Research Resources

Teaching Materials

Manifest Destiny in Pictures, 1776-1893

Europeans arriving on the shore of the North American continent arrived with a common belief that here they would "make their way," taming the wilderness and achieving some measure of prosperity. As a nation, the United States came increasingly to embody that belief in a theory of progressive expansion and development until the nation might stretch from coast to coast. It was, as many came to repeat, the "manifest destiny" of the American: "manifest" in both senses of the word-- as self-evident, and as an instruction-- and "destiny" not just in some distant future, but soon, within the lifetime of the person declaring this ideology.

Painters, popular printmakers and photographers also exemplified this theory of expansion and continental nationalism, and they tied it to two important ideas: that this destiny was divinely decreed-- that God had ordained this expansion-- and that it was a destiny written upon the harmony of Nature.

Part I: Continental Expansion

thumbnail colecat skill scenery1833

Thomas Cole, Catskill Scenery1833


George Caleb Bingham, Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers the Cumberland Gap, 1851


Emmanuel Leutze, Westward the Course of Empire Makes Its Way, 1861


Fannie Flora Palmer, for Currier and Ives, The Rocky Mountains-- Emigrants Crossing the Plains, 1866


Fannie Flora Palmer for Currier and Ives, Pioneer's Home on the Western Frontier, 1867


Frances Flora Palmer, for Currier and Ives, Across the Continent: Westward the Course of Empire Makes Its Way, 1868.


William Henry Jackson, North from Berthoud Pass, 1871


William Henry Jackson, Camp in Cache Valley, 1871


William Henry Jackson, Mount of the Holy Cross, Colorado, 1873


Artist unknown, wood engraving frontispiece titled American Progress: Westward the Course of Empire Makes Its Way from Crofutt's Guide, an emigrants' guide to the United States and the West

Go to Part II: The unsung: slaves, cities