Frederick Jackson Turner: “The Significance of the Frontier in American History”

(1893)

Explanation and Analysis of the Document

It is possible to extract from Turner's dense essay a number of critical points. The first is that the American frontier has shaped the American character: “American social development has been continually beginning over again on the frontier. This perennial rebirth, this fluidity of American life, this expansion westward with its new opportunities, its continuous touch with the simplicity of primitive society, furnish the forces dominating American character.” Turner traces the westward movement of the frontier, noting that the Atlantic seaboard was in effect the western frontier of Europe. Over time, frontier settlers progressively moved westward. At each step along the way—the Allegheny Mountains, the Mississippi River, the Rocky Mountains—settlers confronted a virgin wilderness and, over time, tamed it. Civilization and “savagery” clashed as settlers encountered the Indian tribes and, at first, adopted their modes of life until...

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Allegorical female figure of America leading pioneers westward (Library of Congress)

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