The Significance of the Frontier in American History

by Frederick Jackson Turner
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Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 170

The most prominent theme in "The Significance of the Frontier in American History," Frederick Jackson Turner's influential paper, which would later be expanded into a book, is America's expansionism, particularly towards the western United States.

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The underlying theme is the creation of the American identity during the mass migration towards the Midwest, Great Plains, Rockies region and the West Coast. Turner stated that the American "frontier" was the first version of the "American Dream," and that the romanticism of the the frontier shaped how American's see themselves.

The perspective of expansionism is from a white American's point-of-view, as migration towards West of the Mississippi River entailed the displacement and destruction of Native American peoples.

Another sub-theme of the greater themes of American culture and history is the creation of the myth that Americans were destined to claim as much as land as they can. The frontier symbolized the promised land, and this allowed the U.S. government and white settlers to justify the theft of Native American and Mexican territories.

Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 145

The historian Frederick Jackson Turner originally presented The Significance of the Frontier in American History at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. One of the themes of the paper is the idea that the frontier in America had closed as of 1890 (according to the census of that year).

Another theme is the importance of the frontier to the American character. Turner believed that the ability of Americans to move west and find unsettled land helped them regenerate themselves and create a democracy. Turner thought that the frontier allowed European settlers to foster a uniquely American character—one that was not stale like that of Europe.

As the frontier had closed, many people believed that the America was at a crossroads and that the lack of unsettled land would result in the national character becoming more stale. For this reason, people began to advocate for American imperialism.

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