Dee Brown makes a convincing case that the U.S. government’s Native American policies in the 19th century were genocidal. But American leaders (at least for the most part) weren’t explicit about the destructive intent of their country’s policies. Sickeningly, they used propaganda to give a benign and even moralistic gloss to policies that were, in their effects, genocidal. The doctrine of Manifest Destiny was perhaps the most important form of ideology that was used to justify America’s murderous policies against the Native Americans. Manifest Destiny argued that white American have both the right and the duty to “Go West” and colonize North America, an idea that proved hugely influential in the U.S. Inspired by the bold slogans and almost religious intensity of the movement, millions of white settlers left their homes in the eastern United States to make their fortunes in California, Oregon, and Oklahoma. Without Manifest Destiny to support it, one could even argue, the United States couldn’t have convinced its citizens to expand westward.
Manifest Destiny presupposed that some of the people who lived in North America—citizens of the United States, especially white males—were “real” Americans, and that Native Americans were mere obstacles to the rightful claim of American land by white men. At the most fundamental level, Manifest Destiny was a racist doctrine. Brown makes this clear throughout his book by studying the beliefs of the white settlers and soldiers who went out west in the late 19th century. Many of the most powerful authorities in the U.S. army—such as General George Armstrong Custer, who wouldn’t even shake hands with Native Americans during negotiations—thought of Native Americans as savages who had no right to live in America, or even to live at all. The blatant racism at the core of Manifest Destiny is perhaps best summed up by the infamous words of General Philip Sheridan, expressed to leaders of the Arapaho tribe: “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.”
Brown’s discussion of American expansion doesn’t just paint a disturbing picture of 19th century history. It also situates Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee within its own time period. The book was published in 1970, at a time when the United States was at war with Vietnam and numerous Native American political organizations protested the corruption and hypocrisy of the United States’ treatment of minorities at home and overseas. Native American activists saw that the arrogance and aggression that led United States to invade Vietnam under the guise of promoting democracy was a descendant of sanctimonious ideology that in the 19th century led Americans to colonize the Western United States. Understood in this way, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee isn’t just a scathing critique of the ideas that guided the United States in the 19th century; it’s a critique of the ideas that continue to guide the United States to the present day.
Expansion and Manifest Destiny ThemeTracker
Expansion and Manifest Destiny Quotes in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
Before these laws could be put into effect, a new wave of white settlers swept westward and formed the territories of Wisconsin and Iowa. This made it necessary for the policy makers in Washington to shift the "permanent Indian frontier" from the Mississippi River to the 95th meridian.
To justify these breaches of the "permanent Indian frontier," the policy makers in Washington invented Manifest Destiny, a term which lifted land hunger to a lofty plane. The Europeans and their descendants were ordained by destiny to rule all of America. They were the dominant race and therefore responsible for the Indians—along with their lands, their forests, and their mineral wealth.
Thus did the Cheyennes and Arapahos abandon all claims to the Territory of Colorado. And that of course was the real meaning of the massacre at Sand Creek.
"Indians!" Sitting Bull shouted. "There are no Indians left but me!"