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5.2 Manifest Destiny

3 min readdecember 30, 2022

Caleb Lagerwey

Caleb Lagerwey

Jillian Holbrook

Jillian Holbrook


AP US History 🇺🇸

454 resources
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The Rise of U.S. Expansion

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/fd/American_Progress_%28John_Gast_painting%29.jpg/1920px-American_Progress_%28John_Gast_painting%29.jpg

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

John L. O’Sullivan coined the term Manifest Destiny in 1845 while advocating for the annexation of Texas. It came to be defined as the belief that God had given the United States the divine calling and privilege of spreading its civilization across the whole of the North American continent, moving westward from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  Expanding the territory of the United States included spreading its values of democracy, capitalism, and Christianity.
It quickly gained advocates throughout the US, especially among Democrats who were pro-expansion and hoped to gain additional territory to expand Jefferson’s Empire of Liberty so that more American citizens could be yeoman farmers and plantation owners. 
The concept of Manifest Destiny was used to justify the expansion efforts of the United States, particularly in the west, through means such as the Louisiana Purchase, the Mexican-American War, and the forced relocation of Native American tribes. The belief in Manifest Destiny played a significant role in shaping American foreign policy and the country's expansion throughout the 19th century.

Areas & Impacts

The desire for economic opportunities, religious refuge, and access to natural and mineral resources drew migration of settlers to areas in the west.
Some of the locations which attracted new settlers during the time of Manifest Destiny:
  • Texas for cotton cultivation and cattle ranching 🐂
  • Oregon (via the famous Oregon Trail path to get there) for farming
    • British claimed this territory too
    • James K. Polk gets elected in 1844 with his promise of “54° 40' or fight!”
    • Peacefully resolved by Polk to focus on Mexico (see 5.3)
    • California for gold after 1849
  • Utah (Deseret) for Mormons seeking religious liberty and polygamy
You should also know some of the impacts of Manifest Destiny on the people out west and the United States as a whole:
  • Manifest Destiny leads to conflicts over the spread of slavery to the western territories
    • (This is a BIG deal in APUSH and is almost always on the exam in May)
  • Native Americans continued to resist losing land to white American settlers who moved west.
  • Led to the Mexican-American War (see 5.3)
  • The United States begins to seek greater access to Asian markets (🇯🇵 & 🇨🇳)
    • The U.S. expands into places like Alaska & Hawaii
    • The U.S. signs treaties like the Treaty of Kanagawa in which Commodore Matthew Perry sailed into Edo Bay with steamships armed with cannons and forced the Japanese to allow Americans to trade with them ⚓️
      • U.S. interest in expanding trade ultimately led to economic, diplomatic, and cultural initiatives to create more ties with Asia.
While Manifest Destiny is mostly associated with the westward expansion of the U.S. in the antebellum (pre-Civil War) era, the term also applies to later westward expansion efforts such as the Homestead Act of 1862 that gave away land out west to American settlers. Westward migration also continued to increase after the Civil War due to improvements in western transportation and economic development. Manifest Destiny even later fueled the U.S. overseas expansion during the 1890s (see Period 7) and beyond. 
🎥 Watch: AP US History - Manifest Destiny
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