Western Expansion, Manifest Destiny, and the Mexican-American War

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The effects and impacts of Manifest Destiny on the United States, including its political and foreign policy dimensions

Summary:

Manifest Destiny significantly shaped the United States by promoting westward expansion, which led to territorial growth and the displacement of Native American populations. Politically, it reinforced the belief in American exceptionalism and justified expansionist policies. In terms of foreign policy, it influenced actions such as the annexation of Texas and the acquisition of territories through the Mexican-American War, solidifying the U.S. presence on the continent.

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What were the effects of Manifest Destiny?

Manifest Destiny, the mid-nineteenth century expansionist movement, was instrumental in shaping the United States and in enabling it to reach its geographical potential and diversity. Had Manifest Destiny not occurred, the US would probably not extend further West than the Mississippi River. And the US would probably not have become the great world power it is today.

Although the term Manifest Destiny was not coined until 1845, the idea existed in the minds of Americans and their leaders long before. The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 greatly increased the country's size. American settlers helped Texas win its independence from Mexico in 1836.

Mexico, in fact, became a victim of American aggression fueled by Manifest Destiny. Mexico lost Texas in 1836, and it lost nearly half of its territory after being defeated in the Mexican-American War (1846–1848).

Another effect of Manifest Destiny was that it exacerbated tensions between the North and the South during the years preceding the Civil War (1861–1865). Both the North and the South hoped to create new states that would buttress their position in the Senate. The tension helped create the Republican party and facilitate Abraham Lincoln's rise to the presidency.

Groups that were victimized by Manifest Destiny included native Americans and Hispanics. The rights of indigenous and Spanish-speaking peoples were almost entirely ignored as white settlers pushed West.

Finally, Manifest Destiny was a safety valve for discontented white Americans who decided to seek their fortunes in the West.

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What were the effects of Manifest Destiny?

The main effect of Manifest Destiny was American expansion. The bulk of this expansion came through the annexation of Texas and the acquisition of lands from the Mexican War. In fact, the phrase "Manifest Destiny" was coined to describe the belief that the United States should take lands from Mexico, which was seen as incapable of administering them. This attitude led to war with Mexico, a conflict which was vigorously supported by expansionists. So a major effect of this ideology was the expropriation of lands from Mexico. Though an antebellum concept, Manifest Destiny also entailed the taking of lands from Native Americans that occurred before, during, and after the war. Finally, another indirect effect of Manifest Destiny was that it worsened the sectional crisis that brought about the Civil War. This is because Southerners demanded that slavery be allowed in Western territories, and many Northerners opposed it. The intense disagreement was only temporarily resolved by the Compromise of 1850. So Manifest Destiny and westward expansion in general contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War.

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What were the effects of Manifest Destiny?

Manifest Destiny forms the rationale behind American imperialism. The concept suggested that it was the responsibility of the European settlers to colonize and bring civilization to their new environment. The belief also fueled the Westward Expansion, which led to mass relocations of the Native Americans. These relocations were followed by annexation of Texas under James K. Polk, the President of the United States at the time.

The United States was also set for further expansion when it forced the extension of the boundary with Canada and later with Mexico. Some of the territories were acquired through conquest and others through purchase. The insatiable demands for more territorial expansion saw the US making moves on Cuba after helping rebels in their fight against Spain. Conflict with Spain (as in the Spanish-American War) saw the US acquisition of the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico.

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What were the effects of Manifest Destiny?

For the United States, the effects of Manifest Destiny were pretty positive.  The main impact was that the United States got much larger and much wealthier.  Manifest Destiny was the idea that God had destined the US to spread out across the continent of North America.  It was not specified how much land the US was to take, but people believed that God wanted the country to expand.  God had destined the US for this because it had the best religion, the best people (racially) and the best culture.  This led to things like the war with Mexico in the 1840s and all of the military actions that pushed Indians off their lands and on to reservations.  These actions greatly increased the size of the US and also made it richer by allowing it to take things like the gold of California and the silver of Nevada.

For others, Manifest Destiny had more negative effects.  For the Native Americans and for Mexico, it meant losing their land.  The Native Americans who were not killed outright in the wars were forced on to reservations where they lost their ability to live freely and to pursue their traditional way of life.  As a country, Mexico was humiliated and weakened by being defeated in a war and by having so much territory taken away.  Mexicans who lived in the areas taken by the US typically found themselves losing wealth and status as they came to be seen as foreigners in their new land.

In these ways, Manifest Destiny affected different groups in different ways.

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What was Manifest Destiny's influence?

The main impact of Manifest Destiny was that it helped encourage the United States to aggressively spread across the continent. 

Manifest Destiny was the idea that America was destined to spread itself over a wider and wider territory.  People who believed in Manifest Destiny believed that the US was the best country in the world.  They believed it was superior to all others in terms of its government, its religion, and its society.  In addition, it was greatly superior to Mexico and to the Indians in racial terms.  Because of this, they felt, the US deserved to spread across the continent.

Not surprisingly, this attitude helped to encourage Americans to take more territory in North America.  It helped to push them into the war with Mexico in the 1840s.  It helped to justify the taking of the Native Americans’ territories in the time of westward expansion.  This, of course, had tremendous impacts on the United States as it helped to make the country much bigger and more powerful.

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What impact did the idea of Manifest Destiny have on our nation?

I think that one element of how Manifest Destiny has impacted our nation is the development of American Exceptionalism as part of its narrative.  The idea that America was a chosen nation, selected to embody liberal principles better than most, if not all others, is enhanced by the idea that "providence" played a role in enabling the nation to spread from coast to coast.  Manifest Destiny is rooted in the belief that there is something distinctive and exceptional about what it means to be "American."  The belief that what America does is sanctioned by the powers of the divine has played a large role in who we are as  a nation and how we are perceived today.  In this light, I think Manifest Destiny is a reflection of such a belief.  Such an idea has transformed how Americans view themselves and how others view the nation.  Certainly, an argument can be made that a positive element from this is the power with which America helps to shape the world and its interests.  A discussion of world power cannot go very far without the inclusion of the United States, and this is due to the spirit and beliefs that ended up motivating the concept of Manifest Destiny.  The greatness and perceived exceptionalism that was a part of this idea helped to establish where this is seen today.  On another end of the spectrum, the relegation and silencing of voices as part of this process is something that has to be acknowledged, something that makes the reality of American exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny something worthy of reflection as to potential costs and dangers intrinsic to it.

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What were the political effects of Manifest Destiny in the U.S.?

Manifest Destiny is an expression that first appeared in an 1845 Democratic Review editorial to describe the drive toward obtaining land in order to expand the boundaries of United States territory. The term is generally thought to be originated by editor John O’Sullivan. Those who supported this concept believed that it was God’s destiny for Americans to spread their principles of authority, democracy and capitalism across the entire North American continent, which had commenced with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

It spurred the move toward gobbling up large parcels of land, including the annexation of Texas and the drive to add Oregon and California to the new nation. But as is typically the case when territorial expansion occurs quickly, there were political, social and cultural repercussions. These included the Mexican-American War and the displacement and ill-treatment of Native American, Hispanic, and other non-European people living in the regions that were now controlled by the United States. Adding new states to the Union also drove the increasing argument over slavery, raising the question of whether they would allow slavery or not, which eventually led to the Civil War.

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What were the political effects of Manifest Destiny in the U.S.?

Manifest Destiny, the idea that the United States had the divinely-ordained right to expand all the way to the west coast, had a number of political effects. For one thing, it led to the election of several Democratic presidents, notably James K. Polk, who actively promoted it. It led to the annexation of Texas, which led to the Mexican War, itself driven largely by the idea of manifest destiny. The war resulted in the acquisition of the enormous Mexican Cession, essentially the entire American Southwest, including California. This led to a major indirect political effect of manifest destiny--the political showdown between slave and free states over whether slavery would be allowed in the newly acquired territories. When California applied for admission to the Union, it sparked a major debate over these issues, one which was only momentarily quieted with the Compromise of 1850. Westward expansion was inextricably tied to the ideology of manifest destiny, and it was the persistence of westward expansion that stirred up the lingering issue of slavery. Manifest destiny, or various iterations of it, also contributed to the continued expropriation of Indian lands, which were taken by whites with the assistance of the federal government and the U.S. Army.

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How did Manifest Destiny impact American foreign policy?

Manifest Destiny played a huge role in American foreign policy. It led to treaty negotiations with Britain over the ownership of the Oregon Territory. Manifest Destiny also led the United States to invade Mexico and then seize much of the West after the successful Mexican War. Manifest Destiny also led to the United States attempting to buy Cuba from Spain before the Civil War; Spain turned down the offer. All of these actions took place before the Civil War as Americans moved West in search of mineral wealth and cheap farmland. They also considered it their God-given right to possess North America. Many Southern planters wanted to extend Manifest Destiny into the Caribbean in the form of plantation culture.

After the Civil War, Manifest Destiny continued to be a driving force in foreign policy. The United States bought Alaska from Russia in 1867; this was the first move that the United States made where the territory was not connected to other American territories of the time. Manifest Destiny then took on a more commercial leaning, as politicians and industrialists sought to gain islands in the Pacific that would help American steamships reach the rich markets of Asia. This led to the overthrow of the government of Hawaii by a handful of American sugar and pineapple producers.

Manifest Destiny took on a humanitarian outlook as well when the United States went to war with Spain in order to take Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. Though it was doubtful that Americans would ever push for these places to become states, American missionaries and politicians stated that it was the duty of the United States to spread their way of life among these "savages" so that one day, they could enjoy the blessings of democracy and free-market capitalism.

Most of American foreign policy prior to WWI was dictated by Manifest Destiny; before the Civil War, this Manifest Destiny looked like the acquisition of new land that would become states. After the Civil War, Americans primarily looked for new lands that would have commercial value; the only exceptions to this statement are Alaska and Hawaii, which eventually became states. In both eras, Americans felt that it was their God-given duty to spread their democracy, Christianity, and the market system as far as they could reach. This was the definition of Manifest Destiny.

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How did Manifest Destiny impact American foreign policy?

Manifest Destiny had an impact on our foreign policy. The United States had been gradually spreading its control over the land from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Many people believed it was our duty to do this. Others felt it was destined by G-d for us to spread our way of life across the land. Others felt our way of life was superior, and, therefore, we should spread it. Once we reached the Pacific Ocean, in what is now the mainland United States, people began to take the concept of Manifest Destiny to a new level.

The United States was looking to become a world power by 1900. People began to say it was our duty to spread our superior way of life across the world. We could help other “less fortunate” people by sharing our way of life and showing them how to govern themselves. Thus, we jumped on the opportunity to go to war with Spain when we received reports that the Spanish were mistreating the Cubans. When a United States warship exploded in Havana Harbor, we went to war with Spain. As a result of this war, we got control of colonies in the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. We were now an imperial power and could spread our way of life to other places.

We continued to spread our way of life by getting involved in Latin America. We helped Panama become a country when it revolted against Colombia. We wanted to build a canal in the region, and Colombia refused to agree to a deal with us. We intervened in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua to help maintain stability in the region. These actions allowed us to spread our influence beyond our borders, pushing the ideas of Manifest Destiny onto an international level.

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How did Manifest Destiny impact American foreign policy?

Manifest Destiny had a very profound impact on U.S. foreign policy both in terms of the westward expansion towards the Pacific and in terms of relationships with other countries.  The United States, of course, was initially comprised of the original 13 colonies-turned-states.  Its relentless expansion, most prominently with the Louisiana Purchase, the earliest manifestation of American expansionism, meant that the newly-established nation would inevitably run up against the interests of additional colonial powers, especially the British and Spanish, as well as against Mexico.  The westward movement of American settlers, supported through the growing military capabilities of the U.S. Army, entailed a continuous series of confrontations with Native tribes, for whom these European interlopers constituted a foreign invasion in and of itself. The most significant direct confrontations, in addition to the genocidal practices involving the Native populations, involved Mexico and Great Britian, the former to the southwest, the latter to the north. The Mexicans would eventually be forced to cede tremendous territories to the Americans, including the temporarily independent and sovereign Republic of Texas, and the British would take measures to ensure that U.S. expansionism was curtailed at the Canadian frontiers.

Overseas, Manifest Destiny was viewed as a symbol of growing U.S. might and influence.  The European character of most of the settlers staking claims across the North American continent meant an intense interest in these developments in European capitals.  The growth of the U.S. Navy would facilitate the expansion of trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific trade, as commercial shipments were less likely to be upset by foreign naval patrols.  Manifest Destiny represented the growth of a new global power, although that global influence would not be felt until the global conflagrations that would sweep Europe during the 20th Century.

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How did Manifest Destiny impact American foreign policy?

The mindset that came to be identified with Manifest Destiny made a huge impact upon the ways of the United States of the mid-1800's, although the beginnings of the attitude were present long before then.

The philosophy of Manifest Destiny suggested that the United States was destined by God to spread its supremely desirable form of government and approach to society to the rest of the world. By increasing the American influence in foreign countries, the United States was bringing blessings to those countries that would not have been otherwise achieved.

God has predestinated, mankind expects, great things from our race... The rest of the nations must soon be in our rear. We are the pioneers of the world;...national selfishness is unbounded philanthropy; for we can not do a good to America but we give alms to the world.

Manifest Destiny was a consideration as the United States added territory through negotiations with Mexico, England, and Russia. After the conclusion of the 1898 Spanish-American War, the United States influence spread to a world-wide involvement, which many justified on the basis of Manifest Destiny.

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