Manifest Destiny was a phrase that expressed the belief that the United States was destined to expand from the Atlantic seaboard to the Pacific Ocean; it has also been used to advocate for or justify other territorial acquisitions. In the painting American Progress by John Gast, he manages to depict that America’s rapid expansion had many consequences and benefits. Perhaps the most significant consequence was that it reinforced Americans’ sense of themselves as pioneering people. The American people constantly tried to justify their endless expansion westward through ideas and theories as to why this expansion was necessary.
A majority of the American people tried to justify their conquest of expansion by using the ideology of what manifest destiny is to influence the people to see that what they were doing was something that needed to be done for the growth of the nation. This is true in some sense however; these people did not see the damage they were causing by expanding. A man named John O’ Sullivan argued that Americans had a God-given right to bring the benefits of American democracy to other, more backward peoples (meaning Mexicans and Indians) by force, if necessary. With this ideology so common among people at the time, the West wasn’t only thought of by some as a great opportunity to start anew. It was also viewed as a serious economic opportunity for people seeking to exploit the hopeful thoughts of others.
John Gast’s painting is set on an American landscape, with the right half of the painting representing eastern America, and the left half of the painting representing western America. The first thing to notice about the painting is the variations in light seen when comparing the east and the west. The rightmost edge of the painting is bright, but as the painting shifts left it begins to grow darker, with the furthest left edge being marked by a foreboding sky adorned with storm clouds. Similarly, the gentle rolling hills...
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