The Role of Religion in Manifest Destiny

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In the 1770s the North American expansion was on the rise and was causing controversy among the people of the United States. The most controversial topic of the time was Manifest Destiny. Manifest Destiny was the long process of American territorial expansion that was both facilitated and justified by the mid-nineteenth-century ideology (or natural vision). Manifest Destiny was viewed from many different standpoints such as religious, political, ethnic, and economic. The most influential standpoint was the religious standpoint because its effects were seen in every aspect of lifestyle and decision making in every societal group of that time.

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Manifest Destiny was a general idea rather than a specific policy with a set of principles. Many Americans believed in the integrity and value of expansion. The nation felt a sense self-identity and the need to spread its beliefs and freedom to others. John L. O’Sullivan spoke of a divine destiny that focused on the moral salvation of man. In his magazine The Democratic Review, O’Sullivan’s Manifest Destiny was a perfect expression of the current enthusiastic belief in American democracy and in the mission of the United States to carry it throughout the North American continent . O’Sullivan urged the United States to annex the Republic of Texas because it was their Manifest Destiny. Even though the Whigs were against expansion Texas was annexed in 1845. O’Sullivan believed the United States had been given a mission to spread republican democracy by God. With this belief in mind he felt that as Americans immigrated to the new places, they would set up a democratic government and ask for admission to the United States. America was given a Divine Providence to manifest to mankind the excellence of divine principles through expansion .

The blessing of the American way of life could easily be extended. (p.6) George Washington subdued the Indians with military force. In 1794, the Indians had to give two-thirds of Ohio and a part Indiana to the United States. Thomas Jefferson bought the trans-Mississippi region from France in 1803. The democrats supported expansionism, but some opposed it saying expansion would cause the nation to fail (p.6). The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of America (p.7). John Quincy Adams thought America would be safe with expansion to other territories. Spain was forced to surrender Florida and Oregon to the United States (p.8). The United States was a rural and religious nation. Because of the growing population and the desire to own land, families moved west, believing in their divine destiny to expand.

If a person could not afford to buy the land, they squatted on it. The federal government allowed for and even encouraged the systematic displacement of native people so that settlers could acquire their land. (p.10) The Indian people had first claims to the land they lived on; however, with the belief of Manifest Destiny, Americans took the Indians’ lands. State and territories encouraged squatters to push further west. White people believed in the alleged superiority of white civilization (p.14). The Cherokee adopted the social, political, economic, and cultural norms of their white neighbors. (p.14) However, the Indian Removal Act of 1840 forced them to leave. This act set a precedent for expansionism in the 1840s (p.14). White people believed that their religion must be expanded west across the North American Continent. They felt the white civilization had been given a divine providence to expand.

After the war of 1812, the British Hudson’s Bay Company declared that everyone at the forts should attend Sunday services. The Indians were fascinated with Christianity as well as farming. Religious obligations were enforced at the forts. Christian baptisms were offered only on the condition of learning agriculture (p.227). American whites wanted to civilize Indians through making them more dependent on whites. The HBC made European civilization a package deal of trade, religion, and medicine (p.227). The HBC doctors were able to manipulate the Indians through vaccinations like smallpox (p.228). American men migrating to the west intermarried with Native American women. Catholic and Protestant missionaries arrived in the areas. These missionaries were bringing religion but felt as though the Indians were inferior to them (p.238). We have come to elevate them and not to suffer ourselves to sink down to their standard (p.238).

The westward expansion of American from 1812 to 1860 is referred to as the age of manifest destiny. Religion influenced the westward movement. Many Americans wanted to carry their religious beliefs across the continent through expansion. Manifest Destiny lasted from the end of the War of 1812 to the beginning of the Civil War. John Quincy Adams was one of the leaders who believed that the United States would eventually include all of North America. He wrote that all of North America was destined by Divine Providence to be governed by one nation, the United States. Adams believed that this nation would speak one language and follow one system of religious and political practices. Promoting America’s religious beliefs was an important factor in Manifest Destiny and the desire to move westward.

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The Role of Religion in Manifest Destiny. (2019, Jun 17). Retrieved August 19, 2022 , from
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