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Manifest Destiny

The Drive to Influence a World

A defining characteristic of human progression has proven consistently to be the result of

an insidious blend of religion and competition for resources. It oftentimes surfaces in the notion
of divine destiny. Societies and cultures around the globe have used this trait, somehow
instinctually ingrained in our species, to justify the use of force and subjugation when it seemed
advantageous to do so. Never was this innate human capacity more apparent than in the
evolution of an ideal that would not only capture a young nation’s heart and mind, but would
captivate its very soul.
John L. O’Sullivan first used the phrase, “Manifest Destiny,” in 1845 in an essay entitled
Annexation. In it he argued for a burgeoning United States to allow Texas into the Union because
doing so would be “…the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted
by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” 1According to
William Weeks, a teacher at San Diego State University, “Events [of the 1820s] did seem to
reveal a divine destiny in the American experience… It appeared to be America’s sacred duty to
expand across the North American continent, to reign supreme in the Western Hemisphere, and
to serve as an example of the future to people everywhere.” 2 Mark Joy, a professor at Jamestown
College in North Dakota, wrote, “The term meant simply that it was manifest or evident that the
United States was destined to expand across the continent.” 3 The respected historian Frederick
Merk summed it up this way: “It meant expansion, prearranged by Heaven, over an area not
clearly defined. In some minds it meant expansion over the region to the Pacific; in others, over
the North American continent; in others, over the hemisphere.” 4
Regardless of the wording, a consensus definition (at least the earlier understanding of the
sentiments) of Manifest Destiny seems to relay the sense of deep-seated religious dogma along
with the ambience of prophecy, with the hand of God orchestrating the actions and progress of
national identity and direction. It was a force of very powerful, if unseen, emotive energy. And it
dominated a youthful United States in terms of foreign and domestic policy, political and
religious philosophy, and the national sense of place in God’s arrangement and will.
The flamboyant O’Sullivan, though, was merely the actor on the world’s stage that coined
the phrase Manifest Destiny; he wasn’t its creator. The phrase was the end product of a long-
running undercurrent of societal leanings that originated much earlier. Weeks felt that, “although
the term Manifest Destiny did not achieve widespread usage until the 1840s, the sentiments to
which it refers arose in the aftermath of the War of 1812.” 5 In so doing, he effectively set the age
of the ideology at a few decades. Professor Joy points to an even earlier period in his book,
American Expansionism, where he writes, “The idea that the United States was destined to
develop a large continental empire clearly predated the coining of the term… These two beliefs
—America’s destined greatness and the fragile nature of a republic—while they seem

1 John O’Sullivan, “Annexation” in Democratic Review, vol. 17, July-August 1845, pp. 5-6, 9-10.
2 William Weeks, Building the Continental Empire: American Expansion from the Revolution to the Civil War (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1996), 60.
3 Mark Joy, American Expansionism: 1783-1860 (London: Pearson Education Limited, 2003), preface xxvi-xxvii.
4 Frederick Merk, Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963), 24.
5 Weeks, 60.
contradictory, nevertheless coexisted in the early national period.” 6 Reginald Horsman, however,
places the origins of a superior Anglo-Saxon air at the very founding of the nation. “The
American colonists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries inherited in full measure the
myth of a free Anglo-Saxon past… The belief that the Americans were the most distinguished
descendants of the Anglo-Saxons grew rather than diminished in the decades after the
Revolution… Like American Anglo-Saxonism, the sense of unique national destiny and purpose
that pervaded the Revolutionary generation had its roots deep in colonial America and in
Europe.” 7 Horsman obviously agreed with Thomas Paine, who shed light on the state of the
eighteenth-century American mindset, when he wrote, “The sun never shone on a cause of
greater worth. ‘Tis not the affair of a city, a country, a province, or a kingdom; but of a continent
—of at least one eighth part of the habitable globe.” 8
The fact that there is disparity among historians as to the exact date of origin of the views
expressed in the phrase Manifest Destiny, points less to scholarly ineptness and more to the
nature of the ideology itself. To pinpoint precisely the day in history it sprang to life is an
impractical task, since the impulsion for its birth encompasses such a varied assortment of
theories, each of which surfaced from its own diverse set of moods and events; some stemming
from the notion of racial pre-eminence, some of nationalistic identity and grounds for existence,
some regarding the nature of mercantilism, and still others of a providentially ordained exodus
into the modern-day Promised Land of the New World. Frederick Jackson Turner, in his first
professional paper, explained such divergence of opinion: “Each age writes the history of the
past anew with reference to the conditions uppermost in its own time.”9 In other words, as the
seasons of society and cultural milieu undergo change and modification, so do the explanations
for their origins. All historians, however, do agree that 1845 was not the inauguration of
Manifest Destiny; it was merely the year that the many and varied seeds of the American
ideology of superiority were blanketed by a phraseology that is still with us today.
Anders Stephanson, a professor at Columbia University, explored the concept of Manifest
Destiny as it pertained to, and progressed from, Puritan separatist beliefs. “[Manifest Destiny]
became a catchword for the idea of a providentially or historically sanctioned right to continental
expansionism.” 10 As Christians in general, Europeans already felt an entitlement to the lands of
the New World, and that land not claimed by other Christian nations was land free for the taking.
Puritans in particular, however, looked at the New World with additional relevance for them
alone. In their estimation, the entire adventure had prophetic significance—a vivid modern-day
reenactment of the Jewish Exodus out of Egypt that had occurred some three thousand years
earlier. But what caused them feel exclusive among Christians? What was it about their beliefs
that made them feel “chosen”? Before we can understand their theology, we must first examine
where they came from and how they viewed their departure from Europe.
Puritans were one of many religions gathered under the Protestant label, a category that
in and of itself carried with it certain inherent separatist views of others in terms of religious
beliefs. Stephanson explained that, “English Protestantism, early on, had developed the notion of

6 Joy, preface xxvii.

7 Reginald Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981),
8 Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776)
9 Frederick Turner, The Significance of History (1891)
10 Anders Stephanson, Manifest Destiny: American Expansion and the Empire of Right (New York: Hill and Wang, 1995), prologue xii.

England as not only spatially but also spiritually separate from the European continent, as the
bastion of true religion and chief source of its expansion: a place divinely singled out for higher
missions.” 11 This dogmatic view was adopted by many of the Christian religions of the day,
including among them the Puritans.
Historian Daniel J. Boorstin wrote of the early views of this group, in quoting John
Winthrop: “We shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; so that if we
shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw
his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.” Boorstin
followed by concluding that “no one writing after the fact, three hundred years later, could better
have expressed the American sense of destiny.” 12
It is proper here to cite the differences between English and American Puritans. The
former were very interested in debating theories regarding the nature of liberty, civil government,
and diversity in terms of tolerance and admission.13 They were also a complex, integrated group,
“including representatives of a wide range of doctrines, from Presbyterians, independents, and
separatists.” 14 American Puritans, on the other hand, displayed none of these traits; they were,
instead, “a community of self-selected conformists.” 15 Francis Higginson wrote, “That which is
our greatest comfort, and means of defense above all others, is that we have here the true religion
and holy ordinances of Almighty God taught among us… thus we doubt not that God will be
with us, and if God be with us, who can be against us?” 16 They shied away from using the term
“church”, choosing instead to call their place of worship a “meeting house.” 17 Ministers came to
be “called” as a “function performed by a godly man in relation to a group of other men,” instead
of the traditional methods of receiving such right by attendance at a seminary or from the “laying
on of priestly hands”. 18 Rather than bothering with an intricate system of laws, “the Word of
God was their code.” 19 The concept of the separation of Church and State wasn’t a Puritan one.
Boorstin summed up the influence of such views later projected onto the American political
scene, by stating: “Their heavy reliance on the Bible, and their preoccupation with platforms,
programs of action, and schemes of confederation, fixed the temper of their society and
foreshadowed American political life for centuries to come.” 20
It is this isolationist group, who inhabited the region of Massachusetts Bay Colony, that
Anders Stephanson asserts gave birth to the ideology that would later become known as Manifest
Destiny. He does this by stepping through four key areas of early American Puritan theology: (1)
election and covenant, (2) choice and apostasy, (3) prophecy, revelation, and the end of history,
and (4) territory, mission, and community.21
First, election and covenant. The Puritans read and understood the contents of the Holy
Bible as a literal translation of God’s Word to man. In it, at Exodus 19:6, God said to Moses on a

11 Stephanson, 3-4.
12 Daniel Boorstin, The Americans: The Colonial Experience (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), 3-4.
13 Ibid, 6.
14 Ibid, 7.
15 Ibid, 7.
16 Francis Higginson, New-England’s Plantation.
17 Boorstin, 17.
18 Ibid, 18.

19 R.V. Coleman, The First Frontier: A History of How America Began (Edison: Castle Books, 1948), 355.
20 Boorstin, 19.
21 Stephanson, 6.

mountain in Sinai, that the nation of Israel was to become ‘a kingdom of priests and a holy
nation.’ They were elected to be God’s special possession, in keeping to His word to his servant
Abraham hundreds of years earlier. The Israelites agreed to take on the role of this special nation
of servants, and so the two parties entered into the covenant. This arrangement, though, had a
rider attached to it; if the nation proved righteous, they would be blessed beyond imagination,
but should they prove unrighteous, their share in the covenantal riches would cease to be. Hence,
what is referred to as the “blessing and the malediction.” (Deut. Chapter 28) Among these
blessings would be a specific apportionment of land, so that the “initial focus is on a given
territory and on the migration to it.” 22 The subsequent journey through the wilderness was seen
as a “journey toward reconciliation with God” 23 In the minds of the Puritans who made the
journey across the ocean wilderness of the Atlantic to arrive in the Promised Land of the
Americas, they were the modern representation of Israel, the “New Israel” as it were, and that
through them “universal righteousness will return and the world will be regenerated. God and
humankind will be reconciled at last.” 24 God had selected a special nation to serve Him and to
stand out in the world as different and superior.
Samuel Cooke, in his election sermon on May 30th 1770, to a Massachusetts Bay
assembly, said: “Rulers are appointed for this very end—to be ministers of God for good. The
people have a right to expect this from them… [The ruler] will not forget that he ruleth over
men… who are the offspring of God.” 25 In keeping with a superior air, these Puritans had no
compunction over their advocacy of the slave trade, either. If it meant battling Indians in order to
trade hostages—“men, women, and children”—for Africans which would fetch higher prices at
market, it was seen as part of the divine plan if the Lord saw fit to deliver them into their hands.26
These other races, after all, lacked heavenly backing. Initially, God’s choice of “offspring” were
the descendants of Abraham. However, as history had proven itself in Puritan eyes, those
descendants used their free will to make decisions contrary to what God originally intended.
This brings us to the second segment of Puritan theology as it pertains to divine destiny,
choice and apostasy. Though the Israelites had been singled out by God to be His people, unique
and blessed among the world, they still had a choice to make; would they follow His instruction
and commandments so that they be in line to receive the blessings promised, or would they
ruinously choose to disobey Him, thereby placing themselves in line to receive His wrath in the
form of the malediction? The fate of the world lay in the balance.27 “The Jews, by refusing the
Gospel, had failed to keep their part of the deal.” 28 Later, in the first century AD, as God’s favor
shifted to the Christian church, they enjoyed His blessings. Again, though, this group fell away
as did the first, drifting into the realm of God’s disfavor. “Regeneration had taken place through
the Reformation; and in its wake the visible saints, the Puritans, had emerged as the truest of the
true Christians, hence assuming teleological responsibility for righteousness and journeying alike

22 Ibid, 7.
23 Ibid, 7.
24 Ibid, 7.
25 Samuel Cooke, “An Election Sermon”, in the book American Sermons: The Pilgrims to Martin Luther King Jr. by Michael Warner (New York:

Library of America, 1999), 472.

26 Coleman, 340.
27 Stephanson, 7.
28 Ibid, 8.

in the exodus to the New Israel.” 29 As the modern representatives of the Most High, the Puritans
had a great and new responsibility to the world.
The third area, prophecy, revelation, and the end, deals with certain aspects of their
divine charge as the Creator’s first-fruits. They began by undertaking a ritual cleansing of God’s
Word. Centuries of Catholic religious dominance had buried it “under vast layers of interpretive
falsification.” 30As Puritans, it was a sacred duty to gain mastery of the Bible as “an epistemic
code of revelation, to understand the always causally effective providential hand in the world.” 31
God was everywhere and behind every event. And every event had a purpose. They were to look
at their lives and reflect on the happenings around them, and then to interpret their significance as
biblically prophetic. This process was a regimented one, and was expected by others in the group
to be approached with all sincerity and steadfastness. It was their “destiny,” all other things
hinging on its proper fulfillment.32
When it came to the Puritan view of prophesy and how they fit into it as a people, no
other biblical book was more powerful in tone or inflection of intent than was John’s account of
the apocalypse, known as Revelation; especially was this true when it dealt with the
“millennium,” the final stage leading to the end.33 A great war against Satan and his agents would
act as the catalyst, the Battle of Armageddon. God would of course come out victorious,
imprisoning the Devil, and then judging all mankind for their worth. The wicked would receive a
life sentence to a fiery Hell. The final stage would be the millennium, “an extended Sabbath.” 34
All of this would be predestined to occur by God himself. The Puritans had but to put themselves
in line for the promised blessings in order to reap them. This was true no matter where they
lived, which brings us to the fourth area of Puritan theology.
Territory, mission, and community were important concepts to the Puritan way of
thinking. Due to Israel’s fall from grace, “the divine vehicle was now the dispersed Christian
community.” 35 As Protestants, the Puritans “reinvented the Jewish… idea of a mission of spatial
separateness.” 36 Boorstin noted how they did this: “In their Bible they had a blueprint for the
Good Society; their costly expedition to America gave them a vested interest in believing it
possible to build Zion on this earth.” 37 And that is exactly what they set out to do. It was their
divine mission to construct a pure community in the new territory of America.
Shortly after their arrival, they witnessed God’s power of protection, as the Indian
population surrounding them dwindled due to an outbreak of smallpox. This further impressed
upon their minds how unique and precious they were in God’s sight. As R.V. Coleman put it, in
his book The First Frontier, “God was on [the Puritan] side and He proved it by making things
unpleasant for those who troubled His saints.” 38 And accompanied by this impression was the
energy to fuel the furtherance of the philosophy of Manifest Destiny.

29 Ibid, 8.
30 Ibid, 8.
31 Ibid, 8.
32 Ibid, 8.
33 Ibid, 9.
34 Ibid, 9.
35 Ibid, 10.
36 Ibid, 10.
37 Boorstin, 29.
38 Coleman, 343.

This brings us to our first issue of whether or not the meaning of Manifest Destiny
changed with the passage of time. To examine this, we need to explore the thoughts and attitudes
of the people who lived in various eras from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries.
We have already established the Puritan mindset of the early colonial period, one that was
heavily dominated by strict religious creed. They were Separatists and lived by the notion of
their being superior to those around them, that they alone had taken on the role of God’s chosen
people and would be used in the outworking of His will on earth. Though the particulars of the
framework of the beliefs evolved and mellowed in time, the general perception of distinctness
and superiority only strengthened.
In 1816, Thomas Jefferson alluded to that mentality, when he said the American people
were “destined to be a barrier against the returns of ignorance and barbarism.” 39 Though the
basic tenets of Manifest Destiny had survived more than one hundred years of social
development, two key changes had taken place: (1) the composition of the core group of the
“elect” had changed from New England Puritans to Americans, and (2) the “will of God” had
changed from the dissemination of pure Christian community to one of national aspirations and
proactive defense of American cultural values. In Jefferson’s mind, and in the minds of many
others, America still retained the aspect of destiny, as if the hand of God continued to guide them
through the wilderness of the world. The possibility of randomness and happenstance as it
pertained to their position among nations, never occurred to the majority of that generation.
Boorstin, when writing that the Puritan way of viewing the Bible would “foreshadow
American political life for centuries to come”, pointed to further alterations in the conceptual
shape of Manifest Destiny. 40 He also posited that, although the Puritans began as a very rigid and
dogmatic clan, they evolved in their environment by a tendency to compromise; this was
contrasted by the Quakers, who started out as “formless, spontaneous, and universal,” but
evolved to become increasingly fixed and hardened. The Puritan evolution allowed them to
expand and adapt politically, while the Quakers, by “building a wall around themselves,” set
their society up for failure.41
By the 1840s, the ideology was fast taking hold in the minds of Americans in terms of
political ambitions. John O’Sullivan coined the phrase “Manifest Destiny” in 1845, a move that
served to group the many and varied thoughts of expansion, slavery, divine destiny, and the
future of the country into a packaged concept easily utilized to manipulate the masses. Some
used the slogan to attain land for farming and lumber, some wanted a more secure nation, while
others wanted access to China’s markets across the Pacific42. A driving force of the concept, as
Sean Wilentz puts it in his book The Rise of American Democracy, was both political and
monetary: “Without question there were those who proclaimed America’s providential mission to
expand as a eulogistic cover for speculation in land and paper.” 43 Once politicians had latched
onto the phrase, using it to unite the nation behind their ambitions, the fundamental refinement of
thrust from religious to political was complete.

39 Stephanson, 24.
40 Boorstin, 19.
41 Ibid, 41.
42 Mitchel Roth, Issues of Westward Expansion (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002), 60.
43 Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2005), 562.

The second issue deals with whether or not the Mexican-American War was caused by
the collection of values contained within Manifest Destiny. An understanding of American
thinking during the events that led up to the fighting will help us to see that it had a significant
impact on the road to war.
An essay by Garrett Sheldon asserts that the fundamental principles expressed in
Manifest Destiny, chiefly the notion of divine destiny, had much to do with the creation of the
Declaration of Independence. He writes: “The reference ‘to reliance on the protection of divine
Providence’… was not a mere casual or rhetorical flourish. It was stating a truth that most
American colonists believed and cherished.” 44
Stephanson’s work supports that notion, when he quotes Ben Franklin as referring to rum
as “the appointed means by which the design of Providence to extirpate these savages was
fulfilled in order to make room for cultivators of the earth.” 45 Though not a Puritan, the
sentiments conveyed by Franklin carry with them the general texture of American superiority
and uniqueness. God’s design had the “cultivators” at its core.
Few question the fact that racial differences played into popular opinion in those days. In
a speech at the Virginia ratifying convention in 1788, James Madison said: “Great as the evil [of
slavery] is, a dismemberment of the Union would be worse.” It wasn’t that the elite hated other
races, or even that the general populace morally justified the concept of human slavery. The
reality was that slavery existed and many enjoyed its fruitage. And no matter how passionately
some attempted to overthrow it, the notion of European superiority over that of the African was
too deeply ingrained to be quickly removed. Did the American mindset change by the middle of
the following century?
The annexation of Texas became the subject of much debate in the years leading up to the
war. As Robert Leckie wrote, in his book The Wars of America, “Neither California nor New
Mexico welcomed Americans, but in Texas they were not only welcomed but actually
imported.”46 This faulty Mexican policy would play a large role in her downfall and ultimate loss
of half its territory. It also led to an 1845 congressional adoption of The Joint Resolution of
Annexation of Texas, a move that Mexico vehemently protested.47 Relations quickly deteriorated
between the two nations. From the American standpoint, there were two sides; those who were
against allowing Texas into the Union48 because they felt that doing so would disrupt the balance
of existing slave states and non-slave states. Those who were for it had many different reasons
for their stand, including the progress of national ambitions.
Ralph Waldo Emerson generally held America to be “a last effort of the Divine
Providence in behalf of the human race,” which would stretch “to the waves of the Pacific Sea.”
Even though he opposed the war, he did little to resist it.49 He wrote: “It is very certain that the
strong British race… must also overrun [Texas].”50 Walt Whitman described Mexico as

44 Garrett Sheldon, “The Political Theory of the Declaration of Independence”, in the book The Declaration of Independence: Origins and Impact
by Scott Gerber (Washington: CQ Press, 2002), 24.
45 Stephanson, 11.
46 Robert Leckie, The Wars of America (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1968), 321.
47 Frederick Merk, History of the Westward Movement (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1978), 361.
48 Woodrow Wilson, A History of the American People: Volume IV (New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1901), 101.
49 Stephanson, 53.
50 Ibid, 53.

‘miserable and inefficient… totally incompatible with the great mission of peopling the New
World with a noble race.’51 John O’Sullivan said, in 1844, that anyone who would “cast a glance
over the map of North America” would see that Texas was “a huge fragment, artificially broken
off” from its proper setting, one “symmetrically planned and adapted in its grand destiny,” and
duly “in the possession of the race sent there for the providential purpose.”52
It was obvious to the supporters of annexation that God had manifestly destined them to
control the continent. Those who were there prior to European arrival would have to go. The
problem was that Mexico currently controlled Texas, a dilemma few politicians had trouble
dealing with by resorting to the tried-and-true notions of patriotic fervor and Manifest Destiny.
The third issue is whether or not Manifest Destiny died as an important motivating force
in America’s popular thought and foreign policy at the end of the Mexican-American War. To
Merk, the ideology was overtaken by a mission that had all along been a component of the
American spirit.53 Yet not all scholars agree with his assessment of its demise.
Horsman focused his examination on the aspect of white Anglo-Saxon superiority. He
held that at the very heart of Manifest Destiny lied this notion; a notion that not only evaded a
vanishing death in the nineteenth century, but one that is still very much alive today in US
foreign policy. The assumption, says Horsman, is that “one race was destined to lead, others to
serve—one race to flourish, many to die.” 54
A letter, written by Abraham Lincoln to The New York Tribune in 1862 (one month prior
to signing the Emancipation Proclamation), supports Horsman’s theory. It reads, in part, “My
paramount object in this struggle [the Civil War] is to save the Union, and is not either to save or
to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it… What I do
about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union.” Lincoln
showed that, while his life had been spent largely pursuing the goal of abolition, he was open to
compromise as his political ambitions always came first. His argument, like Madison’s over
seventy years prior, proved that the destiny of his race came before that of the “colored race.”
Both were well aware that without attaining political power, no amount of goodwill and principle
would ever be realized.
Manifest Destiny reared its head again amidst talks over the acquisition of the Philippines
near the end of the nineteenth century. William McKinley expressed similar sentiments in an
1899 interview with a Methodist clergyman, when he said: “I walked the floor of the White
House night after night… I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for light and
guidance. And one night it came to me… that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them
all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and Christianize them, and by God’s grace do the very
best we could by them.” 55 The hotly debated issue of territorial expansion was once again thrust
into national discussion. Thomas Hietala, in his book Manifest Design, grouped the political
motivations of the two eras this way: “In 1846, as in 1848, expansionist administrations found

51 Ibid, 38.
52 Ibid, 43.
53 Merk, 266.
54 Horsman, 303.
55 Merk, Manifest Destiny, 253.

moral justifications for their territorial and commercial designs.” 56 He held that American
ambitions were not only global and commercial, but territorial as well. 57 It seemed to McKinley
—and to many others—that God was still on the Anglo-Christian American side of the issue of
global dominance. He, like many others before him, used divine destiny, seeing “God’s grace,”
in their achievement of political goals.
In conclusion, we find it apparent that, while Manifest Destiny did undergo refinements
driven by the surge of world events and tossed about by the waves of fears and dreams, the core
philosophy retained its basic construct for hundreds of years. This can be verified by a
comparison of representative views taken from four distinct eras.
First, the early colonial period. The Puritans held the view of their being somehow
“chosen” by God as His representative nation on earth, elevating themselves to the point of
referring to Indians as “cohorts of the Devil,” 58 and justifying the slavery of Africans. The
Virginians, though religiously unlike Puritans, had similar visions of their own distinctness in
hierarchy, displaying it in their willingness to resort to violence in order to control others.
Quakers saw themselves as living for martyrdom, and were proud of the abuse against them at
the hands of Puritans.59 Such misery elevated them to being closest to the Christ. Collectively,
these early Americans—in their own way—bore the spirit and attitude, not only of being
different and separate but, of standing out as special and elected by God’s own hand.
Second, the Revolutionary period. Joseph Barrell, a wealthy merchant who was among
those who lent resources for the suppression of Shays’ Rebellion, wrote to his brother Nathaniel
Barrell in 1787: “The idea alone I should think would fire your soul, to exert every nerve to
adopt a Constitution, which if every circumstance is taken into view, appears to be dictated by
Heaven itself.” 60 John Jay wrote in “The Federalist Papers #2”: “I have often taken notice that
Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people—a people
descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion,
attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and
who had nobly established general liberty and independence.” David Ramsey, a delegate of the
South Carolina Ratifying Convention, believed God was on the American side when he said of
the Constitution’s formation: “Heaven smiled on [the framers’] deliberations and inspired their
councils with a spirit of conciliation.” 61
Third, the mid-nineteenth century, a period marked by aggressive and polarizing political
viewpoints over the future direction and morals of the country. As Alexander Stephens saw it,
“our new government is founded upon… the great truth, that the Negro is not equal to the white
man; that slavery… is his natural and normal condition.” 62 John C. Calhoun, the “cast-steel man”
and staunch proponent of states’ rights, exposed the inner workings of his own racial values,

56 Thomas Hietala, Manifest Design: American Exceptionalism & Empire (New York: Cornell University, 1985), 92.
57 Ibid, 55.
58 Boorstin, 34.
59 Ibid, 36.
60 Bernard Bailyn, The Debate on the Constitution: Part One – September 1787 to February 1788 (New York: Library of America, Inc., 1993),

61 Bernard Bailyn, The Debate on the Constitution: Part Two – January 1788 to August 1788 (New York: Library of America, Inc., 1993), 506.
62 Wilentz, 775.

when he spoke to a crowd in 1848. “Ours is the government of the white man.” 63 Their
philosophy on the nature of the federal government was simplicity itself.
And lastly, the Progressive Period. Senator Albert J. Beveridge stated, in his case before
the Senate on January 9, 1900: “The times call for candor. The Philippines are ours forever…
And just beyond the Philippines are China’s illimitable markets. We will not retreat from
either… We will not renounce our part in the mission of our race: trustee, under God, of the
civilization of the world. And we will move forward to our work… with thanksgiving to
Almighty God that He has marked us as His chosen people.” Then, toward the end of the speech,
he said, “God has not been preparing the English-speaking and Teutonic peoples for a thousand
years for nothing… No! He has made us the master organizers of the world to establish systems
where chaos reigns.” 64
Nineteen years later, Woodrow Wilson, in his campaign to get the Treaty of Versailles
ratified, spoke to the nation regarding a necessary change in US foreign policy: “The isolation of
the United States is at an end… because… we have become a determining factor in the history of
mankind.” He continued to assert that the United States was special because it had ‘seen visions
that other nations had not seen,’ that it had always been “destined to set a responsible example to
all the world of what free government is.” 65 Throughout the history of this country, its
representatives have consistently used the tool of divine prodding when it suited their cause. And
to Wilson, the conceptual idea of Manifest Destiny lived and breathed in his words to a nation
hungry for direction and purpose.
George Santayana’s famous quote, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to
repeat it,” sums up one of man’s most enduring legacies; that of failure to learn from past
mistakes. Though we have come a long way in terms of crafting acceptable societal and cultural
values, there is the ever-looming possibility of our race heading for catastrophic failure. While
technology has connected the world as in no other time in history, religion continues to divide us
while toleration continues to elude us. The best tool we have in constructing a stable future is the
logic gained from an examination of history, including the underpinnings of Manifest Destiny; to
recognize the impact religion has had on human affairs in the past, and to use this in projecting
the impact it will have on our future.

63 Ibid, 612.
64 Robert Torricelli. In Our Own Words: Extraordinary Speeches of the American Century (New York: Washington Square Press, 1999), 5.
65 Stephanson, 117.