Turner’s “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” essay presents the primary model for comprehending American history. Turner developed his notions on the uncovering of the 1890 census that the frontier was coming to an end, that the nation had occupied its continental borders. As Turner discusses in his essay, an extensive era of American development approached an ending but left enduring marks on American society. A major notion within his claims of the American frontier is, “the existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, [that] explain American development.” (Turner, 33) Furthermore, Turner’s claim that the frontier experience explains the development of democracy in the United States generates a popular sense of American patriotism and supports a highly cultural appraisal of the frontier.
“The most important effect of the frontier has been in the promotion of democracy here and in Europe. As has been indicated, the frontier is productive of individualism.” (Turner, 34) Over the last century, however, Turner’s thesis received ongoing criticism as well as support for his claims, which has allowed itself in being one of the most controversial topics within American history. Critics denounce Turner’s thesis as being much too ignorant on “economic concerns of past industrial America.” Turner was also criticized for removing the natives from his narrative and further ignores alternative motives. Furthermore, the notion of the frontier is also criticized as being environmentally deterministic as people did not being fresh based on ambitions, but were merely victims of their current surroundings.
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Karina Swenson. Supporters of Turner’s thesis, defend Turner’s ideas of the frontier as the opportunity to spawn individualism, democracy, and freedom. Furthermore, they announce his claims as valid and reasonable, defending Turner’s notions that during the great American frontier “the thinkers were restless and inquiring, but what they lacked was room in which to try out their innovations…The frontier offered them the room and the opportunity.” (Webb, 53) While Turner’s critics are valid in the sense that Turner’s account on the frontier did not reveal the environmental determinism and his lack of revealing the presence of natives with his narrative as profound flaws within his claims, nevertheless, his thesis remains extremely influential within American society and culture as it is highly relevant when it is approached as a representation of today’s America.
“The frontier [as] the line of most rapid and effective Americanization.” (Turner 33) is applicable to current American civilization where democracy and individualism is a fundamental and profound aspect of American society. Today, the individual is still emphasized, “it is his importance that has been magnified” (Webb, 54) Thus, using both arguments of Turner’s critics and supporters, one should acknowledge the general premise behind Turner’s theories, and rather than accepting or rejecting it, become interested his hypothesis and apply them to our current America.
- Turner, Frederick Jackson. “The Significance of the Frontier in American History”
- Pierson, George Wilson. “The Turner Thesis is Dated and Provincial”. Excerpted from “The Frontier and American Institutions: a Criticism of the Turner Theory,” New England Quarterly, June 1942
- Webb, Walter Prescott. “The Turner Thesis is Universal and Relevant” From “Ended: Four Hundred Year Boom: Reflections on the Age of the Frontier,” Harper’s Magazine, October 1951