Ralph Waldo Emerson Self- reliance (1841)


The Significance of the Frontier in American History



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The Significance of the Frontier in American History

  • The American Frontier and European frontier differ.
    • Turner described the European frontier as “a fortified boundary line running through dense populations.”
    • Turner describes the American frontier as “that it lies on the hither edge of free land”

The Significance of the Frontier in American History

  • Turner observed how Europeans entered the continent and how it changed them.
    • First it finds settlers in “European dress, industries, tools, modes of travel, thought.”
    • “It takes him from the railcar and puts him in the birch canoe”
    • “It strips off the hunting garments of civilization and arrays him in the hunting shirt and the moccasins.”
    • “It puts him in the log cabin of the Cherokee and Iroquois…”
    • “Before long he has gone to planting Indian corn and plowing with a sharp stick..”
    • “…at the frontier the environment is at first too strong for the man. He must accept the conditions in which it furnishes, or perish, and so he fits himself into the Indian clearings and follows the Indian trails

The Significance of the Frontier in American History

  • Turner believed that “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.”
  • “Complex society is precipitated by the wilderness into a kind of primitive organization, based on family.”
  • “The tendency is anti-social.”
  • “It produces antipathy to control, and particularly to direct control…”
  • “The frontier individualism has been from the beginning promoted democracy.”

The Significance of the Frontier in American History

  • Turner believed the frontier led to a strong sense of nationalism.
  • -”The frontier promoted the formation of a composite nationality for the American people.”
  • -The experiences of the frontiersmen gave them commonality and association with other migrants during westward expansion.

The Significance of the Frontier in American History

  • Again now, four centuries from the discovery of America, at the end of a hundred years of life under the Constitution, the frontier has gone, and with its going has closed the first period of American history.
  • Theodore Roosevelt, The Strenuous Life
  •   
  • POINT 1: DO NOT LIVE A LIFE OF IDELNESS; A STRENUOUS LIFE IS MUCH MORE REWARDING AND NOBLE.
  • I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.
  • We do not admire the man of timid peace. We admire the man who embodies victorious effort; the man who never wrongs his neighbor, who is prompt to help a friend, but who has those virile qualities necessary to win in the stern strife of actual life.
  •  
  • A mere life of ease is not in the end a very satisfactory life, and, above all, it is a life which ultimately unfits those who follow it for serious work in the world.
  •  
  • The man must be glad to do a man's work, to dare and endure and to labor; to keep himself, and those dependent on him. The woman must be the housewife, the helpmeet of the homemaker, the wise and fearless mother of many healthy children.
  • POINT 2: ONLY THROUGH STRIFE AND STRENUOUS AND DARING EFFORT WILL WE ACHIEVE NATIONAL GREATNESS.
  • …it is only through strife, through hard and dangerous endeavor, that we shall ultimately win the goal of true national greatness.
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  • Theodore Roosevelt, The Strenuous Life
  • POINT 3: WEAKNESS IS THE GREATEST OF CRIMES. OUR NATION HAS A RESPONSIBILTY TO BRING THE HALF-CAST NATIONS OF THE WORLD GOOD GOVERNMENT. IF WE DO THIS WE WILL BE GREAT, AND IF WE DO NOT WE WILL CEDE THE OPPORTUNITY TO “BOLDER AND STRONGER PEOPLES.”
  • We cannot, if we would, play the part of China, and be content to rot by inches in ignoble ease within our borders, taking no interest in what goes on beyond them, sunk in scrambling commercialism; heedless of higher life, the life of aspiration, of toil and risk, busying ourselves only with the wants of our bodies for the day, until suddenly we should find, beyond a shadow of question, what China has already found, that in this world the nation that has trained itself into a career of unwarlike and isolated ease is bound, in the end, to go down before other nations which have not lost the manly and adventurous qualities. If we are to be a really great people, we must strive in good faith to play a great part in the world.
  • The guns that thundered off Manila and Santiago left us echoes of glory, but they also left us a legacy of duty. If we drove out a mediaeval tyranny only to make room for savage anarchy, we had better not begun the task at all. It is worse than idle to say that we have no duty to perform, and can leave to their fates the islands we have conquered. Such a course would be a course of infamy. It would be followed at once by utter chaos in the wretched islands themselves. Some stronger, manlier power would have to step in and do the work, and we would have shown ourselves weaklings, unable to carry to successful completion the labors that great and high-spirited nations are eager to undertake.
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  • Theodore Roosevelt, The Strenuous Life
  • POINT 3 (CONTINUED): WEAKNESS IS THE GREATEST OF CRIMES. OUR NATION HAS A RESPONSIBILTY TO BRING THE HALF-CAST NATIONS OF THE WORLD GOOD GOVERNMENT. IF WE DO THIS WE WILL BE GREAT, AND IF WE DO NOT WE WILL CEDE THE OPPORTUNITY TO “BOLDER AND STRONGER PEOPLES.”
  • The Philippines offer a yet graver problem. Their population includes half-caste and native Christians, warlike Moslems, and wild pagans. Many of their people are utterly unfit for self-government and show no signs of becoming fit.
  • Resistance [in the Philippines] must be stamped out. The first and all-important work to be done is to establish the supremacy of our flag. We must put down armed resistance before we can accomplish anything else, and there should be no parleying, no faltering, in dealing with our foe. As for those in our own country who encourage the foe, we can afford contemptuously to disregard them; but it must be remembered that their utterances are not saved from being treasonable merely by the fact that they are despicable.
  • [We must send out there only good and able men.... [They] must show the utmost tact and firmness, remembering that, we such people as those with whom we are to deal, weakness is the greatest of crimes, and that next to weakness comes lace of consideration for their principles and prejudices.


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