M any momentous social and political changes in the nineteenth- century United States -- the expansion of the nation, the usurpation of native territory, the defense and abolition of slavery, and the ascendancy of the middle class -- were undergirded by two separate but interrelated rhetorics: manifest destiny and domesticity. The rhetoric of manifest destiny predicted and celebrated a divinely ordained spread of democracy, individualism, capitalism, and civilization throughout the North American continent, while the rhetoric of domesticity codified "natural" differences and duties of American men and women. In this scheme, while a variety of activist and public roles were promoted for men, women were to exist within the private realm of domesticity, piety, and purity and to remain isolated from the tumultuous world of men, politics, and the marketplace. If women fulfilled their godly roles as devoted daughters, wives, and mothers, then men could devote their energies to a divinely sanctioned appropriation and control of the continent.
While the two rhetorics were touted as "universal" in their application and appeal, in actuality, both were firmly undergirded by a belief in masculine Anglo-Saxon American superiority. The triumph of the nation could only be accomplished through the concomitant removal, acculturation, or elimination of nonwhite peoples and through a careful circumscription of white women.