A Failed Vision of Empire


A Failed Vision of Empire

The Collapse of Manifest Destiny, 1845–1872

Daniel J. Burge

268 pages
15 illustrations, index

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May 2022


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May 2022


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eBook (EPUB)

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May 2022


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About the Book

Since the early twentieth century, historians have traditionally defined manifest destiny as the belief that the United States was destined to expand from coast to coast. This generation of historians has posed manifest destiny as a unifying ideology of the nineteenth century, one that was popular and pervasive and ultimately fulfilled in the late 1840s when the United States acquired the Pacific Coast. However, the story of manifest destiny was never quite that simple.

In A Failed Vision of Empire Daniel J. Burge examines the belief in manifest destiny over the nineteenth century by analyzing contested moments in the continental expansion of the United States, arguing that the ideology was ultimately unsuccessful. By examining speeches, plays, letters, diaries, newspapers, and other sources, Burge reveals how Americans debated the wisdom of expansion, challenged expansionists, and disagreed over what the boundaries of the United States should look like. A Failed Vision of Empire is the first work to capture the messy, complicated, and yet far more compelling story of manifest destiny’s failure, debunking in the process one of the most pervasive myths of modern American history.


Author Bio

Daniel J. Burge is an associate editor at the Kentucky Historical Society.


"This well-written, deeply researched, and provocative book deserves a wide readership because it advances important ideas that will spark plenty of discussions about manifest destiny and expansion in the nineteenth century U.S."—Evan C. Rothera, Civil War Monitor

"An important correction to a traditional view of Manifest Destiny still found in U.S. history textbooks."—Abraham Hoffman, RoundUp Magazine

“By shattering long-held notions that mid-nineteenth-century white Americans shared a common commitment to their country’s territorial growth, Daniel Burge complicates stereotypes about U.S. imperialism while speaking to today’s nation disunited. His astute parsing of cartoons, literature, and political discourse makes for a lively, informative, and ultimately convincing read.”—Robert E. May, author of Manifest Destiny’s Underworld: Filibustering in Antebellum America

“New and important. . . . A Failed Vision of Empire provides a much wider framing of the concept of manifest destiny than most prior works, which in turn helps to dismantle it as the single explanatory framework often grafted onto the late 1840s and 1850s. Burge explores little-known episodes that will be valuable to not just specialists but more general historians.”—Thomas Richards Jr., author of Breakaway Americas: The Unmanifest Future of the Jacksonian United States

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: The Myth of Manifest Destiny
1. Delaying Destiny: The U.S.-Mexican War and the Postponement of Manifest Destiny
2. Promises of Peace: Washington’s Farewell and the Election of 1848
3. Rejecting Robbery: Filibusters, Spain, and the Quest for Cuba, 1850–1855
4. Stalling the Slave Power: The Sectional Critique of Manifest Destiny, 1855–1860
5. Controlling the Continent: Manifest Destiny in the Civil War
6. Worthless Real Estate: The Environmental Critique of Manifest Destiny, 1866–1868
7. Destiny’s Demise: The Racial Critique of Manifest Destiny, 1868–1872
Epilogue: Overturning the Myth

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