Manifest Destiny and the Doctrine of Discovery
Tuesday, 5 December 2023
In the 19th century, two powerful ideologies, Manifest Destiny in America and the Doctrine of Discovery in the Church, played pivotal roles in shaping history. Manifest Destiny propelled the United States westward, while the Doctrine of Discovery provided a religious rationale for European colonisation.
Manifest Destiny emerged as a prevailing ideology in the 1840s, intertwining with America's desire for territorial expansion. The concept was not only a driving force behind major land acquisitions but also influenced policies such as the Indian Removal Act of 1830, resulting in the forced relocation of Native American tribes.
The belief in American exceptionalism, the idea that the U.S. had a unique mission to spread democracy and civilisation, further fueled westward migration and annexing territories like Texas, California, and the Oregon Territory.
The roots of the Doctrine of Discovery can be traced back to papal bulls issued in the 15th century, notably the Bulls of Alexander VI. These proclamations granted European powers the divine right to claim newly discovered lands and subjugate the inhabitants. The doctrine provided the theological justification for colonising the Americas and subsequent missionary activities.
By relying on the Doctrine of Discovery, European powers claimed ownership of vast expanses of land, often disregarding indigenous peoples' presence and rights.
Divine Justification: The divine justification in both ideologies is manifested in different ways. Manifest Destiny invoked a sense of God's providence guiding the American expansion, while the Doctrine of Discovery framed European exploration and conquest as part of a sacred mission sanctioned by the Church.
The conviction of divine approval justified actions and created a sense of moral duty and destiny, driving the relentless pursuit of new territories.
Expansion and Conquest: Manifest Destiny and the Doctrine of Discovery resulted in extensive expansion and conquest. The Oregon Trail, the Mexican-American War, and the Gold Rush all unfolded under the banner of Manifest Destiny, leading to the establishment of the continental United States.
In parallel, European powers, armed with the Doctrine of Discovery, engaged in colonisation, often resorting to force to displace indigenous populations and establish colonies throughout the Americas.
Secular vs. Religious Justification: While Manifest Destiny was fueled by secular and political motives, the Doctrine of Discovery had a distinct religious foundation. The secular nature of Manifest Destiny allowed for flexibility in its interpretation, adapting to geopolitical circumstances and economic interests.
In contrast, the religious underpinnings of the Doctrine of Discovery tied colonial ambitions to a perceived divine mandate, making it a more rigid and enduring justification for expansion.
Legal Ramifications: The legal implications of the Doctrine of Discovery were profound, shaping land laws and court decisions for centuries. The Johnson v. M'Intosh case in 1823, drawing on the Doctrine, established the principle of "discovery" as a legal basis for land ownership, disregarding the rights of indigenous peoples.
The legal ramifications of Manifest Destiny were more varied, with treaties and legislation often reflecting the changing dynamics of westward expansion and interactions with Native American nations.
Impact on Indigenous Peoples
The cultural disruption experienced by indigenous communities was severe. Forced assimilation efforts, such as the establishment of Indian boarding schools in the U.S., aimed at eradicating indigenous languages, customs, and spiritual practices.
Similarly, European colonisation suppressed native cultures, as traditional practices were often replaced or suppressed in favour of European customs and religious beliefs.
Land dispossession had enduring consequences for indigenous peoples. The encroachment of settlers and the establishment of reservations marginalised native communities, restricting access to ancestral lands and resources.
The Doctrine of Discovery's influence on land laws and the subsequent allocation of territories to European powers exacerbated the dispossession, creating a lasting impact on the socioeconomic conditions of indigenous populations.
In conclusion, the intertwined narratives of Manifest Destiny and the Doctrine of Discovery illuminate the complex tapestry of expansionist histories. The multifaceted impacts on indigenous communities, culturally and territorially, underscore the need for acknowledging historical injustices and working towards reconciliation. By delving into the intricate details of these ideologies, we gain a deeper understanding of their far-reaching consequences and their enduring legacy in shaping the contours of the Americas.