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Manifest destiny

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A painting celebrating the idea of Manifest Destiny

Manifest Destiny was the concept that the United States had a God-given right to claim territory across North America. The phrase "Manifest Destiny" was created in 1845 by a newspaper writer named John L. O'Sullivan.[1] Quickly, the idea became very popular.


A New Map of Texas, Oregon, and California, Samuel Augustus Mitchell, 1846

The idea of Manifest Destiny told Americans that they had a mission a special job given only to Americans. This mission was to make the United States bigger so the "borders of freedom" could be open to even more people.[2] Only they could make sure that people living in un-free countries across the world could learn how to govern themselves and live freely in America.[2]

Use by President James Polk

In 1845, James K. Polk was elected President.[3] Polk believed very strongly in the idea of Manifest Destiny. During his Presidency, the United States grew by a million square miles.[3]

The Mexican-American War

Ever since he was running for President, Polk had talked about wanting the area that is now around Texas. At that time, Mexico controlled that land.[4]

In June 1845, the United States decided to add Texas to the United States.[4] President Polk sent the United States military to take over the area. The two sides fought for two years. Finally, Mexico surrendered.[4] On February 2, 1848, it signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the war.[5] It also gave the United States all of the land above the teritorty . This meant the United States had gained all of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico; parts of Utah, Nevada, and Colorado; and northern California.[5]

A belief in Manifest Destiny helped convince Americans to support the war.[6][7] It told them it was all right to fight, kill, and take land from Mexicans or other non-Americans. This was all right because they were only doing what God wanted. They were doing what they were destined to do.[6][7]

Settlement of the west

The belief in Manifest Destiny was also important in encouraging people to go to other parts of the west, like Oregon and southern California.[8]

Growth of the country

Of course, there were many other reasons, besides Manifest Destiny, that people wanted the United States to grow. More and more people were coming to America, especially to the cities, which were getting crowded. People wanted land of their own, instead of having to work for other people. The more land a person had, the more money they could make. If a person had their own land, they were working for themselves, and they were free.[2]

If was a mixture of all these things, and many more, along with Manifest Destiny that caused the United States to grow this quickly in just 40 years:


The United States was very determined to take control of all of North America. Unfortunately, the parts of North America they wanted were not empty. They were places that Native Americans had always lived.[9]

The United States government wanted these tribes to move outside the United States, to what is now Oklahoma. The government was able to convince some of these Native American tribes to sign treaties saying they would leave their lands.[9]

When some tribes refused to leave their lands, the United States government committed an ethnic cleansing against them. In an ethnic cleansing, ethnic or religious groups are forced to leave an area by a more powerful ethnic group.[10][11] When the Cherokee Nation refused to leave their homes, United States President Martin van Buren ordered the military to make them leave.[12]

About 15,000 Cherokee were forced to walk to Oklahoma and Arkansas.[13] Most historians think that about 4,000 of them died on the way.[9][14] This was one out of every four people in the Cherokee population.[15] Because so many people died, this forced migration is now called the Trail of Tears, and it is considered an ethnic cleansing.[16][17][18][19]


  1. O'Sullivan, John (1938). "John L. O'Sullivan on Manifest Destiny." In "The Great Nation of Futurity.' The United States Democratic Review 6 (23): 426-430. Reprinted by Mount Holyoke College.]
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Manifest Destiny". PBS. Retrieved April 12, 2016. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 "James K. Polk: Life in Brief". University of Virginia. Retrieved April 13, 2016. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Interactive Timeline". PBS. Retrieved April 12, 2016. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 "The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo". United States National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved April 12, 2016. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Kazin, Michael; Edwards, Rebecca; Rothman, Adam (2011). The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 338. ISBN 978-0691152073 . 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Nowlan, Robert A. (2016). The American Presidents from Polk to Hayes: What They Did, What They Said & What Was Said About Them. Outskirts Press. p. 45. ISBN 978-1478765721 . 
  8. Beck, Warren A. (1989). Historical Atlas of the American West. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 36. ISBN 978-0806124568 . 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 "Indian Treaties and the Removal Act of 1830". United States Department of State. Retrieved February 28, 2016. 
  10. Hayden, Robert M. (1996). Schindler's Fate: Genocide, Ethnic Cleansing, and Population Transfers. Slavic Review 55 (4): 727-48.
  11. Elements of Crimes. The Hague, Netherlands: PrintPartners Ipskamp. 2011. ISBN 92-9227-232-2 . 
  12. Logan, Charles Russell The Promised Land: The Cherokees, Arkansas, and Removal, 1794-1839 . Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Department of Arkansas Heritage, 41. Report.
  13. Carter III, Samuel (1976). Cherokee Sunset: A Nation Betrayed. A Narrative of Travail and Triumph, Persecution and Exile. New York: Doubleday. p. 232. ISBN 978-0385067355 . 
  14. Rozema, Vicki (1995). Footsteps of the Cherokee. Winston-Salem, North Carolina: John F. Blair. p. 52. ISBN 0-89587-133-5 . 
  15. "Trail of Tears National Historic Trail: Stories". United States Department of the Interior. 2016. Retrieved April 9, 2016. 
  16. Greenwood, Robert E. (2007). Outsourcing Culture: How American Culture has Changed From "We the People" Into a One World Government. Outskirts Press. pp. 97. ISBN 978-1598008319 . 
  17. Rajiv Molhotra (2009). "American Exceptionalism and the Myth of the American Frontiers". In Rajani Kannepalli Kanth (ed.). The Challenge of Eurocentrism: Global Perspectives, Policy, and Prospects. Palgrave MacMillan. pp. 180, 184, 189, 199. ISBN 978-0230612273 . 
  18. Finkelman, Paul; & Kennon, Donald R. (2008). Congress and the Emergence of Sectionalism. Ohio University Press. pp. 15, 141, 254. ISBN 978-0821417836 . 
  19. Kieran, Ben (2007). Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur. Yale University Press. pp. 328, 330. ISBN 978-0300144253 .