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


May 2022


$60.00 Add to Cart

December 2023


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eBook (PDF)
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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.


"By calling into question the assumption that expansion was inevitable, this book demands that we take responsibility—and perhaps even make amends—for the unjust wars of conquest waged by the United States."—Alice L. Baumgartner, Reviews in American History

"Burge's persuasive critique of the standard account of American empire should alter how manifest destiny is studied and taught."—Matt Millsap, South Dakota History

"A Failed Vision of Empire is a useful reminder of the fact that manifest destiny was contested."—Maria Angela Diaz, Western Historical Quarterly

"For anyone interested in joining in the work of deconstructing such a powerful myth, Burge provides the tools."—Richard Mize, Chronicles of Oklahoma

"Burge has refined and updated our understanding of territorial expansion in an important way. He has offered a clear, concise, and persuasive argument that should substantially alter how we look at Manifest Destiny and the mythology surrounding it. A Failed Vision of Empire should not be missed by any fan of nineteenth-century American history."—Matthew D. McDonough, Annals of Iowa

"A Failed Vision of Empire is a valuable part of a growing literature seeking to place manifest destiny in its proper historical and historiographical position."—Michael Hill, American Nineteenth Century History

"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

"Burge's A Failed Vision of Empire significantly contributes to the scholarship of U.S. empire. . . . The book confirms manifest destiny was a powerful rhetorical device that inspired an equally powerful resistance, and as Burge contends, by the 1870s, the resistance won."—Jimmy L. Bryan Jr., Journal of Arizona History

"A Failed Vision of Empire has performed a remarkable feat by blazing a fresh trail through what had looked like fairly well-worn historiographic terrain."—Brian Rouleau, Pacific Northwest Quarterly

“An important correction to a traditional view of manifest destiny still found in U.S. history textbooks.”—Abraham Hoffman, Roundup Magazine

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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