Events That Changed America in the Nineteenth Century

By John E. Findling; Frank W. Thackeray | Go to book overview

6
The War with Mexico,
1846-1848

INTRODUCTION

Westward expansion had been occurring in America since the earliest colonial days. The purchase or annexation of new territory, the impulse or economic necessity to move on, the improved facilities for migration provided by canals and railroads in the early nineteenth century all stimulated the idea of expansion. Land hunger, especially in the South where soil depleted rapidly, was another strong force for westward movement.

In the 1840s, an editor, John L. O'Sullivan, gave a label to the spirit of expansionism, manifest destiny, which encompasses the idea that the United States was preordained to occupy and control all of North America, if not even a greater area. This was not something that persons willed, but rather the product of greater forces, and seen through geographical, cultural, and historical evidence. In a sense, manifest destiny, an expression of American nationalism, was a rationalization for expansionism.

Americans thought their culture and institutions were better than those of other nations and therefore they had a right, even an obligation, to impose these better ways on less fortunate peoples. They pursued this obligation with a conviction that took the form of a mission to demonstrate to all the world the virtues of democracy. Another reason for

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