The Significance of the Frontier in American History

by Frederick Jackson Turner
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Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 514

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; 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.

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The above quote, from chapter one of Turner's book, lays out the particular traits of the American character that Turner attributes to the existence of an untamed frontier to be conquered. These traits include coarseness, strength, pragmatism, materialism, energy, and individualism.

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.

Again, following a long line of American writers going back to people like Benjamin Franklin and Washington Irving, Turner is anxious to distinguish the American character from the European. To Turner, this difference comes from the existence of a frontier to conquer.

To-day we are looking with a shock upon a changed world. The national problem is no longer how to cut and burn away the vast screen of the dense and daunting forest; it is how to save and wisely use the remaining timber. It is no longer how to get the great spaces of fertile prairie land in humid zones out of the hands of the government into the hands of the pioneer; these lands have already passed into private possession. No longer is it a question of how to avoid or cross the Great Plains and the arid desert.

In the latter part of the book, Turner deals with the problem of what to do with American individualism and energy now that, for the first time in history in the 1890s, the frontier has closed. There is no new...

(The entire section contains 514 words.)

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