
border remain at the Nueces River (U.S.
claimed the Rio Grande)
Immediate Causes of the War
Polk's presidential
proclamation of war
against Mexico.
• While Slidell waited for Mexico City’s
response to the U.S. offer, Polk ordered
General Zachary Taylor to move his army
toward the Rio Grande
• On April 24, 1846, a Mexican army
crossed the Rio Grande and captured an
American army patrol, killing 11
• Polk used the incident to send his already
prepared war message to Congress
• Northern Whigs protested in vain; a large
majority in both houses approved the war
The Mexican-American War
Map of Mexico in 1845, with the
Republic of Texas, the Republic of
Yucatan and the disputed territory
between Mexico and Texas in red.
Mexico claimed to own all of Texas.
• The Mexican–American War
was an armed conflict between
the United States and Mexico
from 1846 to 1848 in the wake of
the 1845 U.S. annexation of
• Most of the war was fought in
Mexican territory by relatively
small armies of Americans
• American generals Zachary
Taylor and Winfield Scott scored
significant victories. Scott’s
command took Mexico City in
September of 1847
Images of the War
Battle of Veracruz
Battle of Monterrey
“What stupid people they are! They can do
nothing and their continued defeats should
convince them of it. They have lost six
great battles; we have captured six hundred
and eight cannon, nearly one hundred
thousand stands of arms, made twenty
thousand prisoners, have the greatest
portion of their country and are fast
advancing on their Capital which must be
ours,—yet they refuse to retreat!”
-Captain Kirby Smith
Battle of Chapultepec
American Occupation of Mexico City
The Mexican-American War
continued… • The most important consequences of
The Mexican Cession (in red) was
acquired through the Treaty of
Guadalupe Hidalgo. The Gadsden
Purchase (in orange) was acquired
through purchase after Polk left office.
the war for the United States were the
Mexican terms of surrender under the
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
(negotiated by American diplomat
Nicholas Trist)
(1) Mexico would recognize the Rio
Grande as the southern border of
(2) The United States would take
possession of the former Mexican
provinces of California and New
Mexico- the Mexican Cession
(3) For the territories, the U.S. would
pay 15 million
Sectionalism During the War
with Mexico
• The war was popular in the South and with many Northerners, but the
opponents of slavery were opposed. The “proslavery conspiracy” argument
was revived, and their was some talk of nullification and dissolution of the
• Most Whigs ultimately supported the war, but before the conflict was over
it had become clear that the Northern wing of the party, with some support
from Northern Democrats, was resolved to block the extension of slavery
into the newly acquired territory.
• The Wilmot Proviso: David Wilmot (D-PA) moved to add to an
appropriations bill a proviso to the effect than in all territory acquired from
Mexico by the war, slavery and involuntary servitude should be forever
prohibited. It failed to pass in the Senate (each section had 30 senators).
• Prelude to Civil War?
Manifest Destiny to the South
An 1856 cartoon depicts a giant free soiler being held down
by James Buchanan and Lewis Cass standing on the
Democratic platform marked "Kansas," "Cuba" and "Central
America." President Pierce also holds down the giant's beard
as Stephen A. Douglas shoves a black man down his throat.
• Many southerners were
dissatisfied with
territorial gains from the
Mexican War.
• In the 1850s, they hoped
to acquire new territories
where plantations
worked by slaves were
thought to be
economically feasible
• The most tempting was
Ostend Manifesto
A political cartoon depicts
James Buchanan surrounded by
hoodlums using quotations
from the Ostend Manifesto to
justify robbing him. The
caption below reads "The
Ostend Doctrine".
• Polk offered 100 million to Spain to
purchase Cuba (Spain refused).
• Several southern adventurers led small
expeditions to Cuba (Spanish officials
executed them)
• Elected in 1852, President Pierce
dispatched 3 diplomats to Ostend,
Belgium to work out a deal with Spain
• The Ostend Manifesto was leaked to the
press (antislavery congressmen
• President Pierce was forced to drop the
Walker Expedition
William Walker was a US
lawyer, journalist and adventurer,
who organized several private
military expeditions into Latin
America, with the intention of
establishing English-speaking
colonies under his personal
control, an enterprise then known
as "filibustering."
• Southern adventurer William Walker
tried to establish a new empire in
central America with or without the
federal government’s help
(1) 1853, Walker unsuccessfully tried
to take Baja California from
(2) 1855, Walker took over Nicaragua
(U.S. temporarily recognized his
(3) Walker’s empire collapsed when a
coalition of Central American
nations invaded and defeated him
(Walker executed in 1860)
Clayton-Bulwer Treaty (1850)
This treaty was in response to tension
between future water routes through
Central America connecting the
Caribbean to the Pacific. Great Britain
feared that, due to the Monroe Doctrine,
the Americans would monopolize any
future water route constructed.
• Another American ambition
concerned the building of a canal
through Central America
-the U.S. and Britain each wanted the
rights to a canal in Central America
-to check each others ambitions, the
Clayton-Bulwer Treaty (1850) stated
that neither nation would seek control
of a canal in the future
-later in 1901, the Hay-Pauncefote
Treaty gave the U.S. a free hand to
build a canal
Gadsden Purchase
The Gadsden Purchase (shown in
yellow with present-day state
boundaries and cities)
• Although he failed to
acquire Cuba, president
Pierce succeeded in adding a
strip of land to the American
Southwest for a railroad
• In 1853, Mexico agreed to
the sale of this land to the
United States for 10 million
Settlement of the Western
• Fur Trader’s Frontier: The Mountain Men of
the Far West (Jedediah Smith, Kit Carson)
• Overland Trails: pioneers or settlers heading
west (Oregon, California, Santa Fe, and
Mormon trails)
• Mining Frontier: discovery of gold and silver
(49ers in California, Mining camps and towns
sprang up)
Settlement of the Western
Territories continued…
• Farming Frontier: pioneer families moved
westward (Congress’s Preemption Acts of the
1830s and 40s allowed squatters to attain the
land cheap)
• Urban Frontier: Western cities arose as a
result of the railroads (attracted by mineral
wealth and farming)
-examples include San Francisco, Denver, Salt
Lake City
The Expanding Economy
• The era of territorial expansion coincided with
a period of remarkable economic growth from
the 1840s to 1857.
(1)Industrial technology: after 1840, rapid
industrial growth occurred (Elias Howe’s
sewing machine and Samuel F. Morse’s
electric telegraph)
(2) Railroads: the railroads emerged as
America’s largest industry (cheap and rapid
transportation promoted western agriculture)
The Expanding Economy
(3) Foreign Commerce: the growth of manufactured goods and
agricultural products caused significant growth of exports and
Other factors:
(1) Shipping firms encouraged trade and travel abroad
(2) Demand for whale oil (light homes) caused a boom in New
England region
(3) Improvements in ship designs led to faster travel time
(American clipper ship)
(4) Steamboats took the place of clippers (greater storage
capacity and cheaper to operate)
(5) The federal government played a role in expanding trade
(Commodore Perry opens Japanese ports to American trade)
Panic of 1857
• The midcentury economic boom
ended in 1857 with a financial
• The panic led to prices falling
for Midwestern produced goods
and increased unemployment in
the north
• Southerners viewed this panic as
proof that their plantation
economy was superior and that
continued union with the
northern economy was not
Bank run on the Seamen's
Savings' Bank during the panic
of 1857
The Legacy of Manifest Destiny
• In recent years a number of historians have taken a critical view of manifest
destiny and U.S. actions in the war with Mexico. They suggest that there
were strong racist motives behind U.S. foreign policy in the 1840s and
quote extensively from minority voices of the period who had condemned
the Mexican War as a plot to expand slavery. These historians argue that
there may have been racist motives even behind the decision to withdraw
U.S. troops from Mexico instead of conquering and occupying that country.
They point out that Americans who opposed the idea of keeping Mexico had
resorted to racist arguments, asserting that it would be undesirable to
incorporate large non-Anglo populations into the republic.
• Do you believe that this period of territory acquisition
(manifest destiny) was motivated by racism or imperialism?
Or perhaps another reason?
• 1844 - James K. Polk elected eleventh president
- Oregon Dispute
• 1845 - Texas annexed
• 1846 - Oregon settlement
• 1846-48 - Mexican War
• 1848 - Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
- Gold discovered in California
- Zachary Taylor elected twelfth president
- Seneca Falls Convention
• 1850- Clayton-Bulwer Treaty
• 1853- Gadsden Purchase
• 1857- Panic of 1857
Key Names, Events, and Terms
Manifest destiny
Stephen Austin
Antonio Lopez de Santa
Sam Houston
John Tyler
Aroostook War
Webster-Ashburton Treaty
Oregon territory
“Fifty-four Forty or Fight!”
James K. Polk
Rio Grande; Nueces River
Mexican War (1846-1847)
Zachary Taylor
Winfield Scott
Treaty of Guadalupe
Hidalgo (1848)
• Mexican Cession
• Wilmot Proviso
Which of the following was NOT a major consequence
of the U.S. war with Mexico?
(a) U.S. annexation of Texas
(b) long-term Mexican resentment against the U.S.
(c) securing Texas’ southern border on the Rio Grande
(d) increased sectional tensions over slavery
(e) cession of California and New Mexico to the U.S.
A: U.S. annexation of Texas
Which of the following is LEAST useful in
arguing that territorial expansion was
motivated by a desire to spread slavery?
(a) William Walker’s campaign in Nicaragua
(b) the Ostend Manifesto
(c) the slogan “Fifty-four Forty or Fight”
(d)the annexation of Texas
(e) opposition to the Wilmot Proviso
C: the slogan “Fifty-four Forty or Fight”
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