What is "Manifest Destiny" and what were its positive and negative impacts?

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Manifest Destiny means "obviously meant to be." This term stood for the idea that it was obvious—at least to white Americans—that the entire North American continent from sea to sea was meant to be colonized by white Americans of European decent and become part of the United States of America.

Rationales behind this were, first, American exceptionalism—the United States was posited as a new and radical experiment in liberty and democracy that God favored and that was meant to spread as a positive good. Second, existing native inhabitants were categorized as "savages" incapable of being in charge, and, in many cases, understood as not legitimately in ownership of the land they occupied because they did not settle and farm it in the European manner.

A positive of the Manifest Destiny concept, at least from the United States's point of view, is that it legitimized and incentivized western settlement and the consolidation of much of North America into one unified nation-state. This gave the US the large land mass and natural resources to become a major world power.

Negatives include the displacement and genocide of native peoples. Westward expansion also revealed American blind spots, such as that the ideals of liberty and democracy that characterized the American mythology were not extended to black slaves. In fact, battles over the slave or free status of the new states formed from westward expansion helped lead to the Civil War. Further, western expansion, such as the building of an intercontinental rail system, was done on the back of Chinese and other exploited groups.

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