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Manifest Destiny

Primary Source Set

Belief in the God-ordained right of European-Americans to settle and colonize the continental United States from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast is known as manifest destiny. Coined by newspaper editor John O’Sullivan in 1845, the phrase “manifest destiny” reached its zenith during the US takeover of the Oregon territory, the Mexican-American War, and the California gold rush. Arising from heightened patriotism after the War of 1812, the religious passion of the Second Great Awakening, and the economic drive for more land and profits, this nationalist expansion of “American” people and culture was synonymous with white imperialist, racially supremacist, and religiously intolerant thoughts and actions against Native Americans, Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese, and other people of color. This primary source set includes visual, audial, and written documents that reflect the era’s projected ideals and harsh realities. From twentieth-century posters, monuments, and letters to nineteenth-century maps, biographies, and paintings, this set allows students to gain a greater understanding of how perceptions of manifest destiny have changed over time.

Additional resources for research

  1. Manifest Destiny Overview, The U.S.-Mexican War: Prelude to War, PBS.
  2. Manifest Destiny, American History from Revolution to Reconstruction and beyond.
  3. The Religious Origins of Manifest Destiny, Divining America: Religion in American History, National Humanities Center.

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