What was Turner's Frontier thesis?
In the middle of this century the line indicated by the present eastern boundary of Indian Territory, Nebraska, and Kansas marked the frontier of the Indian country. Minnesota and Wisconsin still exhibited frontier conditions, but the distinctive frontier of the period is found in California, where the gold discoveries had sent a sudden tide of adventurous miners, and in Oregon, and the settlements in Utah. As the frontier had leaped over the Alleghanies, so now it skipped the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains; and in the same way that the advance of the frontiersmen beyond the Alleghanies had caused the rise of important questions of transportation and internal improvement, so now the settlers beyond the Rocky Mountains needed means of communication with the East, and in the furnishing of these arose the settlement of the Great Plains and the development of still another kind of frontier life. Railroads, fostered by land grants, sent an increasing tide of immigrants into the Far West. The United States Army fought a series of Indian wars in Minnesota, Dakota, and the Indian Territory.
frontier into the complexity of city life. Said Calhoun
A third figure that has contributed immensely to contemporary frontier studies is Richard Slotkin, Professor of English and Director of American Studies at Wesleyan University. In a sense, Slotkin’s mission is similar to that of the New Western Historians: to escape the ideological baggage of the frontier thesis, and to look anew at American history. Slotkin, instead, turns the idea of the frontier in the United States itself into a subject of critical inquiry.
Taken individually, none of Paullin’s maps of public lands are impressive. But considered together as series, particularly when animated, they very effectively evoke Turner’s account of American history. More than that, it seems almost certain that Turner’s argument was the inspiration for this series. Turner argued that the disposition of public lands was one of the key points of contention that shaped national politics during the nineteenth century. Whigs who hoped to sell the land to fund internal improvement projects fought against western and southern Democrats who wanted it to be given away to settlers. The latter triumphed, not only speeding the process of frontier settlement but ensuring that that it had democratic, egalitarian implications—free lands meant that western settlement could be a means of upward mobility for countless small yeoman farmers. (That is, democratic, egalitarian implications for white settlers. The implications were anything but democratic and egalitarian for tens of thousands of and .) However much Paullin’s cartograms obscured the underlying data, that method of visually representing the transfer of lands from the public domain into private hands as an east to west process was an ideal way to spatially illustrate the frontier thesis.
"The emergence of western history as an important field of scholarship can best be traced to the famous paper Frederick Jackson Turner delivered at a meeting of the American Historical Association in 1893. It was entitled "The Significance of the Frontier in American History." The "Turner thesis" or "frontier thesis," as his argument quickly became known, shaped both popular and scholarly views of the West (and of much else) for two generations. Turner stated his thesis simply. The settlement of the West by white people - "the existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward" - was the central story of American history. The process of westward expansion had transformed a desolate and savage land into modem civilization. It had also continually renewed American ideas of democracy and individualism and had, therefore, shaped not just the West but the nation as a whole. "What the Mediterranean Sea was to the Greeks, breaking the bonds of custom, offering new experiences, calling out new institutions and activities, that, and more, the ever retreating frontier has been to the United States." The Turner thesis shaped the writing of American history for a generation, and it shaped the writing of western American history for even longer. " (quoted from "Where Historians Disagree: The 'Frontier' and the West" in Alan Brinkley, 1999)Three years before Turner's pronouncement of the frontier thesis, the U.S. Census Bureau had announced the disappearance of a contiguous frontier line. Turner took this "closing of the frontier" as an opportunity to reflect upon the influence it had exercised. He argued that the frontier had meant that every American generation returned "to primitive conditions on a continually advancing frontier line." Along this frontier -- which he also described as "the meeting point between savagery and civilization" -- Americans again and again recapitulated the developmental stages of the emerging industrial order of the 1890's. This development, in Turner's description of the frontier, "begins with the Indian and the hunter; it goes on with the disintegration of savagery by the entrance of the trader... the pastoral stage in ranch life; the exploitation of the soil by the raising of unrotated crops of corn and wheat in sparsely settled farm communities; the intensive culture of the denser farm settlement; and finally the manufacturing organization with the city and the factory system.""The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward explain American development." With these words, Frederick Jackson Turner laid the foundation for modern historical study of the American West and presented a "frontier thesis" that continues to influence historical thinking even today.Turner offered his frontier thesis as both an analysis of the past and a warning about the future. If the frontier had been so essential to the development of American culture and democracy, then what would befall them as the frontier closed? It was on this forboding note that he closed his address: "And now, four centuries from the discovery of America, at the end of a hundred years of life under the Constitution, the frontier has gone, and with its going has closed the first period of American history."This brief official statement marks the closing of a great historic movement. Up to our own day American history has been in a large degree the history of the colonization of the Great West. The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward explain American development. Behind institutions, behind constitutional forms and modifications lie the vital forces that call these organs into life and shape them to meet changing conditions. Now 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. More than a century after he first delivered his frontier thesis, historians still hotly debate Turner's ideas and approach. His critics have denied everything from his basic assumptions to the small details of his argument. The mainstream of the profession has long since discarded Turner's assumption that the frontier is the key to American history as a whole; they point instead to the critical influence of such factors as slavery and the Civil War, immigration, and the development of industrial capitalism. But even within Western and frontier history, a growing body of historians has contested Turner's approach.