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Evaluating the Manifest Destiny: Violence Masked as Inspiration


The concept of expansion and the colonization of North American lands, which was engraved into the Manifest Destiny, is an admittedly controversial topic that needs to be studied further in order to embrace the effects of colonization on the modern relationships within American society. While studying the historical records of the event is a crucial part of the analysis, considering the existing artistic representations of the events that occurred as a result of the Manifest Destiny is also an essential step in embracing its meaning and outcomes. Namely, the painting by John Gast titled “American Progress” depicts the foundational problems with the core concept of the Manifest Destiny in a nutshell. The painting outlines the racist and colonialist nature of the expansion process, thus proving that the concept of the Manifest Destiny lacked fairness and was completely unnecessary, yet was vastly supported by its proponents due to the belief of their superiority and the fairness of the concept.

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From the contemporary perspective that is based on the ideas of humanism and appreciation of cultural diversity, the events that transpired while the Manifest Destiny was implemented could not possibly be described as fair. The proponents of the Manifest Destiny, namely, European colonizers, justified their foray into the North American land by claiming that their expansion was their irrefutable right. Naturally, from the perspective of the present-day principles of justice, the specified logic is beyond questionable.1 However, the contemporary interpretation of the actions that colonizers undertook in order to capture the land that did not belong to them in the first place are not only morally wrong but also criminally unfair.

“American Progress,” the painting by John Gast, sarcastically discloses the entirety of unfairness of the Manifest Destiny in the artist’s innocuous attempt at capturing the boldness and the grandeur of the proponents of the specified political move. Namely, the painting with the woman dressed in white, obviously representing Europe and its ostensible progress, depicts the dynamics between the colonizers and local residents. With the former being depicted as brave explorers, and the colonized nation being shoved into the background, the painting relays the actual principles and ideas behind the Manifest Destiny.2 Namely, the concept of the superiority of the European race over local ethnic groups and the naïve yet nonetheless atrocious idea of foisting the European culture onto the ostensibly uncivilized nation is seen clearly in the painting.

The necessity of the Manifest Destiny can also be heavily doubted from the standpoint of modern ethics. The lack of need for the actions that were virulent in their aggression can also be seen quite clearly in the picture since it does not even portray the actual resistance of local tribes. Thus, the author of the painting creates an implicit message that native residents were doomed in their attempts at fighting aback against colonizers. As a result, the painting subverts the initial concept of the absolute necessity of bringing the enlightenment to Native American and taking their lands as promoted in the Manifest Destiny.

However, with the priorities and the vision that Europeans had at the time, the necessity of the Manifest Destiny appeared to be very high for the colonizers. Since the arrival of Europeans to the North American continent was viewed as the saving grace for the locals and the process of bringing enlightenment to the uncivilized, the perceptions of colonizers rooted in racism and ethnic segregation were seen as the guiding force behind the implementation of the manifest.3 As a result, the fairness of the document, as well as the actions of Europeans that arrived in North America were seen as doubtlessly fair, even though they are deemed as atrocious by modern standards.

In fact, the artistic representations of the intentions and the spirit with which the process of colonization was implemented render the events occurring at the time quite well and give a profound insight into the ideas by which colonizers were driven. For example, the painting by John Gast, which portrays a blonde woman embodying the spirit of European colonization walking behind Europeans in their foray into North American lands indicates that the process was seen as not only necessary but also completely natural by the people involved in it. Believing that they represented the shining beacon of enlightenment and that the native residents of North America needed it as uncivilized heathens, the people encouraging the Manifest Destiny presumed that the entire process was completely necessary.4 The painting by Gast represents the specified sentiment quite accurately, portraying the European colonization process as a reasonable and even noble act that was destined to happen.

However, apart from considering the events that transpired after the Manifest Destiny was heralded as the foundational principle of exploring North American lands as necessary, there is an even more complicated way of interpreting the subject matter. Namely, the propensity toward viewing the Manifest Destiny and the actions that it entailed as inevitable has emerged in the political and academic discourse. At first glance, the specified statement cannot possibly be considered as a reasonable argument. Indeed, from the humanistic perspective that has currently seen as the position from which political issues need to be reviewed, the idea on which the Manifest Destiny was based was entirely inhumane. Infringing upon the rights of local residents and basically obliterating them from their own land, manifest Destiny was a cruel political and military mode.5 However, when considering the time frame of the event and the beliefs that its proponents held, one will realize that people of the time would not have comprehended any other [point of view due to the perceived misconception about the superiority of their race. The inevitability of the colonization is implied in nearly every aspect of Gast’s painting, from the portrayal of colonists as the righteous owners of the land to the contrast in the color scheme, with Europe being represented in light hues, while North America was depicted as dark and unwelcoming.

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Indeed, when considering the content of the Manifest Destiny, one will realize that the ideas of colonialism were baked into its every facet, inspiring its proponents to use their power to seize the territory and abuse the rights of its owners. Thus, as unfair and atrocious as the principles of the Manifest Destiny were toward native residents, its development and implementation were unavoidable since the people that supported and encouraged its postulates could not see the political and sociocultural reality in any other way. Although the current perspective allows interpreting the Manifest Destiny as one of the most violent acts against racial and ethnic minorities, it was viewed as the natural order of things at the time, which made its implementation inevitable. Gast’s painting is one of the graphic pieces of evidence of the violence that colonizers used to advance into the North American continent and take lands away from native residents. Remaining a dark reminder of the dreadful mistakes made in the past, the painting should be seen as an important insight into the history of the United States.


Agathangelou, Anna M., and Kyle D. Killian. Time, Temporality and Violence in International Relations:(De) Fatalizing the Present, Forging Radical Alternatives. New York, NY: Routledge, 2016.

Cheathem, Mark R., and Terry Corps. Historical Dictionary of the Jacksonian Era and Manifest Destiny. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.

Katz, Wendy Jean. The Trans-Mississippi and International Expositions of 1898–1899: Art, Anthropology, and Popular Culture at the Fin de Siècle. Lincoln, NE: U of Nebraska Press, 2018.

Loy, R. Philip. Westerns and American Culture, 1930-1955. New York, NY: McFarland, 2015.

Twain, Tiffany. Big Picture Perspectives and a Pursuit of Social Activism. New York, NY:


  1. Mark R. Cheathem and Terry Corps, Historical Dictionary of the Jacksonian Era and Manifest Destiny (New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016): p. 113.
  2. Anna M., Agathangelou and Kyle D. Killian, Time, Temporality and Violence in International Relations:(De) Fatalizing the Present, Forging Radical Alternatives (New York, NY: Routledge, 2016): p. 71.
  3. R. Philip Loy, Westerns and American Culture, 1930-1955 (McFarland, 2015): 120.
  4. Tiffany Twain, Big Picture Perspectives and A Pursuit of Social Activism (New York, NY: p. 27.
  5. Wendy Jean Katz, The Trans-Mississippi and International Expositions of 1898–1899: Art, Anthropology, and Popular Culture at the Fin de Siècle (Lincoln, NE: U of Nebraska Press, 2018): p. 199.

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