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Article: Reaching West: Mapping Manifest Destiny

19th Century Maps

Reaching West: Mapping Manifest Destiny

This map of the United States dates to 1847 and represents the growing expansion of the country as a result of Manifest Destiny. Manifest Destiny, as a phrase, was coined in 1845, though the concept was popular since the early 19th century. Manifest Destiny was an ideal rooted in religion, exploration and nationalism. It pushed Americans to travel west in order to obtain cultural and political influence over western territories. The philosophy emphasized that United States citizens had a duty to expand their knowledge, democracy and power across the continent, which drove the exploration and expansion of the 19th century. However, such rapid and brutal expansion resulted in war with Mexico, as well as the dislocation and mistreatment of Native American occupants of the territories. Such expansion also raised turmoil over of slavery, serving as a precursor to the Civil War. 

Territorial expansion of U.S. boundaries westward was at its peak at the time of this map’s publication. This is an original 1847 ornamental map of the U.S. entitled "Ornamental Map of the United States & Mexico" by Humphrey Phelps. The map was issued as an act of Congress by Phelps on Fulton Street, New York, and is elaborately hand-colored. The map is, in a way, propaganda for U.S. dominance across the continent. The map showcases the recent acquisition of Upper California, New Mexico, and Texas after the conclusion of the Mexican-American War. The newly acquired land is boldly colored. The map details a potential route for a railroad running from New York City, to Buffalo, to Chicago, then west along the Oregon Trail to Oregon City. This route anticipates the construction of the transcontinental railroad by nearly 20 years.

This map includes elaborately detailed renderings of George Washington, Hernan Cortez, and Montezuma at the top to represent European expansion to the Americas. At the bottom are four inset designs with text showcasing crucial moments in history such as the U.S. victory in the Mexican-American war; an illustration of General Zachary Taylor with details on the Oregon Territory, a chronology of the Conquest of the Aztec Empire under Cortez, and more. Not only does the map showcase westward expansion in a cartographic sense, but it further accentuates it with the inset illustrations and text surrounding the map.


This interesting map serves as a snapshot in a time when American borders were being constantly fought for. The vibrant hand-coloring and surrounding illustrations make this map a true work of art.

 

 

 

 

Manifest Destiny, History.com Editors, HISTORY. Published by A&E Television Networks. April 5, 2010. Accessed January 30, 2024.

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