Madison State Historical Society of Wisconsin 1894 Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1894).
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE FRONTIER IN AMERICAN HISTORY 1
In a recent bulletin of the Superintendent of the Census for 1890 appear these significant words:
“Up to and including 1880 the country had a frontier of settlement, but at present, the unsettled area has been so broken into by isolated bodies of settlement that there can hardly be said to be a frontier line. In the discussion of its extent, its westward movement, etc., it cannot, therefore, any longer have a place in the census reports.” 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 with its new opportunities, its continuous touch with the simplicity of primitive society, furnish the forces dominating American character. The true point of view in the history of this nation is not the Atlantic coast, it is the Great West. Even the slavery struggle which is made so exclusive an object of attention by writers like Professor von Holst, occupies its important place in American history because of its relation to westward expansion. In this advance, the frontier is the outer edge of the wave– the meeting point between savagery and civilization. Much has been written about the frontier from the point of view of border warfare
and the chase, but as a field for the serious study of the economist and the historian, it has been neglected.
The American frontier is sharply distinguished from the European frontier–a fortified boundary line running through dense populations. The most significant thing about the American frontier is, that it lies at the hither edge of free land. In the census reports it is treated as the margin of that settlement which has a density of two or more to the square mile. The term is an elastic one, and
for our purposes does not need sharp definition. We shall consider the whole frontier belt including the Indian country and the outer margin of the “settled area ” of the census reports. This paper will make no attempt to treat the subject exhaustively; its aim is simply to call attention to the frontier
as a fertile field for investigation, and to suggest some of the problems which arise in connection with it.
In the settlement of America we have to observe how European life entered the continent, and how
America modified and developed that life and reacted on Europe. Our early history is the study of European germs developing in an American environment. Too exclusive attention has been paid by institutional students to the Germanic origins, too little to the American factors. The frontier is the line of most rapid and effective Americanization. The wilderness masters the colonist. It finds him a European in dress, industries, tools, modes of travel, and thought. It takes him from the railroad car and puts him in the birch canoe. It strips off the garments of civilization and arrays him in the hunting shirt and the moccasin. It puts him in the log cabin of the Cherokee and Iroquois and runs an Indian palisade around him. Before long he has gone to planting Indian corn and plowing with a sharp stick, he shouts the war cry and takes the scalp in orthodox Indian fashion.
In short, at the frontier the environment is at first too strong for the man. He must accept the conditions which it furnishes, or perish, and so he fits himself into the Indian clearings and follows the Indian trails. Little by little he transforms the wilderness, but the outcome is not the old Europe, not simply the development of Germanic germs, any more than the first phenomenon was a case of reversion to the Germanic mark. The fact is, that here is a new product that is American. At first, the frontier was the Atlantic coast. It was the frontier of Europe in a very real sense. Moving
westward, the frontier became more and more American. As successive terminal moraines result
from successive glaciations, so each frontier leaves its traces behind it, and when it becomes a
settled area the region still partakes of the frontier characteristics. Thus the advance of the frontier
has meant a steady movement away from the influence of Europe, a steady growth of independence
on American lines. And to study this advance, the men who grew up under these conditions, and
the political, economic, and social results of it, is to study the really American part of our history.
In the course of the seventeenth century the frontier was advanced up the Atlantic river courses,
just beyond the “fall line,” and the tidewater region became the settled area. In the first half of the
eighteenth century another advance occurred. Traders followed the Delaware and Shawnee Indians
to the Ohio as early as the end of the first quarter of the century.3 Gov. Spotswood, of Virginia,
made an expedition in 1714 across the Blue Ridge. The end of the first quarter of the century saw
the advance of the Scotch-Irish and the Palatine Germans up the Shenandoah Valley into the
western part of Virginia, and along the Piedmont region of the Carolinas.4 The Germans in New
York pushed the frontier of settlement up the Mohawk to German Flats.5
In Pennsylvania the town
of Bedford indicates the line of settlement. Settlements had begun on New River, a branch of the
Kanawha, and on the sources of the Yadkin and French Broad.6 The King attempted to arrest the
advance by his proclamation of 1763,7
forbidding settlements beyond the sources of the rivers
flowing into the Atlantic, but in vain. In the period of the Revolution the frontier crossed the
Alleghanies into Kentucky and Tennessee, and the upper waters of the Ohio were settled.8 When
the first census was taken in 1790, the continuous settled area was bounded by a line which ran
near the coast of Maine, and included New England except a portion of Vermont and New
Hampshire, New York along the Hudson and up the Mohawk about Schenectady, eastern and
southern Pennsylvania, Virginia well across the Shenandoah Valley, and the Carolinas and eastern
Georgia. 9 Beyond this region of continuous settlement were the small settled areas of Kentucky
and Tennessee, and the Ohio, with the mountains intervening between them and the Atlantic area,
thus giving a new and important character to the frontier. The isolation of the region increased its
peculiarly American tendencies, and the need of transportation facilities to connect it with the East
called out important schemes of internal improvement, which will be noted farther on. The “West,”
as a self-conscious section, began to evolve.
From decade to decade distinct advances of the frontier occurred. By the census of 1820 10 the
settled area included Ohio, southern Indiana and Illinois, southeastern Missouri, and about onehalf
of Louisiana. This settled area had surrounded Indian areas, and the management of these
tribes became an object of political concern. The frontier region of the time lay along the Great
Lakes, where Astor’s American Fur Company operated in the Indian trade, 11 and beyond the
Mississippi, where Indian traders extended their activity even to the Rocky Mountains; Florida
also furnished frontier conditions. The Mississippi River region was the scene of typical frontier
The rising steam navigation l3 on western waters, the opening of the Erie Canal, and the westward
extension of cotton 14 culture added five frontier states to the Union in this period. Grund, writing
in 1836, declares: “It appears then that the universal disposition of Americans to emigrate to the
western wilderness, in order to enlarge their dominion over inanimate nature, is the actual result
of an expansive power which is inherent in them, and which by continually agitating all classes of
society is constantly throwing a large portion of the whole population on the extreme confines of
the State, in order to gain space for its development. Hardly is a new State of Territory formed
before the same principle manifests itself again and gives rise to a further emigration; and so is it
destined to go on until a physical barrier must finally obstruct its progress.” 15
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. l6 Minnesota and Wisconsin still
exhibited frontier conditions, 17 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.18 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.
By 1880 the settled area had been pushed into northern Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota,
along Dakota rivers, and in the Black Hills region, and was ascending the rivers of Kansas and
Nebraska. The development of mines in Colorado had drawn isolated frontier settlements into that
region, and Montana and Idaho were receiving settlers. The frontier was found in these mining
camps and the ranches of the Great Plains. The superintendent of the census for 1890 reports, as
previously stated, that the settlements of the West lie so scattered over the region that there can no
longer be said to be a frontier line.
In these successive frontiers we find natural boundary lines which have served to mark and to
affect the characteristics of the frontiers, namely: the “fall line;” the Alleghany Mountains; the
Mississippi; the Missouri where its direction approximates north and south; the line of the arid
lands, approximately the ninety-ninth meridian; and the Rocky Mountains. The fall line marked
the frontier of the seventeenth century; the Alleghanies that of the eighteenth; the Mississippi that
of the first quarter of the nineteenth; the Missouri that of the middle of this century (omitting the
California movement); and the belt of the Rocky Mountains and the arid tract, the present frontier.
Each was won by a series of Indian wars.
At the Atlantic frontier one can study the germs of processes repeated at each successive frontier.
We have the complex European life sharply precipitated by the wilderness into the simplicity of
primitive conditions. The first frontier had to meet its Indian question, its question of the
disposition of the public domain, of the means of intercourse with older settlements, of the
extension of political organization, of religious and educational activity. And the settlement of
these and similar questions for one frontier served as a guide for the next. The American student
needs not to go to the “prim little townships of Sleswick” for illustrations of the law of continuity
and development. For example, he may study the origin of our land policies in the colonial land
policy; he may see how the system grew by adapting the statutes to the customs of the successive
frontiers.19 He may see how the mining experience in the lead regions of Wisconsin, Illinois, and
Iowa was applied to the mining laws of the Sierras, 20 and how our Indian policy has been a series
of experimentations on successive frontiers. Each tier of new States has found in the older ones
material for its constitutions. 21 Each frontier has made similar contributions to American character,
as will be discussed farther on.
But with all these similarities there are essential differences, due to the place element and the time
element. It is evident that the farming frontier of the Mississippi Valley presents different
conditions from the mining frontier of the Rocky Mountains. The frontier reached by the Pacific
Railroad, surveyed into rectangles, guarded by the United States Army, and recruited by the daily
immigrant ship, moves forward at a swifter pace and in a different way than the frontier reached
by the birch canoe or the pack horse. The geologist traces patiently the shores of ancient seas, maps
their areas, and compares the older and the newer. It would be a work worth the historian’s labors
to mark these various frontiers and in detail compare one with another. Not only would there result
a more adequate conception of American development and characteristics, but invaluable additions
would be made to the history of society.
Loria,22 the Italian economist, has urged the study of colonial life as an aid in understanding the
stages of European development, affirming that colonial settlement is for economic science what
the mountain is for geology, bringing to light primitive stratifications. “America,” he says, “has
the key to the historical enigma which Europe has sought for centuries in vain, and the land which
has no history reveals luminously the course of universal history.” There is much truth in this. The
United States lies like a huge page in the history of society. Line by line as we read this continental
page from West to East we find the record of social evolution. It begins with the Indian and the
hunter; it goes on to tell of the disintegration of savagery by the entrance of the trader, the
pathfinder of civilization; we read the annals of the pastoral stage in ranch life; the exploitation of
the soil by the raising of unrotated crops of corn and wheat in sparsely settled farming
communities; the intensive culture of the denser farm settlement; and finally the manufacturing
organization with city and factory system.23 This page is familiar to the student of census statistics,
but how little of it has been used by our historians. Particularly in eastern States this page is a
palimpsest. What is now a manufacturing State was in an earlier decade an area of intensive
farming. Earlier yet it had been a wheat area, and still earlier the “range” had attracted the
cattleherder. Thus Wisconsin, now developing manufacture, is a State with varied agricultural
interests. But earlier it was given over to almost exclusive grain-raising, like North Dakota at the
Each of these areas has had an influence in our economic and political history; the evolution of
each into a higher stage has worked political transformations. But what constitutional historian has
made any adequate attempt to interpret political facts by the light of these social areas and
The Atlantic frontier was compounded of fisherman, fur trader, miner, cattle-raiser, and farmer.
Excepting the fisherman, each type of industry was on the march toward the West, impelled by an
irresistible attraction. Each passed in successive waves across the continent. Stand at Cumberland
Gap and watch the procession of civilization, marching single file– the buffalo following the trail
to the salt springs, the Indian, the fur trader and hunter, the cattle-raiser, the pioneer farmer –and
the frontier has passed by. Stand at South Pass in the Rockies a century later and see the same
procession with wider intervals between. The unequal rate of advance compels us to distinguish
the frontier into the trader’s frontier, the rancher’s frontier, or the miner’s frontier, and the farmer’s
frontier. When the mines and the cow pens were still near the fall line the traders’ pack trains were
tinkling across the Alleghanies, and the French on the Great Lakes were fortifying their posts,
alarmed by the British trader’s birch canoe. When the trappers scaled the Rockies, the farmer was
still near the mouth of the Missouri.
Why was it that the Indian trader passed so rapidly across the continent? What effects followed
from the trader’s frontier? The trade was coeval with American discovery. The Norsemen,
Vespuccius, Verrazani, Hudson, John Smith, all trafficked for furs. The Plymouth pilgrims settled
in Indian cornfields, and their first return cargo was of beaver and lumber. The records of the
various New England colonies show how steadily exploration was carried into the wilderness by
this trade. What is true for New England is, as would be expected, even plainer for the rest of the
colonies. All along the coast from Maine to Georgia the Indian trade opened up the river courses.
Steadily the trader passed westward, utilizing the older lines of French trade. The Ohio, the Great
Lakes, the Mississippi, the Missouri, and the Platte, the lines of western advance, were ascended
by traders. They found the passes in the Rocky Mountains and guided Lewis and Clark,25 Fremont,
and Bidwell. The explanation of the rapidity of this advance is connected with the effects of the
trader on the Indian. The trading post left the unarmed tribes at the mercy of those that had
purchased fire-arms–a truth which the Iroquois Indians wrote in blood, and so the remote and
unvisited tribes gave eager welcome to the trader “The savages,” wrote La Salle, “take better care
of us French than of their own children; from us only can they get guns and goods.” This accounts
for the trader’s power and the rapidity of his advance. Thus the disintegrating forces of civilization
entered the wilderness. Every river valley and Indian trail became a fissure in Indian society, and
so that society became honeycombed. Long before the pioneer farmer appeared on the scene,
primitive Indian life had passed away. The farmers met Indians armed with guns. The trading
frontier, while steadily undermining Indian power by making the tribes ultimately dependent on
the whites, yet, through its sale of guns, gave to the Indian increased power of resistance to the
farming frontier. French colonization was dominated by its trading frontier; English colonization
by its farming frontier. There was an antagonism between the two frontiers as between the two
nations. Said Duquesne to the Iroquois, “Are you ignorant of the difference between the king of
England and the king of France? Go see the forts that our king has established and you will see
that you can still hunt under their very walls. They have been placed for your advantage in places
which you frequent. The English, on the contrary, are no sooner in possession of a place than the
game is driven away. The forest falls before them as they advance, and the soil is laid bare so that
you can scarce find the wherewithal to erect a shelter for the night.”
And yet, in spite of this opposition of the interests of the trader and the farmer, the Indian trade
pioneered the way for civilization. The buffalo trail became the Indian trail, and this became the
trader’s “trace;” the trails widened into roads, and the roads into turnpikes, and these in turn were
transformed into railroads. The same origin can be shown for the railroads of the South, the Far
West, and the Dominion of Canada.26 The trading posts reached by these trails were on the sites
of Indian villages which had been placed in positions suggested by nature; and these trading posts,
situated so as to command the water systems of the country, have grown into such cities as Albany,
Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Council Bluffs, and Kansas City. Thus civilization in
America has followed the arteries made by geology, pouring an ever richer tide through them, until
at last the slender paths of aboriginal intercourse have been broadened and interwoven into the
complex mazes of modern commercial lines; the wilderness has been interpenetrated by lines of
civilization growing ever more numerous. It is like the steady growth of a complex nervous system
for the originally simple, inert continent. If one would understand why we are to-day one nation,
rather than a collection of isolated states, he must study this economic and social consolidation of
the country. In this progress from savage conditions lie topics for the evolutionist.27
The effect of the Indian frontier as a consolidating agent in our history is important. From the close
of the seventeenth century various intercolonial congresses have been called to treat with Indians
and establish common measures of defense. Particularism was strongest in colonies with no Indian
frontier. This frontier stretched along the western border like a cord of union. The Indian was a
common danger, demanding united action. Most celebrated of these conferences was the Albany
congress of 1754, called to treat with the Six Nations, and to consider plans of union. Even a
cursory reading of the plan proposed by the congress reveals the importance of the frontier. The
powers of the general council and the officers were, chiefly, the determination of peace and war
with the Indians, the regulation of Indian trade, the purchase of Indian lands, and the creation and
government of new settlements as a security against the Indians. It is evident that the unifying
tendencies of the Revolutionary period were facilitated by the previous coöperation in the
regulation of the frontier. In this connection may be mentioned the importance of the frontier, from
that day to this, as a military training school, keeping alive the power of resistance to aggression,
and developing the stalwart and rugged qualities of the frontiersman.
It would not be possible in the limits of this paper to trace the other frontiers across the continent.
Travelers of the eighteenth century found the “cowpens” among the canebrakes and peavine
pastures of the South, and the “cow drivers” took their droves to Charleston, Philadelphia, and
New York.28 Travelers at the close of the War of 1812 met droves of more than a thousand cattle
and swine from the interior of Ohio going to Pennsylvania to fatten for the Philadelphia market.29
The ranges of the Great Plains, with ranch and cowboy and nomadic life, are things of yesterday
and of to-day. The experience of the Carolina cowpens guided the ranchers of Texas. One element
favoring the rapid extension of the rancher’s frontier is the fact that in a remote country lacking
transportation facilities the product must be in small bulk, or must be able to transport itself, and
the cattle raiser could easily drive his product to market. The effect of these great ranches on the
subsequent agrarian history of the localities in which they existed should be studied.
The maps of the census reports show an uneven advance of the farmer’s frontier, with tongues of
settlement pushed forward and with indentations of wilderness. In part this is due to Indian
resistance, in part to the location of river valleys and passes, in part to the unequal force of the
centers of frontier attraction. Among the important centers of attraction may be mentioned the
following: fertile and favorably situated soils, salt springs, mines, and army posts.
The frontier army post, serving to protect the settlers from the Indians, has also
they must go to Boling’s Point in Va
on a branch of the James & is also 300 miles from here. . . Or
else they must go down the Roanoke–I know not how many miles–where salt is brought up from
the Cape Fear.” 33 This may serve as a typical illustration. An annual pilgrimage to the coast for
salt thus became essential. Taking flocks or furs and ginseng root, the early settlers sent their pack
trains after seeding time each year to the coast.34 This proved to be an important educational
influence, since it was almost the only way in which the pioneer learned what was going on in the
East. But when discovery was made of the salt springs of the Kanawha, and the Holston, and
Kentucky, and central New York, the West began to be freed from dependence on the coast. It was
in part the effect of finding these salt springs that enabled settlement to cross the mountains.
From the time the mountains rose between the pioneer and the seaboard, a new order of
Americanism arose. The West and the East began to get out of touch of each other. The settlements
from the sea to the mountains kept connection with the rear and had a certain solidarity. But the
over-mountain men grew more and more independent. The East took a narrow view of American
advance, and nearly lost these men. Kentucky and Tennessee history bears abundant witness to the
truth of this statement. The East began to try to hedge and limit westward expansion. Though
Webster could declare that there were no Alleghanies in his politics, yet in politics in general they
were a very solid factor.
The exploitation of the beasts took hunter and trader to the west, the exploitation of the grasses
took the rancher west, and the exploitation of the virgin soil of the river valleys and prairies
attracted the farmer. Good soils have been the most continuous attraction to the farmer’s frontier.
The land hunger of the Virginians drew them down the rivers into Carolina, in early colonial days;
the search for soils took the Massachusetts men to Pennsylvania and to New York. As the eastern
lands were taken up migration flowed across them to the west. Daniel Boone, the great
backwoodsman, who combined the occupations of hunter, trader, cattle-raiser, farmer, and
surveyor-learning, probably from the traders, of the fertility of the lands of the upper Yadkin,
where the traders were wont to rest as they took their way to the Indians, left his Pennsylvania
home with his father, and passed down the Great Valley road to that stream. Learning from a trader
of the game and rich pastures of Kentucky, he pioneered the way for the farmers to that region.
Thence he passed to the frontier of Missouri, where his settlement was long a landmark on the
frontier. Here again he helped to open the way for civilization, finding salt licks, and trails, and
land. His son was among the earliest trappers in the passes of the Rocky Mountains, and his party
are said to have been the first to camp on the present site of Denver. His grandson, Col. A. J.
Boone, of Colorado, was a power among the Indians of the Rocky Mountains, and was appointed
an agent by the government. Kit Carson’s mother was a Boone. 35 Thus this family epitomizes the
backwoodsman’s advance across the continent
The farmer’s advance came in a distinct series of waves. In Peck’s New Guide to the West,
published in Boston in 1837, occurs this suggestive passage:
Generally, in all the western settlements, three classes, like the waves of the ocean, have rolled
one after the other. First comes the pioneer, who depends for the subsistence of his family chiefly
upon the natural growth of vegetation, called the “range,” and the proceeds of hunting. His
implements of agriculture are rude, chiefly of his own make, and his efforts directed mainly to a
crop of corn and a “truck patch.” The last is a rude garden for growing cabbage, beans, corn for
roasting ears, cucumbers, and potatoes. A log cabin, and, occasionally, a stable and corn-crib, and
a field of a dozen acres, the timber girdled or “deadened,” and fenced, are enough for his
occupancy. It is quite immaterial whether he ever becomes the owner of the soil. He is the occupant
for the time being, pays no rent, and feels as independent as the ” lord of the manor.” With a horse,
cow, and one or two breeders of swine, he strikes into the woods with his family, and becomes the
founder of a new county, or perhaps state. He builds his cabin, gathers around him a few other
families of similar tastes and habits, and occupies till the range is somewhat subdued, and hunting
a little precarious, or, which is more frequently the case, till the neighbors crowd around, roads,
bridges, and fields annoy him, and he lacks elbow room. The preëmption law enables him to
dispose of his cabin and cornfield to the next class of emigrants; and, to employ his own figures,
he “breaks for the high timber,” “clears out for the New Purchase,” or migrates to Arkansas or
Texas, to work the same process over.
The next class of emigrants purchase the lands, add field to field, clear out the roads, throw rough
bridges over the streams, put up hewn log houses with glass windows and brick or stone chimneys,
occasionally plant orchards, build mills, school-houses, court-houses, etc., and exhibit the picture
and forms of plain, frugal, civilized life.
Another wave rolls on. The men of capital and enterprise come. The settler is ready to sell out and
take the advantage of the rise in property, push farther into the interior and become, himself, a man
of capital and enterprise in turn. The small village rises to a spacious town or city; substantial
edifices of brick, extensive fields, orchards, gardens, colleges, and churches are seen. Broad-cloths,
silks, leghorns, crepes, and all the refinements, luxuries, elegancies, frivolities, and fashions are in
vogue. Thus wave after wave is rolling westward; the real Eldorado is still farther on.
A portion of the two first classes remain stationary amidst the general movement, improve their
habits and condition, and rise in the scale of society.
The writer has traveled much amongst the first class, the real pioneers. He has lived many years in
connection with the second grade; and now the third wave is sweeping over large districts of
Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. Migration has become almost a habit in the West. Hundreds of men
can be found, not over 50 years of age, who have settled for the fourth, fifth, or sixth time on a
new spot. To sell out and remove only a few hundred miles makes up a portion of the variety of
backwoods life and manners. 36
Omitting those of the pioneer farmers who move from the love of adventure, the advance of the
more steady farmer is easy to understand. Obviously the immigrant was attracted by the cheap
lands of the frontier, and even the native farmer felt their influence strongly. Year by year the
farmers who lived on soil whose returns were diminished by unrotated crops were offered the
virgin soil of the frontier at nominal prices. Their growing families demanded more lands, and
these were dear. The competition of the unexhausted, cheap, and easily tilled prairie lands
compelled the farmer either to go west and continue the exhaustion of the soil on a new frontier,
or to adopt intensive culture. Thus the census of 1890 shows, in the Northwest, many counties in
which there is an absolute or a relative decrease of population. These States have been sending
farmers to advance the frontier on the plains, and have themselves begun to turn to intensive
farming and to manufacture. A decade before this, Ohio had shown the same transition stage. Thus
the demand for land and the love of wilderness freedom drew the frontier ever onward.
Having now roughly outlined the various kinds of frontiers, and their modes of advance, chiefly
from the point of view of the frontier itself, we may next inquire what were the influences on the
East and on the Old World. A rapid enumeration of some of the more noteworthy effects is all that
I have time for.
First, we note that the frontier promoted the formation of a composite nationality for the American
people. The coast was preponderantly English, but the later tides of continental immigration
flowed across to the free lands. This was the case from the early colonial days. The Scotch-Irish
and the Palatine Germans, or ” Pennsylvania Dutch,” furnished the dominant element in the stock
of the colonial frontier. With these peoples were also the freed indented servants, or redemptioners,
who at the expiration of their time of service passed to the frontier. Governor Spotswood of
Virginia writes in 1717, “The inhabitants of our frontiers are composed generally of such as have
been transported hither as servants, and, being out of their time, settle themselves where land is to
be taken up and that will produce the necessarys of life with little labour.” 37 Very generally these
redemptioners were of non-English stock. In the crucible of the frontier the immigrants were
Americanized, liberated, and fused into a mixed race, English in neither nationality nor
characteristics. The process has gone on from the early days to our own. Burke and other writers
in the middle of the eighteenth century believed that Pennsylvania38 was “threatened with the
danger of being wholly foreign in language, manners, and perhaps even inclinations.” The German
and Scotch-Irish elements in the frontier of the South were only less great. In the middle of the
present century the German element in Wisconsin was already so considerable that leading
publicists looked to the creation of a German state out of the commonwealth by concentrating their
colonization.39 Such examples teach us to beware of misinterpreting the fact that there is a common
English speech in America into a belief that the stock is also English.
In another way the advance of the frontier decreased our dependence on England. The coast,
particularly of the South, lacked diversified industries, and was dependent on England for the bulk
of its supplies. In the South there was even a dependence on the Northern colonies for articles of
food. Governor Glenn, of South Carolina, writes in the middle of the eighteenth century: “Our
trade with New York and Philadelphia was of this sort, draining us of all the little money and bills
we could gather from other places for their bread, flour, beer, hams, bacon, and other things of
their produce, all which, except beer, our new townships begin to supply us with, which are settled
with very industrious and thriving Germans. This no doubt diminishes the number of shipping and
the appearance of our trade, but it is far from being a detriment to us.40 Before long the frontier
created a demand for merchants. As it retreated from the coast it became less and less possible for
England to bring her supplies directly to the consumer’s wharfs, and carry away staple crops, and
staple crops began to give way to diversified agriculture for a time. The effect of this phase of the
frontier action upon the northern section is perceived when we realize how the advance of the
frontier aroused seaboard cities like Boston, New York, and Baltimore, to engage in rivalry for
what Washington called “the extensive and valuable trade of a rising empire.”
The legislation which most developed the powers of the national government, and played the
largest part in its activity, was conditioned on the frontier. Writers have discussed; the subjects of
tariff, land, and internal improvement, as subsidiary to the slavery question. But when American
history comes to be rightly viewed it will be seen that the slavery question is an incident. In the
period from the end of the first half of the present century to the close of the Civil War slavery
rose to primary, but far from exclusive, importance. But this does not justify Dr. von Holst (to take
an example) in treating our constitutional history in its formative period down to 1828 in a single
volume, giving six volumes chiefly to the history of slavery from 1828 to 1861, under the title
“Constitutional History of the United States.” The growth of nationalism and the evolution of
American political institutions were dependent on the advance of the frontier. Even so recent a
writer as Rhodes, in his “History of the United States since the Compromise of 1850,” has treated
the legislation called out by the western advance as incidental to the slavery struggle.
This is a wrong perspective. The pioneer needed the goods of the coast, and so the grand series of
internal improvement and railroad legislation began, with potent nationalizing effects. Over
internal improvements occurred great debates, in which grave constitutional questions were
discussed. Sectional groupings appear in the votes, profoundly significant for the historian. Loose
construction increased as the nation marched westward41 But the West was not content with
bringing the farm to the factory. Under the lead of Clay–“Harry of the West”–protective tariffs
were passed, with the cry of bringing the factory to the farm. The disposition of the public lands
was a third important subject of national legislation influenced by the frontier.
The public domain has been a force of profound importance in the nationalization and development
of the government. The effects of the struggle of the landed and the landless States, and of the
Ordinance of 1787, need no discussion.42 Administratively the frontier called out some of the
highest and most vitalizing activities of the general government. The purchase of Louisiana was
perhaps the constitutional turning point in the history of the Republic, inasmuch as it afforded both
a new area for national legislation and the occasion of the downfall of the policy of strict
construction. But the purchase of Louisiana was called out by frontier needs and demands. As
frontier States accrued to the Union the national power grew In a speech on the dedication of the
Calhoun monument Mr. Lamar explained: “In 1789 the States were the creators of the Federal
Government; in 1861 the Federal Government was the creator of a large majority of the States.”
When we consider the public domain from the point of view of the sale and disposal of the public
lands we are again brought face to face with the frontier. The policy of the United States in dealing
with its lands is in sharp contrast with the European system of scientific administration. Efforts to
make this domain a source of revenue, and to withhold it from emigrants in order that settlement
might be compact, were in vain. The jealousy and the fears of the East were powerless in the face
of the demands of the frontiersmen. John Quincy Adams was obliged to confess: “My own system
of administration, which was to make the national domain the inexhaustible fund for progressive
and unceasing internal improvement, has failed.” The reason is obvious; a system of administration
was not what the West demanded; it wanted land. Adams states the situation as follows: “The
slaveholders of the South have bought the coöperation of the western country by the bribe of the
western lands, abandoning to the new Western States their own proportion of the public property
and aiding them in the design of grasping all the lands into their own hands. Thomas H. Benton
was the author of this system, which he brought forward as a substitute for the American system
of Mr. Clay, and to supplant him as the leading statesman of the West. Mr. Clay, by his tariff
compromise with Mr. Calhoun, abandoned his own American system. At the same time he brought
forward a plan for distributing among all the States of the Union the proceeds of the sales of the
public lands. His bill for that purpose passed both Houses of Congress, but was vetoed by President
Jackson, who, in his annual message of December, 1832, formally recommended that all public
lands should be gratuitously given away to individual adventurers and to the States in which the
lands are situated.43
“No subject,” said Henry Clay, “which has presented itself to the present, or perhaps any preceding,
Congress, is of greater magnitude than that of the public lands.” When we consider the far-reaching
effects of the government’s land policy upon political, economic, and social aspects of American
life, we are disposed to agree with him. But this legislation was framed under frontier influences,
and under the lead of Western statesmen like Benton and Jackson. Said Senator Scott of Indiana
in 1841: “I consider the preemption law merely declaratory of the custom or common law of the
It is safe to say that the legislation with regard to land, tariff, and internal improvements-the
American system of the nationalizing Whig party–was conditioned on frontier ideas and needs.
But it was not merely in legislative action that the frontier worked against the sectionalism of the
coast. The economic and social characteristics of the frontier worked against sectionalism. The
men of the frontier had closer resemblances to the Middle region than to either of the other sections.
Pennsylvania had been the seed plot of frontier emigration, and, although she passed on her settlers
along the Great Valley into the west of Virginia and the Carolinas, yet the industrial society of
these Southern frontiersmen was always more like that of the Middle region than like that of the
tide water portion of the South, which later came to spread its industrial type throughout the South.
The Middle region, entered by New York harbor, was an open door to all Europe. The tide-water
part of the South represented typical Englishmen, modified by a warm climate and servile labor,
and living in baronial fashion on great plantations; New England stood for a special English
movement– Puritanism. The Middle region was less English than the other sections. It had a wide
mixture of nationalities, a varied society, the mixed town and county system of local government,
a varied economic life, many religious sects. In short, it was a region mediating between New
England and the South, and the East and the West. It represented that composite nationality which
the contemporary United States exhibits, that juxtaposition of non-English groups, occupying a
valley or a little settlement, and presenting reflections of the map of Europe in th
The spread of cotton culture into the interior of the South finally broke down the contrast between
the “tide-water ” region and the rest of the State, and based Southern interests on slavery. Before
this process revealed its results the western portion of the South, which was akin to Pennsylvania
in stock, society, and industry, showed tendencies to fall away from the faith of the fathers into
internal improvement legislation and nationalism. In the Virginia convention of 1829-30, called to
revise the constitution, Mr. Leigh, of Chesterfield, one of the tide-water counties, declared:
One of the main causes of discontent which led to this convention, that which had the strongest
influence in overcoming our veneration for the work of our fathers, which taught us to contemn
the sentiments of Henry and Mason and Pendleton, which weaned us from our reverence for the
constituted authorities of the State, was an overweening passion for internal improvement. I say
this with perfect knowledge, for it has been avowed to me by gentlemen from the West over and
over again. And let me tell the gentleman from Albemarle (Mr. Gordon) that it has been another
principal object of those who set this ball of revolution in motion, to overturn the doctrine of State
rights, of which Virginia has been the very pillar, and to remove the barrier she has interposed to
the interference of the Federal Government in that same work of internal improvement, by so
reorganizing the legislature that Virginia, too, may be hitched to the Federal car.
It was this nationalizing tendency of the West that transformed the democracy of Jefferson into
the national republicanism of Monroe and the democracy of Andrew Jackson. The West of the
War of 1812, the West of Clay, and Benton and Harrison, and Andrew Jackson, shut off by the
Middle States and the mountains from the coast sections, had a solidarity of its own with national
tendencies.45 On the tide of the Father of Waters, North and South met and mingled into a nation.
Interstate migration went steadily on–a process of crossfertilization of ideas and institutions. The
fierce struggle of the sections over slavery on the western frontier does not diminish the truth of
this statement; it proves the truth of it. Slavery was a sectional trait that would not down, but in
the West it could not remain sectional. It was the greatest of frontiersmen who declared: “I believe
this Government can not endure permanently half slave and half free. It will become all of one
thing or all of the other.” Nothing works for nationalism like intercourse within the nation. Mobility
of population is death to localism, and the western frontier worked irresistibly in unsettling
population. The effect reached back from the frontier and affected profoundly the Atlantic coast
and even the Old World.
But the most important effect of the frontier has been in the promotion of democracy here and in
Europe. As has been indicated, the frontier is productive of individualism. Complex society is
precipitated by the wilderness into a kind of primitive organization based on the family. The
tendency is anti-social. It produces antipathy to control, and particularly to any direct control. The
tax-gatherer is viewed as a representative of oppression. Prof. Osgood, in an able article,46 has
pointed out that the frontier conditions prevalent in the colonies are important factors in the
explanation of the American Revolution, where individual liberty was sometimes confused with
absence of all effective government. The same conditions aid in explaining the difficulty of
instituting a strong government in the period of the confederacy. The frontier individualism has
from the beginning promoted democracy. The frontier States that came into the Union in the first
quarter of a century of its existence came in with democratic suffrage provisions, and had reactive
effects of the highest importance upon the older States whose peoples were being attracted there.
An extension of the franchise became essential. It was western New York that forced an extension
of suffrage in the constitutional convention of that State in 1821; and it was western Virginia that
compelled the tide-water region to put a more liberal suffrage provision in the constitution framed
in 1830, and to give to the frontier region a more nearly proportionate representation with the tide-
water aristocracy. The rise of democracy as an effective force in the nation came in with western
preponderance under Jackson and William Henry Harrison, and it meant the triumph of the
frontier– with all of its good and with all of its evil elements.47 An interesting illustration of the
tone of frontier democracy in 1830 comes from the same debates in the Virginia convention
already referred to. A representative from western Virginia declared:
But, sir, it is not the increase of population in the West which this gentleman ought to fear. It is
the energy which the mountain breeze and western habits impart to those emigrants. They are
regenerated, politically I mean, sir. They soon become working politicians, and the difference, sir,
between a talking and a working politician is immense. The Old Dominion has long been
celebrated for producing great orators; the ablest metaphysicians in policy; men that can split hairs
in all abstruse questions of political economy. But at home, or when they return from Congress,
they have negroes to fan them asleep. But a Pennsylvania, a New York, an Ohio, or a western
Virginia statesman, though far inferior in logic, metaphysics, and rhetoric to an old Virginia
statesman, has this advantage, that when he returns home he takes off his coat and takes hold of
the plow. This gives him bone and muscle, sir, and preserves his republican principles pure and
So long as free land exists, the opportunity for a competency exists, and economic power secures
political power. But the democracy born of free land, strong in selfishness and individualism,
intolerant of administrative experience and education, and pressing individual liberty beyond its
proper bounds, has its dangers as well as its benefits. Individualism in America has allowed a
laxity in regard to governmental affairs which has rendered possible the spoils system and all the
manifest evils that follow from the lack of a highly developed civic spirit. In this connection may
be noted also the influence of frontier conditions in permitting lax business honor, inflated paper
currency and wild-cat banking. The colonial and revolutionary frontier was the region whence
emanated many of the worst forms of an evil currency.48 The West in the War of 1812 repeated
the phenomenon on the frontier of that day, while the speculation and wild-cat banking of the
period of the crisis of 1837 occurred on the new frontier belt of the next tier of States. Thus each
one of the periods of lax financial integrity coincides with periods when a new set of frontier
communities had arisen, and coincides in area with these successive frontiers for the most part.
The recent Populist agitation is a case in point. Many a State that now declines any connection
with the tenets of the Populists, itself adhered to such ideas in an earlier stage of the development
of the State. A primitive society can hardly be expected to show the intelligent appreciation of the
complexity of business interests in a developed society. The continual recurrence of these areas of
paper-money agitation is another evidence that the frontier can be isolated and studied as a factor
in American history of the highest importance. 49
The East has always feared the result of an unregulated advance of the frontier, and has tried to
check and guide it. The English authorities would have checked settlement at the headwaters of
the Atlantic tributaries and allowed the “savages to enjoy their deserts in quiet lest the peltry trade
should decrease.” This called out Burke’s splendid protest:
If you stopped your grants, what would be the consequence? The people would occupy without
grants. They have already so occupied in many places. You can not station garrisons in every part
of these deserts. If you drive the people from one place, they will carry on their annual tillage and
remove with their flocks and herds to another Many of the people in the back settlements are
already little attached to particular situations. Already they have topped the Appalachian
Mountains. From thence they behold before them an immense plain, one vast, rich, level meadow;
a square of five hundred miles. Over this they would wander without a possibility of restraint; they
would change ,their manners with their habits of life; would soon forget a government by which
they were disowned; would become hordes of English Tartars; and, pouring down upon your
unfortified frontiers a fierce and irresistible cavalry, become masters of your governors and your
counselers, your collectors and comptrollers, and of all the slaves that adhered to them. Such
would, and in no long time must, be the effect of attempting to forbid as a crime and to suppress
as an evil the command and blessing of Providence, “Increase and multiply.” Such would be the
happy result of an endeavor to keep as a lair of wild beasts that earth which God, by an express
charter, has given to the children of men.
But the English Government was not alone in its desire to limit the advance of the frontier and
guide its destinies. Tidewater Virginia50 and South Carolina51 gerrymandering those colonies to
insure the dominance of the coast in their legislatures. Washington desired to settle a State at a
time in the Northwest; Jefferson would reserve form settlement the territory of his Louisiana
Purchase north of the thirty-second parallel, in order to offer it to the Indians in exchange for their
settlements east of the Mississippi. “When we shall be full on this side,” he writes, “we may lay
off a range of States on the western bank from the head to the mouth, and so range after range,
advancing compactly as we multiply.” Madison went so far as to argue to the French minister that
the United States had no interest in seeing population extend itself on the right bank of the
Mississippi, but should rather fear it. When the Oregon question was under debate, in 1824, Smyth,
of Virginia, would draw an unchangeable line for the limits of the United States at the outer limit
of two tiers of States beyond the Mississippi, complaining that the seaboard States were being
drained of the flower of their population by the bringing of too much land into market. Even
Thomas Benton, the man of widest views of the destiny of the West, at this stage of his career
declared that along the ridge of the Rocky mountains “the western limits of the Republic should
be drawn, and the statue of the fabled god Terminus should be raised upon its highest peak, never
to be thrown down.” 52 But the attempts to limit the boundaries, to restrict land sales and settlement,
and to deprive the West of its share of political power were all in vain. Steadily the frontier of
settlement advanced and carried with it individualism, democracy, and nationalism, and
powerfully affected the East and the Old World.
The most effective efforts of the East to regulate the frontier came through its educational and
religious activity, exerted by interstate migration and by organized societies. Speaking in 1835,
Dr. Lyman Beecher declared: “It is equally plain that the religious and political destiny of our
nation is to be decided in the West,” and he pointed out that the population of the West “is
assembled from all the States of the Union and from all the nations of Europe, and is rushing in
like the waters of the flood, demanding for its moral preservation the immediate and universal
action of those institutions which discipline the mind and arm the conscience and the heart. And
so various are the opinions and habits, and so recent and imperfect is the acquaintance, and so
sparse are the settlements of the West, that no homogeneous public sentiment can be formed to
legislate immediately into being the requisite institutions. And yet they are all needed immediately
in their utmost perfection and power. A nation is being ‘born in a day.’ . . . But what will become
of the West if her prosperity rushes up to such a majesty of power, while those great institutions
linger which are necessary to form the mind and the conscience and the heart of that vast world. It
must not be permitted. . . . Let no man at the East quiet himself and dream of liberty, whatever
may become of the West…. Her destiny is our destiny.” 53
With the appeal to the conscience of New England, he adds appeals to her fears lest other religious
sects anticipate her own. The New England preacher and school-teacher left their mark on the
West. The dread of Western emancipation from New England’s political and economic control was
paralleled by her fears lest the West cut loose from her religion. Commenting in 1850 on reports
that settlement was rapidly extending northward in Wisconsin, the editor of the Home Missionary
writes: “We scarcely know whether to rejoice or mourn over this extension of our settlements.
While we sympathize in whatever tends to increase the physical resources and prosperity of our
country, we can not forget that with all these dispersions into remote and still remoter corners of
the land the supply of the means of grace is becoming relatively less and less.” Acting in
accordance with such ideas, home missions were established and Western colleges were erected.
As seaboard cities like Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore strove for the mastery of Western
trade, so the various denominations strove for the possession of the West. Thus an intellectual
stream from New England sources fertilized the West. Other sections sent their missionaries; but
the real struggle was between sects. The contest for power and the expansive tendency furnished
to the various sects by the existence of a moving frontier must have had important results on the
character of religious organization in the United States. The multiplication of rival churches in the
little frontier towns had deep and lasting social effects. The religious aspects of the frontier make
a chapter in our history which needs study.
From the conditions of frontier life came intellectual traits of profound importance. The works of
travelers along each frontier from colonial days onward describe certain common traits, and these
traits have, while softening down, still persisted as survivals in the place of their origin, even when
a higher social organization succeeded. The result is that to the frontier the American intellect
owes its striking characteristics. That coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and
inquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp
of material things, lacking in the artistic but powerful to effect great ends; that restless, nervous
energy; 54 that dominant individualism, working for good and for evil, and withal that buoyancy
and exuberance which comes with freedom-these are traits of the frontier, or traits called out
elsewhere because of the existence of the frontier. Since the days when the fleet of Columbus
sailed into the waters of the New World, America has been another name for opportunity, and the
people of the United States have taken their tone from the incessant expansion which has not only
been open but has even been forced upon them. He would be a rash prophet who should assert that
the expansive character of American life has now entirely ceased. Movement has been its dominant
fact, and, unless this training has no effect upon a people, the American energy will continually
demand a wider field for its exercise. But never again will such gifts of free land offer themselves.
For a moment, at the frontier, the bonds of custom are broken and unrestraint is triumphant. There
is not tabula rasa. The stubborn American environment is there with its imperious summons to
accept its conditions; the inherited ways of doing things are also there; and yet, in spite of
environment, and in spite of custom, each frontier did indeed furnish a new field of opportunity, a
gate of escape from the bondage of the past; and freshness, and confidence, and scorn of older
society, impatience of its restraints and its ideas, and indifference to its lessons, have accompanied
the frontier. What the Mediterranean Sea was to the Greeks, breaking the bond of custom, offering
new experiences, calling out new institutions and activities, that, and more, the ever retreating
frontier has been to the United States directly, and to the nations of Europe more remotely. 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
Footnotes: Chapter I
1 A paper read at the meeting of the American Historical Association in Chicago, July 12, 1893.
It first appeared in the Proceedings of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, December 14,
1893, with the following note: “The foundation of this paper is my article entitled ‘Problems in
American History,’ which appeared in The Ægis, a publication of the students of the University
of Wisconsin, November 4, 1892… It is gratifying to find that Professor Woodrow Wilson–
whose volume on ‘Division and Reunion’ in the Epochs of American History Series, has an
appreciative estimate of the importance of the West as a factor in American history–accepts
some of the views set forth in the papers above mentioned, and enhances their value by his lucid
and suggestive treatment of them in his article in The Forum December, 1893, reviewing
Goldwin Smith’s ‘History of the United States.'” The present text is that of the Report of the
American Historical Association for 1893, 199-227. It was printed with additions in the Fifth
Year Book of the National Herbart Society, and in various other publications.
Return to Text at 1
“Abridgment of Debates of Congress,” v, p. 706.
Return to Text at 2
3 Bancroft (1860 ed.), iii, pp. 344, 345, citing Logan MSS.; [Mitchell] “Contest in America,” etc.
(1752), p. 237.
Return to Text at 3
4 Kercheval, “History of the Valley ”; Bernheim, “German Settlements in the Carolinas”; Winsor,
“Narrative and Critical History of America,” v, p. 304; Colonial Records of North Carolina, iv, p.
xx; Weston, “Documents Connected with the History of South Carolina,” p. 82; Ellis and Evans,
“History of Lancaster County, Pa.,” chs. iii, xxvi.
Return to Text at 4
5 Parkman, “Pontiac,” ii; Griffis, “Sir William Johnson,” p. 6; Simms’s “Frontiersmen of New
Return to Text at 5
6 Monette, “Mississippi Valley,” i, p. 311.
Return to Text at 6
7 Wis. Hist. Cols., xi, p. 50; Hinsdale, ” Old Northwest,” p. 121; Burke, “Oration on
Conciliation,” Works (1872 ed.), i, p. 473.
Return to Text at 7
8 Roosevelt, “Winning of the West,” and citations there given, Cutler’s “Life of Cutler.”
Return to Text at 8
9 Scribner’s Statistical Atlas, xxxviii, pl. 13; McMaster, “Hist. of People of U. S.,” i, pp. 4, 60,
61; Imlay and Filson, “Western Territory of America” (London, 1793); Rochefoucault-Liancourt,
“Travels Through the United States of North America ” (London, 1799); Michaux’s “Journal,” in
Proceedings American Philosophical Society, xxvi, No. 129; Forman, “Narrative of a Journey
Down the Ohio and Mississippi in 1780-’90” (Cincinnati, 1888); Bartram, “Travels Through
North Carolina,” etc. (London, 1792); Pope, “Tour Through the Southern and Western
Territories,” etc. (Richmond, 1792); Weld; “Travels Through the States of North America ”
(London, 1799); Baily, “Journal of aTour in the Unsettled States of North America, 1796-’97”
(London, 1856); Pennsylvania Magazine of History, July, 1886; Winsor, “Narrative and Critical
History of America,” vii, pp. 491, 492, citations.
Return to Text at 9
10 Scribner’s Statistical Atlas, xxxix.
Return to Text at 10
11 Turner, “Character and Influence of the Indian Trade in Wisconsin” (Johns Hopkins University
Studies, Series ix), pp. 61ff.
Return to Text at 11
12 Monette, “History of the Mississippi Valley,” ii; Flint, “Travels and Residence in Mississippi,”
Flint, “Geography and History of the Western States,” “Abridgment of Debates of Congress,” vii,
- 397 398, 404; Holmes, “Account of the U. S.”; Kingdom, “America and the British Colonies”
(London, 1820); Grund, “Americans,” ii, chs. i, iii, vi (although writing in 1836, he treats of
conditions that grew out of western advance from the era of 1820 to that time) Peck, “Guide for
Emigrants” (Boston, 1831); Darby, “Emigrants’ Guide to Western and Southwestern States and
Territories”; Dana, “Geographical Sketches in the Western Country”; Kinzie, “Waubun”;
Keating, “Narrative of Long’s Expedition”; Schoolcraft, “Discovery of the Sources of the
Mississippi River,” “Travels in the Central Portions of the Mississippi Valley.” and “Lead Mines
of the Missouri”; Andreas, “History of Illinois,” i, 86-99; Hurlbut, “Chicago Antiquities”;
McKenney, “Tour to the Lakes”; Thomas “Travels Through the Western Country,” etc. (Auburn,
- Y., 1819),
Return to Text at 12
13 Darby, “Emigrants’ Guide,” pp. 272 ff; Benton, “Abridgment of Debates,” vii, p. 397.
Return to Text at13
14 De Bow’s Review, iv, p. 254; xvii, p. 428.
Return to Text at 14
15 Grund. “Americans.” ii, p. 8.
Return to Text at 15
16 Peck, “New Guide to the West” (Cincinnati, 1848), ch. iv; Parkman, “Oregon Trail”; Hall,
“The West” (Cincinnati, 1848); Pierce, “Incidents of Western Travel”; Murray, “Travels in Norrh
America”; Lloyd, “Steamboat Directory” (Cincinnati, 1856); “Forty Days in a Western Hotel”,
(Chicago), in Putnam’s Magazine, December, 1894; Mackay, “The Western World,” ii, ch. ii, iii;
Meeker, “Life in the West”; Bogen, “German in America” (Boston, 1851); Olmstead, “Texas
Journey”, Greeley, “Recollections of a Busy Life”; Schouler, “History of the United States” v,
261-267; Peyton, “Over the Alleghanies and Across the Prairies” (London, 1870);
Loughborough, “The Pacific Telegraph and Railway” (St. Louis, 1849); Whitney, “Project for a
Railroad to the Pacific” (New York, 1849); Peyton, “Suggestions on Railroad Communication
with the Pacific, and the Trade of China and the Indian Islands”; Benton, “Highway to the
Pacific,” (a speech delivered in the U. S. Senate, December 36, 1850).
Return to Text at 16
17 A writer in The Home Missionary (1850), p. 239, reporting Wisconsin conditions, exclaims:
“Think of this, people of the enlightened East. What an example, to come from the very frontier
of civilization!” But one of the missionaries writes: “In a few years Wisconsin will no longer be
considered as the West, or as an outpost of civilization, any more than Western New York, or the
Return to Text at 17
18 Bancroft (H. H.), “History of California, History of Oregon, and Popular Tribunals”; Shinn,
Return to Text at 18
19 See the suggestive paper by Prof. Jesse Macy, “The Institutional Beginnings of a Western
Return to Text at 19
20 Shinn, “Mining Camps.”
Return to Text at 20
21 Compare Thorpe, in Annals American Academy of Political and Social Science, September,
1891; Bryce, “American Commonwealth,” (1888), ii, p. 689.
Return to Text at 21
22 Loria, Analisi della Proprieta Capitalista, ii, p. 15.
Return to Text at 22
23 Compare “Observations on the North American Land Company,” London, 1796, pp. xv, 144;
Logan, “History of Upper South Carolina,” i, pp. 149-151; Turner, “Character and Influence of
Indian Trade in Wisconsin,” p. 18; Peck, “New Guide for Emigrants” (Boston, 1837), ch. iv;
“Compendium Eleventh Census,” i, p. xl.
Return to Text at 23
24 See post, for illustrations of the political accompaniments of changed industrial conditions.
Return to Text at 24
25 But Lewis and Clark were the first to explore the route from the Missouri to the Columbia.
Return to Text at 25
26 “Narrative and Critical History of America,” viii, p. 10; Sparks’ “Washington Works,” ix, pp.
303, 327; Logan, ” History of Upper South Carolina,” i; McDonald, “Life of Kenton,” p. 72;
Cong. Record, xxiii, p. 57.
Return to Text at 26
27 On the effect of the fur trade in opening the routes of migration see the author’s “Character and
Influence of the Indian Trade in Wisconsin.”
Return to Text at 27
28 Lodge, “English Colonies,” p. 152 and citations; Logan, “Hist. of Upper South Carolina,” i, p.
Return to Text at 28
29 Flint, “Recollections,” p. 9.
Return to Text at 29
30 See Monette, “Mississippi Valley,” i, p. 344.
Return to Text at 30
31 Coues’, “Lewis and Clark’s Expedition,” i, pp. 2, 253-259, Benton in Cong. Record, xxiii, p.
Return to Text at 31
32 Hehn, Das Salz (Berlin, 1873).
Return to Text at 32
33 Col. Records of N. C., v, p. 3.
Return to Text at 33
34 Findley, “History of the Insurrection in the Four Western Counties of Pennsylvania in the Year
1794” (Philadelphia, 1796), p. 35.
Return to Text at 34
35 Hale, “Daniel Boone” (pamphlet).
Return to Text at 35
36 Compare Baily, “Tour in the Unsettled Parts of North America” (London, 1856), pp. 217-219,
where a similar analysis is made for 1796 See also Collot, “Journey in North America” (Paris,
1826), p. 109 “Observations on the North American Land Company ” (London, 1796), pp. xv,
144; Logan, “History of Upper South Carolina.”
Return to Text at 36
37 “Spotswood Papers,” in Collections of Virginia Historical Society, i, ii.
Return to Text at 37
38 [Burke], “European Settlements” (1765 ed.), ii p. 200.
Return to Text at 38
39 Everest, in “Wisconsin Historical Collections,” xii, pp. 7 ff.
Return to Text at 39
40 Weston, “Documents connected with History of South Carolina, p. 61.
Return to Text at 40
41 See for example, the speech of Clay, in the House of Representatives, January 30, 1824.
Return to Text at 41
42 See the admirable monograph by Prof. H. B. Adams, “Maryland’s influence on the Land
Cessions”; and also President Welling, in Papers American Historical Association, iii, p. 411.
Return to Text at 42
43 Adams’ Memoirs, ix, pp. 247, 248.
Return to Text at 43
44 Author’s article in The Ægis (Madison, Wis.), November 4, 1892.
Return to Text at 44
45 Compare Roosevelt, ” Thomas Benton,” ch. i.
Return to Text at 45
46 Political Science Quarterly, ii, p. 457. Compare Sumner, “Alexander Hamilton,” chs. ii-vii.
Return to Text at 46
47 Compare Wilson, “Division and Reunion,” pp. 15, 24.
Return to Text at 47
48 On the relation of frontier conditions to Revolutionary taxation, see Sumner, Alexander
Hamilton, ch. iii.
Return to Text at 48
49 I have refrained from dwelling on the lawless characteristics of the frontier, because they are
sufficiently well known. The gambler and desperado, the regulators of the Carolinas and the
vigilantes of California are types of that line of scum that the waves of advancing civilization
bore before them, and of the growth of spontaneous organs of authority where legal authority
was absent. Compare Barrows, “United States of Yesterday and To-morrow”; Shinn, “Mining
Camps”; and Bancroft, “Popular Tribunals.” The humor, bravery, and rude strength, as well as
the vices of the frontier in its worst aspect, have left traces on American character, language, and
literature, not soon to be effaced.
Return to Text at 49
50 Debates in the Constitutional Convention, 1829-1830.
Return to Text at 50
51 [McCrady] Eminent and Representative Men of the Carolinas, i, p. 43; Calhoun’s Works, i, pp.
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52 Speech in the Senate, March 1, 1825; Register of Debates. i, 721.
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53 Plea for the West (Cincinnati, 1835), pp. 11 ff.
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54 Colonial travelers agree in remarking on the phlegmatic characteristics of the colonists. It has
frequently been asked how such a people could have developed that strained nervous energy now
characteristic of them. Compare Sumner, “Alexander Hamilton,” p. 98, and Adams “History of
the United States,” i, p 60; ix, pp 240, 241. The transition appears to become marked at the close
of the War of 1812, a period when interest centered upon the development of the West, and the
West was noted for restless energy. Grund, “Americans,” ii, ch. i
In 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner delivered this address on “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.” While this was initially a secondary source (a historian writing about the influence of our frontier past), it quickly became a primary source as it redefined the field of American History. Rooted in Turner’s arguments was the notion of American “exceptionalism” that has fundamentally shaped how we have viewed ourselves and our past ever since.
- Addresses the stated writing prompt(s) associated with the specific PDA assignment and selected documents.
- Exceeds the stated MINIMUM length requirement for the associated writing prompt(s).
The Writing Assignments for this course should be written and submitted with the following formatting rules:
- The essays should be Double-Spaced and written in Times New Roman font with a point size of 12.
- The top, bottom, left, and right margins should all be the standard 1″ in size.
- The single-spaced header on the first page should include your Name and Document # from which your analysis is drawn. There is no need for a header on any subsequent page. There is also no need for a Title. Please be aware that if you should decide to include in your submission a Title that this will not be counted towards your minimum length requirement.
- You will be penalized for any submission that does not meet the stated minimum length requirement.
- Because of the short length of these assignments, please avoid directly quoting the document unless it is absolutely essential to your argument. Instead, briefly paraphrase the passage(s) and focus instead upon providing your analysis and supporting your argumentation.
- There is no need to provide a citation for the single document you are analyzing. However, if you have used outside sources beyond the document provided, please include citations using the MLA Format. This will include in-text citations and a Works Cited Page. The Works Cited Page should be on a separate page at the conclusion of your essay and will not count towards the minimum length requirement.
Analyze the historical importance of this document and how it helps you understand the larger historical events/processes at play in the textbook chapter(s) it is associated with. Please remember to use specific details from the document to support your arguments.
The MINIMUM length requirement for your response is One FULL Page.