What the frontier.He chose to present ”The significance

 What is so fascinating  about this imaginary line that once separated
civilization from wilderness? At the end of the 19th century the historian
Frederick  Jackson Turner answered that
question with what was to become  the
definition of American character.Critics found his ideas too simplistic .However,
in hindsight the reality showed  that the
frontier was not a line drawn on a map, but a representation of the  human quest for happiness and success.With
that idea in mind America keeps shaping the world through good and bad times
distinguishing itself as the example.

     Frederick Jackson Turner  was one of the first historians
professionally trained in the United States rather than Europe. He grew up in
Portage,Wisconsin.This was near the route crossed by frontiersmen and
missionaries  whose journey began in St
Lawrence Valley and ended in the Mississippi Valley.Being a witness to this
migration westward was  much later one of
the key factors in articulating the idea of the frontier.He chose to
present  ”The significance of the frontier
in  American history” at  the 
World’s Columbian Exposition in 1983 which marked the  400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s
arrival in the New World in 1492.(White,Limerick 7) It is still
thought-provoking how Turner pointed to expansion as the most important factor
in American history. He claimed that ”the existence of an area of free
land  and the advance of American
settlement westward explained American development.”(Klein 14) It had been
argued that all significant American institutions  derived from German and English
roots.Turner’s vision was that whoever crossed the frontier was a new
product,an American one,a man reinvented by a purpose. He claimed that
Europeans had been transformed by the process of settling the American
continent and what was unique about the United States was its frontier history.
He traced the social evolution of frontier life as it continually developed
across the continent from the primitive conditions experienced by the explorer,
the trader, through maturing agricultural stages, finally reaching the
complexity of city and factory. Turner held that the American character was
decisively shaped by conditions on the frontier. For example the abundance of
free land and the settling triggered such traits as self-reliance,
individualism, inventiveness, restless energy, mobility, materialism, and
optimism.Every generation that moved further west became more American,more
democratic and more individualistic . Also the advance of the frontier meant
independence from England and gave wings to trade. From a geographical
perspective,Turner shows that  characters
and institutions were influenced by the western frontier thus fighting against
sectionalism.Especially the Middle region,which acted like a mediator between
the East,South and West,tried to give an example and lead a
”tolerant,contented life,rooted strongly in material prosperity”.( Horwitz
91)

In
Turner´s view the Western Frontier played a necessary role in refreshing and
purifying the countries outlook and morals.The idea of the final settled
frontier felt claustrophobic to him because it left nothing else to yearn for.
Turner ended his essay on a sad note,never foreseeing that in the years to come
his ideas would give food for thought to the generations of change.One of those
great men of change was J.F.Kennedy whose administration became known as
the  ”Pursuit of the New Frontier ”.In
1960 he delivered a historic acceptance speech as the Democratic party’s
nominee for President of the United States.Kennedy’s words echoed the moral
equivalent of the idea of frontier.He was not offering  but asking of people to overcome the barriers
that await:  ”(…)problems are not all
solved and the battles are not all won; and we stand today on the edge of a New
Frontier , the frontier of the 1960’s, the frontier of unknown opportunities
and perils, the frontier of unfilled hopes and unfilled threats”.( The
New Frontier) In J.F.Kennedy’s vision America was the land of boundless
possibilities and it had to look forward in order to prove its exceptionalism
and its  individualism.He found no fault
in the territorial evolution of  America,
implying  that Americans were adventurers
and they had challenges ahead with him as a capable captain.Whether it was this
precise policy that led him to his end matters very little.What matters is that
throughout his administration,  Kennedy  himself 
embodied the traits that Turner
mentioned:individualism,optimism,promise.That moment in time when Kennedy
presented  his acceptance speech he
actually put his finger on the enduring expression of American story.It was
through continuous innovation and revitalization that America was the nation of
futurity. Alexis de Tocqueville also described the evolution of the American
spirit:

Man
did not give himself  the taste for the
infinite and the love of what is immortal. These sublime instincts are not born
of a caprice of his will; they have their immovable foundations in his nature;
they exist despite his efforts. He can hinder or deform them, but not destroy
them. The soul has needs that must be satisfied; and whatever care one takes to
distract it from itself, it soon becomes bored, restive, and agitated.( Tocqueville
229)

Tocqueville
argued that people are drawn to the infinite,to the untamed land.According to
him, people don’t want finitude because one can find no mistery in closure.It
is in America’s heritage to look forward into the harsh and demanding
landscapes.Although Tocqueville didn’t precisely admire the idea of
individualism when he visited America ,he was able to see that any negative
effects of individualism were sanctioned by American institutions.

Modern
America finds itself with the same very well preserved inherited traits.People
from all around the world migrate westward with the hope of a new beginning,in
search of a prosperous living.Where else could they find what they are
searching for but in the land of opportunity.However,even at its most tranquil
times the dilemma arises for America: what else is there when you met your goal
and you found happiness? Turner also wondered what would take the frontier’s
place.The answer is of course setting your eyes on a new horizon.To modern
America that meant shaping the world and not itself.At its inception,the New
World conquered the Indian lands,later on it interfered in the Vietnam war and
these days it is trying to make the whole world a better place to live in,an
idea which is the ultimate frontier.In war time but also peace time the U.S.A.
has expanded its military operations for different motives.Nowadays,the U.S.A’
s expansion could be seen in the interference in the name of democracy either
in Asia or the Middle East. This meddling in their internal affairs has always
suggested an underlying motive  such as
the dependence on the Middle East’s oil.The U.S. military force has expanded
their basis everywhere in the world in order to pursue their
interests.Nevertheless the final frontier remained the outer space,”where no
man has gone before”(Star Trek),a goal that bordered on obsession.If we once
thought the sky is the limit we could not have been more wrong.The Universe is
such a vast space that it becomes the perfect course of action for man to
fulfill its destiny,to conquer planets and face new hardships.This is an
objective which people more often than not make fun of. Nonetheless it has been
a serios subject to consider for all rich states with financial resources to spend
on such activities.As far as America’s spirit of adventure is concerned, there
might be a problem with the potential conquering of the outer space.In 1967,
104 nations signed the Outer Space Treaty which establishes that space and
stars cannot be made property of any nation.Another feature of the document is
that it forbids the stationing of weapons or military explorations on celestial
bodies.So, what may appear unimportant for the moment for human kind,represents
a reality for our governments,especially for countries like the
U.S.,Russia,U.K. or France.Space is being explored not only as a potential home
for us but also because it offers a potential explanation and purpose of our
place in the Universe.Naturally,it is also a place of many resources where technology
can be expanded and new industries may be created.The American writer James
Spiller emphasises NASA’s programs have suffered financial cuts especially with
1986 and 2003 shuttle disasters.He points out that this offered the opportunity
to private billionaire individuals to construct a space fleet .As he reflects
:” it represents the orbital limits of America’s ambitions and the
commercialization of international spaceflight(…)”(17)

   The American dream is a testament to the
frontier myth.When F.J.Turner gave voice to the concept,he described the
migration that had happened between the XVII-XIX centuries and shaped the
American character.His thesis,though attacked by many,has since then instilled
only fair traits in what is to be called an American.The frontier argument was
borrowed only by men of reform and in most cases it proved magnetic.As long as
there is the outer space as the last frontier,man will live with the hope of
another dream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                

 

                                            Works
Cited

White,Richard.
Nelson Limerick ,Patricia. The
Frontier in American Culture. Oakland:
University
of California Press,1994.Print.

Lee
Klein, Kerwin.
Frontiers of Historical
Imagination: Narrating the European Conquest of Native America, 1890-1990.Oakland:
University
of California Press,1999.Print.

Horwitz,P.
Richard.
The American Studies Anthology.Lanham:
Rowman
& Littlefield Publishers,2001.Print.

“The new frontier”. Acceptance speech of Senator John F.
Kennedy, Democratic National Convention, 15 July 1960.Online.23 January 2018. jfklibrary.org

Tocqueville,Alexis.Democracy in America.Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing
Company,2000.Print.

”Star Trek”,1966.Film.

Spiller,
James.
Frontiers for the American Century:
Outer Space, Antarctica, and Cold War Nationalism (Palgrave Studies in the
History of Science and Technology).Basingstoke: Palgrave
Macmillan,2015.Print.

BACK TO TOP