History 420 - Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer

Manifest Destiny Moves into the Pacific

Map of American Possessions in the Pacific Ocean

Methods Discussion: Just like reading a book, students need to learn to read a map. In this Read the Map exercise, the following discussion questions should help students get a visual understanding of American movement into the Pacific Ocean.

  1. Take a few minutes to read this map. What is the single most important thing you understand about the map after your reading?
  2. Why would the United States want to extend its power into the Pacific between 1857-1899?
  3. What is the single most important thing you understand about the topic of Manifest Destiny after reading the map?

Introduction: Many historians believe that the term Manifest Destiny applies only to American expansion across the North American continent. Some argue that Americans simply followed their God-given right to expand westward and conquer contiguous land. This was our destiny, they argue - this was NOT imperialism.

If we take the position that America's movement into the Pacific was an extension of Manifest Destiny - and perhaps of imperialism - then we must look at what we actually did in the Pacific to gain control over all the above islands. That is the purpose of our last two days on the topic of Manifest Destiny.

Discussion Goals:

  1. To trace the early march of U.S. presence in the Pacific.
  2. To examine a detailed case study of American movement into Hawaii.
  3. To explore the issues raised about Manifest Destiny and imperialism inherent in the acquisition of the Philippines through warfare.
  4. To understand America's movement into Samoa - the last territory gained during the 19th Century.
  5. To agree with and/or refute the theme of this unit - that the consequences of Manifest Destiny are an example of the theme that progress is not always progressive.

Goal #1: To trace the early march of the U.S. presence in the Pacific

political cartoon showing Uncle Sam deciding which Pacific Island to take firstBy 1853, the continental boundaries of the United States were complete. But the era of Manifest Destiny was not over. Many Americans - including many Presidents and Congressmen - had begun to look to the Pacific for possible expansion. Why? Trade with Asia - especially the appeal of profits that could be made by trading with China - and the search for guano.

Trade with China. Some of the world’s most sought after commodities - tea, porcelain, and silk - were plentiful in China and Western merchants had long sought access to this these treasures.

But getting from the United States to China , however, was difficult without a network of ports in the Pacific Ocean. Indeed, it was the primary goal of Commodore Matthew Perry who sailed to Japan in 1853 to establish a foothold that would strengthen the U.S. position for trade and diplomacy in both Japan and China.

Now, let's turn to another effort by the U.S. government to gain territory in the Pacific - this time through the need to obtain fertilizer for our growing agricultural economy.

The Search for Guano. By the 1840s, Americans looked to guano for use as an agricultural fertilizer and as a primary source of saltpeter for gunpower. However, we had no internal source for this valuable commodity. Our main source was Peru but by 1850, guano cost $76 per pound. U.S. entrepreneurs began exploring alternatives to Peruvian guano and thus encouraged the passage of a new law in 1856 - the Guano Islands Act. Thus,the search for guano commenced both in the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean. Under the Act, Americans temporarily could occupy uninhabited islands to obtain guano. The first section of the Act states:Map of Pacific Islands gained under the Guano Act of 1856

"Whenever any citizen of the United States discovers a deposit of guano on any island, rock, or key, not within the lawful jurisdiction of any other Government, and not occupied by the citizens of any other Government, and takes peaceable possession thereof, and occupies the same, such island, rock, or key may, at the discretion of the President, be considered as appertaining to the United States."

While the act specifically states that the U.S. was not obliged to retain possession after private American interests exhausted guano deposits, it fails to specify what the status of the territory is after it is abandoned by private U.S. interests.Thus began the concept of insular territories.

Under the Guano Islands Act, more than 100 islands have been claimed for the United States . However, most claims have been withdrawn over the past 150 years. The territories in the Pacific still claimed by the United States under the Act are Baker, Jarvis, Swains, and Howland Islands; the Johnston, Palmrya, and Midway Atolls; and Kingman Reef. What this means in the 21st Century is that the U.S. government has the legal authority to protect waters up to 200 miles out from each of these insular territories, an area known as the exclusive economic zone.

Pacific Remote Islands Act

Thus, by the mid-1850s, private, economic interests in trading and excavating natural resources became the primary motivation for U.S. movement into the Pacific Ocean. It should be no surprise that American interest in the Hawaiian Islands began with a similar trajectory - private interests came to the island to make money BUT also to save souls.

Goal #2: To examine a detailed case study of American movement into Hawaii

Shortly Map of Hawaiibefore private interests focused on China and guano, several individuals had set their sights on the strategically located Hawaiian Islands. Manifest Destiny initially came to Hawaii not at request of the United States government, but rather at the hands of private business entrepreners and missionaries. In the late 1820s, the first Americans began to settle in Hawaii when Presbyterian and Congregational missionaries founded schools to Christianize and Americanize the Hawaiians.

Within two decades of missionary work, the Hawaiian monarchy was worried about increasing American influence on the islands. Thus, three laws were passed that determined who could own land in Hawaii.

By the late 1850s, few Hawaiians had made claims. Eventually, less than one percent of the land was ever owned by the people. Instead, the chiefs and foreigners owned and controlled almost all the land while the Hawaiian people collectively worked the land.

Sugar plantations, some owned by Americans, began to grow in Hawaii.

At the same time American influence on the islands increased, new diseases significantly decreased the native Hawaiian population. To deal with labor shortages, American plantation owners began to import Chinese and Japanese laborers to work in the fields. Photo of laborers in HawaiiThus, by the time that the U.S. government was becoming interested in moving their economic and political ideals of Manifest Destiny into the Pacific, Americans in Hawaii were building a multi-racial society over which the Hawaiians were gradually losing control.

By the 1880s, private American entrepreneurs were attempting to gain more and more over the economy. And in 1887, the U.S. government entered the picture when representatives met with the King's representatives to renew the 1875 sugar treaty. The Americans insisted that in return for continuing Hawaii's duty and tax free sugar trade, the King would grant:

"... to the Government of the US the exclusive right to enter the harbor of Pearl River, in the Island of Oahu, and to establish and maintain there a coaling and repair station for the use of vessels of the US and to that end the US may improve the entrance to said harbor and do all things useful to the purpose aforesaid."

The King, however, balked. It was clear that the American planters had become too powerful and granting U.S. Naval rights to Pearl Harbor would give them even greater power. When the King hesitated, a group of American planters, missionaries, and businessmen who were members of the secret organization, the Hawaiian League, forced King Kalakaua to accept a new constitution - which he called the Bayonet Constitution .

Methods Discussion: A close reading of an annotated version of the Bayonet Constitution will not only give you a chance to develop your DBQ Skills, it will also tell you how and why the King and the Hawaiian people were so angry with its contents. You can find the abridged version by clicking here.

Then, in 1889, a young, part-Hawaiian named Robert W. Wilcox staged an uprising to overthrow the 1887 Bayonet Constitution. He led some 150 men, Hawaiians and foreigners, in a predawn march to Iolani Palace with a new constitution for King Kalakaua to sign. The king was away from the palace, and the Cabinet called out troops that forcibly put down the insurrection. Tried for high treason, Wilcox was found not guilty by a jury of Native Hawaiians who accused those in power of being usurpers and having blood-stained hands. They refused to convict him.

Adding fuel to the growing fire over who controlled Hawaii - the foreign planters or the Hawaiians - the U.S.Congress again entered the fray by passing the McKinley Tariff Act of 1890.

The following year, King Kalakaua died and his sister, Liliuokalani, assumed the throne. The Queen announced that she was planning a new constitution that would give her more discretionary powers to help fight the American planters. (See videos "Hawaii's Last Queen, Part 5 at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1G5DVF0u2OE and Part 6 at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WjQwC0h7yM). Around this time, American newspapers and magazines began a propaganda campaign, largely through the use of political cartoons. In these cartoons, Queen Liliuokalani was drawn with "savage" features including feathers in her hair, nappy hair, thick lips, and bare feet - all for the purpose of illustrating her as a primitive woman. This cartoon portrays the queen as a dark-skinned, underdressed woman with thick lips who tries to give her crown to a pawnbroker for cash.Cartoon of Hawaiian Queen

In reality, the Queen ruled over a highly civilized nation, lived in a victorian style mansion that was one of the first palaces that had full electricity and indoor toilets, and was accepted as an honorable ruler by many European monarchs. There was nothing "savage" about the Queen, her nation, her people, or her rule.

In January of 1893, American and foreign resident merchants forced the Queen from power and proclaimed a provisional government under the leadership of pineapple entrepreneur Sanford B. Dole.

During the overthrow, the American Minister to Hawaii, John L. Stevens, ordered the landing of armed U.S. Marines from the USS Boston in Honolulu which he said was necessary to protect lives and property.

Consequently, President Cleveland opposed annexation and tried to restore the Queen. In response, on July 4,1894, Sanford Dole announced the creation of the Republic of Hawaii and declared himself president. Many Hawaiians gathered arms for a counterrevolution to restore the monarchy.

In January of 1895, an insurrection began to try to restore the Queen; after 10 days of fighting, most of the rebels were captured.

In 1897, a treaty for annexation was submitted to the U.S. Senate, but did not receive the required 2/3 of the majority needed for approval. In the meantime, by late 1897, 21,269 native Hawaiian people -more than half of the 39,000 Hawaiians living in Hawaii - had signed a petition saying that they opposed annexation.

Four delegates traveled to the U.S. with the petition and they met up with the Queen who was already in the U.S. fighting against annexation. Together, they created a strategy to present the petition to the Senate. However, most Congressional sympathy for the Hawaiians died in February, 1898 when the U.S.S. Maine exploded, prompting the U. S. to start the Spanish-American War. Now the need for a mid-Pacific fueling location was essential - and the Hawaiian Islands were the optimal choice.

Shortly thereafter, President McKinley signed a treaty to annex Hawaii, but it failed in the Senate. Congress still was not deterred. Instead of passing the treaty, a joint resolution of both houses of Congress was passed on July 4th to approve annexation. In 1900, Hawaii became a territory of the U.S. and Sanford Dole became its first governor. Since then, many Hawaiians and many historians have questioned the legitimacy of the annexation by joint resolution because international law requires annexation to be accomplished by a treaty.

And how did the average American feel about this extension of Manifest Destiny into the Pacific? The cartoon below - published in 1899 - and the accompanying description is a great illustration of how and why Americans felt annexation was justified:

cartoon of American acceptance of Hawaiian annexation

On August 21, 1959 Hawaii joined the US and became the 50th state.

But this story is incomplete without a discussion of the continuing efforts of Hawaiians to regain their nation and their sovereignty. Today, Native Hawaiians are the only major indigenous group in the 50 states without a process for establishing a government-to-government relationship with the federal government. Below are some of the most recent such efforts:

End of first day discussion

Goal #3: To explore the issues raised about Manifest Destiny and imperialism inherent in the acquisition of the Philippines through warfare

Cold Call: "Selling Empire: American Propaganda and War in the Philippines" at http://japanfocus.org/-Susan_A_-Brewer/4002/article.html

Methods Discussion: We have spent a great deal of time talking about Close Reading of our Texts. This article by Dr. Brewer required just such a close reading. Now that we have a strong understanding of her article, it is important that we work together to analyze the "bottom line." Please do the following:

  1. Get into 4 groups of 4-5. Assign a recorder who will also report your group's findings to the entire class.
  2. Spend 20 minutes discussing the following:
    • Does the author portray McKinley as a liberator or a conqueror? What is the traditional narrative?
    • What were the attitudes of American "expansionists" about people of color and women? How do these attitudes fuel imperialism?
    • What were McKinley's goals for war with Spain?
    • What were the primary goals of the "campaign to keep the Philippines?"
    • What were the specific issues raised by anti-imperialists against continued U.S. control and occupation of the Philippines?
    • Describe the types of propaganda used to convince the American people to support war with the Filippinos.
  3. Take another 5-10 minutes to decide what you believe to be the single, most powerful point of Dr. Brewer's article. Then, turn that point into a theme that you could use in a world history course. REMEMBER - a theme must be a message, a bottom line statement that consists of a complete sentence with a noun, verb, and object.
  4. Be prepared to share your theme with the entire class AND to explain why the theme highlights the primary point Dr. Brewer is trying to make.

Goal #4: To understand America's movement into Samoa - the last American territory gained during the 19th Century

Most Americans have no idea that we have a territory in the Pacific that is about 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii - American Samoa. American Samoa is legally classified as an insular area, making it neither a part of one of the fifty U.S. states nor the U.S. federal district of Washington, D.C. Such areas are called "insular" because they were once administered by the War Department's Bureau of Insular Affairs, now the Office of Insular Affairs at the Department of the Interior.

Map of Pacific Islands and American SamoaSo what does that mean? While Congress extends citizenship rights by birth to all inhabited territories, American Samoa is the ONE exception. American Samoans are the only people left with U.S. national status, even though they have been part of the U.S. for over a century. This means that American Samoans:

Their current status - about which we will learn more later in our discsussion - came to be as a direct result of the American march into the Pacific during the era of Manifest Destiny. As we will see, their history of territorial status with the U.S. is both similar to, and quite different from, that of Hawaii. So just what is this history?

As we have previously discussed, research tells us that students simply do not understand the chronology of history. And we have also discussed that teachers are similarly disconnected to a chronological understanding of historical events. So, let's get into one last chronology - this one providing an understanding of the evolution of U.S. and Samoan relations.

A Chronology of Selected Relations between the United States and Samoa


Samoa Map




Today in American Samoa

:American Samoa

So, now that we know the history of how and why American Samoa became a U.S. territory, let's bring the conversation forward to its contemporary status and the last two issues:

If we look at American Samoa as the last territory annexed to the United States in the 19th Century and if we accept that part of the reason for its annexation was the American belief in Manifest Destiny and that the vast majority of American Samoans are patriotic and proud to be associated with the U.S., then we should all be asking - Why are American Samoans divided about losing their national status and becoming official U.S. citizens? The answer is complex and fascinating - and lies deeply embedded both in the understanding of American Samoans about what happened to other Pacific Islanders, especially the Hawaiians, during the era of Manifest Destiny, as well as the cultural and political traditions of the Samoan people.

  1. Understanding of American Samoans about what happened to other Pacific Islanders, especially the Hawaiians. The American Samoans have deep ties with the Hawaiian people - culturally, politically, economically, and spiritually. Furthermore, they have a clear understanding of what happened when the Hawaiian king and his chiefs allowed foreigners - especially Americans - to buy Hawaiian land. And what did happen?? Because of this knowledge, many American Samoans have tenaciously held onto their traditional cultural and poliical traditions in order to keep American Samoa under the control of American Samoans.
  2. Cultural and political traditions of American Samoans. American Samoa has two systems of government - the Constitutional government and the traditional village government.

Traditional (local) village politics of both Samoa and American Samoa Islands are deeply imbedded in fa'amatai and fa'asamoa.

Map of American Possessions in the Pacific OceanDiscussion:

  1. Who can be recognized members of the local fono?
  2. Who can be matai?
  3. Who can be members of the American Samoan Senate?
  4. Who controls who owns and resides on communal land in American Samoa?
  5. Why would any of these requirements encourage some American Samoans to continue supporting national status rather than American citizenship?

One of the bottom line understandings of this final content discussion on Manifest Destiny is that by 1899, as the map indicates, America had gained control over most of the Pacific Islands, thus extending the concept of Manifest Destiny outside the boundaries of the continental United States. The quest for Pacific possessions had begun before the Civil War - with the 1857 acquistion of Jarvis Island and the Howard and Baker Islands. It was sealed with the annexation of Hawaii in 1898 and finalized with the annexation of American Samoa in 1899.

Goal #5: To agree with and/or refute the theme of this unit - that the consequences of Manifest Destiny are an example of the theme that progress is not always progressive.

Methods Discussion: We are already familiar with the Write Around. So we will end today's discussion with this method.