True Women & Westward Expansion

True Women & Westward Expansion

True Women & Westward Expansion

True Women & Westward Expansion

Excerpt

Manifest destiny, the belief that Americans had the Godgiven right to expand into new territory, especially to the west, played a prominent role in early-nineteenth-century history. To date historians have paid little attention to women’s perceptions of this phenomenon or their participation in it. Typical studies focus on more obvious manifestations of expansionism, namely, events such as the acquisition of Texas and the Mexican War. Such a perspective limits scholars’ understanding of manifest destiny as well as American expansionists in general, only revealing half of a crucial concept. Although men did play the more prominent role because of their nearly exclusive hold on politics and war, our picture of the social environment surrounding expansionism remains incomplete.

Many scholars have attempted to explain manifest destiny. The best work remains Albert K. Weinberg’s Manifest Destiny: A Study of Nationalist Expansion in American History. Weinberg interprets his subject broadly, covering the entire nineteenth century. All motives have a turn in the spotlight: political, sociocultural, even agricultural. For this reason alone Manifest Destiny is the seminal work on nineteenth-century expansionism, but Weinberg’s work also provides numerous primary resources that today can be difficult to find. (Often footnotes in other books begin with “Quoted in Weinberg.”) Later works offer variations on Weinberg’s theme. For example, Frederick Merk’s Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History: A Reinterpretation suggests that manifest destiny was only one of two themes running through the American narrative. In Manifest Design: Anxious Aggrandizement in Late Jacksonian America, Thomas R. Hietala strips manifest destiny of its seemingly accidental appearance, insisting instead that the concept was merely a pragmatic rationalization of an active pursuit of national gain. On yet another note, Reginald Horsman’s Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism focuses exclusively on the implications of race on expansionism, tracing sentiments of Anglo-Saxon superiority . . .

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