The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 91, July 1987 - April, 1988 Page: 119
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destiny and suggests that perceived domestic crises helped trigger a course
of aggressive imperialism (thus "anxious aggrandizement") which under-
mined the Union and lay groundwork for turn-of-the-century foreign-
policy excesses and precedents for the post-World War II imperial
Most of Manifest Design consists of separate chapter treatments of societal
insecurities that kindled expansionist momentum: expectations that Texas
annexation would relieve slave-revolt pressures in the South and siphon
off unwanted northern free blacks; hopes that Asian markets and a cot-
ton monopoly embracing Texas would stabilize an unsteady economy and
provide diplomatic leverage over England; a belief that new territory and
overseas markets for agricultural goods would slow modernization in the
United States and thus diminish the potential for commercial dependence
and urban class conflict already evident in England; and a craving for
Indian lands, which partly reflected insecurities fostered by European
taunts about American cultural inferiority. Perhaps most significant is
Hietala's extension of bloated-markets/commercial-empire theories,
customarily applied to late nineteenth-century American policy, back into
the 1840s. Hietala argues that Abel P. Upshur's naval recommendations,
the Caleb Cushing mission to China, all-Oregon, Polk's California am-
bitions, Robert J. Walker's tariff-reduction policies, and consular-reform
proposals reflected convictions that imminent surpluses of such American
commodities as hemp and sugar required overseas outlets.
Less worthwhile is Hietala's chapter 7 polemic against President James
K. Polk, which paradoxically criticizes Polk for his aggressive imperialism
while it lambasts him for so destroying the expansionist consensus by
patronage lapses and devious and ungenerous treatment of Democratic
leaders in Congress that, by the time opportunity knocked in Yucatan
in 1848, Polk could no longer call the shots. Given Hietala's last chapter
diatribe against twentieth-century "big stick" American diplomacy, he
should have applauded Polk for inadvertently weakening an unseemly and
ultimately dysfunctional crusade. On the other hand, Hietala probably
overstates the damage. Without the Kansas-Nebraska Act, 1850s
Democratic presidents Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan might have
matched Polk's land grab.
Quarterly readers will want to ponder Hietala's treatment of Texas af-
fairs, such as his attack on southern Democrats for refusing John L.
O'Sullivan and New York Democrats a fair division of Texas into slave
and free-soil areas (a proposed Missouri compromise line extension through
Texas represented but a crumb, since "only a miniscule and desolate part
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 91, July 1987 - April, 1988, periodical, 1987/1988; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101211/m1/145/: accessed October 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.