The Frontier Thesis

3825 WordsMay 31, 201116 Pages
The Frontier Thesis Introduction The emergence of western history as an important field of scholarship started with Frederick Jackson Turner’s (1861-1932) famous essay “The Significance of the Frontier in American history.”[1] This thesis shaped both popular and scholarly views of the West for the next two generations. In his thesis, Turner argued that the West had to be taken seriously. He felt that up to his time there had not been enough research of what he in his essay call “the fundamental, dominating fact in the U.S. history”: the territorial expansion from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast. The frontier past was, according to Turner, the best way to describe the distinctive American history and character. To this day,…show more content…
According to the frontier thesis, all the resources on the frontier as well as its lack of an established socio-political structure provided opportunities for the settlers. They could now pursue their dreams “of limitless wealth and self-betterment.”[6] Cheap or free land meant more opportunities for the self-made man, and provided a ‘safety valve’ for the ‘newcomers’: Since the day when the fleet of Columbus sailed into the waters of the New World, America has been another name for opportunity, and the people of the United States have taken their tone from the incessant expansion which has not only been open but has even been forced upon them. (100) Free land led to new opportunities, and it was up to each individual and their desire to work hard and climb the economic and social ladder: “…each frontier did indeed furnish a new field of opportunity, a gate of escape from the bondage of the past; and freshness, and confidence, and scorn of older society…”(Turner, 100). Everything was open to the man who knew how to seize the opportunity. The self-made man became the ideal of the West, and eventually every man in the U.S.A. should be like him. It was the work ethic of the frontier, not of the South or East, Turner thought, that had contributed the most to the American character. The frontier culture concentrated on the dollar and it became important to make something out of your life. People were constantly
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