Manifest Destiny is the idea that a higher power ordained the expansion of American republican government over the North American continent. Rooted in the idea of American Exceptionalism, Manifest Destiny was a rallying point for expansionists in the 19th century as many sought to expand the borders of the United States for political, religious, and commercial reasons.
Any fair consideration of Manifest Destiny recognizes that it was not a benign expansion of American institutions over an empty land. At the very least, the westward movement of Americans displaced Indian tribes and disrupted their ways of life. Additionally, Manifest Destiny has inherent racist undertones focusing on the promulgation of ideas of American government and custom as a way of life. While many writings and events of the period demonstrate the belief in the superiority of American ideals idolized by the political majority, the drafting of the Ostend Manifesto in 1854 serves as a useful tool in recognizing the darker side of Manifest Destiny within the scope of Cuban annexation.
President Abraham Lincoln
On April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was shot while he viewed “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. While numerous accounts of that fateful day exist, a May 28, 1865 letter from Dr. Charles Leale is especially moving as Dr. Leale was the first doctor to treat the stricken president. Combined with a diary entry from Horatio Nelson Taft, both the medical response and the human reaction to Lincoln’s assassination are visible.
President Bush in Saudi Arabia
In most instances, the personal deliberations of presidents making the decision to send Americans to war are outside public knowledge. While there may be public speeches outlining the case for war, those public deliberations can differ widely from the president’s personal deliberations.
Through a series of diary entries and letters to family, however, the internal deliberations of President George H. W. Bush in the lead up to the first Gulf War can be explored. Not only do these documents illustrate the difficult decision Bush faced, they demonstrate a keen sense of humanity.
During Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s journey exploring territory gained through the Louisiana Purchase, they made three winter camps: Camp Dubois near St. Louis, Fort Mandan in present-day North Dakota, and Fort Clatsop on the Pacific Ocean. Showcasing Lewis’ steadfastness of mind that would ultimately guide the Corps of Discovery through countless interactions with Native Americans, the events leading to the location of Camp Dubois sits as an interesting portal into Lewis’ mind.
George Washington reviews troops during the Whiskey Rebellion.
In the nearly 226 years since the United States Constitution was ratified, America has weathered numerous storms. From the Whiskey Rebellion to September 11, crisis after crisis has been addressed. While the powers of each of the various governmental branches have fluctuated based on the demands of the situation at hand, one reality has remained constant: true dictatorial powers have never been assumed.
This is not to say, however, that such power grabs have not been suggested.
Wars are creatures of men and do not spontaneously begin. Rather, there is some event – a casus belli – that spurs nations to battle. The siege of Fort Sumter in 1861 or the Japanese Navy’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941 precipitated years of armed struggle.
A casus belli is often controversial, such as the Thornton Affair during the Mexican American War. The Thornton Affair focused a squadron of 63 dragoons dispatched up the Rio del Norte to assess whether any Mexican troops had crossed into territory claimed by the United States. The troops were led by Captain Seth Thornton and despite indications that “the enemy had crossed in strength,” Captain Thornton pressed on. Ultimately, his men were surrounded at a ranch and captured.