Manifest Destiny, the Closure of the Frontier,
and the Price of Progress
Film clips on the American West:
Manifest Destiny, the "Closure" of the Frontier, and
the Price of Progress
1. To define Manifest Destiny and understand its relationship to American Exceptionalism.
2. To discuss the ideas, images, and the "closure" of the frontier and the American West.
3. To learn about the consequences of Manifest Destiny and the closure
of the frontier on the Plains Indians.
4. To understand the high price all Americans have paid for the "progressive" federal policies related to Manifest Destiny throughout the 19th Century.
Manifest Destiny: Obtaining
To extend American land from “sea to shining sea,” four distinct avenues
were taken after the Revolutionary War:
2. Diplomacy. Americans used diplomatic relations
to negotiate for land.
3. Appropriation. Americans took the land by force through the use of federal law.
- Maine. Americans and British had long disputed the boundaries
of Maine. The Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 granted half
of the disputed territory to the U.S. and the northeastern border was established
- Oregon. After the War of 1812, U.S. and Britain agreed to
jointly occupy Oregon. The mutually-agreed upon Convention of 1818 fixed the border at the 49th parallel and renewed the joint tenancy agreement
for 10 years. In 1846, Britain offered to accept the 49th parallel
as the U.S./Canadian border if Vancouver Island remained British and it was accepted by the Americans.
- Red River Basin. When the United States signed the Convention of 1818, the negotiations also clarified the northern border of the Louisiana Purchase. The land acquired by the United States in the treaty, known as the Red River Basin, part of the states of Minnesota and North Dakota.
4. War. Americans declared war on foreign nations to
gain land that could not be gained through purchase, diplomacy, or appropriation.
Florida. In December 1817, General Andrew Jackson asked President
Monroe for permission to invade Spanish Florida to quell runaway
slave insurrections. Jackson was given permission only to lead a military
expedition into southern Georgia to keep raiders from crossing into U.S.
Jackson, however, claimed secret permission from Monroe and invaded Florida.
The unofficial war resulted in the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 in which
Spain ceded Florida in exchange for the U.S. releasing Spain from $5 million
in damage claims resulting from pirate and Indian raids.
- Texas Annexation. To be discussed at a later date.
- Mexican Cession. To be discussed at a later date
MYTHS OF THE LATE NINETEENTH CENTURY AMERICAN FRONTIER
- Myth #1: The frontier was a vast, empty, barely populated land awaiting white settlement - settlement that encouraged rugged individualism, nationalism, and democracy and was destined to transform a savage and desolate land into a modern civilization. Reality: White Americans did not settle the West, but rather, they conquered it.
- Myth #2: Frontier life was politically, socially, and economically fulfilling. Reality: While many immigrants adjusted to frontier life, it was also fraught with physical dangers and economic and emotional hardships.
- Myth #3: Plentiful mining opportunities in the West made many people rich.Reality: The majority of miners remained poor; those who did become wealthy largely made their fortunes in the service industries.
- Myth #4: Cowboys lived a life in harmony with the environment and were largely responsible for upholding frontier virtue and justice. Reality: The Cowboy’s life was often lonely, dirty, dangerous, ugly, and boring.
- Myth #5: The frontier was so vast that westward expansion brought little environmental degradation. Reality: Between 1865 and 1890, the frontier grew at unprecedented rates, thus bringing about widespread environmental degradation.
- Myth #6: The west was settled by exceptional and individualistic American initiative, not by government handouts. Reality. The frontier could not have been settled without large scale assistance from the federal government.
How did these frontier myths become the basis for what we believe about the frontier?
In 1883, Buffalo Bill Cody brought his gaudy and romanticized version of the Wild West to the World.
In 1890, the U.S. Census Bureau announced the disappearance of a contiguous frontier line.
Beginning in the 1940s, historians heralded Turner’s thesis and built a historical understanding that dominated the American interpretation of the West.
Frederick Jackson Turner’s “Frontier Thesis”
While “civilizing” the frontier - “the meeting point between savagery and civilization” - Anglo Americans developed unique cultural traits: "that coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and acquisitiveness; that practical inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp of material things... that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism."
- Individualistic democracy - created by individuals who were forced to rely upon their own wits and strengths - was the most important effect of the frontier.
- American exceptionalism - the belief that American character was exceptional - was embedded in the “civilizing” efforts of Manifest Destiny.
Over the past 30 years, historians have begun to ask. What was the price of progress?”
- On the positive side, progress indicated that millions of families became economically independent and some even found wealth, while other Anglo-Americans explored and modernized the growing nation.
- On the negative side, many pioneers experienced a difficult and dangerous life on the frontier, the natural environment suffered severe degradation, and the Plains Indians were defrauded of most of their land and much of their tribal sovereignty.
What has been the price of progress for the Plains Indians?
- At the time the frontier was being settled by the pioneers, around 100,000 Plains Indians populated the Great Plains.
- They were diverse peoples, ranging from those on eastern margins who lived in permanent villages, to the great hunting tribes who migrated throughout the Great Plains
- While their cultures varied according to whether they were more settled or nomadic, their economies were all based to differing degrees on four self-sustaining activities:
- Hunting, fishing, and gathering
- Raising crops
- Raising livestock
- Raiding other tribes for food and buffalo hides, and to defend hunting grounds
Public Efforts to Eliminate the “Indian Problem
1. Early Federal laws facilitating land transfers from Indian hands to white hands.
- 1787 Northwest Ordinance - “The utmost good faith shall always be observed toward the Indians; their land and property shall never be taken from them without their consent; and in their property, rights and liberty, they shall never be invaded or disturbed.”
- 1789 U.S. Constitution (Commerce Clause) - “The Congress shall have Power... To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes... ”
- 1790 Trade and Intercourse Act - “Be it enacted... that no person shall be permitted to carry on any trade or intercourse with the Indian tribes without a license for that purpose under the hand and seal of the superintendent of the department, or of such other person as the President of the United States shall appoint for that purpose... And no other person shall be permitted to carry on any trade or intercourse with the Indians without such license... ”
2. 19th Century Federal Indian Policies
These three laws set the foundation for what became known as Federal Indian Policy
Manifest Destiny, the Closure of the Frontier, and the Price of Progress
- As we begin the story of modern American history, it is essential to remember that the U.S. emerged from both the Civil War and Reconstruction with a strong federal government in place. Thereafter, many of America’s political struggles were directly related to federal versus states rights battles. Course Theme: Federal versus states’ rights issues shape the American political landscape.
- When we understand the philosophy behind manifest destiny, it becomes clear that Anglo-Europeans did not settle the West – but rather conquered the West.
- By the latter part of the 19th Century, most Americans believed that in order for white settlers to progressively settle and farm western territory, they would have to destroy the cultural, economic, political, and spiritual foundations of American Indian people. To that end, they entrusted the federal government to adopt a series of policies - policies that ultimately led to a cultural genocide of many American Indian nations and policies for which all Americans have paid a high price. Course Theme: Manifest Destiny defines our approach to foreign policy.
- Federal Indian policies of the 19th Century were formulated by policymakers whose attitudes were shaped by naive and incorrect assumptions about American Indians and whose motivations were shaped by economic incentives.
- We paid a high price for such progress. The consequences of federal policies were disastrous for Indian peoples. By the end of the 19th Century, the surviving 250,000 American Indians - who had been sovereign and self-sufficient at the time the U.S. government was born - had become victims of federal policies that forcibly prohibited them from living in their traditional lands, speaking their languages, and practicing their political, economic, social, and spiritual traditions. Thus, Indians had been forced onto reservations where they became largely dependent upon the federal government for their survival. Course Theme: Progress is not always progressive. Freedom is never free.
- Although history most often portrays American Indians as victims, it must also portray them as survivors - heroic people who despite the genocidal policies of the US government, have survived, thrived, and revived their traditional cultures, languages, religions, and political structures, as well as created new strategies to bring economic success to many reservations. Course Theme: Freedom is never free.
- In attempting to atone for the genocidal policies of past generations, it is important for Americans to see the first 300 years of U.S. history and 125 years of Federal Indian policy as a time of missed opportunities. We had the opportunity to make a different world in which American Indians and Euro-Americans could share the bounty of the North American continent, but we missed it. After experiencing the anger associated with learning the truth, the guilt associated with that truth, and the shock of the genocide it wrought, we face a contemporary challenge – embracing and learning to live in a multicultural world in which everyone's cultural, social, political, spiritual, and economic traditions are respected. Course Theme: Patriotism is a relative construct.