Manifest Destiny



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American Territorial Expansion
AP United States History

“Manifest Destiny” furnished the drive and umbrella of respectability for westward expansion. However, each of the sections and, in many instances individuals and groups, had their own motives for promoting American expansion to the Pacific. Some of these motives were idealistic, while others were based on economic greed or prejudices.


President Polk’s fulfillment of his campaign pledge to complete the nation’s "manifest destiny" left the nation with the huge territory of the Southwest, the moral heritage of the slavery dispute and the discord with Mexico that lingers to this day.

In addition, tension has existed between the legislative and the executive branches of the U.S. government over war powers. This is due to the Constitution. Our founding document simultaneously vested Congress with the power to declare war and the president with the power of commander in chief.


Although Jefferson insisted on congressional approval before sending troops into combat, later presidents have not felt bound by this precedent. Their alternate view was boosted by the Supreme Court in 1827 with the case Martin v. Mott. The Court ruled that it was constitutional for Congress to vest the president with the discretionary authority to decide whether an emergency had arisen. If such an emergency existed the President had the power to raise a militia to meet such a threat of invasion or civil insurrection.
Nonetheless, in the winter of 1845-46, as relations between the United States and Mexico deteriorated, there was no express delineation of powers between the two branches.
"After repeated menaces, Mexico has passed the boundary of the United States, has invaded our territory, and shed American blood upon American soil. She has proclaimed that hostilities have commenced, and that the two nations are at war. . . . War exists, and not withstanding all our efforts to avoid it, exists by the act of Mexico herself. . . ." James K. Polk’s War Message to Congress, 1846
Questions for Class Discussion
1. Was American expansion across North America an "inevitable" development? How was the idea of Manifest Destiny used to justify expansionism?

2. Why was President Polk willing to go to war against Mexico over Texas but not against Britain over Oregon?

3. Explain why it is sometimes argued that the Mexican War was a major cause of the Civil War.


Textbook references: American Pageant: Chapter 17


Friday, January 23 ".... the right of our manifest destiny to over spread and to possess the whole of the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions." (John O’Sullivan, 1845) Start the unit by introducing the idea of Manifest Destiny and describe how the United States boundary’s formed during the 1800’s.

For Monday: Read in American Pageant 370-380 and “Westward Expansion.” Record your answer to the following question: Why was Polk willing to go to war over the Mexican Territory, but not over Oregon?
Monday, Jan 26: We will identify the factors, other than Manifest Destiny, that led America to expand to the Pacific.

For Tuesday:” Also, read American Pageant pp. 380-389

For Friday, Read Mexican War Documents to prepare for the Student Circle Discussion.
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Jan. 27, 28, 29: In these classes we will

1. Identify the validity of the reasons behind the Mexican War.


2. Evaluate the constitutional questions raised by the actions of Polk.
3. Describe how the Mexican War has been labeled a cause of the Civil War.

4. Answer the question: Was the Mexican War in our National Interest?”


Friday, Jan 30: Student Circle Discussion on “Mexican War Readings.” Just a reminder, I will be collecting these readings at the end of class. Your papers need to show “active reading.”
Monday, Feb 2: We will conclude our discussion on the War by summarizing our student discussion and reviewing for the exam
Tuesday, Feb 3: Complete our review and discuss the Long Answer Essay Question.
Wednesday, Feb 4: Long Answer Essay Exam

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