People of the American Frontier: The Coming of the American Revolution


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SEPTEMBER 23RD

The anti-intellectualism and materialism which are national traits can also be traced to the frontier experience. There was little in pioneer life to attract the timid, the cultivated, or the aesthetically sensitive.

People of the American Frontier

In the boisterous western borderlands, book learning and intellectual speculation were suspect among those dedicated to the material tasks necessary to subdue a continent. Yet the frontiersman, as Turner recognized, was an idealist as well as a materialist. He admired material objects not only as symbols of advancing civilization but as the substance of his hopes for a better future.

Given economic success he would be able to afford the aesthetic and intellectual pursuits that he felt were his due, even though he was not quite able to appreciate them. It also helped nurture in the pioneers an infinite faith in the future. Frederick Jackson Turner, then, was not far wrong when he maintained that frontiersmen did develop unique traits and that these, perpetuated, form the principal distinguishing characteristics of the American people today.

To a degree unknown among Europeans, Americans do display a restless energy, a versatility, a practical ingenuity, an earthy practicality. They do squander their natural resources with an abandon unknown elsewhere; they have developed a mobility both social and physical that marks them as a people apart.

In few other lands is the democratic ideal worshiped so intensely, or nationalism carried to such extremes of isolationism or international arrogance. Rarely do other peoples display such indifference toward intellectualism or aesthetic values; seldom in comparable cultural areas do they cling so tenaciously to the shibboleth of rugged individualism. Nor do residents of non-frontier lands experience to the same degree the heady optimism, the rosy faith in the future, the belief in the inevitability of progress that form part of the American creed.

These are pioneer traits, and they have become a part of the national heritage. Yet if the frontier wrought such a transformation within the United States, why did it not have a similar effect on other countries with frontiers? If the pioneering experience was responsible for our democracy and nationalism and individualism, why have the peoples of Africa, Latin America, Canada, and Russia failed to develop identical characteristics?

The answer is obvious: in few nations of the world has the sort of frontier that Turner described existed. For he saw the frontier not as a borderland between unsettled and settled lands, but as an accessible area in which a low man-land ratio and abundant natural resources provided an unusual opportunity for the individual to better himself. The areas of the world that have been occupied since the beginning of the age of discovery contain remarkably few frontiers of the American kind. In Africa the few Europeans were so outnumbered by relatively uncivilized native inhabitants that the need for protection transcended any impulses toward democracy or individualism.

In Latin America the rugged terrain and steaming jungles restricted areas exploitable by individuals to the Brazilian plains and the Argentine pampas; these did attract frontiersmen, although in Argentina the prior occupation of most good lands by government-favored cattle growers kept small farmers out until railroads penetrated the region. In Canada the path westward was blocked by the Laurentian Shield, a tangled mass of hills and sterile, brush-choked soil covering the country north and west of the St.

Lawrence Valley. When railroads finally penetrated this barrier in the late nineteenth century, they carried pioneers directly from the East to the prairie provinces of the West; the newcomers, with no prior pioneering experience, simply adapted to their new situation the eastern institutions with which they were familiar. Among the frontier nations of the world only Russia provided a physical environment comparable to that of the United States, and there the pioneers were too accustomed to rigid feudal and monarchic controls to respond as Americans did.

Further proof that the westward expansion of the United States has been a powerful formative force has been provided by the problems facing the nation in the present century. In attempting to adjust the country to its new, expansionless future, statesmen have frequently called upon the frontier hypothesis to justify everything from rugged individualism to the welfare state, and from isolationism to world domination. The government, they insist, must provide the people with the security and opportunity that vanished when escape to the West became impossible.

It is the sober, less dramatic business of administering resources and plants already in hand, of seeking to reestablish foreign markets for our surplus production, of meeting the problem of under-consumption, of adjusting production to consumption, of distributing wealth and products more equitably, of adapting existing economic organizations to the service of the people. The day of enlightened administration has come. Diplomats have also found in the frontier hypothesis justification for many of their moves, from imperialist expansion to the restriction of immigration.

Idealists such as Woodrow Wilson could agree with materialists like J. Morgan that the extension of American authority abroad, either through territorial acquisitions or economic penetration, would be good for both business and democracy. In a later generation Franklin D.

Roosevelt favored a similar expansion of the American democratic ideal as a necessary prelude to the better world that he hoped would emerge from World War II. The recurring rebirth of society in the United States over a period of three hundred years did endow the people with characteristics and institutions that distinguish them from the inhabitants of other nations. It is obviously untrue that the frontier experience alone accounts for the unique features of American civilization; that civilization can be understood only as the product of the interplay of the Old World heritage and New World conditions.

But among those conditions none has bulked larger than the operation of the frontier process. General Henry Hopkins Sibley was tasked for the campaign, and together with his New Mexico Army , marched right up the Rio Grande in an attempt to take the mineral wealth of Colorado as well as California. The First Regiment of Volunteers discovered the rebels, and they immediately warned and joined the Yankees at Fort Union. The Battle of Glorieta Pass soon erupted, and the Union ended the Confederate campaign and the area west of Texas remained in Union hands.

Missouri , a Union state where slavery was legal, became a battleground when the pro-secession governor, against the vote of the legislature, led troops to the federal arsenal at St. Louis ; he was aided by Confederate forces from Arkansas and Louisiana. Louis and all of Missouri for the Union. The state was the scene of numerous raids and guerrilla warfare in the west. Army after established a series of military posts across the frontier, designed to stop warfare among Indian tribes or between Indians and settlers. Throughout the 19th century, Army officers typically served built their careers in peacekeeper roles moving from fort to fort until retirement.

Actual combat experience was uncommon for any one soldier. The most dramatic conflict was the Sioux war in Minnesota in , when Dakota tribes systematically attacked German farms in an effort to drive out the settlers. Over a period of several days, Dakota attacks at the Lower Sioux Agency , New Ulm and Hutchinson , slaughtered to white settlers.

Enduring Winter During the Revolutionary War

The state militia fought back and Lincoln sent in federal troops. The federal government tried Indians for murder, and were convicted and sentenced to death. Lincoln pardoned the majority, but 38 leaders were hanged.

5. The American Revolution | THE AMERICAN YAWP

The decreased presence of Union troops in the West left behind untrained militias; hostile tribes used the opportunity to attack settlers. The militia struck back hard, most notably by attacking the winter quarters of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians, filled with women and children, at the Sand Creek massacre in eastern Colorado in late Kit Carson and the U.

Army in trapped the entire Navajo tribe in New Mexico, where they had been raiding settlers, and put them on a reservation. The result by was millions of new farms in the Plains states, many operated by new immigrants from Germany and Scandinavia. With the war over and slavery abolished, the federal government focused on improving the governance of the territories. It subdivided several territories, preparing them for statehood, following the precedents set by the Northwest Ordinance of It standardized procedures and the supervision of territorial governments, taking away some local powers, and imposing much "red tape", growing the federal bureaucracy significantly.

Federal involvement in the territories was considerable. In addition to direct subsidies, the federal government maintained military posts, provided safety from Indian attacks, bankrolled treaty obligations, conducted surveys and land sales, built roads, staffed land offices, made harbour improvements, and subsidized overland mail delivery.

Territorial citizens came to both decry federal power and local corruption, and at the same time, lament that more federal dollars were not sent their way.

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Territorial governors were political appointees and beholden to Washington so they usually governed with a light hand, allowing the legislatures to deal with the local issues. In addition to his role as civil governor, a territorial governor was also a militia commander, a local superintendent of Indian affairs, and the state liaison with federal agencies. The legislatures, on the other hand, spoke for the local citizens and they were given considerable leeway by the federal government to make local law. These improvements to governance still left plenty of room for profiteering.

As Mark Twain wrote while working for his brother, the secretary of Nevada, "The government of my country snubs honest simplicity, but fondles artistic villainy, and I think I might have developed into a very capable pickpocket if I had remained in the public service a year or two.


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In acquiring, preparing, and distributing public land to private ownership, the federal government generally followed the system set forth by the Land Ordinance of Federal exploration and scientific teams would undertake reconnaissance of the land and determine Native American habitation. Through treaty, land title would be ceded by the resident tribes. Townships would be formed from the lots and sold at public auction. As part of public policy, the government would award public land to certain groups such as veterans, through the use of "land script".

Why Have Americans Always Been So Obsessed with the Land?

As a counter to land speculators, farmers formed "claims clubs" to enable them to buy larger tracts than the acre 0. In , Congress passed three important bills that transformed the land system. The Homestead Act granted acres 0. The only cost was a modest filing fee. The law was especially important in the settling of the Plains states. Many took free homestead and others purchased their land from railroads at low rates.

The Pacific Railway Acts of provided for the land needed to build the transcontinental railroad. The land given the railroads alternated with government-owned tracts saved for free distribution to homesteaders. Railroads had up to five years to sell or mortgage their land, after tracks were laid, after which unsold land could be purchased by anyone. Often railroads sold some of their government acquired land to homesteaders immediately to encourage settlement and the growth of markets the railroads would then be able to serve.

Nebraska railroads in the s were strong boosters of lands along their routes. They sent agents to Germany and Scandinavia with package deals that included cheap transportation for the family as well as its furniture and farm tools, and they offered long-term credit at low rates. Boosterism succeeded in attracting adventurous American and European families to Nebraska , helping them purchase land grant parcels on good terms.

The selling price depended on such factors as soil quality, water, and distance from the railroad. The Morrill Act of provided land grants to states to begin colleges of agriculture and mechanical arts engineering. Black colleges became eligible for these land grants in The Act succeeded in its goals to open new universities and make farming more scientific and profitable. In the s government sponsored surveys to chart the remaining unexplored regions of the West, and to plan possible routes for a transcontinental railroad. Regionalism animated debates in Congress regarding the choice of a northern, central or southern route.

Engineering requirements for the rail route were an adequate supply of water and wood, and as nearly-level route as possible, given the weak locomotives of the era. In the s, proposals to build a transcontinental failed because of Congressional disputes over slavery. With the secession of the Confederate states in , the modernizers in the Republican party took over Congress and wanted a line to link to California. Private companies were to build and operate the line.

Construction would be done by unskilled laborers who would live in temporary camps along the way. Immigrants from China and Ireland did most of the construction work.

People of the American Frontier: The Coming of the American Revolution People of the American Frontier: The Coming of the American Revolution
People of the American Frontier: The Coming of the American Revolution People of the American Frontier: The Coming of the American Revolution
People of the American Frontier: The Coming of the American Revolution People of the American Frontier: The Coming of the American Revolution
People of the American Frontier: The Coming of the American Revolution People of the American Frontier: The Coming of the American Revolution
People of the American Frontier: The Coming of the American Revolution People of the American Frontier: The Coming of the American Revolution
People of the American Frontier: The Coming of the American Revolution People of the American Frontier: The Coming of the American Revolution

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