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Manifest Destiny

Grades 6-8 | Historical Analysis | Source-Based

Source Lexile®: 1180L-1400L

Learning Standards




Prompt: Research the topic of Manifest Destiny in 19th century America. Analyze the three primary sources provided (John Gast's painting “American Progress,” an analysis of Gast’s painting written by George Crofutt, and John O'Sullivan's editorial “The Great Nation of Futurity”). After analyzing these sources, write an essay that makes a claim about how Americans used Manifest Destiny to justify westward expansion. Be sure to provide evidence from each source to support your ideas and acknowledge any counterclaims.





Source 1

John Gast's 1872 Painting American Progress (Primary Source)







Source 2

Excerpts from George A. Croffut's Commentary Provided to Market John Gast's 1872 Lithograph American Progress (Primary Source)


  1. This rich and wonderful country--the progress of which at the present time, is the wonder of the old world--was until recently, inhabited exclusively by the lurking savage and wild beasts of prey. If the rapid progress of the "Great West" has surprised our people, what will those of other countries think of the "Far West," which was destined at an early day, to be the vast granary [grain producing region], as it is now the treasure chamber of our country?...


  1. In the foreground, the central and principal figure, a beautiful and charming Female, is floating westward through the air bearing on her forehead the "Star of Empire..." On the right of the picture is a city, steamships, manufactories, schools, and churches over which beams of light are streaming and filling the air--indicative of civilization. The general tone of the picture on the left declares darkness, waste, and confusion. From the city proceed the three great continental lines of railway... Next to these are the transportation wagons, overland stage, hunters, gold seekers, pony express, pioneer emigrant, and the warrior dance of the "noble red man." Fleeing from "Progress"...are Indians, buffaloes, wild horses, bears, and other game, moving Westward, ever Westward, the Indians with their squaws, papooses, and "pony lodges," turn their despairing faces towards, as they flee the wondrous vision. The "Star" is too much for them.


  1. ...What home, from the miner's humble cabin to the stately marble mansion of the capitalist, should be without this Great National Picture, which illustrates in the most artistic manner all the gigantic results of American Brains and Hands! Who would not have such a beautiful token to remind them of the country's grandeur and enterprise which have caused the mighty wilderness to blossom like the rose!!!





Source 3

John O'Sullivan's The Great Nation of Futurity (Primary Source)


Background: Below are excerpts from an 1839 newspaper article by John O’Sullivan.  He wrote about the direction he believed America was heading, both geographically and politically.  In this article he published, he spoke of why the United States should expand westward.    


  1. "Our national birth was the beginning of a new history, the formation and progress of an untried political system,… as regards the entire development of the natural rights of man, in moral, political, and national life, we may confidently assume that our country is destined to be the great nation of futurity…"
  2. "America is destined for better deeds.  It is our unparalleled glory that we have no reminiscences of battlefields, but in defense of humanity, of the oppressed of all nations, of the rights of conscience, the rights of personal enfranchisement.  Our annals describe no scenes of horrid carnage, where men were led on by hundreds of thousands to slay one another."
  3. "The expansive future is our arena, and for our history. We are entering on its untrodden space, with the truths of God in our minds… We are the nation of human progress, and who will, what can, set limits to our onward march? Providence is with us, and no earthly power can..."
  4. "We must onward to the fulfilment of our mission--to the entire development of the principle of our organization--freedom of conscience, freedom of person, freedom of trade and business pursuits, universality of freedom and equality..."
  5. "This is our high destiny, and in nature's eternal, inevitable decree of cause and effect we must accomplish it.  All this will be our future history, to establish on earth the moral dignity and salvation of man--the immutable truth and beneficence of God."
  6. "For this blessed mission to the nations of the world… Who, then, can doubt that our country is destined to be the great nation of futurity?"




  • reminiscences: good memories

  • enfranchisement: privilege

  • annals: historical records

  • untrodden: not having been walked on

  • providence: protection; care of God or nature as a spiritual power

  • salvation: freedom from harm

  • futurity: continued existence











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