“The Great Nation of Futurity”: O’Sullivan’s Promotion of Freedom and Rights through God’s Will
The idea that America has a special history and destiny has been discussed during many centuries with strong attempts to understand its impact on global development and the promotion of national beliefs. In the middle of the 1800s, John L. O’Sullivan was a person who contributed to American self-identification through the analysis of recent changes, as well as nationalist and democratic achievements of American society. O’Sullivan was a founder and an editor of the United States Magazine and Democratic Review where he published “The Great Nation of Futurity” in 1939, a manifesto about the inevitable progress of the country with its rights and freedoms available to everyone. In a short period, his unique investigations and attitudes to the current progress of the country became a helpful tool for many historians and educators in their intentions to apply his religious impulses in nationalist discussions. O’Sullivan promoted a natural birth of the country with a possibility to create a new history where the impact of religious and governmental relationships cannot be ignored, the power of God’s will cannot be neglected, and clear statements about human freedoms are required.
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In “The Great Nation of Futurity”, O’Sullivan develops several strong ideas about the necessity of people to be ready to take new steps and forget about the impact of the past. He proclaims “the formation and progress of an untried political system, which separates us from the past and connects us with the future” (O’Sullivan, “The Great Nation of Futurity” 426). His manifesto is not only a symbolic call to action where American freedoms and human rights are supported. His text is a unique combination of pride, respect, and dignity with the help of which American people can be strong enough to take a step from the European impact and chose a new liberal direction that is radical by its nature. O’Sullivan inspires and motivates to move West and expend personal beliefs, equalities, and freedoms with special attention to the “immutable” truth of God who blesses the mission of the nation (“The Great Nation of Futurity” 430). Religious and nationalist ideas cause the desire to develop and regard new options.
The historical conditions under which “The Great Nation of Futurity” was created can be easily used to explain why O’Sullivan made such a decision and choose such a direction. The century was characterized by some changes and improvements, though not all of them were positively accepted by Americans. For example, President Andrew Jackson signed his justification to remove all Native Americans in the South that served as one of the strongest racial statements made by the government (Haselby 312). The impact of religion spread in different fields, including politics, economics, and society, and led to the creation of three directions to support the religious revolution where republican, combative, and voluntary attitudes were followed (Hartog 7). Changes were everywhere, and each politician, theorist, or writer wanted to create better conditions for all people without even noticing how classification and differentiation began.
One of the main arguments supported by O’Sullivan is the necessity to combine religious and nationalist impulses to create a safe future for the country. Wilsey investigated the impact of O’Sullivan on society and politicians and came to the conclusion that American exceptionalism, as well as Manifest Destiny, was an outcome of long religious traditions that helped to proclaim America as the “chosen nation” with its beliefs and rights approved by God (American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion 92; “Our Country Is Destined to Be The Great Nation” 75).
The example of Texas was used by O’Sullivan to understand what results can be achieved as a part of future fate and the necessity to improve living conditions and social relationships (“The Texas Question” 423). However, it is wrong to neglect the governmental impact on the development of religious statements. The author of the manifest explains that “our annals describe no scenes of horrid carnage, where men were led on by hundreds of thousands to slay one another”, and people were able to enter on its space with “truths of God” (O’Sullivan, “The Great Nation of Futurity” 427). American can achieve better deeds in case its leaders and people can unite their demands and skills and follow the will of God that implies the recognition of a serious mission.
Another important aspect of the manifest is the recognition of God’s power in human life. O’Sullivan focuses on people’s intentions to fulfill their mission and achieve “freedom of conscience, freedom of person, freedom of trade and business pursuits, and universality of freedom and equality” (“The Great Nation of Futurity” 430). Americans live according to some kind of a providential plan where they have to develop their unique vision, support human progress, and take the steps that are approved by God. No political leaders, kings, and invaders can influence the development of the nation the way God can. However, in favoring God, it seems that O’Sullivan neglects the possibility of substitution when the king’s rules and proclamations are substituted by God’s wills and vision. The author does not specify who is responsible for communication with God and who has a right to interpret his principles. Therefore, several questions and doubts have to occur among those people who truly appreciate their freedoms and demands.
The final statement that has to be discussed in this paper is closely connected to the above-mentioned discussions and the necessity to comprehend what people should know to meet the characteristics of the chosen nation. O’Sullivan explains to the reader the reasons for American glory and confidentiality in the future, saying that “we are the nation of the progress of individual freedom, of universal enfranchisement” (“The Great Nation of Futurity” 430). American was chosen by God from the universal point of view. On the one hand, such an explanation can be enough for believers. On the other hand, skeptics and theorists may want to have more arguments to support the priority of this nation and its recognition as the “great nation of futurity” (O’Sullivan, “The Great Nation of Futurity” 430). America does not want to use the examples of European countries and rely on the power of emperors, kings, and demons with human faces. Its national birth began as soon as the government supported the idea of expansion that included the territory of Hawaii, Alaska, and the Philippines. Still, the expansion motivated by God may be compared to the invasion led by kings. The distinction is tiny, and O’Sullivan uses this difference to prove the uniqueness and greatness of the American nation in his article.
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In general, O’Sullivan’s “The Great Nation of Futurity” is a significant contribution to understanding American history and glory compared to many European and Asian countries in the 19th century. Numerous changes, the intentions to be improved and recognized in the world arena, and an incredible belief in God and his will encourage O’Sullivan, as well as all American people, to believe in national readiness to take new steps, forget about history, and connect their current lives with the future. Though today this article seems to be naïve and too general, in the middle of the 1800s, this manifesto was an impressive source of inspiration with American freedoms and equality being promoted throughout the whole globe.
Hartog, Jonathan J. Den, Patriotism and Piety: Federalist Politics and Religious Struggle in the New American Nation, University of Virginia Press, 2015.
Haselby, Sam, The Origins of American Religious Nationalism, Oxford University Press, 2015.
O’Sullivan, John L., “The Great Nation of Futurity,” The United States Magazine and Democratic Review, vol. 6, no. 23 (1839): 426-430.
“The Texas Question,” The United States Magazine and Democratic Review, vol. 14 (1844): 423-430.
Wilsey, John D., “Our Country Is Destined to Be the Great Nation of Futurity: John L. O’Sullivan’s Manifest Destiny and Christian Nationalism, 1837-1846,” Religions, vol. 8, no. 4 (2017): 68-84.
American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea, IVP Academic, 2015.