America's Frontier Heritage by Ray Allen Billington

By Ray Allen Billington

The speculation complicated in Frederick Jackson Turner's recognized 1893 essay, the importance of the Frontier in American historical past, has been debated by way of 3 generations of students. The pioneering event, Turner prompt, accounted for a few of the certain features of the yank humans: in the course of 3 centuries of growth their attitudes towards democracy, nationalism and individualism have been altered, they usually built distinctively American qualities, reminiscent of wastefulness, inventiveness, mobility, and a dozen extra. After commencing with a precis of the looks, popularity, and next dismissal of the speculation, the writer rigorously defines the "frontier" and stories contemporary proof on its political, social, and financial characterstics. He discusses the compulsion emigrate and examines different behavioral styles and characteristics in his rationalization of the way and why pioneers moved west. His large bibliographic notes represent a impressive advisor to the literature of many disciplines facing the frontier suggestion.

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Turner had not decreed an infallible new formula for the interpretation of the nation's past; he had merely advanced an untested hypothesis for the consideration of his brethren. Unfortunately neither the general public nor his scholarly disciples shared his modesty or respect for the truth. To most of them the frontier theory was Holy Writ, descended from on high. The hypothesis was no hypothesis at all but the unassailable key to America's past, capable of unlocking every door and essential to the interpretation of every form of human behavior.

His critics charged that his misuse of statistics obscured the operation of nongeographic forces in stimulating migration westward. They insisted that he based his examples on the Old Northwest, and that his theory collapsed if applied to other sections of the country. In the arid Southwest, they pointed out, cooperative enterprise needed for irrigation projects displaced individualism, law enforcement devices were copied from the East, and frontiersmen showed no tendency to innovate as they applied irrigation techniques handed down unchanged from the Moors.

Absurd, said his detractors. To believe this was to assume that a nature-made product was more essential to humans than a man-made product when the opposite was true; frontier resources were nonusable until changed by men trained for generations in Europe's economic traditions. 60 The United States, some critics stoutly maintained, faced no "closed-space" future in which governmental largess provided security formerly offered by free land. If Turner stood indicted for the vagueness of his language and the inexactness of his understanding of the frontier process, he was also branded the victim of faulty methodology.

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