Western expansion is one of the defining moments in United States history. The country grew tremendously and the country became the powerhouse it is today. Another moment that is more debatable was the Monroe Doctrine. In 1823, President Monroe published a document that outlined American policy on European involvement in North America. It stated that any foreign interference on the continent would be taken as a threat to American democracy. Some historians claim that the Monroe Doctrine opened the door for expansion, but that is clearly not true.
Western expansion and American foreign policy were not affected by the Monroe Doctrine; the movement was already gaining ground and only grew as manifest destiny gained ground. The American people had been moving westward long before the doctrine was put in place. The desire to expand existed in American society since before the United States were even an independent country. In The American Pageant, the author describes the American frenzy to move westward after the French and Indian war (Doc A).
The American people laid claim to the land beyond the Appalachians decades before the doctrine was in place. Their desire to expand was an original quality of American society. The people felt like they deserved the land and would’ve settled it without the Monroe Doctrine. One very important event in the expansion of the US was the Louisiana Purchase. It is widely considered one of Thomas Jefferson’s greatest accomplishments during his presidency. The 828,000 square miles of territory purchased from France by the United States in 1803 more than doubled the size of the ountry.
The Louisiana Purchase was obtained from France, a foreign nation, without the Monroe Doctrine. The American government gained land peacefully from foreign nations before the Monroe Doctrine. It was not necessary for the Monroe Doctrine to be put into place for the country to expand. In 1804, Thomas Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on an expedition across 8,000 miles through the Louisiana Purchase to the Pacific Northwest. In a description of Lewis and Clark’s encounter with a bear, American dedication to western discovery is revealed (Doc B).
Their willingness to risk their own lives for a journey across uncharted territory shows how before the Monroe Doctrine, Americans were sacrificing their lives to discovering the west. The Monroe Doctrine did not inspire Americans to move west to push out European powers. The people already had inspiration and motivation to expand. An important aspect of the Monroe Doctrine is the declaration that the American government would respect the independent nations of Central and South America (Doc E). But this idea was not supported by the government at all in the MexicanAmerican War.
The Mexican-American War was an American attack on Mexico, an independent nation. If the Monroe Doctrine actually changed the way United States approached western expansion, Americans never would’ve attacked Mexico. A cartoon of Mexico portrayed as an eagle decimated by the Mexican-American war shows American intentions during the war (Doc 1). Feelings of pride and power pushed American efforts to expand westward, not a “responsibility” to push impeding European powers out of North America. Americans wanted to gain land and spread democracy, and because of this desire, they attacked another independent nation with no connections to Europe.
The US government was interested in gaining land already claimed by an independent nations than preventing Europe from interfering with American affairs. The American foreign policy was not defined by the Monroe Doctrine and the government blatantly ignored the ideas being promoted in the doctrine. Manifest destiny was the defining factor in western expansion. The philosophies promoted gave Americans a reason and an excuse to move across the country into western lands. An important part of manifest destiny is the idea that Americans were bringing freedom and democracy into lands ruled by chaos and darkness.
In a document about the Oregon territory, a congressman describes the evolution of Texas and Oregon, “… they were at the same instant adopted by the Democracy throughout the land” (Doc H). Americans believed that the growth of the two territories meant that they became just and free lands ruled by American democracy. This idea powered the pioneers moving west and made them believe they were doing the godly and moral thing by making the west “good. ” A painting done by John Gast in the 19th century named American Progress, illustrates the philosophy of the manifest destiny movement that led American pioneers west.
The painting depicts an angel leading civilization into the wild west. The eastern side of the painting is illuminated and the migrants are bringing the light into the dark, scary western side of the painting. The angel is carrying wires and a book, showing how the Americans were bringing education and technology across the continent. The painting shows the ideas that were powering Americans. They believed in bringing democracy and Christianity to the savage part of the country, not pushing foreign powers out. The need to get rid of the foreign nations was not holding pioneers back.
Americans needed a real cause to rally around and a strong reason to move into the west and that is what manifest destiny gave them. The western expansion movement did not need the Monroe Doctrine. The movement of pioneers westward had started long before the doctrine and after Monroe published the doctrine, there was little to no influence on American politics and policy. The only thing the movement needed was manifest destiny, a reason to continue on. The Monroe Doctrine was not an important event in American history because western expansion did not rely on its existence.