Saturday, January 22, 2022

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Article Index

1. Westward Expansion and Trade with Asia

The opening of the North American continent by Lewis and Clark inspired writers and politicians, such as Senator Thomas Hart Benton, to champion the imposition of Western civilization on other nations. The belief in the superiority of European civilization and the mandate that it be carried westward around the globe had deep roots. German philologists theorized that their language derived from a gifted civilization (later named Aryan) in the Indus River valley of northern India. From there civilization had traveled westward through Central Asia, across the Caucasus Mountains to central Europe where it found full flower in the German Romantic movement in the eighteenth century. From Germany, this higher culture spread, according to the thinking of the time, to England, and from there to the shores of America.

Thus, in 1818, Benton was emboldened to write:

In a few years the Rocky Mountains will be passed, and the children of Adam will have completed the circumambulation of the globe, by marching to the west until they arrive at the Pacific ocean, in sight of the eastern shore of that Asia in which their first parents were originally planted.

As for what would happen when the settlers arrived, he wrote: The valley of the Columbia might become the granary of China and Japan, and an outlet to their imprisoned and exuberant population. The inhabitants of the oldest and the newest, the most despotic and the freest Governments, would become the neighbors, and . . . friends of each other.

Benton's remarks might have seemed prophetic, even inspiring. Yet, in the following two decades much was to happen that would incorporate a new element into the concept of destiny and change the way America's leading thinkers conceived of westward development. Yet to come were Indian removal, the Cherokee cases, the pioneers' westward migration, the annexation of Texas, and the lust for Mexico's land. With these events manifest destiny became entangled with the more sinister notion of racial superiority.

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