Daniel J. BurgeMay 30, 2022
A Failed Vision of Empire
The Collapse of Manifest Destiny, 1845-1872
University of Nebraska Press 2022
Ask you average high school student or undergraduate about nineteenth century US history and if nothing else, they likely know the phrase "manifest destiny." The idea that the United States was destined, even pre-ordained, to construct a continent-spanning nation is widely assumed to have been a motivating force in American political life in during the pre-Civil War era, and is similarly thought to have largely come to fruition.
Not so, argues Dr. Daniel Joseph Burge, research coordinator and associate editor at the Kentucky Historical Society. In A Failed Vision of Empire: The Collapse of Manifest Destiny, 1845-1872 (U Nebraska Press, 2022), Burge argues that the concept of manifest destiny was always controversial, partisan, and indeed, was ultimately a failure. Pro-expansionist writers like John O'Sullivan and politicians such as Henry Seward foresaw Cuba, Canada, and even Latin America as destined to become American states, but these places stubbornly retained their independence instead. Burge argues that historians have only reified the idea of Manifest Destiny in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, not questioning whether this idea was in fact the engine of expansion many assumed it to be. A Failed Vision of Empire joins a growing chorus of scholars who argue that manifest destiny was in fact neither American destiny, nor a reality which manifested itself at all.
Dr. Stephen R. Hausmann is an assistant professor of history at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.