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    Origins of The American Frontier...

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    Rahma Sboui Gueddah

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    Origins of The American Frontier...

    Post by Rahma Sboui Gueddah on Tue Feb 20, 2007 11:27 pm

    Frontier

    Origin: 1676
    If there is a single word that shaped the American experience, it is frontier. So, at least, it was argued at the turn of the last century, when the frontier as we had known it for nearly three hundred years came to an end. On that occasion, historian Frederick Jackson Turner said, "The peculiarity of American institutions is, the fact that they have been compelled to adapt themselves to the changes of an expanding people--to the changes involved in crossing a continent, in winning a wilderness, and in developing, at each area of this progress, out of the primitive economic and political conditions of the frontier into the complexity of city life."
    Frontier was not a new word to the English-speaking settlers of the Atlantic colonies, but they applied it in a new way. The beginnings can be seen in a 1676 account of "Calling downe our Forces from the defence of the Frontiers, and most weake Exposed Places." As Turner wrote two centuries later, "The American frontier is sharply distinguished from the European frontier--a fortified boundary line running through dense populations. The most significant thing about the American frontier is, that it lies at the hither edge of free land." American Indians, with un-European ideas about nations and property, did not erect barricades to the flow of settlers west. So the settlers thought of the frontier not as a marked border but as the place where civilization dwindled away and wilderness began.
    All this came to an end when the country was settled from coast to coast. What would Americans do without the frontier? Turner wondered. We didn't. We kept right on, preserving the frontier by extending the meaning of the word. We invented "new frontiers," in space or science or medicine or politics, the most famous being the new frontier adopted as a theme of John Kennedy's presidential campaign in 1960: "We stand today on the edge of a new frontier,...a frontier of unknown opportunities and paths, a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats.... The new frontier...is not a set of promises, it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them."


    Frontier, in U.S. history, the border area of settlement of Europeans and their descendants; it was vital in the conquest of the land between the Atlantic and the Pacific. The importance of the westward movement of the population and the lure of the frontier were clear even to colonial writers and early U.S. historians, but the theory that the frontier was a governing factor (if not the governing factor) in developing a distinctive U.S. civilization was not formulated until 1893, when Frederick Jackson Turner presented his thesis.
    Basically, Turner held that American democracy was shaped by the frontier, namely by the contest of the settler with the wilderness of the frontier. There the settler learned self-reliance, judged others by their abilities, strove to improve his or her lot, and grew distrustful of external authority and formal institutions. In short, the frontier molded an American national character that was individualistic and egalitarian. Turner's work stimulated a tremendous amount of research and writing on the history and meaning of the frontier.
    There is no question that the process of peopling the West is a central theme in U.S. history, although not, perhaps, for the reasons Turner suggested. The cultivation of frontier lands provided food for the growing number of workers in Eastern cities; its mineral wealth and other natural resources aided industrialization; and the need to keep the East and West united led to a complex and efficient national system of transportation and communication. At the same time, the existence of barely settled lands helped preserve a rural tinge to America well into the 20th cent. Many studies have been devoted to the fur trade frontier, the mining frontier, the grazing frontier, and other types of frontier, but emphasis has been to a large extent on the solid achievements of the farming frontier and on the central United States.


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