In This Review

Manifest Destiny: American Expansion and the Empire of Right
Manifest Destiny: American Expansion and the Empire of Right
By Anders Stephanson
144 pp, Hill And Wang, 1995

This provocative volume, by a Columbia University historian, examines the idea of manifest destiny from 1600 to 1990. The dominant impression conveyed is of an infatuated people driven to expansion and genocide by the delusional belief that they were God's chosen. With freedom on their lips, scripture in their hands, and a sense of racial superiority in their blood, Americans mowed down everybody in their way. Though Stephanson disclaims "moralizing" at the outset, he has trouble keeping to his own injunction, and the account reads more like a dark satire on American exceptionalism than a measured history of the debates that have long revolved around mission, purpose, and destiny. The author has many shrewd things to say, and his style is compact and powerful; but one would have liked to see a greater recognition of the fact that American reflections on mission and purpose did sometimes restrain, rather than abet, the more extravagant conceptions of providential destiny.