Phelps & Ensign's pictorial wall map Travellers' Guide and Map of the United States 1845 represents the year in which the phrase "America's manifest destiny" first entered the national conversation to explain America's active westward expansion "to overspread the continent" and become a coast to coast nation from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. 1/ This 1845 pictorial wall map presents a large, detailed map of the United States with Texas as its western boundary and only that portion of Mexico that abuts Texas. A small section of Oregon is shown but not labeled. Inset maps, small but detailed, show principal cities in the East and the growing Great Lakes region.
America's creation story is told by the wall map's numerous pictorial vignettes. The primary vignette of the map illustrates the July 4, 1776 signing by America's 48 founders of the Declaration of Independence in Congress. A small ghost image of the vignette and a fine engraving of the full text of the Declaration of Independence appear to the left of the United States map. This is the key numbered 1.-48. that identifies each signer and his facsimile signature. America's "ancient history" is illustrated with a vignette of the 1620 landing of the Pilgrims in Plymouth Colony. Battle scenes in 1775 between the Colonists and British Army decorate the map. America's successful eight-year battle for independence is celebrated quietly and solemnly in person by George Washington in Washington's Farewell to His Army in N. Y., Dec. 4, 1783, a scene of Washington with the Continental Army's officers drawn with a view of the Hudson River, when they gathered first at Fraunces Tavern in Lower Manhattan after which Washington traveled to Annapolis to resign his army commission and return to civilian life. 2/
Portraits of the first ten U.S. Presidents, the current being President Taylor who signed the Texas annexation agreement in December, 1845 as his last act in office are placed on either side of the central vignette of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. A striking pair of decorated portraits immediately flanks the wall map's central vignette: drawn inside a decorative border of corn stalks is the rattlesnake framed portrait of King Philip 1676 in full regalia with Native American symbols of peace and war, including a buffalo shield, weapons, beaded clothing, ceremonial implements of peace, ritual items etc. The second portrait of the pair, also bordered by corn stalks, is George Washington in civilian dress, E Pluribus Unum beneath his image as his identity required no label, surrounded by American regalia of peace and war, including a helmet of antiquity. 3/
The argument presented by Phelps & Ensign's 1845 pictorial map is that America's founding events presage its future. The map captures the mood of the times that America's territorial expansion was ineluctable even if, for its proponents that meant war with its neighbor Mexico because the stakes were high: Texas now stood at the threshold of American statehood and offered a model of how Mexico's California, in 1845 a fast growing American emigrant destination on the Pacific Coast might also become the ultimate United States state and west coast territory.
Texas is drawn on this 1845 map in an early, small form resembling the boundaries of the original land grants by Mexico to American Southern ranchers Sam Houston, Steven Austin and others who formed Austin's Colony in Mexico's Province of Tejas, as located on this map. Even in 1845, surveying Texas was a challenge as its roads were poor, there were no trains and few of its rivers were navigable. The 1,300 mile long Red River along Texas' northern border to New Orleans was obstructed by the Red River Raft or Great Raft, a 100 year+ massive blockage of logs and trees cleared after 1845. 4/ Perhaps this explains the out of date Texas borders shown on the Phelps & Ensign 1845 map. In 1836, upon becoming a republic, Texas asserted greatly expanded borders beyond those of the original Austin's Colony, adding a northern "stovepipe" and portions of Mexican New Mexico to create Texas' largest asserted territory. In 1850, Texas borders were reduced by the U.S. Congress in the Compromise of 1850, removing Texas' asserted "stovepipe" and those portions of New Mexico in final confirmation of Texas as it would be defined upon admission to the Union.
Phelps & Ensign's wall map includes in its title "Traveller's Guide". 5/ At a literal level, the map provides current travel information that a western emigrant required to plan a trip. The map's steel engraving permits fine details such as numbers showing route distances between cities. The map shows the nation's new train, steamship, stagecoach and canal lines from the settled East Coast to the Great Lakes and frontier mid-West. Sixteen small, but detailed inset maps, show for example the vicinity of several New York cities, and of Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, New Orleans, Mobile, Charleston, Chicago, Detroit and Washington. These cities and vicinity are emigrant transit hubs. Texas does not yet have railroad service in 1845, the first line only being built in 1853. Two trail routes are shown that lead to Texas from the Great Lakes Region and Louisiana.
A colorful map titled The World and two illustrated international charts appear on the left side of the wall map. The World is shown as the joined Western and Eastern Hemispheres. A chart presenting A Comparative View of the Principal Mountains of the World with Their Altitudes includes mountain peaks. A second chart of The Chief Rivers of the World names and details these rivers. Such map elements satisfied the map viewer's curiosity about the wider world which an American traveler might explore and reinforce that the United States and Americans were engaged in world affairs and commerce.
Phelps & Ensign's 1845 Travellers' Guide may look like a decorative school map, and read as a practical traveller's map but the historic national context in which this pointedly political map was published make Texas and Mexico the focal points one year before the outbreak of the Mexican American War. The map is a tapestry about Manifest Destiny. A contemporary viewer of the 1845 United States map could appreciate that the United States was expanding both geographically and economically, even militarily as a world power. All elements of this 1845 map, pictorial and cartographic, chart the rapid progress within a scant 69 years of America's birth and ascent as a unique, thriving and powerful democracy.
1. Journalist John Louis O'Sullivan is credited as the first to use the phrase "manifest destiny" in his 1845 editorial advocating that Texas be annexed by the United States. John O’Sullivan, “Annexation,” 1845 - Bill of Rights Institute. His argument in favor of annexation of Texas begins "Texas is now ours. ...She comes with the dear and sacred designation of Our Country;...other nations have undertaken to intrude themselves...thwarting our policy and hampering our power, limiting our greatness and checking the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions..." On December 27, 1845, in his newspaper the New York Morning News O'Sullivan repeats that it is America's "manifest destiny" to claim all of Oregon. O'Sullivan writes with equal fervor anticipating California's independence from Mexico - "the Anglo-Saxon foot is already on its borders. Already the advance guard of ...emigration has begun...A population will soon be in actual occupation of California...They will necessarily become independent. Whether they will then attach themselves to our Union or not, is not to be predicted with any certainty...." Authors have commented that O'Sullivan did not advocate the United States government taking territory by force and instead expected westward migration and settlements to claim America's rightful land on a "self help" basis.
2. See Library of Congress for commentary and art work. Today in History - December 4 | Library of Congress
3. The artistic placement on the map of a large portrait of Chief Metacomet (1638-1676) of Massachusetts, also known as King Philip, his father's name, appears to honor or appose this Native American leader with America's first President George Washington (1789-1797). Is this Phelps & Ensign's nostalgia, a "that was then and this is now" reference in the map's art work to the first chapter in America's creation story? In 1845, the year of this map, the U.S. Congress continued to pursue annihilation of Native Americans.
4. For the interesting natural history of the Red River and the Great Raft, including the invention that permitted its navigation, please see The Great Raft on the Red River in Louisiana | The Heart of Louisiana
5. The 1839 first edition of this title is a guide book with a folding map lacking vignettes bound in. A wall map was first published in 1840 with few vignettes. This 1845 wall map is missing the date in its copyright notice. A variant 1845 dated map is copyright 1840 and has a portrait of the 11th U.S. President Polk.