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Deus Vult: John L. O’Sullivan, Manifest Destiny, and American Democratic Messianism

Adam Gomez
American Political Thought
Vol. 1, No. 2 (September 2012), pp. 236-262
Published by: The University of Chicago Press in association with the Notre Dame Program in Constitutional Studies and the The Jack Miller Center
DOI: 10.1086/667616
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/667616
Page Count: 27
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Deus Vult: John L. O’Sullivan, Manifest Destiny, and American Democratic Messianism
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Abstract

Within the rhetorical tradition of American civil religion, the United States is often depicted as divinely obligated to spread and defend democratic government throughout the world. That trope partly stems from the political thought of John L. O’Sullivan, editor of the United States Democratic Review and the christener of Manifest Destiny. This essay analyzes his political writing, which characterizes America as a sinless agent of God’s will, possessing a messianic destiny to initiate a global democratic transfiguration and redeem the world from tyranny. O’Sullivan’s millenarian thought identifies democracy with American power, framing politics as a conflict between democratic good and despotic evil. His vision of America as specially obligated and authorized to intervene in the affairs of other nations remains influential on American political speech and self-understanding today. Understanding O’Sullivan’s political theology helps explain elements of American political speech and behavior in the twenty-first century, especially in the international arena.

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