Manifest Destiny and American Imperialism

The Roots of Imperialism in Manifest Destiny

Imperialism, defined as the extension of rule or influence by one government, nation, or society over another, found a significant foothold in the concept of Manifest Destiny during the 19th century. Manifest Destiny was the fervent belief among many Americans in the 1840s that the United States was destined to expand its territories across the continent. This belief, ingrained in the vision of the nation's leaders and citizens alike, fueled an aggressive imperialistic drive towards territorial acquisition.

From the very foundation of the United States, the idea of expansion from the Atlantic to the Pacific was ingrained in the nation's ethos. The underlying reasons for this imperialistic fervor were primarily economic and political. As America conquered manifest destiny, it acquired vast territories, including Texas, Oregon, and California, each marked by imperialistic pursuits that affected Native Americans and Mexicans inhabiting those lands.

The Annexation of Texas: Economic Interests and Slavery

The expansionist impulse in America gained momentum in the aftermath of the American Revolution.

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In 1821, Congress ratified the Transcontinental Treaty, initially excluding Texas from American territory. However, the discovery of fertile land for cotton cultivation sparked a shift in American sentiment towards Texas. The Southern states, in particular, expressed keen interest in the region.

Mexican authorities, seeking to populate Texas, offered free land to American settlers. By 1830, a substantial American population, including 20,000 white settlers and 2,000 slaves, resided in Texas. In 1836, Texas declared independence from Mexico, ultimately leading to its annexation by the United States a decade later.

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The annexation stirred controversy, primarily due to the issue of slavery, revealing the imperialistic agenda behind the move.

Slavery played a pivotal role in the expansionist drive, with the North and South vying for new states that aligned with their economic and political interests. The annexation of Texas, disguised under the banner of Manifest Destiny, exemplifies the imperialistic tendencies of the United States.

The Oregon Trail: Territorial Expansion and Conflict

Manifest Destiny spurred the westward expansion of the United States to Oregon, a territory shared with the British under the Treaty of 1818. The desire to own land all the way to the Pacific Ocean fueled American pressure on the British to cede their claim to the Oregon territory. The ensuing migration to Oregon, known as the Oregon Trail, witnessed a surge of pioneers motivated by manifest destiny.

While the Oregon Trail promised fertile land and abundant fur, conflicts with Native Americans along the route became inevitable. The imperialistic approach of many American pioneers led to skirmishes over land possession, often resorting to violence. The government's implicit approval of such actions further demonstrates the imperialistic nature of manifest destiny, where territorial acquisition took precedence over acknowledging the rights of existing inhabitants.

The Annexation of California and the Mexican War

California, considered the key to Pacific trade routes, became a focal point for American imperialistic ambitions. The California Trail, akin to the Oregon Trail, witnessed a caravan of pioneers seeking to annex the territory. President Polk attempted a diplomatic approach by sending an envoy to purchase California and other parts of the Southwest, but Mexico rejected the offer in May 1846.

The refusal became a catalyst for the Mexican War, a conflict rooted in the imperialistic pursuit of territorial expansion. The war resulted in the acquisition of Texas and California, along with vital trade routes. The imperialistic nature of this war lies in the assertion of power through territorial acquisition, showcasing the willingness to use force to extend the nation's influence.

Conclusion: Manifest Destiny as Aggressive Imperialism

Manifest Destiny, touted as the American policy of acquiring specific territories, can be unequivocally labeled as aggressive imperialism. The imperialistic pursuits under the guise of manifest destiny led to the trampling of Native American and Mexican rights, as the United States aggressively extended its borders by about 66%.

The expansionist agenda, driven by economic interests, political power, and the deeply rooted belief in manifest destiny, became a justification for aggressive imperialistic actions. The consequences, often violent and disruptive, underscored the lengths to which the United States pursued territorial acquisition, revealing the imperialistic fervor inherent in manifest destiny.

As we reflect on this chapter of American history, it is essential to acknowledge the imperialistic dimensions of manifest destiny and critically examine the impact of such pursuits on indigenous populations and the nation's moral fabric.

Updated: Dec 01, 2023
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Manifest Destiny and American Imperialism. (2021, Jun 16). Retrieved from

Manifest Destiny and American Imperialism essay
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