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John L. O'Sullivan

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John L. O'Sullivan
O'Sullivan as he appeared on the cover of Harper's Weekly in November 1874. He was then attending a conference in Geneva that sought to create a process of international arbitration in order to prevent wars.
United States Minister to Portugal
In office
June 16, 1854 – July 15, 1858
PresidentFranklin Pierce
Preceded byCharles Brickett Haddock
Succeeded byGeorge W. Morgan
Personal details
BornNovember 15, 1813
At sea
DiedMarch 24, 1895 (1895-03-25) (aged 81)
New York City, US
Political partyDemocratic
SpouseSusan Kearny Rodgers
EducationColumbia College
Known forCoined phrase manifest destiny

John Louis O'Sullivan (November 15, 1813 – March 24, 1895) was an American columnist, editor, and diplomat who coined the term "manifest destiny" in 1845 to promote the annexation of Texas and the Oregon Country to the United States.[1] O'Sullivan was an influential political writer and advocate for the Democratic Party at that time and served as U.S. minister to Portugal during the administration of President Franklin Pierce (1853–1857).

Early life and education[edit]

John Louis O'Sullivan, born on November 15, 1813, was the son of Irishman John Thomas O'Sullivan, an American diplomat and sea captain, and Mary Rowly, a genteel Englishwoman. According to legend, he was born at sea on a British warship off the coast of Gibraltar.[2] O'Sullivan's father was a naturalized US citizen and had served as US Consul to the Barbary States.[3][4]

O'Sullivan enrolled at Columbia College in New York at the age of 14. He graduated in 1831. In 1834, he received a Masters of Arts and became a lawyer.[2]


In 1837, he founded and edited The United States Magazine and Democratic Review, based in Washington. It espoused the more radical forms of Jacksonian Democracy and the cause of a democratic, American literature. It published some of the most prominent American writers, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, John Greenleaf Whittier, William Cullen Bryant, and Walt Whitman. O'Sullivan was an aggressive reformer in the New York State Legislature, where he led the unsuccessful movement to abolish capital punishment. By 1846, investors were dissatisfied with his poor management, and he lost control of his magazine.[5]

O'Sullivan opposed the coming of the American Civil War, hoping that a peaceful solution, or a peaceful separation of North and South, could be resolved. In Europe when the war began, O'Sullivan became an active supporter of the Confederate States of America; he may have been on the Confederate payroll at some point. O'Sullivan wrote a number of pamphlets promoting the Confederate cause, arguing that the presidency had become too powerful and that states' rights needed to be protected against encroachment by the central government. Although he had earlier supported the "free soil" movement, he now defended the institution of slavery, writing that blacks and whites could not live together in harmony. His activities greatly disappointed some of his old friends, including Hawthorne. Towards the end of the Civil War, O'Sullivan appealed to his southern "comrades in arms" to burn Richmond, stating "let every man set fire to his own house".[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Johannsen, Robert W. "The Meaning of Manifest Destiny", in Sam W. Hayes and Christopher Morris, eds., Manifest Destiny and Empire: American Antebellum Expansionism. College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-89096-756-3.
  2. ^ a b Widmer, Edward L. "Young America". Retrieved July 22, 2021.
  3. ^ The Jacobite Peerage, Baronetage, Knightage, and Grants of Honour. Genealogical Publishing Com. 2003. ISBN 9780806317168.
  4. ^ https://historycooperative.org/journal/john-l-osullivan-and-his-times/
  5. ^ Robert D. Sampson. "O'Sullivan, John Louis" American National Biography Online Feb. 2000
  6. ^ Baker, Jean H. (1998). The Political Culture of Northern Democrats in the Mid-Nineteenth Century. p.337. Fordham University Press. ISBN 9780823218653.

Further reading[edit]

  • Sampson, Robert D. "O'Sullivan, John Louis" American National Biography Online Feb. 2000. Access Oct 12 2015
  • Sampson, Robert D. John L. O'Sullivan and His Times. (Kent State University Press, 2003) online
  • Scholnick, Robert J, "Extermination and Democracy: O'Sullivan, the Democratic Review, and Empire, 1837—1840." American Periodicals (2005) 15#2: 123–141.online
  • Widmer, Edward L. Young America: The Flowering of Democracy in New York City. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. (excerpt)
  • Letters and Literary Memorials of Samuel J. Tilden – Volume 1 – Edited by John Bigelow

External links[edit]