Annexation Seminar Essay
Throughout the 1840s, the United States became infatuated with the thought of expanding west and using the idea of manifest destiny, which claimed that the American settlers were destined by divine powers to expand across the continent, to justify it. Although the land-hungry nation did gain a vast amount of new territory, westward expansion in the name of manifest destiny was not justified because of the many Indian lives that were destroyed, the total loss of integrity of the now brutal American empire, and the multiple conflicts that would result from it.
Native Americans had long been perceived as inferior, and efforts to "civilize" them had been widespread since the days of John Smith (ushistory.org, 29). The idea that American culture was superior had consumed the settlers to a point of no turning back. They killed, removed, or made slaves out of the Indians who had the misfortune of getting in the way of “manifest destiny”. One very popular painting known as “American Progress” portrayed an angel moving across the land in advance of settlers, replacing darkness with light and ignorance with civilization. This is implying to the beholder that western life was not good before the settlers arrived and that the Native Americans were ignorant and primitive, which is simply just an assumption (ushistory.org, 29).
The fact that Americans had no logical reason to expand west and instead resorted to using the idea of divine right is just shameful. The term “manifest destiny” was first used by a man named John O’Sullivan in a desperate attempt to provide logic behind the conquering of new territory. This claim of divine right took advantage of religious followers and manipulated them into believing that it was true logic. Meanwhile, many southerners only supported manifest destiny because they wanted to spread slavery and have more representation in congress (Clay, 212). This also weakened the honor of the United States because Americans were so obsessed with the idea of slavery that they were willing to kill and conquer for it.
As a result of the pointless expansion of an already well-sized empire, many conflicts began to come up including the Oregon territory dispute and the Mexican-American war. The Oregon Territory encompassed the modern states of Oregon, Idaho, and Washington, as well as the western coast of Canada up to the border of Russian Alaska (ushistory.org, 29b). Both Britain and America claimed the territory; however remembering the past damages done to both sides in recent wars, both nations were temporarily willing to settle for joint occupation of the land. However after being led by missionaries, American settlers began to outnumber the British. Thousands of settlers traveled the Oregon Trail and many didn’t make it (ushistory.org, 29b). In 1844, President James K. Polk was elected and promised the acquisition of the Oregon territory to the United States. Coining the phrase “Fifty-Four Forty or Fight”, Polk would either allow the British to keep the land above the fifty-four forty parallel or he would go to war, or so he claimed. Once again, America was on the verge of war with Britain and judging by the past, both sides could’ve suffered numerous casualties. Another conflict resulting from the desire to conquer all of North America was the Mexican-American war. The main cause of this predicament was the annexation of Texas. President Polk wanted war with Mexico; however the congress lacked an adequate reason to go to war (ushistory.org, 29c). Therefore, President Polk intentionally provoked the Mexican Army by sending troops into what Mexico considered as their territory. After receiving word that General Zachary Taylor’s soldiers were fired upon by the Mexican Army, The US congress declared war on Mexico. Although the U.S. won the war with some ease, lives were still lost. This war was the inevitable and desired result of Americans who wanted to annex Texas and resorted to violence as a means of doing so in the name of “manifest destiny”.
In conclusion, the westward expansion of America in the name of manifest destiny was not justified because it was used to take Native American lives, it manipulated religious beliefs, it served as an excuse to spread slavery to gain more power in congress, it nearly caused another brutal war with Britain, and lastly it resulted in the intentional provoking of the Mexican Army to produce a reason for congress to declare war and lose human lives.