Posted on October 4, 2014


Sans titre

On the left, the symbol of manifest destiny, the lady in white known as “Columbia” who enlightens ignorants and spreads civilization according to the American model. On the right, the symbol of the US government, known as Uncle Sam, taking bloody steps.

What is the background of American -so labelled- “Manifest Destiny to enlighten the world with its model of democracy”? I am not the only one who looked for answers. This is an extract from what I found about the origins of a bloody doctrine. Turned out it’s not American per se. It’s a political argument used by rulers who sought more power and resorted to religion to justify their claims, since the 11th century.

According to this record, the idea of an American manifest destiny is a political concept, used unjustly -as it is commonly known- to extend the power of the American government, first on the neighbouring lands, eventually leading to a so called Civil War which is said to champion slaves (while history records show that slaves were not welcomed in the northern states), then beyond the oceans. 

But here I am interested in the doctrine of power expansion, generally referred to through ideal concepts like “discovery” and “freedom”.

The text reads:

“In 1095, at the beginning of the Crusades, Pope Urban II issued an edict-the Papal Bull Terra Nullius (meaning empty land). It gave the kings and princes of Europe the right to “discover” or claim land in non-Christian areas. This policy was extended in 1452 when Pope Nicholas V issued the bull Romanus Pontifex, declaring war against all non-Christians throughout the world and authorizing the conquest of their nations and territories. These edicts treated non-Christians as uncivilized and subhuman, and therefore without rights to any land or nation. Christian leaders claimed a God-given right to take control of all lands and used this idea to justify war, colonization, and even slavery.

By the time Christopher Columbus set sail in 1492, this Doctrine of Discovery was a well-established idea in the Christian world. When he reached the Americas, Columbus performed a ceremony to “take possession” of all lands “discovered,” meaning all territory not occupied by Christians. Upon his return to Europe in 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued the bull Inter Cetera, granting Spain the right to conquer the lands that Columbus had already “discovered” and all lands that it might come upon in the future. This decree also expressed the Pope’s wish to convert the natives of these lands to Catholicism in order to strengthen the “Christian Empire.”

In 1573 Pope Paul II issued the papal bull Sublimis Deus, which denounced the idea that Native Americans “should be treated like irrational animals and used exclusively for our profit and our service,” and Pope Urban VIII (1623-1644) formally excommunicated anyone still holding Indian slaves. By this time, however, the Doctrine of Discovery was deeply rooted and led nonetheless to the conquest of non-Christian lands and people in every corner of the world.

In 1845, a democratic leader and prominent editor named John L. O’Sullivan gave the Doctrine of Discovery a uniquely American flavor when he coined the term Manifest Destiny to defend U.S. expansion and claims to new territory:

“…. the right of our manifest destiny to over spread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty… is right such as that of the tree to the space of air and the earth suitable for the full expansion of its principle and destiny of growth.”

The idea of Manifest Destiny was publicized in newspapers and debated by politicians. It furthered the sense among U.S. citizens of an inevitable or natural right to expand the nation and to spread “freedom and democracy” (though only to those deemed capable of self-government, which certainly did not include Blacks or Native Americans).

Whether called the Doctrine of Discovery or Manifest Destiny, the principles that stimulated U.S. thirst for land have been disastrous for Native Americans, African Americans, Mexicans, and many others both in North America and abroad who lost life, liberty and property as the result of U.S. expansionism.”

Source: http://archive.adl.org/education/curriculum_connections/doctrine_of_discovery.html

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