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Manifest Destiny

Manifest Destiny


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Origin of the Manifest Destiny Phrase

John O’Sullivan- Editor of the Democratic Review Newspaper (c.1845)

During the mid-19th century, John O’ Sullivan (an editor of the Democratic Review and the New York Morning Review newspapers) became the first man to coin the concept of “Manifest Destiny” – the strong belief that the U.S.A. was blessed by God to be a superior power that had to expand throughout North America- and even march into areas on the Pacific. In other words, he had coined a term for the Continental Expansionism. Some historians have argued that, the concept was a direct proposition for the extermination of American Indians.

From one point of view, “Manifest Destiny” appeared as a new term. But deep beneath historical facts, its underlying ideas of colonialism and subjugation were as old as Methuselah.


The Western Frontier

As the nation expanded westward, settlers were motivated by opportunities to farm the land or “make it rich” through cattle or gold.

Learning Objectives

Describe the conditions common in western frontier towns

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • While the motivation for private profit dominated much of the movement westward, the federal government played a supporting role in securing land and maintaining law and order.
  • The rigors of life in the West presented many challenges to homesteaders, such as dry and barren land, droughts, insect swarms, shortages of materials, and lost crops.
  • Although homestead farming was the primary goal of most western settlers in the latter half of the 19th century, a small minority sought to make fortunes quickly through other means, such as gold or cattle.
  • The American West became notorious for its hard mining towns, such as Deadwood, South Dakota and Tombstone, Arizona, and entrepreneurs in these and other towns set up stores and businesses to cater to the miners.

Key Terms

  • Homesteading: A lifestyle of self-sufficiency characterized by subsistence agriculture and home preservation of foodstuffs it may or may not also involve the small-scale production of textiles, clothing, and craftwork for household use or sale.

John L. O’Sullivan on “Manifest Destiny”

The American people having derived their origin from many other nations, and the Declaration of National Independence being entirely based on the great principle of human equality, these facts demonstrate at once our disconnected position as regards any other nation that we have, in reality, but little connection with the past history of any of them, and still less with all antiquity, its glories, or its crimes. On the contrary, our national birth was the beginning of a new history, the formation and progress of an untried political system, which separates us from the past and connects us with the future only and so far as regards the entire development of the natural rights of man, in moral, political, and national life, we may confidently assume that our country is destined to be the great nation of futurity.

It is so destined, because the principle upon which a nation is organized fixes its destiny, and that of equality is perfect, is universal. It presides in all the operations of the physical world, and it is also the conscious law of the soul — the self-evident dictates of morality, which accurately defines the duty of man to man, and consequently man’s rights as man. Besides, the truthful annals of any nation furnish abundant evidence, that its happiness, its greatness, its duration, were always proportionate to the democratic equality in its system of government. . . .

What friend of human liberty, civilization, and refinement, can cast his view over the past history of the monarchies and aristocracies of antiquity, and not deplore that they ever existed? What philanthropist can contemplate the oppressions, the cruelties, and injustice inflicted by them on the masses of mankind, and not turn with moral horror from the retrospect?

America is destined for better deeds. It is our unparalleled glory that we have no reminiscences of battle fields, but in defence of humanity, of the oppressed of all nations, of the rights of conscience, the rights of personal enfranchisement. Our annals describe no scenes of horrid carnage, where men were led on by hundreds of thousands to slay one another, dupes and victims to emperors, kings, nobles, demons in the human form called heroes. We have had patriots to defend our homes, our liberties, but no aspirants to crowns or thrones nor have the American people ever suffered themselves to be led on by wicked ambition to depopulate the land, to spread desolation far and wide, that a human being might be placed on a seat of supremacy.

We have no interest in the scenes of antiquity, only as lessons of avoidance of nearly all their examples. The expansive future is our arena, and for our history. We are entering on its untrodden space, with the truths of God in our minds, beneficent objects in our hearts, and with a clear conscience unsullied by the past. We are the nation of human progress, and who will, what can, set limits to our onward march? Providence is with us, and no earthly power can. We point to the everlasting truth on the first page of our national declaration, and we proclaim to the millions of other lands, that “the gates of hell” — the powers of aristocracy and monarchy — “shall not prevail against it.”

The far-reaching, the boundless future will be the era of American greatness. In its magnificent domain of space and time, the nation of many nations is destined to manifest to mankind the excellence of divine principles to establish on earth the noblest temple ever dedicated to the worship of the Most High — the Sacred and the True. Its floor shall be a hemisphere — its roof the firmament of the star-studded heavens, and its congregation an Union of many Republics, comprising hundreds of happy millions, calling, owning no man master, but governed by God’s natural and moral law of equality, the law of brotherhood — of “peace and good will amongst men.”. . .

Yes, we are the nation of progress, of individual freedom, of universal enfranchisement. Equality of rights is the cynosure of our union of States, the grand exemplar of the correlative equality of individuals and while truth sheds its effulgence, we cannot retrograde, without dissolving the one and subverting the other. We must onward to the fulfilment of our mission — to the entire development of the principle of our organization — freedom of conscience, freedom of person, freedom of trade and business pursuits, universality of freedom and equality. This is our high destiny, and in nature’s eternal, inevitable decree of cause and effect we must accomplish it. All this will be our future history, to establish on earth the moral dignity and salvation of man — the immutable truth and beneficence of God. For this blessed mission to the nations of the world, which are shut out from the life-giving light of truth, has America been chosen and her high example shall smite unto death the tyranny of kings, hierarchs, and oligarchs, and carry the glad tidings of peace and good will where myriads now endure an existence scarcely more enviable than that of beasts of the field. Who, then, can doubt that our country is destined to be the great nation of futurity?
Source


Manifest Destiny - HISTORY

Manifest Destiny
Digital History ID 362

In 1845, John L. O'Sullivan (1813-1895), editor of the Democratic Review, referred in his magazine to America's "manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions." The idea that America had a special destiny to stretch across the continent motivated many Americans to dream big dreams and migrate West. "We Americans," wrote the novelist Herman Melville, "are the peculiar, chosen people--the Israel of our time." Aggressive nationalists invoked manifest destiny to justify Indian removal, war with Mexico, and American expansion into Texas, California, the Pacific Northwest, Cuba, and Central America. More positively, the idea also inspired missionaries, farmers, and pioneers who dreamed only of transforming plains and fertile valleys into farms and small towns.


Document: The American people having derived their origin from many other nations, and the Declaration of National Independence being entirely based on the great principle of human equality, these facts demonstrate at once our disconnected position as regards any other nation that we have, in reality, but little connection with the past history of any of them, and still less with all antiquity, its glories, or its crimes. On the contrary, our national birth was the beginning of a new history, the formation and progress of an untried political system, which separates us from the past and connects us with the future only and so far as regards the entire development of the natural rights of man, in moral, political, and national life, we may confidently assume that our country is destined to be the great nation of futurity.

It is so destined, because the principle upon which a nation is organized fixes its destiny, and that of equality is perfect, is universal. It presides in all the operations of the physical world, and it is also the conscious law of the soul -- the self-evident dictates of morality, which accurately defines the duty of man to man, and consequently man's rights as man. Besides, the truthful annals of any nation furnish abundant evidence, that its happiness, its greatness, its duration, were always proportionate to the democratic equality in its system of government. . . .

What friend of human liberty, civilization, and refinement, can cast his view over the past history of the monarchies and aristocracies of antiquity, and not deplore that they ever existed? What philanthropist can contemplate the oppressions, the cruelties, and injustice inflicted by them on the masses of mankind, and not turn with moral horror from the retrospect?

America is destined for better deeds. It is our unparalleled glory that we have no reminiscences of battle fields, but in defence of humanity, of the oppressed of all nations, of the rights of conscience, the rights of personal enfranchisement. Our annals describe no scenes of horrid carnage, where men were led on by hundreds of thousands to slay one another, dupes and victims to emperors, kings, nobles, demons in the human form called heroes. We have had patriots to defend our homes, our liberties, but no aspirants to crowns or thrones nor have the American people ever suffered themselves to be led on by wicked ambition to depopulate the land, to spread desolation far and wide, that a human being might be placed on a seat of supremacy.

We have no interest in the scenes of antiquity, only as lessons of avoidance of nearly all their examples. The expansive future is our arena, and for our history. We are entering on its untrodden space, with the truths of God in our minds, beneficent objects in our hearts, and with a clear conscience unsullied by the past. We are the nation of human progress, and who will, what can, set limits to our onward march? Providence is with us, and no earthly power can. We point to the everlasting truth on the first page of our national declaration, and we proclaim to the millions of other lands, that "the gates of hell" -- the powers of aristocracy and monarchy -- "shall not prevail against it."

The far-reaching, the boundless future will be the era of American greatness. In its magnificent domain of space and time, the nation of many nations is destined to manifest to mankind the excellence of divine principles to establish on earth the noblest temple ever dedicated to the worship of the Most High -- the Sacred and the True. Its floor shall be a hemisphere -- its roof the firmament of the star-studded heavens, and its congregation an Union of many Republics, comprising hundreds of happy millions, calling, owning no man master, but governed by God's natural and moral law of equality, the law of brotherhood -- of "peace and good will amongst men.". . .

Yes, we are the nation of progress, of individual freedom, of universal enfranchisement. Equality of rights is the cynosure of our union of States, the grand exemplar of the correlative equality of individuals and while truth sheds its effulgence, we cannot retrograde, without dissolving the one and subverting the other. We must onward to the fulfilment of our mission -- to the entire development of the principle of our organization -- freedom of conscience, freedom of person, freedom of trade and business pursuits, universality of freedom and equality. This is our high destiny, and in nature's eternal, inevitable decree of cause and effect we must accomplish it. All this will be our future history, to establish on earth the moral dignity and salvation of man -- the immutable truth and beneficence of God. For this blessed mission to the nations of the world, which are shut out from the life-giving light of truth, has America been chosen and her high example shall smite unto death the tyranny of kings, hierarchs, and oligarchs, and carry the glad tidings of peace and good will where myriads now endure an existence scarcely more enviable than that of beasts of the field. Who, then, can doubt that our country is destined to be the great nation of futurity?


Manifest destiny

John Gast, American Progress, 1872. Wikimedia.

Columbia, the female figure of America, leads Americans into the West and into the future by carrying the values of republicanism (as seen through her Roman garb) and progress (shown through the inclusion of technological innovations like the telegraph) and clearing native peoples and animals, seen being pushed into the darkness.


Manifest Destiny

Manifest Destiny was a phrase which invoked the idea of divine sanction for the territorial expansion of the United States. It first appeared in print in 1845, in the July-August issue of the United States Magazine and Democratic Review. The anonymous author, thought to be its editor John L. O'Sullivan, proclaimed "our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our multiplying millions." The specific context of the article was the annexation of Texas, which had taken place not long before. Other applications of the notion of manifest destiny were soon found. It was used to promote the annexations of Mexican territory acquired in the Mexican-American War , of territory in Oregon gained through negotiations with the British, and the seizure (not carried out) of Cuba from the Spanish during the 1850's. Various arguments against western expansion were put forward, particularly by those on the Eastern seaboard who feared a dilution of their influence on national affairs. It was suggested that a democratic government should not try to extend itself over such a vast territory. James K. Polk responded to this in his inaugural address in 1844:


The Mexican-American War

The process of admitting Texas as a slave state was well under way by the time Polk became president on March 4, 1845. One plank of the Democratic platform was thus resolved. In his first annual message to Congress, Polk asserted that the American claim to the entire Oregon country was “clear and unquestionable.” The British, who had refused on several occasions to relinquish any territory north of the Columbia River, now had a change of heart. Their chief fur-trading post had been moved to Vancouver Island, and British Minister Pakenham suggested extending the boundary line from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific along the forty-ninth parallel. Polk, focusing on settling the Texas controversy and acquiring California, agreed to submit the British proposal to the Senate. On June 18, 1846, over the protests of expansionist Democratic senators demanding all of Oregon to the southern border of Alaska—“Fifty-four forty or fight”—the Oregon boundary settlement was ratified. Polk was especially pleased with the timing of the compromise, because the United States was already at war with Mexico.

Mexico broke diplomatic relations with Washington following the annexation of Texas, and continued to claim the Nueces River as the southwestern border of its rebellious province. Exacerbating the situation were millions of dollars in inflated claims that Americans had lodged against the Mexican government, and the driving desire of President Polk to acquire the valuable Pacific ports of California. Polk appointed John Slidell of Louisiana as minister to Mexico, and instructed him to offer up to 30 million dollars to settle the disputed claims and purchase California and New Mexico—the territory between Texas and California. Secretary of War William Marcy suggested to Thomas Larkin, the American consul in Monterey, that the Californios might follow the Texas example and declare their independence from Mexico. John Charles Frémont led an ostensible “exploring expedition” to support such a revolt.

The Polk administration failed in its initial efforts to acquire California and settle the Texas controversy. Californians did not rise in revolt, and Mexico rejected Slidell as an American minister. Polk then ordered General Taylor to move his troops across the Nueces to the Rio Grande, but the stalemate continued. On Saturday, May 9, 1846, the president informed his cabinet that the U.S. “had ample cause of war,” based upon the rejection of Slidell as minister and the claims issue. Only Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft, the preeminent historian of the age, opposed seeking an immediate declaration of war from Congress. That very evening, however, word was received that fighting had commenced along the Rio Grande. The following Monday, Polk declared that Mexico “invaded our territory, and shed American blood upon American soil.” Congress responded with a war resolution and an authorization for 50,000 volunteers.

The war with Mexico was popular in the Mississippi Valley, but was derided as “Mr. Polk’s War” in the northeast. Whigs generally opposed the war, but party members in Congress voted to support the American soldiers and marines during the fighting. Abraham Lincoln, a Whig congressman from Illinois, believed Polk rushed the country into war over the disputed territory between the Nueces and the Rio Grande. He demanded to know the exact “spot” the war started, but his views were not popular back home and he chose not to run for reelection.

Antislavery men naturally viewed the conflict as a brazen conspiracy to extend the boundaries of the "peculiar institution." James Russell Lowell, an abolitionist poet, castigated the Mexican War in the Biglow Papers:

Henry Davis Thoreau symbolically protested the war by refusing to pay his Massachusetts poll tax. He spent one night in the Concord jail, before his aunt paid his fine and he returned to Walden Pond to write a classic essay, “Civil Disobedience.” Thoreau rhetorically inquired: “How does it become a man to behave toward this American government today? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it.”

Despite the opposition of Whigs and antislavery men, the war with Mexico was an unparalleled military success. After the first clash in late April, General Taylor crossed the Rio Grande and defeated numerically superior Mexican forces at the Battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. Advancing on Monterrey, a town in northern Mexico, "Old Rough and Ready" and his men faced fierce house-to-house fighting against a valiant Mexican army led by General Pedro de Ampudia. Taylor agreed to a negotiated surrender, allowing the Mexican troops to retreat with their arms. President Polk countermanded the armistice, and ordered Taylor to take a defensive position and detach most of his veteran troops to bolster a planned attack against Mexico City. General Santa Anna tried to exploit Taylor’s weakened position, but the Battle of Buena Vista in February 1847 was a stunning American victory. It was also Taylor’s last fight—he returned home a military hero destined for the White House.

Polk’s main objective—California—was not the scene of major military action. Americans living near Sonoma raised the “Bear Flag Revolt” in June 1846, aided by Frémont’s small force. After his sailors and marines seized Monterey, Commodore John D. Sloat proclaimed the annexation of California and instituted a military government. Some Mexican loyalists resisted the American occupation, and sporadic fighting continued. Meanwhile, Colonel Stephen Kearney's small army garrisoned Santa Fe, New Mexico, before resuming their march. En route, Kearney encountered Kit Carson, who incorrectly reported that California had been pacified. Sending all but one hundred men back east, Kearney joined forces at San Diego with Commodore Robert Stockton and helped put down the loyalist revolt. The American forces entered Los Angeles in January 1847, ending the fighting in California.

The decisive campaign of the war was the expedition against Mexico City. Winfield Scott, the commanding general of the United States Army, landed his men on the beaches near Vera Cruz, and commenced a march that traced the route taken 300 years before by Cortés. Scott brushed aside Santa Anna’s army at Cerro Gordo, a battle in which Captains Robert E. Lee and George B. McClellan distinguished themselves. Santa Anna hastily recruited a Mexican army of about 20,000 troops, but many of them were ill-trained and equipped. In a series of sharp battles near the capital city, General Scott's army of nearly 14,000 men overwhelmed the Mexican forces. The fortified hill of Chapultepec was stormed despite the desperate resistance of the defenders, who included young military cadets known as “los niños." Mexico City fell on September 14, as American soldiers and marines entered the “halls of the Montezuma.”

Nicholas P. Trist, the chief clerk of the State Department, was sent by Polk to negotiate a peace treaty with the Mexican government. It was signed on February 2, 1848, at Guadalupe-Hidalgo. Mexico acknowledged the annexation of Texas (with the Rio Grande as its border), and ceded New Mexico and California to the United States. In return, the United States paid $15,000,000 for the Mexican Cession, and assumed up to $3,250,000 of the disputed claims. The war’s human toll included about 13,000 American dead—the vast majority due to diseases. In terms of the percentage of combatants, this remains the nation's costliest military conflict. It also reopened the slavery expansion controversy settled by the Missouri Compromise of 1820.

Ralph Waldo Emerson prophetically warned, “The United States will conquer Mexico, but it will be as the man swallows the arsenic, which brings him down in turn. Mexico will poison us.” Indeed, the Mexican Cession became a political battleground between the North and the South. The issue was raised early in the war by David Wilmot, a Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania. Employing the language of the Northwest Ordinance, Wilmot proposed that slavery be prohibited in any territory acquired from Mexico. The “Wilmot Proviso” passed the House frequently in the next several years, but it was always defeated in the Senate. It never became law, but represented the extreme Northern position regarding the extension of slavery.

Senator John C. Calhoun presented the extreme Southern position on slavery expansion in February 1847. Calhoun argued that Congress had no power to prohibit slavery in any American territory, and Southerners subsequently demanded that federal slave codes protect slavery in the Mexican Cession. Two compromise proposals were also advanced prior to the election of 1848. James Buchanan urged that the Missouri Compromise line of 36o 30’ be extended to the Pacific. President Polk agreed but it was becoming more difficult for politicians to concede any territory in the fight over slavery. The other compromise proposal, known as “popular sovereignty,” was introduced in December 1847 by Lewis Cass, a moderate Democratic senator from Michigan. Cass adroitly proposed that the explosive slavery question be removed from the halls of Congress by letting the people of the territories decide the matter. As it turned out, a decision would have to be reached soon because of the California gold rush.


What is Manifest Destiny? The Controversial History of Westward Expansion

The White House Twitter page quoted President Trump's Fourth of July speech at Mount Rushmore in a tweet that said: "Americans are the people who pursued our Manifest Destiny across the ocean, into the uncharted wilderness, over the tallest mountains, and then into the skies and even into the stars."

Manifest Destiny is a philosophy that originated in the 19th century. It is the idea that the U.S. is destined to expand its territories and ideals across the North American continent, and that the country has the God-given right to do so.

"Americans are the people who pursued our Manifest Destiny across the ocean, into the uncharted wilderness, over the tallest mountains, and then into the skies and even into the stars." pic.twitter.com/AYCgAC5oN0

&mdash The White House (@WhiteHouse) July 7, 2020

The term "Manifest Destiny" was coined in 1845 by magazine editor John L. O'Sullivan, who wrote about the annexing of Texas and the supposed inevitability of American expansion.

Manifest Destiny was used to validate the Westward Expansion and the acquisition of Oregon, Texas, New Mexico, and California before the Civil War and was used to justify the removal of Native American people from their land.

However, the concept of Manifest Destiny existed before it had a name, which can be seen in the history of Westward Expansion. The Westward Expansion began with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, which nearly doubled the size of the U.S., and was continued with the Florida Purchase Treaty in 1819.

President James Monroe used the concept of Manifest Destiny to warn European countries against interfering in the Westward Expansion of the U.S., declaring that any attempt by Europe to colonize America would be seen as an act of war.

In 1846, James K. Polk's administration negotiated the Oregon Treaty with Great Britain, which divided the territory between the U.S. and Canada.

In 1848, the Mexican-American war ended and the U.S. acquired 525,000 square miles of territory, including all or parts of what is now California, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming. The Wilmot Proviso was designed to eliminate slavery within this new territory.

The acquisition of more land exacerbated tensions between slaveowners and abolitionists, as the North and South states had to decide whether the newly-acquired territories would be slave states or free states&mdashthis conflict eventually resulted in the American Civil War.

The idea of Manifest Destiny was revived with the purchase of Alaska in 1867 and gained popularity again in U.S. foreign policy in the 1890s. The Spanish-American War occurred in 1898, with the U.S. acquiring Puerto Rico as a territory, as well as the Philippines, which was a Spanish colony at the time.

The Westward Expansion worsened the conflict between the white settlers and Native Americans, Hispanic people, and other non-European occupants of the territories.

A little after Trump mentioned Manifest Destiny in his speech, he said: "We are the culture that put up the Hoover Dam, laid down the highways, and sculpted the skyline of Manhattan.

"We are the people who dreamed a spectacular dream&mdashit was called: Las Vegas, in the Nevada desert who built up Miami from the Florida marsh and who carved our heroes into the face of Mount Rushmore."

Trump's speech taking place at Mount Rushmore was controversial, with leaders of two tribes of the Sioux Nation speaking out against it, but using the term Manifest Destiny at Mount Rushmore made it even more so considering how the concept was used to justify the removal of Native Americans.

The faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln were carved into the Black Hills &mdashan area considered sacred by the Sioux people&mdashby Gutzon Borglum, a Ku Klux Klan-linked artist, in 1941.

The president of the Oglala Sioux tribal council, Julian Bear Runner, said that Trump's Fourth of July celebration will cause an "uproar." Bear Runner cited an increase in coronavirus cases and a lack of resources as reasons why Trump's Fourth of July event should not take place at Mount Rushmore.

But Bear Runner also said: "The lands on which that mountain is carved and the lands he's about to visit belong to the Great Sioux Nation under a treaty signed in 1851 and the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 and I have to tell him he doesn't have permission from its original sovereign owners to enter the territory at this time."

The land was given to Native Americans after the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 was signed, but following the discovery of gold, the federal government reclaimed the land in 1874.

The chair of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, Harold Frazier, called for the removal of the Mount Rushmore monument and even offered to remove it himself, saying in a statement: "Nothing stands as a greater reminder to the Great Sioux Nation of a country that cannot keep a promise or treaty than the faces carved into our sacred land on what the United States calls Mount Rushmore.

"This brand on our flesh needs to be removed and I am willing to do it free of charge to the United States by myself if I must."

But the Manifest Destiny philosophy still seems to be favored by Trump, as later in his speech, the president said: "Americans harnessed electricity, split the atom, and gave the world the telephone and the Internet.

"We settled the Wild West, won two World Wars, landed American astronauts on the Moon&mdashand one day very soon, we will plant our flag on Mars."


The Annexation of Texas

When Mexico gained its independence from Spain, Texas was a sparsely settled frontier province bordering the United States. Texas, explored by the Spanish as early as the 1500s, was largely neglected in the centuries that followed. Only a few thousand Mexicans—known as Tejanos—lived in the province by the early 1820s, most of them clustered around the mission at San Antonio. The Mexican government encouraged Americans to emigrate to Texas in an effort to create a military buffer between marauding Indians and the more southern provinces. The Americans were required to give up their citizenship, convert to Roman Catholicism, and become Mexican citizens. In return, they were granted huge tracts of land in the region bordering Louisiana, along the Sabine, Colorado, and Brazos Rivers.

The first American empresario was Moses Austin, a former New Englander who had traded with the Spanish for decades. Austin was granted 18,000 square miles, with the understanding that he would settle 300 American families on his lands. His son, Stephen F. Austin, had the grant confirmed by Mexican authorities after his father’s death, and by the mid-1830s there were about 30,000 Americans ranching and growing cotton with the aid of several thousand black slaves. Despite the fact that the Mexican government had abolished slavery, Americans continued to emigrate with their “lifetime indentured servants.” The Americans in Texas greatly outnumbered the native Mexicans, and they sought full statehood for the province in order to gain home rule.

The American-born Texans supported Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna for the presidency of Mexico in 1833, because they believed he would support statehood. But after his election, Santa Anna proclaimed a unified central government that eliminated states’ rights. The Texans, with some Tejano allies, revolted against Santa Anna’s dictatorship. The revolutionaries declared their independence on March 2, 1836, and adopted a constitution legalizing slavery. David G. Burnet, a native of New Jersey who had lived with the Comanches for two years, was chosen president of the new republic. Sam Houston, a former Tennessee congressman and governor who fought under Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812, was selected as Commander-in-Chief of the army.

The Mexican government responded swiftly to put down the Texas rebellion. Santa Anna raised a force of about 6,000 troops, and marched north to besiege the nearly 200 rebels under the command of Colonel William B. Travis at the Alamo, the abandoned mission at San Antonio. The final assault was made on March 6, and the entire garrison was annihilated, including the wounded. Among the dead were frontier legends Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie. A few weeks later at Goliad, Santa Anna ordered the slaughter of 300 Texas rebels after they surrendered.

The Texas Revolution struck a sympathetic chord in America. Hundreds of southwestern adventurers responded to the romanticized heroism of the Alamo and promises of bounty lands. Ignoring American neutrality laws, they rushed to join the Texas army. With fewer than 900 men—about half the size of Santa Anna’s force—General Houston surprised the Mexicans at the San Jacinto River, near the site of the city that bears his name. “Remember the Alamo!” and “Goliad!” were the rallying cries of the Texans as they overwhelmed the veteran Mexican army.

Santa Anna was captured after the Battle of San Jacinto and forced to sign a treaty recognizing Texas as an independent republic, with the Rio Grande River as its southwestern boundary. Upon his return to Mexico City, Santa Anna repudiated the peace treaty. The Mexican Congress likewise refused to acknowledge the independence of Texas, and continued to claim the Nueces River as the boundary of its “rebellious province.” Mexico warned of war should the United States attempt to annex Texas.

Following the revolution, Sam Houston was elected president of Texas, and diplomatic envoys were sent to Washington seeking admission to the Union. President Andrew Jackson, concerned that the annexation of Texas might mean war with Mexico and knowing it would upset the sectional balance between free and slave states, merely extended diplomatic recognition to the new republic on March 3, 1837. His immediate successor in the White House, Martin Van Buren, also managed to sidestep the question of annexation.

President Van Buren was defeated for re-election by William Henry Harrison in the famous “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” campaign of 1840. Tyler was a former Democratic senator from Virginia who resigned his seat rather than vote to expunge a resolution of censure directed against Jackson. This made him an attractive running-mate for Harrison, but it did not make him a Whig in principle. Harrison became the first president to die in office (only a month after his inauguration) and President Tyler soon broke with the Whigs over two key issues—the constitutionality of a national bank and the annexation of Texas.

Tyler selected South Carolinian John C. Calhoun as secretary of state, and instructed him to negotiate a treaty of annexation with the Texas envoys in Washington. Expansionists feared that an independent Texas would blunt America’s march into the southwest. Calhoun subsequently submitted a treaty to the Senate, but also made public his correspondence with the British minister, Richard Pakenham. In his letter, Calhoun chastised British officials for pressuring the Texans to abolish slavery in return for Mexican recognition of their independence. The Republic of Texas had established close diplomatic ties with several European nations, including Britain and France, in an effort to protect itself from Mexico. After defending slavery as a benign institution, Calhoun claimed that the preservation of the Union required the annexation of Texas. By linking the expansion of slavery with the admission of Texas, Calhoun doomed the annexation treaty.

The annexation of Texas and the Oregon boundary dispute were major issues during the election of 1844. While President Tyler was plotting to annex Texas, the leading contenders for the presidential nominations of the Democratic and Whig Parties did their best to defuse the explosive controversy. Former president Martin Van Buren and Henry Clay published letters expressing their opposition to the immediate annexation of Texas. Their anti-expansionist views cost Van Buren the Democratic nomination, and Clay the presidency.

Manifest Destiny was so strong among northwestern and southern Democrats, that the party’s national convention nominated James Knox Polk of Tennessee for president. “Young Hickory” ran on a platform calling for the “re-annexation of Texas” and the “re-occupation of Oregon.” Clay received the Whig nomination by acclamation, but westerners remembered his Texas letter and some northeasterners refused to support a slaveholder. James G. Birney, the candidate of the Liberty Party, polled enough Whig support in New York to swing that state’s electoral vote to Polk, who was elected president.

President Tyler viewed the Democratic victory as a mandate to annex Texas. Recognizing the difficulty of securing the two-thirds Senate vote necessary to ratify a treaty, Tyler hit upon an ingenious ploy. He sought a joint resolution of annexation from Congress that required a simple majority in each house. This was accomplished shortly before Tyler left office. After a state convention agreed to annexation on the Fourth of July, Texas was formally admitted to the Union in December 1845. President Polk, meanwhile, ordered General Zachary Taylor and about half of the United States army—some 3,500 men—to take up a defensive position on the Nueces River.


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