Archive for the ‘National Expansion’ Category
A Go-Ahead Nation
Robert W. Johanssen, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
I don’t think that the war with Mexico can be properly understood without placing it in the context of the times, especially in terms of the attitude that Americans had toward themselves and toward the world. This was a period of American Romanticism and the war was extremely important as an expression of that romantic thought.
Romanticism is often times a very elusive concept. It was, of course, a very important period in European intellectual literary history and a lot of the European ideas and expressions came to the United States. For example, Sir Walter Scott and Charles Dickens, two very important figures in the romantic period in England, were extremely popular in the United States. Many of the volunteers who went to fight Mexico had been nurtured on the medieval romances of Sir Walter Scott and were reminded of those tales and settings in so many ways.
Q: How would you describe American Romanticism?
American Romanticism was an off-shoot of this broader intellectual or literary outlook. It was a very optimistic attitude that emphasized feeling and emotion and sentiment as opposed to reason. It was a reaction to the Age of Enlightenment that had gone before. The universe was not a static mechanism as people during the Age of Enlightenment thought, but rather an organic entity that was constantly changing. Change was a fact of life. It was based on the idea of progress and betterment. Perfection was one of the words that represented a common romantic notion.
Q: How did 19th-century Americans express this romantic attitude?
People in the United States had a reputation that they were in awe of nothing and nothing could stand in their way. The word was boundlessness — there were no bounds, no limits to what an individual, society, and the nation itself could achieve. There was a reform spirit involved in the spirit of the age. It was a period of tremendous, exciting change.
The 1830s and ’40s were really the kind of coming of age of the United States, for the American people and their institutions. There were drastic changes in political ways, economic development, and the growth in industrial establishment in this country with technological advances that made individual lives easier than they had ever been before.
One example is the application of steam power to transportation. The United States was often times referred to as a “go-ahead nation” — a “go-ahead people” with the locomotive almost as a symbol. The railroad became a metaphor for American ingenuity and development.
In printing, the rotary press in 1846 made possible the mass production of newspapers more cheaply than ever before, enabling newspapers to produce for and circulate in the national market rather than just regional or local markets.
Some of the things that were happening bordered on the miraculous, such as the magnetic telegraph in 1844. The very thought of sending words over wires — it just couldn’t be. It was a wonder of the world, even surpassing the application of steam power to transportation on land & sea.
Q: What were the drawbacks, if any, to these remarkable changes?
In many ways, this was also an age of paradox because there were anxieties and apprehensions. An erosion of values seemed to be threatened by the changes that took place. The changes were so vast, so important, so penetrating and so much a part of people’s lives, that individuals had a hard time adjusting to them. The kind of changes that were taking place during this period of time, in turn, bred a kind of anxiety, restlessness, concern, and apprehension on the part of individuals whose lives were changing. Immigration, of course, was a very important factor that also threatened, in the minds of many Americans, that disrupted the older patterns of the social order.
Q: What did this all mean to the majority of Americans?
Americans were trying to come to terms with these changes and sought some kind of role within the changes that were taking place.
Territorial expansion was but one element in their idea of progress. Journalist John L. O’Sullivan called it “Manifest Destiny.” The phrase first appears in print in July of 1845 in the “Democratic Review” in reference to the Texas issue. O’Sullivan was trying to defend the American claim to Texas and he mentioned that the United States had a Manifest Destiny to overspread the continent with its multiplying millions.
That’s one part of an effort to try to maintain and strengthen American republicanism – to extend the boundaries of the United States was to extend the area of freedom. This was a common feeling. The model republic had certain obligations. People over and over were talking about democracy as the best form of government — that it was adapted to the happiness of mankind and was God’s plan for mankind. The kind of republican government that United States had was providentially provided since we were the favored nation of God. So, with a spirit of reform, you don’t just stand still — you bring the blessing of self-government to as broad an area as possible, extending the area of freedom.
Those notions, Manifest Destiny, for example, were all part of an idea of progress and of the responsibilities and obligations of the model republic and its citizens.
Manifest Destiny today is interpreted largely in terms of territorial expansion, that was but one of the elements, in my belief. There was a popular feeling, that Ralph Waldo Emerson gives voice to when he talks about a destiny that guides individuals, states, and nations. It was a destiny that was providential, especially with respect to the model republic of the United States.
The idea of progress, of course, was involved in this and there was a strong faith in the idea of progress on a popular level in the United States.
So, Manifest Destiny was clear and unavoidable as far as Americans were concerned. It was a destiny that led the United States not only to expand the area of freedom, but was a concept that involved progress in a whole host of different ways. The United States had a destiny to become a world leader, in industrial development, in commercial activity, even in the arts and sciences and intellectual achievements.
This is all part of this idea of boundlessness of no limits. This was a romantic notion that through an act of will, Americans could achieve this greatness for themselves and for their nation. So, Manifest Destiny was an important element that involved so much more than simply extending boundaries.
Q: But why was the United States determined to expand its boundaries as part of its quest for a Manifest Destiny?
The boundaries followed the migrations. When James K. Polk took office as president of the United States, there were about 3,500-4,000 Americans living in the Oregon country, clamoring for a reunion with the United States. There were 800 or so Americans who moved into the interior valleys of California also clamoring for reunion with the United States.
Those who moved West and peopled the Oregon country were filtering to the interior valleys of California by the mid-1840s, undoubtedly seeking economic opportunities that they felt existed in those areas. There was a lot of talk about passage to India and about Asia’s teeming millions just waiting for a commercial enterprise and so forth. Oregon and California looked westward, across the Pacific to those two markets.
But at the same time, those individuals never forgot that they were American citizens and they wanted American laws to extend over them. They wanted to be reunited with the United States. They were obsessed with this notion of being kind of a vanguard for the nation while at the same time they were improving themselves.
So, we go back to the same idea of boundlessness with no limits on what people and nations can achieve.
You can’t take the Mexican War out of this period and expect to understand it without looking at it in terms of what’s going on in the United States. You have to look at the attitudes, of romanticism as well as the threat to a republic and purity and ideology and the idea of a destiny that’s guiding individuals and nations. The Mexican War was a part of that. You can’t wrench it out of its context and expect to make any sense out of it. The Mexican War was an example of this boundlessness and reform spirit — a quest for a better place for the nation, a test of the model republic and the ability of a democracy to respond to a crisis in the way that it responded to the Mexican War.
Manifest Destiny: An Introduction
No nation ever existed without some sense of national destiny or purpose.
Manifest Destiny — a phrase used by leaders and politicians in the 1840s to explain continental expansion by the United States — revitalized a sense of “mission” or national destiny for Americans.
The people of the United States felt it was their mission to extend the “boundaries of freedom” to others by imparting their idealism and belief in democratic institutions to those who were capable of self-government. It excluded those people who were perceived as being incapable of self-government, such as Native American people and those of non-European origin.
But there were other forces and political agendas at work as well. As the population of the original 13 Colonies grew and the U.S. economy developed, the desire and attempts to expand into new land increased. For many colonists, land represented potential income, wealth, self-sufficiency and freedom. Expansion into the western frontiers offered opportunities for self-advancement.
To understand Manifest Destiny, it’s important to understand the United States’ need and desire to expand. The following points illustrate some of the economic, social and political pressures promoting U.S. expansion:
(1) The United States was experiencing a periodic high birth rate and increases in population due to immigration. And because agriculture provided the primary economic structure, large families to work the farms were considered an asset. The U.S. population grew from more than five millon in 1800 to more than 23 million by mid-century. Thus, there was a need to expand into new territories to accommodate this rapid growth. It’s estimated that nearly 4,000,000 Americans moved to western territories between 1820 and 1850.
(2) The United States suffered two economic depressions — one in 1818 and a second in 1839. These crises drove some people to seek their living in frontier areas.
(3) Frontier land was inexpensive or, in some cases, free.
(4) Expansion into frontier areas opened opportunities for new commerce and individual self-advancement.
(4) Land ownership was associated with wealth and tied to self-sufficiency, political power and independent “self-rule.”
(5) Maritime merchants saw an opportunity to expand and promote new commerce by building West Coast ports leading to increased trade with countries in the Pacific.
Mexico’s Dream of New Spain
While the United States put into motion a quest for its Manifest Destiny, Mexico faced quite different circumstances as a newly independent country. Mexico achieved its independence from Spain in 1821, but the country suffered terribly from the struggle. The war caused severe economic burdens and recovery was difficult. The fledgling nation’s first attempts at creating a new government included placing the country under the rule of an emperor. In 1824, the monarchy was overthrown and a constitutional republic was formed. But internal struggles between the various political factions, such as the Centralist, Federalist, Monarchist and Republican parties, drained even more of the country’s energy and resources. These political factions were not united and new struggles broke out by the different sides as each tried to secure dominant rule.
Mexico won vast northern territories with its independence from Spain. These borderlands were underpopulated, so amid its internal political struggles and economic deficits, Mexico was also challenged to colonize these territories and guard its borders. Protecting and colonizing Mexico’s northern territories proved to be nearly impossible for the staggering country:
Due to Mexico’s economic system, there were fewer opportunities for individual self-advancement in the frontier regions and people were less motivated to relocate. Colonization was pushed primarily as part of the government’s political agenda. Constant warfare with Native Americans discouraged people from settling into the areas. The national military system was unable to provide support to guard the countries vast borders.
Both the Catholic Church and Mexico’s military, the main guardians of the nation’s traditions, were unable to exercise authority in the border areas. Frontier communities were poor, for the most part, and these poverty-stricken areas could not support the complex institutions that the central government tried to put in place. The communications necessary to unify the regions were slow and unreliable.
Frontier society was more informal, democratic, self-reliant and egalitarian than the core of Mexico’s society. Thus, frontier communities were often at odds with the central government, which imposed restrictions that affected the economy of these societies.
Chapter 18 Questions
Make sure answer specifically and in your own words.
1. What did both of the national parties do regarding the discussion of slavery in order to try to maintain appeal in all sections of the nation? What impact did the slavery questions have on party unity and party policy?
2. Why did politicians such as Cass believe that popular sovereignty could be a solution to the slavery question? Explain how popular sovereignty was supposed to work.
3. What four specific consequences did the outcome of the Mexican War have? How did the war impact the election of 1848 and the candidates chosen?
4. Explain the cartoon, including the symbolism used, on p. 417.
5. What were the core beliefs of the Free Soil Party? What specific groups of people supported it? Summarize the argument against slavery that this party advocated. What stance on slavery did each of the main parties take in 1848?
6. In what ways did New York influence both the election of 1844 and 1848 (look back to page 404)?
7. How did the discovery of gold threaten to inflame the controversy over slavery?
8. Pages 420-21 lists specific Southern strengths, and specific Southern fears by 1850. Compare and contrast these. How did California threaten the equilibrium, and how might it be a precedent that concerned Southerners?
9. Explain how the Underground Railroad worked. What method did most slaves utilize to gain their freedom, and yet what did Southerners emphasize as a concern as a matter of principle and honor?
10. What are “fire-eaters” and what did they attempt to do in Nashville in 1850 (see p. 422 and 424)?
11. Who were the “immortal trio,” and what specific plans did they suggest as Congress fought to find a compromise in 1849 over the slavery/territorial issue? What was the point of the Seventh of March speech? What impact did this have on Webster’s public standing?
12. What was the difference between the Young Guard and the Old Guard? What was William Seward’s stance on the controversy? Include nicknames of all involved.
13. To what previous incident does the term “Jacksonize” on p. 423 refer? How did it apply to the slavery controversy? To what were they reacting?
14. Who was the second president to die in office? How did this affect the controversy?
15. Use a chart to explain the various provisions of the Compromise of 1850 and whether each one favored the North or the South.
16. What was the “iron law of nature” mentioned on p. 425? How did it impact the possible future expansion of slavery?
17. Why was the Fugitive Slave Law such an explosive development? What law did it replace? Why did it backfire on the South, becoming a blunder rather than a blessing?
18. What were “personal liberty laws” attempting to do?
19. How was “time fighting for the North?”
20. How did Franklin Pierce become the nominee of the Democrats in 1852? How did he compare with Whig nominee Scott? Who was the Free Soil nominee, and how did he impact the election?
21. What was the state of the Whig party by 1852, and why? Who were “finality men?” What were the main accomplishments of the party?
22. What were the long-term consequences of this election?
23. Where was the first “transcontinental railroad,” and why was it built?
24. Who was William Walker, and what impact did he have on the slavery controversy?
25. How did Pierce miss a chance to go to war in Cuba, and how was this related to the Ostend Manifesto? How did northerners react to news of the “manifesto of brigands?”
26. How did the acquisition of California lead to more attention being paid to Asia? Explain the treaties of Wanghia and Kanagawa?
27. How was the Gadsden Purchase an indication of appeasement to Southerners? What was its purpose? What were the competing claims for either a northern or southern route for a transcontinental railroad? How did the railroad eventually influence national politics over slavery in the territories?
28. What were the expectations about the slave status of Kansas and Nebraska? What did the Kansas-Nebraska Act do, and why? Why did Stephen Douglas sponsor this law?
29. What were the consequences of the Kansas-Nebraska Act? What happened to the Missouri Compromise as a result, and why?
They Might Be Giants? They Might Be Genius!
In 1844, the Democrats were split
The three nominees for the presidential candidate
Were Martin Van Buren, a former president and an abolitionist
James Buchanan, a moderate
Lewis Cass, a general and expansionist
From Nashville came a dark horse riding up
He was James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump
Austere, severe, he held few people dear
His oratory filled his foes with fear
The factions soon agreed
He’s just the man we need
To bring about victory
Fulfill our manifest destiny
And annex the land the Mexicans command
And when the vote was cast the winner was
Mister James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump
In four short years he met his every goal
He seized the whole southwest from Mexico
Made sure the tariffs fell
And made the English sell the Oregon territory
He built an independent treasury
Having done all this he sought no second term
But precious few have mourned the passing of
Mister James K. Polk, our eleventh president
Young Hickory, Napoleon of the Stump
On Manifest Destiny
John L. O’Sullivan, 1839
John L. O’Sullivan was a journalist who is credited with coining the term “Manifest Destiny.” Here he describes exactly what is meant by this idea.
The American people having derived their origin from many other nations, and the Declaration of National Independence being entirely based on the great principle of human equality, these facts demonstrate at once our disconnected position as regards any other nation; that we have, in reality, but little connection with the past history of any of them, and still less with all antiquity, its glories, or its crimes. On the contrary, our national birth was the beginning of a new history, the formation and progress of an untried political system, which separates us from the past and connects us with the future only; and so far as regards the entire development of the natural rights of man, in moral, political, and national life, we may confidently assume that our country is destined to be the great nation of futurity.
It is so destined, because the principle upon which a nation is organized fixes its destiny, and that of equality is perfect, is universal. It presides in all the operations of the physical world, and it is also the conscious law of the soul — the self-evident dictates of morality, which accurately defines the duty of man to man, and consequently man’s rights as man. Besides, the truthful annals of any nation furnish abundant evidence, that its happiness, its greatness, its duration, were always proportionate to the democratic equality in its system of government. . . .
What friend of human liberty, civilization, and refinement, can cast his view over the past history of the monarchies and aristocracies of antiquity, and not deplore that they ever existed? What philanthropist can contemplate the oppressions, the cruelties, and injustice inflicted by them on the masses of mankind, and not turn with moral horror from the retrospect?
America is destined for better deeds. It is our unparalleled glory that we have no reminiscences of battle fields, but in defence of humanity, of the oppressed of all nations, of the rights of conscience, the rights of personal enfranchisement. Our annals describe no scenes of horrid carnage, where men were led on by hundreds of thousands to slay one another, dupes and victims to emperors, kings, nobles, demons in the human form called heroes. We have had patriots to defend our homes, our liberties, but no aspirants to crowns or thrones; nor have the American people ever suffered themselves to be led on by wicked ambition to depopulate the land, to spread desolation far and wide, that a human being might be placed on a seat of supremacy.
We have no interest in the scenes of antiquity, only as lessons of avoidance of nearly all their examples. The expansive future is our arena, and for our history. We are entering on its untrodden space, with the truths of God in our minds, beneficent objects in our hearts, and with a clear conscience unsullied by the past. We are the nation of human progress, and who will, what can, set limits to our onward march? Providence is with us, and no earthly power can. We point to the everlasting truth on the first page of our national declaration, and we proclaim to the millions of other lands, that “the gates of hell” — the powers of aristocracy and monarchy — “shall not prevail against it.”
The far-reaching, the boundless future will be the era of American greatness. In its magnificent domain of space and time, the nation of many nations is destined to manifest to mankind the excellence of divine principles; to establish on earth the noblest temple ever dedicated to the worship of the Most High – the Sacred and the True. Its floor shall be a hemisphere — its roof the firmament of the star-studded heavens, and its congregation an Union of many Republics, comprising hundreds of happy millions, calling, owning no man master, but governed by God’s natural and moral law of equality, the law of brotherhood — of “peace and good will amongst men.”. . .
Yes, we are the nation of progress, of individual freedom, of universal enfranchisement. Equality of rights is the cynosure of our union of States, the grand exemplar of the correlative equality of individuals; and while truth sheds its effulgence, we cannot retrograde, without dissolving the one and subverting the other. We must onward to the fulfilment of our mission — to the entire development of the principle of our organization — freedom of conscience, freedom of person, freedom of trade and business pursuits, universality of freedom and equality. This is our high destiny, and in nature’s eternal, inevitable decree of cause and effect we must accomplish it. All this will be our future history, to establish on earth the moral dignity and salvation of man — the immutable truth and beneficence of God. For this blessed mission to the nations of the world, which are shut out from the life-giving light of truth, has America been chosen; and her high example shall smite unto death the tyranny of kings, hierarchs, and oligarchs, and carry the glad tidings of peace and good will where myriads now endure an existence scarcely more enviable than that of beasts of the field. Who, then, can doubt that our country is destined to be the great nation of futurity?
Go here for the link: http://wesclark.com/jw/mormon_battalion.html
Officially the 1st Iowa Volunteers, President Polk requested volunteers from Mormon leader Brigham Young in 1846 at the onset of the Mexican War. The Mormons at that time were in Iowa Territory. Over 500 Mormon men travelled from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to Santa Fe, in what is now New Mexico. They eventually were under the command of Colonel Steven Kearney, who was in command of the Army of the West, and proceeded to California via San Diego and eventually to Los Angeles. After the war, some of the men settled in Arizona or California, with others moving the Utah.
Go here for the map: http://www.three-peaks.net/battalion.htm