From the inception of this nation, the peoples who colonized America had a burning conviction that they had a special mission to fulfill in life. The early American colonies sincerely believed they had a “divinely appointed destiny” and thought of themselves as “being chosen for a special mission in the world.”
In 1630, John Winthrop, governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, wrote: “We shall find that the God of Israel is among us. The eyes of all people are upon us.”
When the Pilgrims waded ashore at Plymouth, Mass., in 1620, according to their first governor, William Bradford, “they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them from all the perils and miseries.”
America’s Great Seal (as can be observed on the U.S. one dollar bill) illustrates the “eye of God” above an Egyptian pyramid with the words Annuit Coeptis (he --God) has favored our undertakings”).The early Americas believed God’s eye was upon their undertakings.
The historical account of how America was won, of how the struggling colonists from Europe were planted on the shores of this continent, and of how they succeeded in establishing the earth’s mightiest nation is an interesting, gripping story.
Winston S. Churchill, while speaking at a dinner held in his honor in New York on May 25, 1949, acknowledged that America had “arrived at the summit of the world.”
What brought about America’s rise to greatness? How did she get her vast wealth and power? How could this comparative late-comer on the world scene rise so swiftly to such an unprecedented pinnacle of economic and military power – dwarfing all other nations?
Is America’s fabulous wealth and her awesome power primarily the result of her own ingenuity? Has she just been lucky? Did she just happened to inherit the earth’s goodliest heritage – so far as a fortuitous blending of the earth’s most productive land, a mild, salubrious climate, and a favorably placed land mass which, unlike the nations of Europe, is so located as to prevent it from being overrun by powerful neighbor states?
Or has an unseen hand guided this nation from its inception in 1607 when the struggling colonists from England established their first toehold in the New World?
Few Americans realize that there was a fierce three-power struggle waged during the course of two centuries for the control of the vast land mass of North America. Spain, France, and Britain all sought control of this rich continent.
In the same year that Columbus made his epic voyage to the West Indies – 1492 – Pope Alexander VI granted to Spain and Portugal all of North, Central and South America.
After learning of the discovery of the previously unknown lands of the New World, Pope, Alexander decided the best way to prevent rivalry and bloodshed between Spain and Portugal was to divide the newly discovered world between them. Accordingly he drew an imaginary line from north to south through a point several hundred miles west of the present-day Atlantic islands called Azores. All the land to the east of this “line of demarcation” went to Portugal, and all the land west fell to Spain’s lot.
By the Treaty of Tordesillias, signed between Spain and Portugal in 1493, this “line of demarcation” was moved slightly further west. The only territory in the New World which was assigned to Portugal was the big eastern bulge of the South American continent, roughly corresponding to present-day Brazil. All of the rest of the territory in the New World went to the Spaniards. This meant that Spain was given all of North and Central America plus most of South America.
However, there was one major problem with this imaginary division of the New World. Britain, France and Holland just did not believe any man (whether pope or king) had the God-given right to give away such vast amounts of the earth’s unclaimed real estate. They therefore ignored the pope’s “line of demarcation” when it came to establishing, at a later date, colonies in the New World.
Later, however, a real struggle for possession of North America developed between Britain and Spain. As fabulous quantities of gold and silver began flowing from the New World, primarily from Mexico and Peru – back to Europe, the greed and curiosity of many nations were aroused. Greedy adventurers wanted to get their hands on some of this seemingly unlimited treasure.
At this point in history, England produced some daring men of the sea such as Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Hawkins. These bold adventurers began to plunder the Spanish treasure ships. Of course, Philip II of Spain (1527-98) didn’t appreciate this interference with his lucrative flow of wealth from the New World. Also this very Catholic monarch did not like the way religious matters were going in England and Holland where Protestants were gaining the upper hand. Philip therefore decided to send his mighty “invincible armada” against England to subjugate that tiny island kingdom. After subduing the English, he planned to bring the Protestants of Holland to heel.
By the summer of 1588, Philip’s mighty armada was outfitted and ready to sail for England. About 28,000 Spaniards were in the attack force. During the ensuing battle, the greatly outnumbered and outgunned British seamen – aided greatly by the weather defeated the Spaniards. Only about half of Philip’s badly battered ships and men limped back to Spain. From that day forward, England knew she could successfully challenge the Spanish navy on the high seas.
One of England’s greatest historians, Sir Winston S. Churchill, commented on the defeat of the armada: “To the English people as a whole the defeat of the Armada came as a miracle. One of the medals struck to commemorate the victory bears the inscriptions ‘Afflavit Deus et dissipantur’ – ‘God blew and they were scattered.’ Elizabeth and her seamen knew how true this was. The Armada had indeed been bruised in battle, but it was demoralized and set on the run by the weather. Yet the event was decisive” (A History of the English-Speaking Peoples).
From that time forward, England felt she could safely introduce settlements into North America without the fear that Spain would be able to destroy them. So in 1607, the first permanent English colony was planted at Jamestown, Virginia. Before long, 13 thriving colonies were firmly established in North America.
Years before the English plantations in the New World, the Spaniards had colonies in Florida, Texas and the southwestern part of North America. But those Spanish colonies never came into serious conflict with the British ones to their north, and it was with France that Britain was soon to be engaged in a bloody struggle for supremacy in North America.
Years before England commenced her first permanent colony in 1607, French explorers had sailed up the St. Lawrence River deep into what was to become Canada. Eventually those wide ranging French explorers navigated the Great Lakes and down the Mississippi River, claiming all of North America west of the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains and all the parts east to the Allegheny (Appalachian) Mountains. This vast, unbelievably fertile land lying to the east and west of the Mississippi was called “Louisiana” after the French King, Louis XIV.
The British finally won the French and Indian War and in 1763, the Treaty of Paris was signed. France ceded to Britain all of her territory in Canada, plus all of the land east of the Mississippi from Canada in the north to the Florida territory in the south.
Interestingly enough, when France was defeated by England, she offered the victor either the island of Guadeloupe in the West Indies, or Canada. Fortunately, Benjamin Franklin happened to be in London at the time, and he realized the vast potential of the Canadian territory. He therefore wrote a pamphlet in which he urged Britain to take Canada rather than the sugar-and-rum rich Caribbean island, and many Britons were disappointed when their government, following Franklin’s advice, chose Canada rather than Guadeloupe!
Not long after the 1763 Treaty of Paris had granted Britain all of French Canada plus the present-day states east of the Mississippi from Canada to the Florida territory, trouble broke out between the thirteen American colonies and England.
On July 4, 1776, the Thirteen Colonies declared their independence and began waging the American Revolutionary War to secure their freedom. All odds favored a British victory in that war, but Cornwallis’ defeat at Yorktown on Oct. 19, 1781, by the combined forces of Washington working with the French navy, meant that America would soon gain total independence.
In 1783, Britain granted to the new United States not only the title deed to the original Thirteen Colonies, but she also gave those colonies all the land from the Atlantic west to the Mississippi River, that is, all the land between Canada in the north and the Florida territory in the south.
Beginning with this first title grant, the United States went on to eventually acquire all of the land encompassed in the contiguous 48 states.
How America acquired all of the original 48 states during a 70-year period is one of the most fascinating stories to be found in the annals of any nation. In fact, there is no other similar parallel in all the world’s history. At no other time, did a nation ever acquire such a vast, rich, strategic tract of land in such a short period of time.
Only 20 years after the second Treaty of Paris – convened in 1783 – granted the United States the territory east of the Mississippi, other events moved swiftly to give her possession of the vast Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi. Here is how America acquired that land, the most fabulous land bargain in the history of the entire world.
During the Napoleonic wars, the vain, ambitious Napoleon planned to establish a French empire west of the Mississippi River to counterbalance the Anglo-Saxon dominated territory of Canada and the United States (east of the Mississippi). But Napoleon’s ambitions knew no bounds as he continued to expand his empire across Europe, his main concern at that moment. He realized he would need money to wage that war – primarily against Britain. Napoleon therefore concluded that if he would sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States, this would provide him badly needed money and would at the same time cause America to be friendly toward him.
It just so happened that U.S. President Thomas Jefferson had recently instructed the American ministers in Paris to see if the U. S. could buy the port of New Orleans from France or at least some land on the eastern side of the mouth of the Mississippi so she could establish her own port by which she would then secure an outlet for her goods which flowed down the Mississippi and thence to Europe.
Neither Jefferson nor his American representatives in Paris dreamed that Napoleon would not only sell them the valuable port of New Orleans, but would offer to sell all the Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi River – for the paltry sum of only $15,000,000! This purchase amounted to about 4 cents per acre!
Never in the history of the world has such a fantastic purchase been made. This fabulous acquisition included all or parts of eleven states and some of the most fertile land in the whole world. This vast territory was later divided into Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota, and parts of Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Wyoming.
Shortly afterwards, in 1819, America was successful in purchasing the Florida territory (including Florida and parts of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi) for the insignificant sum of $10,000,000. Now, America owned all of the land east of the Mississippi from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, plus the land called the Louisiana Territory stretching west from the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains.
In 1836, the Texans declared their independence from Mexico and established the Lone Star Republic. The U. S. didn’t want to offend Mexico at the time and therefore didn’t permit Texas to be admitted immediately into the Union. The U. S. finally did annex Texas in 1845, and this proved to be one more irritation between Mexico and America which finally led to the Mexican War of 1846-47.
In 1846, Britain and the United States finally settled their border dispute in the northwest. Prior to this date, Britain had claimed the territory of Oregon and Washington, whereas the U.S. had claimed all of that territory plus British Columbia. Rather than come to blows both Britain and America agreed that all the land above the 49th parallel – which ran between the U. S. and the British Northwest Territory – would be British, and all to the south would be U. S. territory except Vancouver Island, which would remain under the British flag.
In the mid-1800s, many Americans firmly believed in America’s “manifest destiny” – that America was destined to inherit all the land from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Six of the original Thirteen Colonies had received royal grants giving them “sea to sea” rights. Those six states were: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Virginia, North and South Carolina and Georgia. But in actual practice, those royal grants only extended westward to the Mississippi River, since France and Spain claimed all of the land west of the Mississippi during America’s early history.
In was during the 1840s that this idea of “manifest destiny” swept the nation like a religious revival.
“Manifest destiny, a persistent and cherished tradition of the U.S. history which, in its broadest conception, declared that Americas are a chosen people, blessed with free institutions and ordained by God to create a model society in the wilderness. In this sense Manifest Destiny may be said to have begun with the Puritan’s landing at Massachusetts Bay in 1630. In its more restricted geographical sense, the phrase refers to the desire of American expansionist in the 1840s to extend the boundaries of the United States to the Pacific Ocean” (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1970, ed.).
In 1845, John O’Sullivan, writing in The United States Magazine and Democratic Review prophesied “the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions (and) for the development of liberty and federative self-government.”
With the idea of “manifest destiny” pounding in many American breasts, it was only a matter of time until these dynamic, rambunctious, land-hungry Americans would spill over into Mexico territory, provoking a bloody conflict with Mexico.
During the Presidency of James K. Polk, the war hawks finally succeeded in pushing America into a war with Mexico. The Mexican War started out as a mere border incident during December 1846, but soon it escalated into a full-scale war. On March 9, 1847, General Winfield Scott landed a force of about 10,000 men at Veracruz and set out to capture Mexico City, reaching his goal on Sept. 14, 1847.
At the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on February 2, 1848, Mexico agreed to cede to the U. S. what is now California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, along with parts of what was to become Colorado and Wyoming. The United States agreed to pay Mexico $15,000,000 for the newly ceded territory.
Only about one week before that treaty was signed James W. Marshall discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill – not far from San Francisco. This resulted in the famous California God Rush in 1849 – which helped bring a flood of settlers into that sparsely settled state.
Would America be satisfied with the territory which she now occupied? Hardly, America still coveted a sliver of Mexican territory. The U. S. finally agreed to acquire the “Gadsden Purchase” from Mexico in 1853 for the sum of $10,000,000. With this purchase, the area comprising the original 48 contiguous states was now complete.
Ten years later in the midst of the bloody Civil War, Abraham Lincoln said about the rich land which America then possessed: “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown.
“But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtues of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.”
And on October 3, 1863, Lincoln made another proclamation which he said: “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”
Then, near the end of the Civil War, Lincoln issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation in which he urged his fellow Americans to properly observe the soon-coming Thanksgiving Day “as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe. And I do further recommend to my fellow-citizens aforesaid that on that occasion they do reverently humble themselves in the dust and from thence offer up penitent and fervent prayers and supplications to the Great Disposer of Events for a return of the inestimable blessing of peace, union, and harmony throughout the land which it has pleased Him to assign as a dwelling place for ourselves and for our posterity throughout all generations.”
Russia, as well as Spain and France, had been grasping belatedly for control of North America. She had taken possession of what is now known as Alaska, claimed parts of western Canada, and in 1812 even established a thriving colony of about 400 people at Fort Russ just north of modern-day San Francisco.
But Russia sold out her California colony to John Sutter in 1841 for $30,000. This was only 7 years before gold was discovered on Sutter’s property!
In 1867, only two years after the Civil War, Russia sold Alaska to the United States for only $7,200, 000, a little less than two cents per acre!
Truly, no nation in the long history of the world has ever been so blessed as this great land. Yet all too many Americans neither feel nor express much gratitude to the Great One who shapes the destinies of all nations and who has given us manifold blessings.
This national ingratitude is sometimes obvious to others. The late prime minister of Japan, Kakuei Tanaka, seemed to sense that Americans today too often take their blessings for granted when he said in late 1973: “I often wonder why you (Americans) worry so much about domestic problems when you have such an abundance of resources. For example, look at American agricultural productivity. It’s easy for the U. S. to expand its output whenever it chooses. We can’t do that in Japan. When I compare the situation here in Japan with the situations in your country, I think that as a nation you are too privileged.”
He then added: “Yes, I think God has not been very fair in the distribution of resources of all the 3.7 billion people (now over 7 billion) on this earth, Americans have the most stable economy, they have an abundance of resources available within their own country, and they have more investments abroad than any other country.”
If one considers the fertility of our soil, the abundance of our natural resources and the temperate climate with which we have been favored by Heaven, then, without doubt, we have been blessed above all other nations. If one takes into account our unparalleled standard of living, then he will have to acknowledge that we have been greatly blessed. If one looks at the precious rights and freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution and government, then he will have to conclude that we have been highly favored.
Will we give thanks to the Great Being who gave us all of these blessings, or will we say: “My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth”? Are our people willing to ascribe these manifold blessings to our Creator?
America needs to be mindful of the true source of all her many unprecedented blessings: “But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that gives thee power to get wealth” (Deut. 8:18).
How was America won? It was won by the American people, not by their wisdom and might, but only because the Great God willed it!