America's Frontier Heritage by Ray Allen Billington

By Ray Allen Billington

The speculation complex in Frederick Jackson Turner's well-known 1893 essay, the importance of the Frontier in American background, has been debated by means of 3 generations of students. The pioneering event, Turner steered, accounted for the various exact features of the yankee humans: in the course of 3 centuries of growth their attitudes towards democracy, nationalism and individualism have been altered, and so they built distinctively American features, resembling wastefulness, inventiveness, mobility, and a dozen extra. After beginning with a precis of the looks, attractiveness, and next dismissal of the speculation, the writer conscientiously defines the "frontier" and reports fresh proof on its political, social, and financial characterstics. He discusses the compulsion emigrate and examines different behavioral styles and characteristics in his rationalization of ways and why pioneers moved west. His vast bibliographic notes represent a awesome consultant to the literature of many disciplines facing the frontier idea.

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An altered intellectual atmosphere created a climate of opinion suited to receive and nurture the frontier theory. And, through a Page 6 happy conjunction of circumstances, those years produced a prophet capable of formulating the hypothesis in terms understandable to the public. The changed intellectual environment was created by publicists who during the 1880s awakened to the fact that an era of history was closing with the exhaustion of the public domain. Their first impulse was to pay more attention to the role of land in man's social evolution; the works of Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and Karl Marx were widely read and freely discussed, while commentators such as Josiah Strong and James Bryce showed increasing awareness of the relationship between land and society.

An attempt was made to select visitors who had included the frontier in their itineraries and who paid particular attention to the characteristics of the pioneers. The result was rewarding. Not only did a majority of the visitors agree on a number of traits that they viewed as distinctly American, but a sizable proportion believed that these were most strongly exhibited in the successive Wests. Thus they found Americans everywhere were wasteful, democratic, and inquisitive, but they Page vii found that Westerners were more wasteful, more democratic, and more inquisitive than their counterparts along the Atlantic seaboard.

Others, writing principally in the Review of Reviews, preached that the end of the frontier justified the restriction of immigration insomuch as the West no longer provided a haven for newcomers. Racists whose crusade for Anglo-Saxon supremacy attracted a disgraceful amount of support in the 1890s persuaded thousands of Americans that the gates must be closed against Orientals and southern Europeans if the nation's blood was to remain pure. All of these propagandists made the nation aware that its era of expansion was at an end.

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