The Significance of the Frontier in American History

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Frederick Jackson Turner

“The Significance of the Frontier in American History”

Historical Context:

● Born November 14, 1861, in Portage, Wisconsin - Died March 14, 1932

● Graduated from University of Wisconsin in 1884 with B.A., his M.A. in History in

1888, then his Ph.D. in History from Johns Hopkins University in 1890

● Taught History at U of WI for 21 yrs., later taught at Harvard for 14 yrs.
● “Frontier Thesis” was first published in July of 1893 and read to the American

Historical Association during the Chicago’s World Fair

Main Points:
Until now, American history has been the history of the colonization of the Great West

▪ “The wilderness masters the colonist.”

▪ “Moving westward, the frontier became more and more American.”
Expansion = Independence

▪ “…the advance of the frontier has meant a steady movement away from the

influence of Europe, a steady growth of independence on American lines.”
To be an American is to tame the wild and gain both strength and individuality from it as well as unification

▪ “…to study this advance … is to study the really American part of our history…”

▪ “The frontier promoted the formation of a composite nationality for the American people.”
The spirit and success of the United States is directly tied to it’s westward expansion

▪ “The legislation which most developed the powers of the national government, and played the largest part in its

activity, was conditioned on the frontier.”

▪ “The growth of nationalism and the evolution of American political institutions were dependent on the advance of

the frontier…”
The frontier creates individualism which encourages democracy

▪ “…the most important effect of the frontier has been in the promotion of democracy here and in Europe.”

▪ “… the frontier is productive of individualism.”

▪ “The frontier individualism has from the beginning promoted democracy.”

Americans will never stop their expansion or development

▪ “From the conditions of frontier life came intellectual traits of profound importance…”

▪ “Since the days…of Columbus…America has been another name for opportunity…”

▪ “Movement has been its dominant fact, and…the American energy will continually demand a wider field for its

Historical Significance:
● Turner’s thesis was not as influential when written as it has become today
● Turner’s emphasis on the importance of the frontier in shaping American character has influenced thousands of

scholarly histories

● Turner basically claims the westward expansion had renewed American ideas of democracy and individualism and

therefore shaped the nation as a whole

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