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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Manifest Destiny

by Anna Kathryn Lanier

In 1845 a magazine reporter wrote “Our manifest destiny is to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” He was, in other words, giving a moral excuse to the greed and imperial ambition of the American people to expand westward. God had predestined the United States of America to stretch from sea to shining sea and it was, therefore, the duty of the American people to spread Christianity and democracy across the continent.

The idea of Manifest Destiny did not originate with this reporter. Since 1803, when President Thomas Jefferson instigated the Louisiana Purchase, Manifest Destiny was in the works. It continued on with the acquisition of Florida and parts of Alabama and Mississippi in 1819 from Spain. In 1845 Texas, its own republic since winning independence from Mexico ten years earlier was annexed into the United States. In 1846 the long disputed border with Canada in the Northwest was finally settled to be 49 degrees latitude. In 1848 the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ending the Mexican War, gave the U.S. New Mexico and California. And finally, in 1853, the Gadsden Purchase acquired Arizona from Mexico. This completed the contiguous states.

It was not Manifest Destiny alone, however, that spurred on the millions of the people to take the harsh, dangerous journey west. It was economic depressions in 1837 and 1841. It was word of the rich, fertile soil in Oregon. It was the gold discovered in 1848. It was greed.

As AMERICA: A Narrative History says, “Trappers and farmers, miners and merchants, hunters, ranchers, teachers, domestics, and prostitutes, among others, headed west seeking their fortunes.” THE UNITED STATES: A Brief Narrative History says, “The desire for land of their own, the search for economic opportunity, and the promise of starting over in a new region ranked high among the many and complex reasons that people decided to endure the hardships....”

The pioneers of the mid-1800's did overcome vast hardships to settle the land and fulfill Manifest Destiny. The trail alone offered up “difficulties in finding adequate food and water, hostile Indians, and the danger of being trapped by snow in the mountains.” (THE UNITED STATES) Once they reached their destination, they often had those difficulties as well as others to contend with, including death. However, the westward movement “constitutes a colorful drama of determined pioneers and cowboys overcoming all obstacles to secure their visions of freedom and opportunity amid the regions awesome vastness.” (AMERICA)

Yet, Manifest Destiny did not come without a long-lasting price to America. In addition to the hardship the pioneers suffered, “...the colonization of the Far West involved short-sighted greed and irresponsible behavior, a story of reckless exploitation that scarred the land, decimated its wildlife, and nearly exterminated the culture of Native Americans.” (AMERICA)

It is hoped that if given a chance to do it all over again, the American government and people would have done it differently. But it is doubtful it would have it would have happened any other way. The desire of the government and the desire of the people would not have changed. As one gold seeker proclaimed, “The whole emigration is wild and frantic with a desire to be pressing forward.” A desire to own land, find economic freedom, to find freedom itself in a new life. Millions of Americans and new emigrants were willing to endure the hardships and carve a place in history in the name of Manifest Destiny. And the government was glad they were.

Now, to put a writing lesson curve on this....how does your story emulate the idea of Manifest Destiny? How are your characters predestined to change their lives, their ideas, their souls? What are they willing to give up to find the brass ring across the dangerous frontier?

Leave a comment for a chance to win not one, but two prizes!  I'll  away pocket size Bath and Body Works Country Chic shower gel and lotion (drawing to be held Tuesday, June 21st after 6:00 p.m.).  AND the Seduced by History blog is giving away a free Hearts Through History Campus Workshop to one lucky June commenter.  So, double the reason to say hi!  Be sure and leave a comment.

**I'll be teaching PIONEERING WOMEN OF THE WEST at HHRW's Online Campus August 1-31, 2011. $10 for HHRW members, $20 for non-members.  Click HERE for more information. 

Anna Kathryn Lanier
Where Tumbleweeds Hang Their Hats

This article first appeared on Chatting with Anna Kathryn September 3, 2009.


Unknown said...

Anna--You do know your history. This is a great synopsis of Manifest Destiny. Yes, we look back and criticize...but really, some world events seem like a natural thing. There's no way a few disgruntled Europeans would come over to the New World and not be awed and excited by the possiblities. It's like slavery--no it's not right, but it happened and we have to deal with it within our history. Humans have an innate sense of "conquer" to survive.
Maybe if that man hadn't put it into words, we wouldn't be chastitising ourselves.
Every country in the world has been taken and re-taken. Conquer, move on. It's mankind at its basest. Maybe if women had ruled the world.....
Me? I'm glad we moved across the land--otherwise, I might be living in, oh, New Hampshire?
Good post! Celia

Susan M said...

Anna, I do love your mini history lessons. Always thought provoking as well as informative. You should have been a history teacher. Think of all the kids out there that would have come away with more than a list of dates they would forget as soon as the bell rang.

Anonymous said...

LOL. I couldn't help but think as I read this piece how much today's evolving publishing industry is similar to the Manifest Destiny.

Great blog, Anna. I so enjoy the history lesson. Fortunately, history is my favorite subject. ;-)


Caroline Clemmons said...

Anna Kathryn, my family needed land and a fresh start. You can't run from your problems, though, so they pretty much had the same problems in Texas as they'd faced in Georgia, except that the couple who treked west escaped a carping mother-in-law. That fact probably made the trip worth it. LOL

But Americans were not the first to come up with the manifest destiny idea. It seems to me each government felt they had the right to impose their will on others.

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

Loved the post. Read it to my husband while he made our morning coffee. Yes, greed drove so much of our country's expansion as with the expansion of past civilizations. Thanks for our history lesson of the morning.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, Celia, Susan, Jenn and Caroline. Thanks for stopping by. I agree, I don't think what happened would have changed much, given the times. I would like to have seen the Native Americans treated better.

LOL, Susan. Had I gone to college out of high school, I would have gotten a history degree. I did get my A.A. in 2008, and subsitute teach, but given the state of education budgets right now, going ahead and getting the B.A. degree propably won't happen. Though I may take classes just learn!

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Good morning, Vonnie. Yes, the United States didn't hold the market on greed.

Oh, btw, the book I referenced, AMERICA, was my college school book.

Ciara Gold said...

Great post. I think we need to be reminded that I background was paved with more then heroism, that there was a dark side to the price of being an American. It keeps us humble. And excellent questions regarding our characters and their journey. Again, a wonderful reminder of the need for goals and motivation.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, Ciara, thanks for stopping by.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

I'd never really thought that deeply into the westword movement to settle the continent. I know my great, great grandfather came across country because he didn't believe in slavery and his family home was a plantation. He became a doctor and came west, helping people along the way. My first story was a wagon train with some of grandpa's insight put in as spice. Since I've grown as a writer since writing it, I plan to revise it and will have to see if I can put some of this other motivation into it. Thanks, Anna.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, Paisley. Thanks for stopping by. One of these days, I'm going to write my wagon train story. I have it thought it, I just can't get it onto the paper. Great that you have anscestors you can draw on.

Debby Lee said...

Hello Anna Katherine, wow, thanks so much for such an educational article. This one really made me think, and it hit close to home. My uncles own a large piece of farm land that has been in our family for 100 years. (Actually 2013 makes 100 years) The land was settled by my great grandparents and now sits close to a major Interstate Freeway.
There have been a few corporate mongrels who've tried to weasel thier way into getting rights to the family farm, all in the name of bringing "industry" to the local towns. Thank heavens we've been able to fight them off so far, although one case went to the state courts.
Stories of the farm have been passed down from generation to generation. Five generations have cried, sweat and bled on that land. I hope we are never forced to sell it for the sake of Manifest Destiny. How do you put a price tag on a kitchen sink where three generations of babies had thier bath? And what about trees that have been climbed by five generations of kids, how much should we ask for those?
Okay, I'm off my soap box now. Sorry for such a long, rambling, somewaht heated post. But thanks for sharing, it was a very interesting read. I loved it.
And please enter me in the drawing.
Sincerely, Debby Lee

Meb Bryant said...

Hello, Anna Kathryn. I enjoyed the history refresher, however, I would not have had the courage to leave everything and everyone I know in search of riches. When I travel by car with air conditioning across the Texas-Louisiana state line, I take notice of the swamps and shudder at the thought of dragging a sooner and a team of horses through the muck. Stepping out into indie publishing is as adventurous as it gets for me.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, Debbie and Meb. Thanks for stopping by. Debbie, industry trying to take over family farms is not new. I still recall a pig farm outside Albuquerque in the 80's who'd been there for generations. Then a fancy subdivision got built beside his farm and quess what? The snobs living in the homes wanted to shut him down because of the smell....I don't recall what happened, but I'll bet that farmer had better things to do with his money then fight a court fight with idiots!

Meb, I'd go. It would have been hard to leave family behind, but I'd do the adventure!

Gerri Bowen said...

An interesting post, Anna. I also doubt that things would be done differently, if there was a chance. However, I am always awed by those first pioneers, what they had to give up before plunging into the unknown. Add to that...free land!!! When had that happened within memory? It's no wonder, sadly, that so much was destroyed along the way.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, Gerri. I so agree. For some it was an adventure, for others, I'm sure it was heart-renching.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Of course, I forgot to draw for the prize! Not surprising, but I usually remember sooner or later. Anyway, Ciara won the prize - Country Chic bath gel and lotion from Bath and Body Works. Thanks to everyone for droppng by!

Renee said...

The whole idea of Manifest Destiny causes my insides warring. On one hand I understand the want of a better life, it's the way it was done that irritates me.

MaryG said...

Thanks for the good article. I'd never thought much about Manifest Destiny but as far as government was concerned, I guess it was greed.
My grandparents came through Ellis Island and ended up homesteading in Montana. A hard life, my grandmother would later say, she wouldn't do it again.