Settlers Coming to the Americas Term Paper

Pages: 5 (2247 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 8  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Government

¶ … settlers coming to the Americas in the 1600s and 1700s, this new country was wide open and offered the opportunity to seek a life free from the constraints of the Old World. However, once the East began to be populated by the refinery of the Europeans, it was no longer that rough and wild world where anything or everything was accepted. Thus, in the 1800s, it was time for the adventurous to move again -- this time to the Western plains and deserts -- to seek their fate. Historians and authors such as Frederick Jackson Turner, Ray Allen Billington and Owen Wister developed theories and wrote about the impact of this land on the new Americans.

It took a certain breed of people to move Westward until the late 1800s, just like it had taken a certain breed of people to board ships to the New World. In fact, many believe that the frontier had a greater impact on what can be considered the American psyche than leaving ships in England for vacant lands on the East Coast.

According to Frederick Jackson Turner, historian and author of "The Significance of the Frontier in American History," for example, "The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward explain American development" and transformed the American people (Babcock 29).

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Turner believed that the oddity of American institutions had arisen from the fact that they had been forced to adapt themselves to the changes of an expanding people -- to the many transitions involved in crossing a huge continent, harnessing a wilderness, and developing a community with the complexity of political and economic city life at each step along the way (Babcock 30).

He further hypothesized that democracy influenced the frontier most. The individuality and freedoms of the frontier eradicated the chains of the Old World, found a "safety valve" for its high spirit by assuming ownership of public lands, and expressed its need for individual liberty by extending suffrage and allowing individuals to join together and take control of their government (Babcock 41).

Term Paper on Settlers Coming to the Americas in the Assignment

In "The Significance of the Frontier in American History," Turner asserted that while in its heyday the frontier symbolized that every American generation returned "to primitive conditions on a continually advancing frontier line" (Chapter 1). Along this frontier, considered "the meeting point between savagery and civilization," new U.S. citizens continually repeated the developmental stages of the blooming industrial order of the 1890's, which begins with the Indian and the hunter; it goes on with the disintegration of savagery by the entrance of the trader... The pastoral stage in ranch life; the exploitation of the soil by the raising of unrotated crops of corn and wheat in sparsely settled farm communities; the intensive culture of the denser farm settlement; and finally the manufacturing organization with the city and the factory system. (Chapter 1).

Turner also noted in Chapter 9, "Contributions of the West to American Democracy" that the Western movement greatly impacted the democratic ideals on which this country is founded. "From the beginning of the settlement of America, the frontier regions have exercised a steady influence toward democracy." Yet will this democratic spirit continue to exist now that the frontier is conquered? With hope, it will, stated Turner. "The paths of the pioneer have widened into broad highways. The forest clearing has expanded into affluent commonwealths. Let us see to it that the ideals of the pioneer in his log cabin shall enlarge into the spiritual life of a democracy where civic power shall dominate and utilize individual achievement for the common good."

Ray Allen Billington, wrote both about the Western frontier as well as what he called the "Turner Hypothesis." Although he was cautious in his explanations, Billington accepted Turner's idea that the frontier experience of Americans in the late 19th century played an essential part in the making of the country's national character and development of democracy -- despite the fact that many people criticized Turner's beliefs (Ridge 6). These critics either challenged specific facts or accused Turner of being inconsistent, too emotional, or vague and/or omitting information.

Billington also is known for his fun limericks about the West including one he wrote after reading Robert Dykstra's The Cattle Town:

In story and film old Dodge City

Was a center of sin and tough titty.

But historians have shown

That image was overblown

It was moral and quiet (a pity)

However, notes Ridge (13), Billington's experiences and attitudes were very different from Turner who, along with Woodrow Wilson, looked for ways to conserve the political democracy characteristic of the rural and frontier era. Instead, Billington supported the values of a pluralistic society in a shrinking world. How did Billington reconcile his ideas along with those of Turner? Billington was a strong missionary for the cause of frontier history. With the publication of his Westward Expansion, Billington "had detected the beginning of a return swing of the pendulum in Turner's favor and had been unable to resist adding a push." Despite the problems laid at Turner's door, his ideas were worth resurrecting at the end of World War II because of the emphasis on national character traits and its praise of the relationship between economic and political independence in the American past.

In the preface to Westward Expansion, Billington reasserted this belief when writing, "The history of the American frontier is not only one of the conquest of the continent and an expanding opportunity for the downtrodden; it is the history of the birth of the nation, endowed with characteristics which persisted through its adolescence and influenced people after the West itself was gone." Billington also reinforced Turner's theory that the frontier experience Americanized both individuals and institutions.

However, at the same time, Billington remained true to his social-democratic interpretation of American history. His final statement in Westward Expansion thus reads:

The hardy, self-reliant men and women who through three centuries conquered the continent have played their ole in the drama of American development; as they pass from the scene a new generation, freed from the prejudice of an outworn past where the needs of the individual transcended the needs of society, will blaze the trails into the newer world of cooperative democracy that is America's future.

In short, Billington desired Turner's frontier along with its economic opportunity, democracy and long-lasting character, but also desired it to be the basis of a society without prejudices and that leads to cooperative democracy.

Further, in America' Frontier Heritage (25), Billington noted that the frontier in modern times can be defined as "a geographic region adjacent to the unsettled portions of the continent in which a low man-land ratio and unusually abundant, unexploited natural resources provide an opportunity for social and economic improvement to the non- or small-propertied individual." As noted, the pioneers of the "frontier" saw this land as the border between the settled and unsettled regions. Billington explained that the "frontier," in fact, moved at a rate of 10 to 40 miles per year and throughout the 1830s and '40s, investors were seen 1,000 miles ahead of the frontier towns of the Mississippi Valley, anticipating national growth in the coming years.

Many of the pioneers moved forward to the frontier in order to speculate in land, or buy large quantities of inexpensive government land, so they could later sell it to others and make a sizeable profit, explains Billington in America's Frontier Heritage (44). Thus, the West actually offered not only freedom but the opportunity for wealth and affluence that these individuals never had before.

Whereas Turner and Billington wrote about the West from a historical and socio-economic and political stance, Owen Wister is known for using this platform for his fictional writings. Wister, better known as "the" if not "one of the" first Western genre authors, is widely known for his books such as the Virginian that sold millions of copies in the early 1900s and were made into films that starred actors such as John Wayne.

Wister believed that his characters represented the national character, but chose an honest cowboy from Virginia as a model for his readers. Thus, expansion into the West evolved into a modern Western literary form and the tale of the domestication of the Wild West was represented by the domestication of the hero.

In the Virginian, Wister's hero starts out as a young, drinking, gambling, and womanizing young man and transforms over the short novel ending with a traditional shootout. Here he demonstrates his last youthful actions, but gains the unending love of the school teacher and becomes domesticated. The plot is indicative of the Turner hypothesis when the hero and heroine consummate their marriage in the unexplored mountains west of the settled range.

As noted in the Virginian, this frontier was not just an unkempt wilderness, but a land where the inner spirit of humanity is more essential than the manners and attitudes of civilization. In such an environment, people must… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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