We define Manifest Destiny as the belief that U.S. expansion was both justified and inevitable. We talk about how it was understood as the desire of the Protestant Christian God for Americans and point back to the Whitmans who initially went west as missionaries. We discuss arguments about the practicality of having oceans as the nation's borders. And we discuss the racism of the belief. To get at that, I have students analyze the Gast painting, first just asking them what they see. This is a great image to use for this exercise. There is so much symbolism that the students connect to previous lectures (like connecting railroads and ships with the transportation revolution and the telegraph lines with the communication revolution).
I ask students what the artist is indicating with his use of light and the depiction of Native American people.
And after we understand this image, I show a counter image, Reversing American Progress.