On Manifest Destiny

On Manifest Destiny
America was young and growing, and vast, bountiful lands stretched to the West. There is usually an idea behind every great endeavor - an idea that may not be actually factual, but which serves the required purpose of bringing to fulfillment the desired object.
There is usually an idea behind every great endeavor - an idea that may not be actually factual, but which serves the required purpose of bringing to fulfillment the desired object. The power of an idea can be amazing - equally amazing what a people can be made to believe - or, in this case, are ready to believe if it is going to help them achieve their ends.
Manifest Destiny is the concept the Americans came up with to justify their Westward Expansion and subsequent encroachment of the vast lands there belonging to the Indian Nations and Mexico. The phrase was coined by John Louis 'O' Sullivan, the editor of the important New York newspaper 'Democratic Review' in the editorial of 27 December 1845, and quickly caught the public imagination. America was young and growing, and vast, bountiful lands stretched to the West. Territorial expansion took on a romantic note, particularly in the hands of Walt Whitman. He wrote 'the great mission of peopling the new world with a noble race... Be it ours, to achieve that mission!'
But, actually, the idea had been prevalent all along ever since the first White Settlers arrived on American soil. They had arrived from Europe after all to bring 'civilization' and 'enlightenment', not to mention 'religion', to this 'new' land hitherto occupied by 'only savages'. Nobody questioned if they had any right to bring these encumbrances and moreover to foist them on anybody. No, that was taken for granted. It was God's Will. He had kept them safe throughout the whole perilous voyage for just this purpose. One of these days, if you ask me, God is going to get mighty tired of being turned into such a perennial Blame-post.
Anyway, seen from one perspective, there is something admirable alright about the hardy, risk-taking spirit of the Settlers, their willingness to - in the immortal lines from the earlier, non-PC version of Star Trek - 'boldly go where no (white) man had ever gone before'. I remember the sheer excitement of arriving in the vast, pristine wilderness with the brave, adventurous, and mostly moralistic characters that peopled the wonderful Western Novels of Zane Grey, Louis L'Amour, Oliver Strange, and company. What a feeling it was! To arrive in a grand new place abounding with countless opportunities, to have the chance to start over again, to build something worthwhile of your life, to leave a lasting legacy for future generations. It didn't occur to me to wince about the kind of legacy, although, around me, forests were being gaily chopped and the poor Buffaloes shot in abundance. We were not deforesting or mass-slaughtering - no, we, brave righteous souls, were building cities and maintaining a food supply. The frequent danger and attacks from the Indians were, of course, only the spicing on the cake. It never occurred to me either to question - and it was infrequently mentioned too - why they always seemed to be in the attacking mode.
Gradually, however, it became clear. I read literature that told the story from the Indians' perspective, and, as is my habit, I went from being a Settler to an Indian Chief. It was a life no less exciting, but the inevitable outcome was too bitter a pill to swallow. The benevolence of the Great White Father that forced me off my ancestral lands filled me with fury. So also losing half my family along the Trail of Tears.
I read about the Mexican-American War of 1848, brought about by the flagrant breach of law and illegal occupation of Mexican territory by American troops on the orders of President Polk, and I thought how could the gringos be so hypocritical?
Someone told me I was being terribly naïve, why didn't I go and read Machiavelli's 'The Prince'? So I went and read 'The Prince' and I'm not nearly so naïve anymore. I think Manifest Destiny is a wonderful concept, particularly now as it seems to have come around a full circle and ended up as an aspirational ideology of the Westward moving Indians - okay, Indians from Asia, but so what? Indians are Indians. Some went before the Continental Drift, some decided to go a bit later. What I fail to understand is, why is there so much cribbing about it in the United States? Don't people read 'The Prince' over there, if not their own history? Horace Greeley (or John Soule, to be precise) never said, Go West, white young man (woman) - he said, Go West, young man (woman), period.
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