I Before Columbus

by David Stannard

[David E. Stannard received his B.A. degree from San Francisco State University in 1971 and his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1975. His teaching and research interests include American social, cultural, and intellectual history; theory and method in history and social science; the demographic and environmental impacts of Western imperialism; comparative analyses of genocide; and race, racism, and multicultural studies.]

Combined, North America and South America cover an area of 16,000,000 square miles, more than a quarter of the land surface of the globe. To its first human inhabitants, tens of thousands of years ago, this enormous domain they had discovered was literally a world unto itself: a world of miles-high mountains and vast fertile prairies, of desert shrublands and dense tropical rain forests, of frigid arctic tundra and hot murky swamps, of deep and fecund river valleys, of sparkling water lakes, of canopied woodlands, of savannahs and steppes — and thousands upon thousands of miles of magnificent ocean coast.1

There were places where it almost never rained, and places where it virtually never stopped; there were places where the temperature reached 130 degrees Fahrenheit, and places where it dropped to 80 degrees below zero. But in all these places, under all these conditions, eventually some native people made their homes.

By the time ancient Greece was falling under the control of Rome, in North America the Adena Culture already had been flourishing for a thousand years. As many as 500 Adena living sites have been uncovered by modern archaeologists. Centered in present-day Ohio, they radiate out as far as Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia. We will never know how many hundreds more such sites are buried beneath the modern cities and suburbs of the northeastern United States, but we do know that these early sedentary peoples lived in towns with houses that were circular in design and that ranged from single-family dwellings as small as twenty feet in diameter to multi-family units up to 80 feet across.

These residences commonly were built in close proximity to large public enclosures of 300 feet and more in diameter that modern archaeologists have come to refer to as “sacred circles” because of their presumed use for religious ceremonial purposes. The buildings they constructed for the living, however, were minuscule compared with the receptacles they built for their dead: massive tombs, such as that at Grave Creek in West Virginia, that spread out hundreds of feet across and reached seven stories in height — and that were commonplace structures throughout Adena territory as early as 500 B.C..

In addition to the subsistence support of hunting and fishing, and gathering the natural fruit and vegetable bounty growing all around them, the ancient Adena people imported gourds and squash from Mexico and cultivated them along with early strains of maize, tubers, sunflowers, and other plant domesticates. Another import from the south — from South America — was tobacco, which they smoked through pipes in rituals of celebration and remembrance. From neighboring residents of the area that we now know as the Carolinas they imported sheets of mica, while from Lake Superior and beyond to the north they acquired copper, which they hammered and cut and worked into bracelets and rings and other bodily adornments.

Overlapping chronologically with the Adena was the Hopewell Culture that grew in time to cover an area stretching in one direction from the northern Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, in the other direction from Kansas to New York. The Hopewell people, who as a group were physiologically as well culturally distinguishable from the Adena, lived in permanent communities based on intensive horticulture, communities marked by enormous earthen monuments, similar to those of the Adena, that the citizenry built as religious shrines and to house the remains of their dead. Literally tens of thousands of these towering earthen mounds once covered the American landscape from the Great Plains to the eastern woodlands, many of them precise, geometrically shaped, massive structures of a thousand feet in diameter and several stories high; others — such as the famous quarter-mile long coiled snake at Serpent Mound, Ohio — were imaginatively designed symbolic temples.

No society that had not achieved a large population and an exceptionally high level of political and social refinement, as well as a sophisticated control of resources, could possibly have had the time or inclination or talent to design and construct such edifices. In addition, the Hopewell people had trade networks extending to Florida in one direction and Wyoming and North Dakota in the other, through which they acquired from different nations of indigenous peoples the copper, gold, silver, crystal, quartz, shell, bone, obsidian, pearl, and other raw materials that their artisans worked into elaborately embossed and decorative metal foil, carved jewelry, earrings, pendants, charms, breastplates, and other objets d’art, as well as axes, adzes, awls, and more. Indeed, so extensive were the Hopewell trading relationships with other societies throughout the continent that archaeologists have recovered from the centers of Hopewell culture in Ohio more materials originating from outside than from within the region.

To the west of the Hopewell there emerged in time the innumerable villages of the seemingly endless plains — large, usually permanent communities of substantial, multi-family homes and common buildings, the villages themselves often fortified with stockades and dry, surrounding moats. These were the progenitors of the people — the Mandan, the Cree, the Blood, the Blackfoot, the Crow, the Piegan, the Hidatsa, the Arikara, the Cheyenne, the Omaha, the Pawnee, the Arapaho, the Kansa, the Iowa, the Osage, the Kiowa, the Wichita, the Commanche, the Plains Cree, various separate nations of Sioux, and others, including the Ute and Shoshoni to the west — who became the classic nomads on horseback that often serve as the popular American model for all Indian societies. But even they did not resort to that pattern of life until they were driven to it by invading armies of displaced Europeans.


Arawak is the general, post-Columbian name given to various peoples who made a long, slow series of migrations from the coast of Venezuela to Trinidad, then across open ocean perhaps first to Tobago, then Grenada, and on up the chain of islands that constitute the Antilles-St. Vincent, Barbados, St. Lucia, Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Montserrat, Antigua, Barbuda, St. Kitts, Anguilla, St. Croix, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Cuba — then finally off to the Bahamas, leaving behind at each stop populations that grew and flourished and evolved culturally in their own distinctive ways.

Similarly, Arawak (sometimes “Taino,” but that is a misnomer, as it properly applies only to a particular social and cultural group) is the name now given to the melange of peoples who, over the course of many centuries, carried out those migrations across the Caribbean, probably terminating with the Saladoid people sometime around two thousand years ago. By the time of their encounter with Columbus and his crews, the islands had come to be governed by chiefs or caciques (there were at least five paramount chiefdoms on Hispaniola alone, and others throughout the region) and the people lived in numerous densely populated villages, both inland and along all the coasts.

The people of these climate-blessed islands supported themselves with a highly developed level of agriculture-especially on Cuba and Hispaniola, which are among the largest islands on earth; Cuba, after all, is larger than South Korea (which today contains more than 42,000,000 people) and Hispaniola is nearly twice the size of Switzerland. Their staple food was cassava bread, made from the manioc plant yuca, which they cultivated in great abundance. But also, through so many long generations in the same benign tropical environment, the Arawaks had devised an array of unique methods for more than satisfying their subsistence needs-such as the following technique which they used to catch green sea turtles weighing hundreds of pounds, large fish, and other marine life, including manatees.

In sum, as Caribbean expert Carl Sauer once put it, “the tropical idyll of the accounts of Columbus and Peter Martyr was largely true” regarding the Arawak. “The people suffered no want. They took care of their plantings, were dextrous at fishing and were bold canoeists and swimmers. They designed attractive houses and kept them clean. They found aesthetic expression in woodworking. They had leisure to enjoy diversion in ball games, dances, and music. They lived in peace and amity.”

All that was to change, however, with shocking and deadly suddenness, once those first three Spanish ships bobbed into view on the rim of the Caribbean horizon. For it was then only a matter of months before there would begin the worst series of human disease disasters, combined with the most extensive and most violent programs of human eradication, this world has ever seen.

1 David Stannard, “Before Columbus,” American Holocaust (Oxford University press, 1992) Third World Traveler .



II Christopher Columbus and the Indians

by Howard Zinn

[Howard Zinn is an author and lecturer. His most noted work, from which this selection is excerpted, is A People’s History of the United States.]

Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island’s beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat. When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts.2 He later wrote of this in his log:

“They… brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned…. They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…. They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane…. They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

These Arawaks of the Bahama Islands were much like Indians on the mainland, who were remarkable (European observers were to say again and again) for their hospitality, their belief in sharing. These traits did not stand out in the Europe of the Renaissance, dominated as it was by the religion of popes, the government of kings, the frenzy for money that marked Western civilization and its first messenger to the Americas, Christopher Columbus.

Columbus wrote:

“As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.” The information that Columbus wanted most was: Where is the gold?

The Indians, Columbus reported, “are so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone….” He concluded his report by asking for a little help from their Majesties, and in return he would bring them from his next voyage “as much gold as they need . . . and as many slaves as they ask.” He was full of religious talk: “Thus the eternal God, our Lord, gives victory to those who follow His way over apparent impossibilities.”

Because of Columbus’s exaggerated report and promises, his second expedition was given seventeen ships and more than twelve hundred men. The aim was clear: slaves and gold. They went from island to island in the Caribbean, taking Indians as captives. But as word spread of the Europeans’ intent they found more and more empty villages. On Haiti, they found that the sailors left behind at Fort Navidad had been killed in a battle with the Indians, after they had roamed the island in gangs looking for gold, taking women and children as slaves for sex and labor.

Now, from his base on Haiti, Columbus sent expedition after expedition into the interior. They found no gold fields, but had to fill up the ships returning to Spain with some kind of dividend. In the year 1495, they went on a great slave raid, rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men, women, and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then picked the five hundred best specimens to load onto ships. Of those five hundred, two hundred died en route. The rest arrived alive in Spain and were put up for sale by the archdeacon of the town, who reported that, although the slaves were “naked as the day they were born,” they showed “no more embarrassment than animals.” Columbus later wrote: “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.”

But too many of the slaves died in captivity. And so Columbus, desperate to pay back dividends to those who had invested, had to make good his promise to fill the ships with gold. In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death.

The Indians had been given an impossible task. The only gold around was bits of dust garnered from the streams. So they fled, were hunted down with dogs, and were killed.

Trying to put together an army of resistance, the Arawaks faced Spaniards who had armor, muskets, swords, horses. When the Spaniards took prisoners they hanged them or burned them to death. Among the Arawaks, mass suicides began, with cassava poison. Infants were killed to save them from the Spaniards. In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead.

When it became clear that there was no gold left, the Indians were taken as slave labor on huge estates, known later as encomiendas. They were worked at a ferocious pace, and died by the thousands. By the year 1515, there were perhaps fifty thousand Indians left. By 1550, there were five hundred. A report of the year 1650 shows none of the original Arawaks or their descendants left on the island.

The chief source-and, on many matters the only source of information about what happened on the islands after Columbus came is Bartolome de las Casas, who, as a young priest, participated in the conquest of Cuba. For a time he owned a plantation on which Indian slaves worked, but he gave that up and became a vehement critic of Spanish cruelty. In Book Two of his History of the Indies, Las Casas (who at first urged replacing Indians by black slaves, thinking they were stronger and would survive, but later relented when he saw the effects on blacks) tells about the treatment of the Indians by the Spaniards. It is a unique account and deserves to be quoted at length:

“Endless testimonies . . . prove the mild and pacific temperament of the natives…. But our work was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy; small wonder, then, if they tried to kill one of us now and then…. The admiral, it is true, was blind as those who came after him, and he was so anxious to please the King that he committed irreparable crimes against the Indians…”

Las Casas tells how the Spaniards “grew more conceited every day” and after a while refused to walk any distance. They “rode the backs of Indians if they were in a hurry” or were carried on hammocks by Indians running in relays. “In this case they also had Indians carry large leaves to shade them from the sun and others to fan them with goose wings.”

Total control led to total cruelty. The Spaniards “thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades.” Las Casas tells how “two of these so-called Christians met two Indian boys one day, each carrying a parrot; they took the parrots and for fun beheaded the boys.”

The Indians’ attempts to defend themselves failed. And when they ran off into the hills they were found and killed. So, Las Casas reports. “they suffered and died in the mines and other labors in desperate silence, knowing not a soul in the world to whom they could tun for help.” He describes their work in the mines:

“… mountains are stripped from top to bottom and bottom to top a thousand times; they dig, split rocks, move stones, and carry dirt on their backs to wash it in the rivers, while those who wash gold stay in the water all the time with their backs bent so constantly it breaks them; and when water invades the mines, the most arduous task of all is to dry the mines by scooping up pansful of water and throwing it up outside….

After each six or eight months’ work in the mines, which was the time required of each crew to dig enough gold for melting, up to a third of the men died. While the men were sent many miles away to the mines, the wives remained to work the soil, forced into the excruciating job of digging and making thousands of hills for cassava plants.

Thus husbands and wives were together only once every eight or ten months and when they met they were so exhausted and depressed on both sides . . . they ceased to procreate. As for the newly born, they died early because their mothers, overworked and famished, had no milk to nurse them, and for this reason, while I was in Cuba, 7000 children died in three months. Some mothers even drowned their babies from sheer desperation…. In this way, husbands died in the mines, wives died at work, and children died from lack of milk . . . and in a short time this land which was so great, so powerful and fertile … was depopulated…. My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write….”

When he arrived on Hispaniola in 1508, Las Casas says, “there were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it….”

Thus began the history, five hundred years ago, of the European invasion of the Indian settlements in the Americas. That beginning, when you read Las Casas–even if his figures are exaggerations (were there 3 million Indians to begin with, as he says, or less than a million, as some historians have calculated, or 8 million as others now believe?) is conquest, slavery, death. When we read the history books given to children in the United States, it all starts with heroic adventure–there is no bloodshed-and Columbus Day is a celebration.

The treatment of heroes (Columbus) and their victims (the Arawaks) the quiet acceptance of conquest and murder in the name of progress-is only one aspect of a certain approach to history, in which the past is told from the point of view of governments, conquerors, diplomats, leaders. It is as if they, like Columbus, deserve universal acceptance, as if they-the Founding Fathers, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, the leading members of Congress, the famous Justices of the Supreme Court-represent the nation as a whole. The pretense is that there really is such a thing as “the United States,” subject to occasional conflicts and quarrels, but fundamentally a community of people with common interests. It is as if there really is a “national interest” represented in the Constitution, in territorial expansion, in the laws passed by Congress, the decisions of the courts, the development of capitalism, the culture of education and the mass media.

2 Howard Zinn, “Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress,” A People’s History of the United States .


III The right of occupancy

by Tecumseh

[Tecumseh, a Shawnee Chief, learned in his youth the ability of the white man to push his people out of their homeland. This speech, in which he called for unity among the tribes, was delivered to Governor William Henry Harrison in council at Vincennes on August 12, 1810. Tecumseh died on October 12, 1813, at the hands of an American soldier.]

It is true I am a Shawnee. My forefathers were warriors. Their son is a warrior. From them I take only my existence; from my tribe I take nothing.3

I am the maker of my own fortune; and oh! that I could make of my own fortune; and oh! that I could make that of my red people, and of my country, as great as the conceptions of my mind, when I think of the Spirit that rules the universe. I would not then come to Governor Harrison to ask him to tear the treaty and to obliterate the landmark; but I would say to him: “Sir, you have liberty to return to your own country.”

The being within, communing with past ages, tells me that once, nor until lately, there was no white man on this continent; that it then all belonged to red men, children of the same parents, placed on it by the Great Spirit that made them, to keep it, to traverse it, to enjoy its productions, and to fill it with the same race, once a happy race, since made miserable by the white people, who are never contented but always encroaching.

The way, and the only way, to check and to stop this evil, is for all the red men to unite in claiming a common and equal right in the land, as it was at first, and should be yet; for it never was divided, but belongs to all for the use of each. For no part has a right to sell, even to each other, much less to strangers — those who want all, and will not do with less.

The white people have no right to take the land from the Indians, because they had it first; it is theirs. They may sell, but all must join. Any sale not made by all is not valid. The late sale is bad. It was made by a part only. Part do not know how to sell. All red men have equal rights to the unoccupied land. The right of occupancy is as good in one place as in another. There can not be two occupations in the same place. The first excludes all others. It is not so in hunting or traveling; for there the same ground will serve many, as they may follow each other all day; but the camp is stationary, and that is occupancy. It belongs to the first who sits down on his blanket or skins which he has thrown upon the ground; and till he leaves it no other has a right.

3 Tecumseh, “Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa, the Shawnee Prophet, Speeches,” Southwest Missouri State University .


IV A divine destiny for America

by John L. O’Sullivan

[John L. O’Sullivan, editor of the United States Magazine and Democratic Review, coined the phrase “manifest destiny” in 1845. This article, which explains the concept of America’s destiny and divine providence, was written in 1839.]

The American people having derived their origin from many other nations, and the Declaration of National Independence being entirely based on the great principle of human equality, these facts demonstrate at once our disconnected position as regards any other nation; that we have, in reality, but little connection with the past history of any of them, and still less with all antiquity, its glories, or its crimes. On the contrary, our national birth was the beginning of a new history, the formation and progress of an untried political system, which separates us from the past and connects us with the future only; and so far as regards the entire development of the natural rights of man, in moral, political, and national life, we may confidently assume that our country is destined to be the great nation of futurity.4

It is so destined, because the principle upon which a nation is organized fixes its destiny, and that of equality is perfect, is universal. It presides in all the operations of the physical world, and it is also the conscious law of the soul — the self-evident dictates of morality, which accurately defines the duty of man to man, and consequently man’s rights as man. Besides, the truthful annals of any nation furnish abundant evidence, that its happiness, its greatness, its duration, were always proportionate to the democratic equality in its system of government. . . .

What friend of human liberty, civilization, and refinement, can cast his view over the past history of the monarchies and aristocracies of antiquity, and not deplore that they ever existed? What philanthropist can contemplate the oppressions, the cruelties, and injustice inflicted by them on the masses of mankind, and not turn with moral horror from the retrospect?

America is destined for better deeds. It is our unparalleled glory that we have no reminiscences of battle fields, but in defence of humanity, of the oppressed of all nations, of the rights of conscience, the rights of personal enfranchisement. Our annals describe no scenes of horrid carnage, where men were led on by hundreds of thousands to slay one another, dupes and victims to emperors, kings, nobles, demons in the human form called heroes. We have had patriots to defend our homes, our liberties, but no aspirants to crowns or thrones; nor have the American people ever suffered themselves to be led on by wicked ambition to depopulate the land, to spread desolation far and wide, that a human being might be placed on a seat of supremacy.

We have no interest in the scenes of antiquity, only as lessons of avoidance of nearly all their examples. The expansive future is our arena, and for our history. We are entering on its untrodden space, with the truths of God in our minds, beneficent objects in our hearts, and with a clear conscience unsullied by the past. We are the nation of human progress, and who will, what can, set limits to our onward march? Providence is with us, and no earthly power can. We point to the everlasting truth on the first page of our national declaration, and we proclaim to the millions of other lands, that “the gates of hell” — the powers of aristocracy and monarchy — “shall not prevail against it.”

The far-reaching, the boundless future will be the era of American greatness. In its magnificent domain of space and time, the nation of many nations is destined to manifest to mankind the excellence of divine principles; to establish on earth the noblest temple ever dedicated to the worship of the Most High — the Sacred and the True. Its floor shall be a hemisphere — its roof the firmament of the star-studded heavens, and its congregation an Union of many Republics, comprising hundreds of happy millions, calling, owning no man master, but governed by God’s natural and moral law of equality, the law of brotherhood — of “peace and good will amongst men.”. . .

Yes, we are the nation of progress, of individual freedom, of universal enfranchisement. Equality of rights is the cynosure of our union of States, the grand exemplar of the correlative equality of individuals; and while truth sheds its effulgence, we cannot retrograde, without dissolving the one and subverting the other. We must onward to the fulfilment of our mission — to the entire development of the principle of our organization — freedom of conscience, freedom of person, freedom of trade and business pursuits, universality of freedom and equality.

This is our high destiny, and in nature’s eternal, inevitable decree of cause and effect we must accomplish it. All this will be our future history, to establish on earth the moral dignity and salvation of man — the immutable truth and beneficence of God. For this blessed mission to the nations of the world, which are shut out from the life-giving light of truth, has America been chosen; and her high example shall smite unto death the tyranny of kings, hierarchs, and oligarchs, and carry the glad tidings of peace and good will where myriads now endure an existence scarcely more enviable than that of beasts of the field. Who, then, can doubt that our country is destined to be the great nation of futurity?

4 John O’Sullivan, “Manifest Destiny,” Civics Online .


V Manifest Destiny (A poem)

by Anita Endrezze Probst 5

Feathers blacken against the sun
rising like the songs of old warriors,
past whitened skies to die.
I tried too hard to stop the cold wind
from blowing across the miles of my cheeks
so death brought summer, fever bright.
Oh, Indian woman, you carried your corn
in small red pots with painted turquoise
rivers, and now the pots are broken
like your ancient bones. With no wings
to flee from me, my memory dreams your spirit face
and I see you sleeping in shallow blue shade.
My mother used to say, Brown Child
of the red sand, wash your feet
with river flowers, climb high
upon the rocks and smile out
the stars. Now as a woman,
I remember a man who said
all Indians are rich
they just don’t know how to save,
except by cans of beer.
And like the buffalo, you took my brown
skin and hung it on the wall.
I am gentle, but angry:
Is this how you white men
mount your trophies. Tomorrow, I see
my son; in his eyes there is more than quiet pain —
now blood-red flames bloom anger
and he has yet to live.

[Anita Endrezze Probst was born in 1952 in Long Beach, Calif. Ms. Probst, an honors graduate of Eastern Washington State College, is half Yaqui Indian and a mix of Austrian, Italian, Swiss, Hungarian, Spanish, and German. Her poems have been published in numerous magazines.]

5 Anita Endrezze Probst, “Manifest Destiny,” Carriers of the Dream Wheel, Ed. Duane Niatum, (New York: Harper and Row, 1975), 163.


VI The expansionist movement

by Michael T. Lubbrage

[Michael T. Lubbrage is a scholar and author for the “From Revolution to Reconstruction” project of the University of Groningen in The Netherlands. In this article, he provides a comprehensive overview of the Manifest Destiny doctrine and the plight of those affected by it.]

Manifest Destiny, the term first used in 1845 by John L. O’Sullivan, conveyed the idea that the rightful destiny of the US included imperialistic expansion The mission, the “destiny,” of the United States was to extend its vision of democracy to all peoples capable of self-government. This vision did not apply to people of non-European origin, as they were thought to be “uncivilized” and therefore incapable of self-governent.6

Although the Manifest Destiny movement was named in 1845, the philosophy behind it existed throughout American history. For example, in 1818 Andrew Jackson, while taking a broad interpretation of vague instructions from President Monroe, led military forces into the Floridas during the Florida crisis. In a systematic and ruthless way, he punished the Seminole Indians for taking up arms with the Spanish, destroyed Spanish forces, and captured several cities and forts. Americans who had moral reservations about the rough tactics of Jackson soothed their consciences with this familiar but not yet named philosophy. Their reasoning: the Floridas were part of American territory and destiny intended that America should have them.

The reason why Americans where in Florida in the first place is yet another example of Manifest Destiny. The people of the deep South, wanting more fertile land for farming, exercised what they considered to be their right. The planter class, without any political approval or permission, just took over and started settling and planting the Florida territories. This move was an example of the arrogance that the Americans had towards expansion. Americans believed that they had a right to any land they wanted.

American history was built on a chronological record of significant events, each event having a cause and subsequent effect on another event. Historical events are presented in history as being tangible, being tied to a date, or an exact happening. Manifest Destiny, on the other hand, is a phenomenon. It can not be tied to a date, event or even a specific period of time. Manifest Destiny existed and still exists as the philosophy that embraces American history as a whole. Manifest Destiny is an intangible ideology that created American history. In its simplest form, Manifest Destiny can be defined as, “A Movement.” More specifically, it is the systematic body of concepts and beliefs that powered American life and American culture.

In the months following the Spanish-American War, the idea of expansionism grew stronger across the United States. In Congress, legislators called for the annexation of all Spanish territories. Some newspapers even suggested the annexation of Spain itself. Expansionists such as Roosevelt, former President Harrison, and Captain Mahan argued for creating an American empire. However, others, including Grover Cleveland, Andrew Carnegie, and Mark Twain, opposed these ideas.

Much of the talk about Manifest Destiny had many people suggesting that America should assume the role as a world power. In 1822 James Monroe echoed this idea in his famous Monroe Doctrine when he warned Europe and the rest of the world to “Stay out of the Western Hemisphere.” This simple statement established the US as the protector of all the lands in the Western hemisphere. With the Monroe Doctrine blazed on its chest, America could expand its involvement and control in foreign affairs throughout the Western Hemisphere.

While most Manifest Destiny believers felt that America simply had a mission — the altruistic right to extend its liberty to new realms — there were some who believed that the Manifest Destiny doctrine was based on the idea that America had a divine providence that was destined by God to expand its borders with no limit to area or country. Both reasons are key elements of the Manifest Destiny movement in the United States. Whether a person believed that America’s expansion was driven by God or a sense of mission, those promoting Manifest Destiny were certainly not in short demand or variety.

Northwest expansion started with the American fur trappers. In their search for new reserves of beaver, they blazed new trails and passages through the mountains. In doing so, they traversed new and fertile valleys of the far West. Their exaggerated stories and accounts of their travels publicized the newly found region of the West and aroused interest in people contemplating agricultural possibilities. It also gave the land an air of romance and adventure.

For all the positive atmosphere and grand spirit Manifest Destiny created, it also created the dark side of American History, none darker than the plight of the American Indian. While the positive side of Manifest Destiny was a surge of enthusiasm and energy for pushing West, the negative side was the belief that the white man had the right to destroy anything and anyone — namely Indians — who got in the way. Tracing the path of Manifest Destiny across the West would highlight mass destruction of tribal organizations, confinement of Indians to reservations, and full blown genocide. The dark side of Manifest Destiny revealed the white man’s belief that his settlement of the land and civilization of its native peoples was preordained.

The settlements that extended across the western territories promised the American dream: the freedom and independence of a seemingly limitless land. This, coupled with the agrarian spirit produced an attitude that nothing was going to stand in the way of progress, the progress of Manifest Destiny. In the name of this doctrine, Americans took whatever land they wanted. With a belief that Manifest Destiny gave them a right and power to do so, many simply settled, planted and farmed Indian land.

The philosophy that built American history was the rationalization that expansionists everywhere used to justify territorial growth. Some used the Manifest Destiny doctrine as a political philosophy stressing tradition, religious indoctrination, and social stability, while others used it as a simple reason to explore new lands. Expansionists experienced minimal interference of governmental institutions in private economic activities with Manifest Destiny leading their way.

Americans used Manifest Destiny as their proclamation of superiority and insisted that their conquests merely fulfilled the divine mission that man is impelled by forces beyond human control. Manifest Destiny was responsible for creating American history. Without it, American territory would be as big as the property surrounding its first settlement. It was the movement responsible for American Independence and American expansion. Because of the notion of Manifest Destiny, America’s drive to explore and conquer new lands will never die.

The Manifest Destiny doctrine can be divided into two distinct parts. One part could be defined as national Manifest Destiny. This is the drive behind building the American mainland. The America whose borders are between Canada and Mexico on the North and South and the Atlantic and Pacific oceans on the East and West.

The other part could be defined as international Manifest Destiny, which started in 1867 when America purchased Alaska from Russia for $7,200,000. Although this acquisition could fall into the example of national Destiny, it was the first time America went beyond its immediate border and acquired land.

If God and mission were the road to Manifest Destiny, imperialism was the light that lit the way. Beginning in the late 1800s, the American businessman fueled the notion of international Destiny. This group strongly believed in America extending its authority over other lands. This authority can be done by either political, military or economic means, but no matter what the method, imperialism was the reason to extend Americas interest beyond the Pacific.

Although there was still an abundant amount of land throughout the world that applied to the Manifest Destiny ideology, acquiring land on opposite sides of the globe required new methods. It would not be as easy as building roads and displacing a few thousand American Indians. Controlling colonial possessions thousands of miles away required a new military commitment. Today, control of airspace is a key tactical advantage in modern warfare, but it all began with the modern Navy. The US steamed into oversees expansion when the federal government commissioned the building of several cruisers and battleships between 1883 to 1890. It was clear to the US that those countries who controlled the seas controlled their own destiny.

Cuba’s war with Spain and the era of “Yellow Journalism” served as the means to get those Americans on the cusp to join the international Manifest Destiny movement. At the time, newspaper publishers William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer were in fierce competition for readers of their respective newspapers. In an attempt to increase circulation, they sent correspondents to Cuba to cover the fighting between Cuba and Spain. The field journalist’s over-exaggerations of events, sensationalist reporting, and graphic details of the brutality and atrocities being committed by the Spanish, created a new form of journalism. It also helped arouse the popular sentiment of the American people. Yellow Journalism coaxed the American public to rally behind Cuba and America’s involvement. When president McKinley asked for a declaration of war against Spain in April 1898, he had the majority backing of the American public.

6 Michael T. Lubbrage, “Manifest Destiny,” (The Netherlands: University of Groningen, Dept. Of Alfa informatica, 2001), 3 June 2003 .