Frederick Jackson Turner and the Frontier Thesis

The existence of the frontier led to the formation of a “composite nationality.”

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The existence of the frontier led to the formation of a “composite nationality.” Turner believed that the pressures of frontier living forced the immigrating populations to abandon their native customs and adopt a new culture – the American culture – adapted to the frontier environment. Therefore, all Americans are basically alike because they share a common culture based on frontier experiences.

  • The development of the frontier led to a decreasing dependence on England. Turner believed that as the early Americans discovered the abundance of raw materials in their own land they no longer needed to depend on England’s resources. This condition was one factor in the colonists’ demand for political independence from England.

  • The existence of a frontier motivated Americans to quickly develop their country. Turner believed that most internal improvements (such as railroads, canals, and national roads) and significant inventions (such as barbed wire, deep plowing, and the repeating rifle) were developed as a result of America’s desire to push the frontier westward. Turner believed that American development would have proceeded more slowly if the frontier had not existed.

  • The frontier experience caused Americans to be more democratic than members of other societies. Turner believed that the experience of having to cope with frontier pressures caused Americans to perceive other countrymen as equals.

  • The existence of the frontier served as a “safety valve” for the discontents of society. Turner believed that the existence of the frontier meant that any American dissatisfied with his or her life could always “go west” and start a new life. If this option were not available these people would need other outlets for their unhappiness. One result would be an increase in crime or societal tension.

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