What is the significance of frederick jackson turner frontier thesis

These free lands promoted individualism, economic equality, freedom to rise, democracy. Men would not accept inferior wages and a permanent position of social subordination when this promised land of freedom and equality was theirs for the taking. Who would rest content under oppressive legislative conditions when with a slight effort he might reach a land wherein to become a co-worker in the building of free cities and free States on the lines of his own ideal?

In a word, then, free lands meant free opportunities. Their existence has differentiated the American democracy from the democracies which have preceded it, because ever, as democracy in the East took the form of highly specialized and complicated industrial society, in the West it kept in touch with primitive conditions, and by action and reaction these two forces have shaped our history. In the next place, these free lands and this treasury of industrial resources have existed over such vast spaces that they have demanded of democracy increasing spaciousness of design and power of execution.


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Western democracy is contrasted with the democracy of all other times in the largeness of the tasks to which it has set its hand, and in the vast achievements which it has wrought out in the control of nature and of politics. It would be difficult to over-emphasize the importance of this training upon democracy. Never before in the history of the world has a democracy existed on so vast an area and handled things in the gross with such success, with such largeness of design, and such grasp upon the means of execution.

In short, democracy has learned in the West of the United States how to deal with the problem of magnitude. The old historic democracies were but little states with primitive economic conditions. But the very task of dealing with vast resources, over vast areas, under the conditions of free competition furnished by the West, has produced the rise of those captains of industry whose success in consolidating economic power now raises the question as to whether democracy under such conditions can survive. Hill, John D. Rockefeller, and Andrew Carnegie.

The question is imperative, then, What ideals persist from this democratic experience of the West, and have they acquired sufficient momentum to sustain themselves under conditions so radically unlike those in the days of their origin? In other words, the question put at the beginning of this discussion becomes pertinent. Under the forms of the American democracy is there in reality evolving such a concentration of economic and social power in the hands of a comparatively few men as may make political democracy an appearance rather than a reality?

The free lands are gone. The material forces that gave vitality to Western democracy are passing away. It is to the realm of the spirit, to the domain of ideals and legislation, that we must look for Western influence upon democracy in our own days. Western democracy has been from the time of its birth idealistic. The very fact of the wilderness appealed to men as a fair, blank page on which to write a new chapter in the story of man's struggle for a hi,,her type of society.

The Western wilds, from the Alleghanies to the Pacific, constituted the richest free gift that was ever spread out before civilized man.

Frederick Jackson Turner

To the peasant and artisan of the Old World, bound by the chains of social class, as old as custom and as inevitable as fate, the West offered an exit into a free life and greater well-being among the bounties of nature, into the midst of resources that demanded manly exertion, and that gave in return the chance for indefinite ascent in the scale of social advance.

It was unique, and the thing is so near us, so much a part of our lives, that we do not even yet comprehend its full significance. The existence of this land of opportunity has made America the goal of idealists from the days of the Pilgrim Fathers. LOG IN. American Literature. In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content: American Literature If you would like to authenticate using a different subscribed institution that supports Shibboleth authentication or have your own login and password to Project MUSE.

Additional Information. Project MUSE Mission Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide. Contact Contact Us Help. During the s, a military coup toppled the Hawaiian monarchy and added those islands to the United States. The next century provided a few more tropical islands: the Danish now U.

Despite this dramatic and important story, Kluger's book often bogs down in long and repetitive accounts of the back-and-forth of diplomatic exchanges, recapitulating dead ends as well as actual consequences. After belaboring British and American negotiations over Oregon, Kluger observes that "by late August [President] Polk's patience had run out. To break the tedium, Kluger recurrently jolts readers with flamboyant metaphors.

Frontier Thesis - Wikipedia

He likens one small colony to "a flea spitting into a hurricane" and Americans to "a porridge of diverse peoples Of the American Revolution, he observes that "here was a substantiation that theirs was a truly indissoluble union and no mere display of pyrotechnics sent skyward to scare away their overseas masters. France became an inflamed society with a large and easily dislodged chip on its shoulder.

Undiscriminating in his use of sources, Kluger sprinkles his book with errors, large and small. He places the American attack on Quebec in late on the famous "Plains of Abraham," when in fact that assault targeted the Lower Town beside the St. Lawrence River. He confuses the Federal Constitution with the later Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment , when he argues that the Constitution "provided a broad array of individual rights, installed brakes on tyrannical tendencies of the central government, and imposed prohibitions on the states to protect all their citizens against impairment of their liberties.

He labels the notorious John Randolph a "Federalist" when, in fact, he was a dissident Republican properly known as a "Quid. Some of Kluger's bigger mistakes derive from a determination to cast the British as pompous exploiters of the poor American colonists. Kluger insists that the colonists blamed the British crown for the massive land speculation in frontier lands. In fact, leading colonists, including George Washington, were the speculators, and they bristled when the crown tried to regulate or restrict their aggressive intrusion into Indian lands.

Kluger contradicts his colonial picture by later and correctly noting that the post-revolutionary land speculation "smacked of the same cronyism and inside dealing that marked the rampant abuse of public office in the colonial era. Similarly, Kluger repeats the hoary myth that a tyrannical king provoked the American Revolution: "the crown's demand for obedience and tribute money" was "a clear case--no matter how dressed up--of child abuse.

In addition to tedious stretches, bursts of overwrought writing, and frequent factual errors, Seizing Destiny suffers from an uncritical embrace of Frederick Jackson Turner's frontier thesis. Praising Turner as the "eminent Meistersinger of the farmers who carved America from the wilderness," Kluger tells a trite story: "When a new world was found across the sea, the set ways of the old one began to be thrown into question. To update Turner's story, Kluger periodically pauses to editorialize about the grim aspects of the American conquest.

He wants to treat Americans' "incurable case of triumphalism," which has led them "to assume that their singular success as a nation was not only foreordained but also deserved. The frontier spawned "a people unapologetic for the transparency of their abuse of the red and black races. A Tennessee slaveholder, hack politician, and conspicuous Christian, Polk felt driven to expand the United States to the Pacific at almost any cost.

His acquisitive vision of American security and his devotion to military solutions ran roughshod over the truth and over the rights of others. Hinting at a later counterpart, Kluger notes that Polk "did not read for pleasure or to broaden his frame of reference; as a result, he squinted xenophobically at the world and perceived political issues in stark black and white.

Bush for leading the United States into war against Iraq early in the twenty-first century. Like Turner, Kluger insists that every people has a singular character that transcends internal divisions of class, race, gender, and personality. This lumping into racial and national types leads to caricatures. According to Kluger, "a spectacular virgin landscape of immeasurable expanse and superlative fertility greeted invaders from the Old World, and nobody occupied it but scatterings of nomadic, Stone Age tribes shy on the organizational skills or death-dealing tools to repulse the newcomers.

In fact, native peoples had dramatically reshaped their environment by selectively burning the forest, erecting villages, clearing fields, and developing and cultivating remarkably productive plants--especially squash, beans, and maize. Kluger may prefer Indians as noble savages who did nothing to change the land and who could do nothing to resist the colonial invasion, but recent scholarship has illuminated the natives' innovative ability to adapt to the colonial invasion--to complicate it, and to slow its progress.

During the eighteenth century, for example, the Indians of the southern Great Plains acquired horses and became formidable warriors, who rolled back the Spanish missions and settlements in Texas and New Mexico. Such resourceful natives find no place in Kluger's narrative, which casts all Indians as an undifferentiated mass of suffering victims, doomed to destruction by their stubborn adherence to a primitive culture.

Frederick Jackson Turner 's Frontier Thesis

Lumping them all together as Indians, he never differentiates between their hundreds of distinct nations, bands, and villages. Uninterested in particular Indians as historical actors, Kluger mentions none by name, save a brief cameo by Tecumseh and his brother, who appear after three hundred pages of collective suffering and futile resistance by homogeneous Indians. This anonymous lumping stands out against the blizzard of named Americans granted personalities and initiative in Kluger's tome. African Americans suffer even more from Kluger's unwitting invocation of a dated caricature.

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Frederick Jackson Turner ' S Frontier Thesis

He casts them as inferior to Indians and as a passive mass, deprived of individuality and of the capacity to resist their slavery: "Unlike the imported blacks, the natives refused to be enslaved and do the white man's work for him; death was preferable to such a defilement of their beings and culture. Here he misses yet another opportunity to convey the recent scholarship, in this instance on the Indian slave trade.

In fact, the colonists did enslave thousands of Indians, but exported them to the West Indies to exchange for Africans. The exchange removed both peoples from areas where they knew the immediate hinterland and so could more readily escape. The bloody history of West Indian and African American slave revolts, runaways, and maroonage attests that blacks could, as readily as Indians, court death to resist slavery.

In Kluger's hierarchy of peoples, the Spanish and the French receive greater agency and individuality than Indians and Africans--but considerably less than white Americans. Drawn from the old Black Legend crafted by Spain's enemies, Kluger's Spanish were all cunning killers: "While there is no denying the Spaniards' insolence and inhumanity, the success and efficiency of their wholesale thuggery must be noted.

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In addition to slighting the diversity of sixteenth-century Spaniards, Kluger treats them as incapable of changing over time. In fact, the Spanish belied this caricature of arrogant inflexibility. During the late eighteenth century, the Spanish reformed and revitalized their empire, adopting pragmatic measures that converted some frontier Indians from foes to allies.

At first the French seem to benefit from Kluger's need for foils to highlight the arrogance and the cruelty assigned to the Spanish: "France had not come as a blatant conqueror or looter. We never read, for example, of the rage with which some French treated those Indians who resisted their colonial intrusion. During the s and s, thousands of Chickasaw, Fox, Sauk, and Natchez suffered death or enslavement in wars with the French around the Great Lakes and in the Mississippi Valley.

The Frontier Thesis - Frederick Jackson Turner and American exceptionalism

If we want an accurate history of the continent's conquest, we need a defter analysis than what we can derive from the national and racial typologies of Turner's day. The French appear equally homogeneous, but in a much less flattering light, when Kluger later sets them against the British.

The French then re-appear as committed to a rigid, bureaucratic, and Catholic empire that stifled commercial enterprise and civil liberties.

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