Analysis of Turner’s Frontier Thesis

Analysis of Turner’s Frontier Thesis

The collective attitude of the United States of America is solely based upon some basic themes one of which is the theme of exceptionalism. The term exceptionalism denotes that as a nation the United States of America has occupied a special position within the cultural history of the world and this has been acquired by the country's offering of freedom of opportunity to all the people who migrate in it. Though myriads of critics has opposed the notion by claiming that the practice of slavery, the history of troubled civil rights etc has rendered vagueness to the theory of exceptionalism, the essence of the notion remains pristine. Through the notion of exceptionalism the uniqueness of the United States being a free nation based on democratic ideals and personal liberty has been conveyed. The nature of the American political institutions founded in the period between 1776 and 1789, according the article titled "What is American Exceptionalism?" (Tyrell, n.d.) also refers to such socio-political, cultural and economic notion. The core idea of exceptionalism has been widely discussed in and forms the basis for the Frontier Thesis of Frederick Jackson Turner. One of the most influential historians of America, Frederick Jackson Turner, in his Frontier Thesis, opined that the uniqueness or exceptionalism in the realm of American socio-political and economic culture has been brought up through the persistent contact with an open frontier for almost three hundred years of American history. This thesis of was conveyed to a gathering of historians in Chicago in 1893 by Frederick Jackson Turner through his "The Significance of the Frontier in American History". And the enormous significance of Turner's idea earned the thesis the fame of being "the single most influential piece of writing in the history of American history." ("Frederick Jackson Turner", 2011)  

According to Turner's argument in the thesis the most important effect which the frontier rendered was the promotion of individualistic democracy but such idea of Turner was both supported and criticized and was incorporated in various political and historical texts of the United States of America. Moreover, through his thesis Turner argued that the traits of American character encompassing democracy and materialism are actually derived from the frontier experience. Turner, in order to amplify his theory included the concept of successive frontiers through which he argued that in the entire developmental process of any frontier area, a single phase of socio-economic development follows another in distinct stages. Besides, Turner argued that the developmental story of America is deep rooted in the existence of an area of free land, the continuous process of recession and the advancement in American settlement and such idea is evident in Turner's comment that, "The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement, explain American development." ("The Turner Theses", n.d.)

The region between the urbanized society and the untamed wilderness, the frontier, according to Turner's argument, has always remained the source for the persistence of the exceptionalism or uniqueness of the United States of America. He argued that it is the frontier which actually formulated freedom for Americans by demolishing the dominance of customs, by providing new experiences to the Americans and by enhancing the establishment of new socio-political institutions which worked in favor of the nation's development. The popularity of Turner's thesis lies in the fact that it was based upon not only on realistic historical evidences but was also based on an evolutionary model. Turner forwarded his view the first settlers of America thought and acted like Europeans but they were unknown to the new environment and the challenges of adapting to the environment of the new land was challenging to them. And through overcoming the challenges and by adapting gradually to the processes of the new land the real Americans were born. And as new generations started springing up the alienation from the European culture became evident. The discarding notions included the superiority of aristocracies, government's excessive intrusion, and the control of huge fertile lands by a feeble gentry class. All these Europeans practices were gradually discarded by the new generations of Americans, according to Turner. Turner justifiably conveyed that as every generation of Americans moved further west they became more tolerant to democracy and slowly but steadily moved away from the dominance of a social hierarchy. But Turner also advocated that as people became more American they became more individualistic and showed less trust on any kind of authority.

Turner's thesis became popular at the turn of the twentieth century as the American's material prosperity was heightened during this phase and the idea was related to social mobility and immigrant assimilation which was again some of the dominant traits of the concerned century. Turner's concept became popular at the turn of the twentieth century as because his thesis spoke of value of individual labor and the ubiquity of opportunity which "contributed to American democratic ideals and discouraged monopolies on political power from developing." ("Frederick Jackson Turner", 2011) The thesis became popular amidst of the intellectuals as it was able to explain the reason behind the differences between the American and European political ideologies and socio-economic philosophies.  Moreover, the popularity of the work remained consistent throughout the twentieth century as it advocated in favor of republicanism and its arguments were against the notion of territorial conquest on the basis of subjugation and domination over Native Americans. But what is more interesting is that, the thesis was challenged by personalities like Theodore Roosevelt and it was claimed that prosperity of the United States of America depended on overseas expansion. And as the thesis gave rise to such opinions it is often considered by historians to be the impetus for a new wave of American imperialism.  


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