Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Manifest Destiny-- illusion or reality?

When I thought about illusions, the American concept of [Manifest Destiny] naturally came to mind. The phrase was one of those powerful ones that is often coined to make something happen, to make people become emotionally aroused. Think 54-40 or Fight; Remember the Maine; or Remember the Alamo. Manifest Destiny, although it may have been part of American thinking from the start, was actually coined by a newspaperman (media is often at the core of these things).

Manifest means obvious to everyone and destiny implies a higher power makes things happen in a preordained way. It's fate. In the case of Manifest Destiny, it was originally about expanding this country across the continent to a supposed preordained size. The idea is that divinity ordained this country to be a certain size, and people needed to see that vision and then step out on it.

You would have to believe in an involved god to buy into Manifest Destiny because destiny, like fate, is about something bigger than us, about a force that will make things happen which we cannot (or at least should not) alter. Then you'd have to believe that god had a specific plan in mind for the world and the United States was/is to be his tool.

This concept of divine destiny for the United States is not in the Bible. In fact if you look at the Book of Revelations, when you come to the end times, there is no reference to any power coming from this region at all. Some, who believe in the prophetic nature of Revelations, think that is because the United States will have had a catastrophic event taking it out of the picture. If you instead think there is no reference because at the time it was written, there was no United States, then you likely also don't buy into manifest destiny anyway.

When you bring the phrase, Manifest Destiny, into today, there are those who use the concept to say it is the godly obligation of this country to spread liberty (never mind that we have lost a lot of our liberties supposedly to keep us safer) and democracy (never mind that we don't have a true democracy but a representative government) around the world. To a certain group, it is a godly command as though he had pointed a finger and demanded it.

There is a difference between knowing you have been blessed and wanting to share what you can with others and feeling you must do it as part of a divine plan. So here comes the question:

Was/Is Manifest Destiny an illusion or a fact? Is its concept helping us to do wise things as a nation today or hindering us?

The painting was from 1872 of an angel guiding the Mormons across the nation to their own Manifest Destiny.


Annie said...

Ok, I'll bite! ;-) What exactly did the Manifest Destiny say?

As a Canadian I think we here north of you thought that it meant that Americans thought they should "own" the entire continent, not exactly a concept that endeared you to us. So I guess my thought is that it is either laughable or arrogant, but certainly narrow-minded.

"54-40 or fight" was a slogan that helped to push us into nationhood, to better resist American Manifest Destiny.

Slogans are good for whipping up patriotism, but they are also good for whipping up negative feeling towards all those patriots. Manifest Destiny can get you into serious trouble, as current events seem to bear out.

Rain said...

Good comment, Annie. Thanks for putting another country's perspective onto this. I had seen it as mainly bad for our own way of thinking. Whenever you get a concept like 'promised land' going, with a god supposedly demanding certain things, things that 'he' tells a few people but not everybody, the end result can be a feeling of superiority and an inability to compromise to get along with neighbors or even in the world. We see it doing that today as well as in the past.

Rain said...

And the link explains better what Manifest Destiny meant for territory wanted, but it wasn't enough to just take it or fight for it. It required bringing god in on the deal. Things haven't changed all that much.

Dion said...

I believe we each have Free Will, therefore I do not accept the concept of destiny. Whichever side of the fence you're on, a certain degree of blind faith is needed to square things with the thinker within.

TorAa said...

What me ponders is the Fact that some of the Major religons that do impact our Planet these Days, do origin from Desert landscapes. And even from the same part of the Globe.
They seems to hate each other.
Even though they believe in the same god. At least they do say so.
People from other Climates seems to have other beliefs and morals.

Something to think about.

btw. Thanks for a nice comment regarding FRIENDS

Kay Dennison said...

Thank you!!!! Definite food for thought. We in this country have had a certain arrogance/smugness about who we are for decades and perhaps rightfully so. However, with the growth and advancement of other nations and the decline I see in our society on so many levels, I feel that that mentality is no longer viable -- an illusion perhaps?

Ingineer66 said...

I am not sure Manifest Destiny meant that the US would take over the continent, but it definitely meant that we would get to the Pacific Ocean. From the history that I have learned, the US did not have much interest in owning the Great White North.

I guess I do not put that much of a religious slant on our nations expansion. Yes the Pilgrims came here from Holland looking for religious freedom and the nation was founded on Christian principles, but most of the expansion was just that, expansion for the people and for economic reasons.

And the Greeks and the Romans and the Persians and the French and the British and the Russians and the Germans and the Japanese and the Mongols etc. never had manifest destiny in their own times?

We have given more people freedom to choose their own destiny than any society in the history of the planet. We did not use invading armies to storm across the continent we sent settlers and traders and explorers first. We may not have been perfect and certainly plenty of mistakes were made, but I do not see the need to spend a bunch of time apologizing for most of our history.

Rain said...

Manifest Destiny isn't in the past if it still being used whether it's still called that or not.

As for apologizing for our past,you just ignored the reality of much of it and settled for the illusion. If you believe an illusion for your history, do you then believe it for your present? We did bring the military out here. We did fight wars to attain territory. We did make treaties we broke. We did steal land when it was the 'best' way. Mankind does that kind of thing-- admirable or not. The problem is a sense of righteousness gets pulled into it when you hang a term like Manifest Destiny onto it. It becomes okay for that higher power and cause.

Nations still sometimes seek to expand. Talk to the people of Tibet about their country. The thing that makes it different for what we (and some other religious expansions today) did is when we bring god in on the deal. Fight wars. Conquer territories if you can (and if the rest of the world isn't powerful enough to stop you) but when you claim it's because of a higher power, you are putting yourself in a position of arrogance unless you can prove you really do have god on your side and he's guiding your military and choices. There are those today who do believe exactly that and they are the ones most likely to start new wars and not just in this country.

Manifest Destiny is a way of thinking that leads to wars. If it's not true, if god isn't behind those expansions and wars, if he isn't guiding the military or the leader in exactly what to do next (GW Bush said he believed God was in his case), then it's an illusion.

There is that old quote about how if you don't learn from history, you are doomed to repeat it; well it is even more so if you bought an illusion about what that history was because then you are easily manipulated. For a long time in this country, our history books didn't tell us the truth of our history. They painted the picture you just did and ignored the rest of it. Sometimes a country can go too far and paint itself all bad. I do not remotely believe the US is all bad. I am proud of my country but like someone you love, if you cannot see their flaws, the times they lied, the times they manipulated, you aren't learning anything and you are going to be manipulated again. For those who do believe god is intimately involved in every detail of this earth, they don't see Manifest Destiny as an illusion.

Destiny: 1. The inevitable or necessary fate to which a particular person or thing is destined; one's lot.
2. A predetermined course of events considered as something beyond human power or control

Darlene said...

To believe in destiny is to believe that it is preordained. I have a lot of trouble with that. And if you believe that something is preordained who, or what, is the thing that makes it happen.

I do not believe in a god that controls everything. It is illogical. It is also hard to justify when wars and cruelty are done to achieve the end, as you pointed out, Rain. To expand the continent our country did horrible things to the natives. To our shame, we expanded on the blood of those who rightfully had sovereignty over the land.

I agree with you, Rain and thank you for an interesting post.

mandt said...

Manifest Destiny is the dark, evil heart of colonialism.

Rain said...

One thing that people might want to keep in mind when they defend the concept of Manifest Destiny is that it's used many places with many religions when they are distorted into killing machines.

Member said...

Hi Rain . . Terrific subject and question. The idea behind "Manifest Destiny" is no more than a display of arrogance very much like "God's Chosen People" and "Belief in Jesus is the only way to God" and "The one true church." The term has to relate to an illusion.


Dennis Tsiorbas said...

Not sure if you're still following this, but I was watching Ken Burns' "Civil War", and I began pondering the role of Manifest destiny in it; I had to question my placement of Abraham Lincoln as the best of Presidents! He wasn't a Christian, but had a faith-like grip on the US as destined. The idea of State's rights was so important that the revolutionary war almost didn't happen.
One can easily be a Christian and not believe in manifest destiny (shouldn't have believed).
Revelation is the apocalyptic book of the New Testament, not Revelation(s).
Thanks for your thoughts!

Rain Trueax said...

hi Dennis. i wasn't following it but fortunately any comments get sent to me in email. I am glad you found the topic and thought about it. I also like the Ken Burns series on the war. I did a lot of research on it recently because of basing one of my books right after the War ended. There are many reasons people do what they do. Lincoln did have that view of having to keep the states together at any cost which meant half a million lives-- and his own. Many believe slavery was on its way out in the South but who knows. Certainly the concept of one man owning another is anathema to modern man-- but it is Biblically acceptable. Oregon has nothing to be proud of regarding its own history of mistreatment of other races even while it was proudly Northern. Humans are so ironic.

Thanks for finding this and commenting :)