Featured image: Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash. Edited in Affinity Designer.
4 for Now
“Manifest Destiny” is one of those phrases we had to memorize for high school history tests, but that carries a vague meaning for many of us. It turns out, it’s just more colonizer propaganda.
In 1845, John L. O’Sullivan, a columnist, wrote a long-winded article called Annexation, about adding Texas to the US. There was some dissent, with many colonists considering it foreign and vilifying anyone and anything connected to it. He argued that while there were numerous other reasons to add Texas to the Union, the main one was:
“The manner in which other nations have undertaken to intrude themselves into [taking Texas] … in a spirit of hostile interference against us, for the avowed object of thwarting our policy and hampering our power, limiting our greatness and checking the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.”
Hence the idea of Manifest Destiny—that the colonists violently taking land from Natives of Turtle Island was some divine right.
“We Americans are the peculiar, chosen people – the Israel of our time.”
– Herman Melville
Then there’s that famous painting that supposedly shows colonizers spreading enlightenment and civilization. (I won’t show it. Google John Gast.) Yet we can clearly see animals and Natives alike running for their lives.
If you’re familiar with the Doctrine of Discovery, you know that the Catholic Church had already decreed that Catholics could spread their dominion over any non-Christian nations (officially considered “uninhabited”). So upon hearing the idea that God had destined the colonizers to dominate over the entire continent, they got carried away.
President James K. Polk is most associated with Manifest Destiny, as he was president at the time the term was coined, and snatched land, south and north:
- After the Mexican-American War, we took most of what’s now the Southwest US.
- After resolving a boundary dispute with Great Britain, we acquired modern-day Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, along with parts of what are now called Montana and Wyoming.
This pissed off some people, most notably the people who’d been living there for thousands of years before we came in and made a mess of things. As nations of the Great Plains—including the Apache, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Comanche, Tonkawa, Wichita, and other tribes—tried to defend their homes, colonizers and land speculators murdered or removed them.
It also didn’t help tensions between abolitionists and the folks who enslaved Black people. Enslavers wanted the new states to allow slavery, while abolitionists didn’t. The Wilmot Proviso declared that the Mexican-American War had not been about expanding slavery, therefore slavery would not be allowed in those states. The Senate blocked its passage, yet it further inflamed the issue leading up to the Civil War.
“When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.”
– Maya Angelou
So if I’m understanding this right, “manifest destiny” (literally, “obvious future”) means that the European colonizers stealing and killing was somehow inevitable. (Not to sway you one way or the other, but that sounds like an admission of evil, to me.)
4 *Actions* for Later
- If you haven’t yet, check out Native-land.ca and see whose land you’re on.
- Better yet, learn something about the nations whose land you’re on (you can click on the nation names on the site above to find out more). Are there still members in your area? Reach out and see if there’s some way you can support them.
- Support Land Back efforts. Indigenous stewardship of the land not only attempts to restore the imbalance created by the original thefts, but is likely the only way we survive (since global warming is—in large part—a result of colonizer actions).
- Learn more about how slavery still exists today and what you can do to help end it.