Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Chapter 8: Manifest Destiny

Chapter 8: Manifest Destiny

The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy:

How America’s Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest


McDougall Book Jacket

The original draft of this book contained 172 pages of endnotes, which had to be shed in the name of economy. Thanks to the Internet, readers can access them here. Unfortunately, of course, the author had to substitute page and paragraph numbers for the original superscripts in the text, but in most cases it should be clear which sentences in a given paragraph match up with which sources.

Paragraphs appearing in their entirety on a single page are identified by the page number (e.g., p. 122). Paragraphs divided between two pages are identified by those pages (e.g., pp. 92-93). Paragraphs that share a page with another complete paragraph are identified by the page number and paragraph number (e.g., p. 103, ¶ 1).





Previous: Chapter 7   Next: Chapter 9


Chapter 8: Manifest Destiny:

  1. 71-72: The Past and the Present of the American People,” The North American Review 66, issue 139 (April 1848): 426-46.
  2. 72-73: John O’Sullivan, “The Great Nation of Futurity” and “Annexation,” United States Magazine and Democratic Review 6, no. 23 (Nov. 1839) and 17, no. 1 (July-Aug. 1845); emphases added.
  3. 73: Thomas R. Hietala, Manifest Design: American Exceptionalism and Empire, rev. ed. (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University, 2003). Jacksonian Democrats had the task of formulating an ideology suggesting the United States could expand indefinitely without harm to their republican form of government and without the burdens of colonialism and militarism. So they portrayed “American aggrandizement as unusually moral and humane. A good nation, they insisted, could also be a great nation” (p. 214).  O’Sullivan was a skilled wordsmith, but a poor specimen of idealist.  His wild and sordid career spiraled downward into treasonous behaviors, including filibusters in Cuba and propaganda for the Confederacy in the Civil War.  See Walter Russell Mead, God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World (New York: Knopf, 2007), quote from p. 312, and Mead, Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World (New York: Knopf, 2001), pp. 223-63.  In Promised Land, Crusader State I myself wrote: “Without freedom to grow the nation would not be free at all” so “what is required is not a long explanation of U.S. expansion, but rather a short explanation of why U.S. expansion needs no explanation.  Geography invited it.  Demography compelled it.”  I then went on to make the common sense observation that rapidly multiplying Americans on a nearly empty continent weren’t about to be cowed by Indians, Mexican dictators, or a Hudson’s Bay Company monopoly (pp. 78-79).
  4. 73-74: Jackson continues to fascinate historians and their readers. See the recent studies by David S. Reynolds, Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson (New York: HarperCollins, 2008); Jon Meacham, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House (New York: Random House, 2008); H.W. Brands, Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times (New York: Doubleday, 2005); and Walter A. McDougall, Throes of Democracy: The American Civil War Era, 1829-1877 (New York: HarperCollins, 2008), pp. 41-106.
  5. 74: For a vivid depiction of the Mexican War era in all its grand and garish complexity see the chapter entitled “Conquistadors: The Glory and Fraud of Manifest Destiny” in McDougall, Throes of Democracy, pp. 229-307.
  6. 74-75: Georgia’s Robert Toombs said that “War in a just cause is a great calamity to many people and can be justified only by the highest necessity. A people who go to war without just and sufficient cause, with no other motive than pride and love of glory, are enemies to the human race….” His Georgia colleague Alexander Stephens agreed.  South Carolina’s John C. Calhoun opposed the war and especially the All-Mexico Movement because it would impose federal tyranny as much on the United States as on Mexico.  David Mayers, Dissenting Voices in America’s Rise to Power (New York: Cambridge University, 2007), pp. 109-37.  Contemporary and contrasting views of Polk may be found in William Dusinberre, Slavemaster President: The Double Career of James K. Polk (New York: Oxford, 2003), quote p. 169; Thomas M. Leonard, James K. Polk: A Clear and Unquestionable Destiny (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 2001), and Robert W. Merry, A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War, and the Conquest of the American Continent (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009).
  7. 75: “Our Relations with Mexico,” Philadelphia North American (May 12, 1846); “By Last Night’s Mails,” Boston Daily Atlas (May 13, 1846); “A Declaration of War!” Albany Evening Journal (May 15, 1846).
  8. 75-76: Greg Russell, John Quincy Adams and the Public Virtues of Diplomacy (Columbia: University of Missouri, 1995), p. 264; Letter to William H. Herndon (Feb. 15, 1848): Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 9 vols. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University, 1953), I: 45-52.
  9. 76: Jeremi Suri, Liberty’s Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from the Founders to Obama (New York: Free Press, 2011), p. 6. Suri’s lessons for how to do nation-building reduce to the mnemonic “5 P’s”: partnerships, process, problem-solving, purpose, and people. How cute.  Too bad it never proves that easy … except of course for those who scribble and then move on.
  10. 76-77: See for instance Francis Paul Prucha, Broadax and Bayonet: The Role of the United States Army in the Development of the Northwest, 1815-1860 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 1953) and The Sword of the Republic: The United States Army on the Frontier, 1783-1846 (New York: Macmillan, 1969); William H. Goetzmann, Exploration and Empire: The Explorer and the Scientist in the Winning of the American West (New York: Knopf, 1967); Goetzmann, Army Exploration in the American West, 1803-1863 (New Haven, Ct.: Yale University, 1969); Michael L. Tate, The Frontier Army in the West (Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1999); Tom Chaffin, John Charles Fremont and the Course of American Empire (New York: Hill and Wang, 2002).
  11. 77: White Jacket is an allegory that anticipated Moby Dick. The narrator is a young American sailor who enlists in the U.S. Navy to obtain passage home from a Pacific port. Bereft of cash he fashions a pea-jacket out of white rags and as a result is an object of derision, suspicion, and pity. The white coat obviously represents the pristine national mission of a chosen people.  It becomes a curse to the sailor.  When at last he falls from a mast and loses the jacket his relief is immense.
  12. 77-78: Carroll P. Kakel III, The American West and the Nazi East: A Comparative and Interpretive Perspective (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011), quote p. 214. Anne F. Hyde, Empires, Nations, and Families: A History of the North American West, 1800-1860 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2011), quote from p. 484, chronicles the transition from a “stateless West” in which families of mixed race pursued the fur trade and other livelihoods in relative peace, to a “national West” in which government power and rigid racial categories prevailed. The results included the expropriation of Hispanics in California and New Mexico, and Mountain Meadows Massacre (Utah 1857), Mankato Massacre (Dakota 1862), Sand Creek Massacre (Colorado 1864) of Native Americans.  See also Anders Stephanson, Manifest Destiny: American Expansionism and the Empire of Right (New York: Hill and Wang, 1995).

pp. 78-79: See the precocious transnational history by Walter A. McDougall, Let the Sea Make a Noise: A History of the North Pacific from Magellan to MacArthur (New York: Basic Books, 1993), pp. 269-76, 309-16, 352-62, for a description of the Perry mission and U.S. activity in the Pacific generally.


Previous: Chapter 7   Next: Chapter 9