Manifest Destiny and the Expansion of America

Manifest Destiny and the Expansion of America

Manifest Destiny and the Expansion of America

Manifest Destiny and the Expansion of America


What if Texas had remained independent? What if the Mexican War had turned out differently and the question of slavery had remained dormant? What if the Lincoln-Douglas debates had not propelled Abraham Lincoln into the national spotlight? What if the United States had peacefully divided into two nations instead of engaging in civil war? These scenarios represent the road not taken in American history. But what if we'd chosen differently?

This volume poses "what if" questions about ten crucial "tipping points" in the history of U.S. expansionism between 1800 and the Civil War. It not only describes what happened -- in the case of Lewis and Clark, the War of 1812, the Monroe Doctrine, railroads and telegraphs, the Mexican War, the gold rush, the Compromise of 1850 -- it also offers alternative scenarios, essays on what could have happened.

In this exciting and imaginative approach to history, students not only develop analytical skills by tracing the causes and effects of crucial events; they are empowered by the knowledge that at moments when history hangs in the balance, many paths are possible, and that they, as citizens, can tip the scale.


I regard the chief utility of all historical and sociological
investigations to be to admonish us of the alternative possibilities
of history.

—Oscar Jaszi, The Dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy

There is nothing new about counterfactual inference. Historians
have been doing it for at least two thousand years.

—Philip Tetlock and Aaron Belkin, Counterfactual
Thought Experiments in World Politics

The question, What would have happened if …? is asked all the time as historians, students, and readers of history examine past events. If some event had turned out differently, we are often reminded that the whole course of history from that particular turning point forward could have been affected. Important outcomes frequently hinge on an individ-ual decision, an accidental encounter, a turn in the weather, the spread of a disease, or a missed piece of information. Such events stimulate our imagination, accentuating the role of luck, chance, and individual decision or character at particular moments in time. The examination of such key hinge points is one of the reasons that the study of history is so fascinating.

“Alternate history” has become a fictional genre, similar to science fiction, in that it proposes other worlds, spun off from the one we live in, derived from some key hinge point in the past. Harry Turtledove, among others, has produced novels along these lines. Turtledove has written a widely sold sequence of books that follow an alternate past from a “counterfactual” Confederate victory at the battle of Antietam, resulting in the rise of the Confederate States of America as a separate nation, with consequences well into the twentieth century.

Alternate or counterfactual history is more than a form of imaginative speculation or engaging entertainment, however. Historians are able to highlight the significance of an event they examine by pointing to the consequences of the event. When many significant consequences flow from a single event, the alternate history question is implicit—the consequences would have been different, and a strange and different history would have flowed from that time forward if the specific event in question had turned . . .

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