Thursday, July 1, 2010
The Frontier Experience
The Frontier Experience: When the 1890 United States Census declared the Western frontier closed, few people understood the implications behind it. In 1893, historian Frederick Jackson Turner published "The Significance of the Frontier in American History." This essay sought to explain the origins of American exceptionalism in the context of westward expansion. For Turner, the process of settling the West became an essential component of both American individualism and identity. The ideas of westward settlement and expansion were not exclusive to Turner's "Frontier Thesis," however. In 1845, New York journalist John O'Sullivan popularized the term "Manifest Destiny" (God-given right to go West) in reference to the annexation of Texas. Now that American frontiersman had God on their side, it was only a matter of willpower for the West to be made into a distinctive region. With the closing of the frontier, the nation had effectively exhausted its continental territory. Turner therefore assumed a Malthusian perspective toward the American West where population growth and food production must be balanced. If population growth far exceeded food production, then the West would potentially face abandonment, as its geography was not conducive to large-scale settlement in the first place.