Manifest Destiny



During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the United States saw many problems come and go. Some problems were more important than others, however all led to further division of American politics. The most divisive issue in American politics during this time frame was the idea of Manifest Destiny, or territorial expansion.
Manifest Destiny was the idea that it was the United States’ destiny to take over all of North America from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Most of the public was in favor of territorial expansion, though some politicians felt it contradicted the constitution.
Strict constructionists were against territorial expansion, while loose constructionists felt expansion was the United States’ destiny. Strict constructionists centered their platform around the fact that the constitution never directly states that the federal government has the right to acquire land. Those that view the constitution liberally, or loose constructionists, counter that stand by claiming the right of expansion falls under the government’s implied powers. Loose constructionists and strict constructionists are the main divisive factor for the United States political parties: the democrats and the whigs. One of the supporters of Manifest Destiny was, democrat, James Polk who served as president from 1844 to 1848.
Polk was strongly in favor of expanding the United States to the Pacific. This opinion won him the election of 1844. That year Henry Clay, a well known and loved figure in American politics, ran and was expected to blow, little known, Polk of the charts. The only problem was Clay was nervous about territorial expansion. He did not want was with Mexico and was unsure of the constitutionality of expanding. Polk won because the majority of the public believed in Manifest Destiny.
Along with influencing presidential elections, Manifest Destiny played a role in the slavery issue. Entering the mid eighteen hundreds slavery was a very sensitive subject, and some of the bad feelings that caused this sensitivity were caused by territorial expansion. With more lands being acquired the number of slave state and free state representatives in Congress became unbalanced. This caused great distress among the senators and representatives. For instance, free state members of Congress began accusing the slave state members of conspiracies. One such accusation was made by Charles Sumner. He proposed the idea that southerners wanted to acquire more land so they could implant slavery in the territories. With more slave oriented territories that would eventually became slave states, the South would have control of Congress. This is what Sumner called the “Slave Power Conspiracy.”
Slavery stirred up a lot of hard feelings though the slavery issue was not the hottest of the problems associated with territorial expansion. War with Mexico and Great Britain worried many of the people who were against expansion. James Polk had been elected when the wars were on the verge of breaking out. The potential war with Britain was resolved early in Polk presidency. He obviously wanted nothing to do with Britain’s powerful navy, for he agreed to a compromise that gave the United States far less of Oregon than the public wanted.
The Mexico situation was different in that Polk did not have the fear of Mexico that he had of Great Britain. Polk felt a war with Mexico would only prove profitable for the United States, so he inticed the Mexicans to attack. Once Mexico attacked, Polk claimed he had to defend the United States, for Mexico had invaded American territory. Polk claimed, “The cup of forbearance had been exhausted... [Mexico] had passed the boundary of the United States, has invaded our territory, and shed American blood upon the American soil.” (Tindall 587)
Polk’s unexpected election, slavery conflicts, and the Mexican war were all issues in American politics during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Of all the possible explanations for these problems, territorial expansion is the number one reason. The idea of Manifest Destiny split American politics more than any other factor up to the eighteen fifties.




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