Manifest Destiny? [From 42-300]

John O'Sullivan

"Why has the bicycle yet to become a serious government-backed 'safety valve' for our problems comparable to those of past generations?"

from BA 42-300

American Democrat John O’Sullivan coined the term “Manifest Destiny” in 1845. America’s mission, he confidently believed, was “democratic and divine,” a duty to spread “equality,” “progress,” religion, and “civilization.”

“The great nation of futurity,” O’Sullivan declared, was divinely ordained to set an example for the world. The context for extensive, grandiose beliefs in this “destiny” is of course important. On the eve of the Mexican-American War and vast U.S. territorial expansion, it was hoped that the opening of the West would provide a “safety valve” for over-population, decreasing economic, social, and political independence, and an overall degradation of life and environment in the urban American East. The West it seemed was ripe for the spread of American ideals, rituals, and values, and the conquering of anything besides.

Though it may be impertinent to ask, have O’Sullivan’s prophecies been fulfilled? Has the United States indeed set an example for the rest of the world since the mid-nineteenth century? If so, have the U.S. populace and its “leaders” taken to this task responsibly and constructively? And then ultimately, why has the bicycle yet to become a serious government-backed “safety valve” for our own problems comparable to those of generations past? The continental frontier is closed. Our contemporary issues cannot be pushed out onto still unsullied lands.

The twenty-first century “safety valve” must bloom and flourish within individuals, cities, states, and nations. If you choose to believe a truly sustainable and respectable “destiny” can come to fruition on two human-powered wheels, is it too bold to think that if we in fact begin to pedal more often, perhaps those who come after us might not need a safety value after all? 

Evan P. Schneider