below the cut Artist rendering of manifest destiny 1800's

Manifest Destiny

by | Oct 1, 2020 | Uncategorized

Manifest Destiny
John Gast
American Progress 1872

This painting, titled American Progress (1872) by artist: John Gast, represents Manifest Destiny. (The painting was commissioned and distributed widely as a commercial, color print. The painting’s subject matter conveys a range of ideas about the American frontier in the nineteenth century). As such, it is a patriotic painting that portrays the beauty of the country’s expansion. Thus, it was used as a form of advertisement to encourage people to move west.

Interpreting this painting

Manifest Destiny definition: by Dictionary.Com, the belief or doctrine, held chiefly in the middle and latter part of the 19th century, that it was the manifest destiny of the U.S. to expand its territory over the whole of North America. Additionally, it was to extend and enhance its political, social, and economic influences.

What was the purpose of this painting?

As I gain insight from the title, from the artist’s use of symbolism, and his choice of images while I look at the painting, American Progress, it is apparent to me that either he (or the person who commissioned him to make the painting), believed in the ideal of Manifest Destiny in America. Additionally, as copies of this work were distributed broadly as propaganda or an advertisement encouraging people to migrate west, it worked in its intent. Likewise, it was probably successful in its attempt to have others adopt this same vision. However, in my eyes, it’s not an honest or complete depiction of what took place. Many results of this great migration were not good for many people.

How do the images support the idea?

The painting American Progress depicts westward migration as a beautiful experience. To achieve this, John Gast paints the “west” as untamed, uncivilized, and wild. Moreover, the artist shows indigenous people and the bison (their life source) pushed out to make way for new settlers from the east. Likewise, the central subject of the painting is a goddess or angelic woman in flowing robes. Perhaps she is a representation of Destiny. Suddenly, we are sure that this figure is symbolically and confidently leading the migration while the natives and the bison are fleeing.

What do specific images tell us about the ideal of Manifest Destiny?

Some of the painting images representing growth and expansion in America are ships arriving, settlers, wagon trains, a stagecoach, and farmers moving westward with Destiny. Another image of a cabin being built on the frontier gives permanence to the idea of ownership and stability for these new settlers. These images send a clear message by the artist. We see what he wants us to see. He is telling us that westward expansion is ordained and peaceful. Also, it shows new technology and civilization spreading to the land. This is a message to the inhabitants that it was a benefit to them.

Is the painting an accurate representation of what took place?

In the first place, this painting is not accurate. For example, America’s westward expansion was often violent and painful for the indigenous people who inhabited the land. Moreover, migration onto these indigenous people’s lands often resulted in conflict between the white settlers and the natives. Unfortunately, for both sides, there were horrible consequences, pain and suffering, and hardships. However, In the end, the defining loss was to the Native American people.

The final outcome

The United States believed America was destined to expand from the Atlantic to the Pacific and beyond. Also, It was true that these lands were native homelands to indigenous people who had inhabited them for thousands of years. However, because of Manifest Destiny’s idea, in the eyes of the new settlers, they were convinced that they had a right to these lands. In summary, this conflict of ownership ultimately led to the Indian Wars. In conclusion, the land was finally taken from the Native Americans and the U.S. Government displaced and put these people on reservations.


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