Did Manifest Destiny Violate American Ideals?
In the 1800s, many Americans believed the United States was destined to reach from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. This national mission also implied that Americans were superior to their neighbors who also controlled territory in North America. Did this belief in American superiority
contradict the spirit of equality important to so many Americans?
Public servant Albert Gallatin opposes Manifest Destiny:
At the age of 86, after a distinguished career in public service, Albert Gallatin became president of the New York Historical Society. The war against Mexico revived his interest in politics, and he wrote:
“It is said that the people of the United States have a hereditary superiority of race over the Mexicans, which gives them the right to subjugate and keep in bondage the inferior nation. . . .
Is it compatible with the principle of democracy, which rejects every hereditary claim of individuals, to admit a hereditary superiority of races? . . . Can you for a moment suppose that a very doubtful descent from men who lived 1,000 years ago has transmitted to you a superiority over your fellow men?
. . . At this time the claim is but a pretext for covering and justifying unjust usurpation and unbounded ambition. . . . Among ourselves the most ignorant, the most inferior, either in physical or mental faculties, is recognized as having equal rights, and he has an equal vote with anyone, however superior to him in all those respects. This is founded on the immutable principle that no one man is born with the right to
governing another man.”
—quoted in The Mission of the United States
Editor John L. O’Sullivan supports Manifest Destiny:
John L. O’Sullivan first used the phrase “manifest destiny” in a July 1845 edition of the United States Magazine and Democratic Review. In the following article excerpt, he promotes the spread of democracy:
“Texas is now ours. Already, before these words are written, her convention has undoubtedly ratified the acceptance, by her congress, of our proffered invitation into the Union. . . .
Her star and stripe may already be said to have taken their place in the glorious blazon of our common nationality. . . . . . . The next session of Congress will see the representatives of the new young state in their places in both our halls of national legislation, side by side with those of the old Thirteen.
Why . . . [have] other nations . . . undertaken to intrude themselves into [the question of Texas]? Between us and the proper parties to the case, in a spirit of hostile interference against us, for the avowed object of thwarting our policy and hampering our power, limiting our greatness and checking the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.”
—quoted in Annexation
1. What does Albert Gallatin think is the real motivation underlying the idea of Manifest Destiny?
2. Can you find other instances in American history when Americans believed their nation had a special destiny?