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Manifest Destiny: History, Ideals, Points of View, etc.

Manifest Destiny is a philosophy that embraces American history as a whole. This idea originated during the early colonization of New England by the Puritans, who considered America destined for New Canaan to conquer and themselves as God’s chosen ones who were to build the “City on a Hill” – New Jerusalem. In 1839, a Democratic leader and influential editor John O’Sullivan attempted to explain American expansionism and justify US claims to new territories. This is how the term manifest destiny arose, which has become the most relevant slogan throughout American history. In a narrow sense, it consists of the fact that America’s territory should stretch from ocean to ocean. Manifest Destiny expressed the romanticism that drove Americans into the Wild West. O’Sullivan’s slogan formed the basis of the Manifest Destiny theory, the supporters of which believed that the annexation of the lands adjacent to the United States was inevitable and was just the fulfillment of the mission entrusted by Providence to the American nation. Some ideals of Manifest Destiny, from their point of view, largely characterize the foreign policy mentality of many Americans to this day.

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The Manifest Destiny doctrine was not just an ideological underpinning of American expansionism, but also acted as a legal principle that was placed above the norms of international law. It was evident when considering the “purchase” of Florida, the development of the Wild West, the annexation of California, in the conflict with England by about Oregon. It was later used to justify US claims to dominance in the Pacific (Engdahl 28-32). America, as John Sullivan said, is a nation created from many nations, not bound by the burden of a difficult historical past. He believed that the creation of the US state was the beginning of a new history in which Americans are destined to become a great nation. This is what Sullivan believed in the glory of America: its great destiny is to expand its territory, bringing with it faith in God, beneficent goals, and a clear, unspotted consciousness (Kehoe 68-74). The doctrine includes several components, several areas of the activity (Harrison, 14-19):

  1. Religious influence. America has a divine providence, a future ordained by God. The burden of the Americans is to conquer and Christianize lands.
  2. Economic motives, the search for new markets for American goods were among the most important.
  3. A sense of mission made people move to the West. The desire to develop trade with the far west led to the creation of new trade routes. Fear that US security might be threatened by foreign intervention in areas adjacent to its borders led the Americans to the idea of the need to seize borderlands.
  4. At the heart of the Manifest Destiny ideal, there was an overwhelming belief in American cultural and racial superiority.

Some ideals of Manifest Destiny, from their point of view, largely characterize the foreign policy mentality of many Americans to this day.

The motives of such an ideology permeate all spheres of spiritual and socio-political life, go beyond the narrow Protestant and even overall Christian framework, stimulate the development of the so-called civil religion in the United States. A distinctive feature of the American civil religion was the recognition of religious faith as a guarantee of the state good, the statement about the special importance of the United States in the plans of divine providence, and the belief in the exclusive mission of the United States in the world. Over time – especially in the 20th century – the very concept of American exceptionalism, originally associated with the peculiarities of the formation of the American nation and its racial and ethnic composition, as well as with the principles that formed the basis of the created democratic republic, was filled with new content. In the context of the transition from continental expansion to the policy of interventionism, and later to the policy of global expansionism, it began to be linked both with the ideas of American leadership and with the theory of global domination, becoming the main ideological instrument of foreign policy influence in the powerful arsenal of the US State Department.

Modern international relations cannot exist in chaos, and, accordingly, need constant regulation. In the context of building a new world order, the United States strives to play the role of such a regulator and coordinator. By declaring victory in the Cold War, the Americans showed the world their ambition to establish global leadership. The power of the United States is one of the key factors of global stability, and, acting as the initiator of international political, socio-economic, and cultural processes. In this regard, the doctrinal aspects of the foreign policy of the US, whose power and driving forces of international political development are involved in building the international order, appear to be more important and relevant than ever in ordering the system of international relations and security. In these conditions, the study of the historical features of the Manifest Destiny paradigm and its modern refraction acquires special significance.

Manifest Destiny, which describes the 19th-century belief in the necessity and justification of expansionism in the United States, reflects a vision of the unique role and place of the United States in world history. Understood in this sense, the Manifest Destiny of American statehood continued to influence the ideology of the US ruling circles in the 20th century, when this idea became interfaith and was heavily politicized. It is increasingly perceived in light of the US “duty” to be the defender and leader of the “free world” and serves the politics of neo-globalism.

Works Cited

Engdahl, Frederick William Manifest Destiny: Democracy as Cognitive Dissonance. Mine Books, 2018.

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Harrison, Lorraine. Manifest Destiny: The Dream of a New Nation. PowerKids Press, 2016.

Kehoe, Alice B. Militant Christianity: An Anthropological History. Palgrave Macmillan.

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