Chapter 4


Walt Whitman and Manifest Destiny

Walt Whitman was a native and lifelong resident of the Atlantic seaboard, a poet convinced that American literature and society were to be adapted to the North American continent, leaving behind the vestiges of Europe and founding a new social and artistic order grounded in the experience of nature. The American poet, Whitman concluded, should sing about the West: "These states tend inland, and toward the Western sea, and I will also." The assumptions of western expansion--Manifest Destiny--came to be the assumptions of Whitman, most evidently in his poem "Passage to India".

Whitman's tome Leaves of Grass was written for the trans-Mississippi region, he claimed, and his "Pioneers! O Pioneers!" describes the march of the frontier settler in much the same tone as Gilpin's depiction of the Great Migration to Oregon. Whitman imagines that the "Enfans d' Adam" have wandered westward century after century to finally arrive at the Pacific. A new millenial era is heralded, in which invigorated peoples mingle with each other and achieve a new harmony with nature. A straight line can be drawn between Benton's notion of the course of empire and Whitman's vision of the pioneer army: both take Asia--and a Pacific empire--as the goal of a great westward march. It must be noted, however, that Whitman's poetry views expansion as a prelude to brotherhood and peace; the same cannot be said of the imperial aspirations of Whitney, Benton, and other prophets of Manifest Destiny.

Chapter 5