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6.4: Conclusion

  • Page ID
    232309
    • Angela L Miller, Janet Catherine Berlo, Bryan J Wolf, and Jennifer L Roberts
    • Washington University in St. Louis, University of Rochester, Stanford University and Harvard University
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    Figure 6.39: FANNY PALMER, Across the Continent: "Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way," 1868. Lithograph. The Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois.
    Figure 6.39: FANNY PALMER, Across the Continent: "Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way," 1868. Lithograph. The Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois.

    Questions of race involved not only white-black relations, but the relation of both to Native Americans. As Americans moved westward across t~e continent in ever-increasing numbers during the 1850s, they brought their beliefs and values with them. They justified their continental expansion as the triumph of civilization over savagery, imagining the Native American occupants of the landscape as a doomed people-superceded by civilization itself. However romanticized the figure of the Native American might be in his "simplicity" and closeness to nature, he could not compete-according to the myth of Manifest Destiny with the superior values that families migrating across the continent brought with them.

    Manifest Destiny was an evangelical belief that America's expansion across the continent was guided by God. It is a powerful ideology exemplified by Fanny Palmer's lithograph Across the Continent: Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way (1868) (fig. 6.39). In it, Palmer (1812-76) has imagined the West as a tame and empty landscape where exotically dressed Indians witness white settlement but put up no resistance to their own fate as a doomed race. The foreground displays the signs of transition from wilderness to civilization: trees being cleared in the left corner; a neat and orderly arrangement of homes, businesses, and school beyond the trees; Conestoga wagons and well-dressed families filling the village; and a train that puffs out tidy balls of smoke in its westward progress. By highlighting the "Public School" in the foreground, Palmer imagines Manifest Destiny as a civilizing mission. The settlers who arrive on the train, as well as those who will travel farther upon it, extend the values of middle-class domestic life from New York to San Francisco. The sharp diagonal of the tracks across the picture lends the image a charge of energy, as if the westward trek were an inevitable-and unstoppable-process. Viewers who purchased the print had probably never been west of the Great Lakes, but they could now imagine the Midwest, which had earlier been called "the Great American Desert," as an endless extension of prosperous farms.

    In the next chapter, we shall pursue Palmer's cue, examining the ways in which the West changed from a space of alliance and intercultural exchange between white and Indian to a space defined by conquest and expansion. In the process, Indian cultures were exiled to the sidelines of American history.


    This page titled 6.4: Conclusion is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Angela L Miller, Janet Catherine Berlo, Bryan J Wolf, and Jennifer L Roberts.