In 1890, the Census Bureau declared that, due to brokenness by isolated bodies of settlement, the American frontier could hardly be considered to exist. “It can not, therefore, any longer have a place in the census reports,” stated the Bureau. However, three years later, one man--historian and frontier expert Frederick Jackson Turner--believed the frontier held the key to explaining American development on an economic, social, and historical level. His paper, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” stressed the impact that the frontier--and the moving frontier line/westward expansion--had on the pioneers. “This perennial rebirth, this fluidity of American life, this expansion westward with its new opportunities, its continuous touch with the simplicity of primitive society, furnish the forces dominating American character,” (Turner, 19). He believed that the existence of free land to the west shaped the American character, made America more democratic, and was, frankly, the single most important experience in shaping American history.
It is important to realize that Turner’s essay not only influenced peoples’ views on the American frontier, but his explanation became the most widely accepted interpretation of American history. His 1893 essay did more than any previous works before him, and it brought the subject of the importance of the frontier to the attention of not only intellectuals and historians, but also to the general public. In his essay, Turner focuses on the importance of the frontier in terms of shaping America and setting her apart from Europe. He describes the American frontier as being significantly different from the fortified boundary line that is the European frontier. What sets them apart, he states, is that the American frontier lies at the edge of free, virtually uninhabited land, and the frontier gradually became more and more American the farther west it moved. “Thus the advancement of the frontier has meant a steady...
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