Essay: Manifest Destiny and the territorial expansion (19th Century)

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  • Manifest Destiny and the territorial expansion (19th Century)
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Manifest Destiny and the territorial expansion westward was a result of rampant nationalism in the United States. The territorial disputes which resulted from this expansion allowed the sectionalization of political parties and the division between Northerners and Southerners to grow stronger. Conflicting beliefs about the consequences or benefits of moving westward are visible through policy decisions of the time which became increasingly partisan as the frontier expanded.

Nationalism drove the expansion westward, and in turn, allowed sectionalist sentiment to take strong roots in America during the 19th century. Jefferson’s acquisition of the Louisiana territory was an act born of idea that Americans had the divine right to claim the continent as their own – a nationalist sentiment that divided the nation. Document A demonstrates that the nation was split between Federalists. William Plumer’s words illustrate the “us versus them” nature of this territorial struggle for power. This nature continued into the 1830s and 40s with policy such as the Tariff of Abominations and the The Wilmot Proviso. These divisions in regards to federal policy have been evident since the birth of the nation. The war of 1812 is an another early example of how voters began to take specific stances in correlation to where they lived. Document B shows strong opposition to the war of 1812 by federalist controlled areas such as New England, who relied on England in a greater degree than the South and West, who wished to deal with the issue of the Native Americans and Europeans on the frontier. This division of votes is something that will be seen again and again in the early to mid 19th century.

With the rapid westward expansion, the geographical and political divisions became more evident. With the alerting growth in sectionalism, the once unified country was now in a metaphorical war in order to ensure their political superior of the other. The South and Democrat’s unyielding support this westward movement caused the North to grow in opposition.

Americans believed themselves to be inhabitants of an exceptional nation that was called to expand itself from Atlantic to pacific. A strong nationalistic sentiment had taken hold in the early to mid 19th century. Due to pride and thoughts of superiority, many Americans saw it as a given that the nation must expand. In the years following war of 1812, the threat of Indians and Europeans on the frontier had faded away creating a clear path for westward expansion. Indians were just another obstacle in the quest to fulfill Manifest Destiny. In document C Lewis Cass, a passionate advocate for Indian removal and Jackson’s Secretary of war, argues that Indian inferiority to Americans could be seen in their character itself. This attitude of nationalism and belief of American superiority would soon be seen in the Indian Removal Act. Document D shows the removal of Indians and seizure of their lands. Although a lot of the land acquired was useful for farming and settlement, such as the Cherokee land, other sections of the country where Indians were removed from like the Sac and Fox territory were less useful. This land was claimed due to the overall nationalistic spirit of the country. Americans not only thought of themselves as superior to Indians, they also believed they had the right to Indian land.

The idea of Manifest Destiny has had a continuous impact on American ideology and foreign affairs. During the rise of Communism, the United States took on the role of stopping Communism and spreading American ideals. Modern day, the United States is the police force of the world. The War on Terrorism has cost the United States nearly 2 trillion dollars! These expenses are justified because Congressmen and their constituents alike view the United States as the arbiter of peace and justice, and these ideals have their roots in Manifest Destiny

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