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Europe today. Here in America it has yielded to a friendly
neighborliness which makes the family from Portland, Maine,
soon find itself at home in Portland, Oregon. It is getting hard
for us to hate anybody especially since we have disestablished
the devil. We are good-natured and easy-going. Herbert Spencer
even denounced this as our immediate danger, maintaining that
we were too good-natured, too easy-going, too tolerant of evil;
and he insisted that we needed to strengthen our wills to protest



30 NATIONAL IDEALS AND PROBLEMS

against wrong, to wrestle with it resolutely, and to overcome it
before it is firmly rooted.

VI

We are kindly and we are helpful; and we are fixed in the
belief that somehow everything will work out all right in the long
run. But nothing will work out all right unless we so make it
work; and excessive optimism may be as corrupting to the fiber
of the people as "the Sabbathless pursuit of fortune," as Bacon
termed it. When Mr. John Morley was last in this country he
seized swiftly upon a chance allusion of mine to this ingrained
hopefulness of ours. "Ah, what you call optimism," he cried,
"I call fatalism." But an optimism which is solidly based on a
survey of the facts cannot fairly be termed fatalism; and another
British student of political science, Mr. James Bryce, has recently
pointed out that the intelligent native American has and by
experience is justified in having a firm conviction that the
majority of qualified voters are pretty sure to be right.

Then he suggested a reason for the faith that is in us, when he
declared that no such feeling exists in Europe, since in Germany
the governing class dreads the spread of socialism, in France the
republicans know that it is not impossible that Monarchism and
Clericalism may succeed in upsetting the republic, while in Great
Britain each party believes that the other party, when it suc-
ceeds, succeeds by misleading the people, and neither party
supposes that the majority are any more likely to be right than
to be wrong.

Mr. Morley and Mr. Bryce were both here in the United
States in the fall of 1904, when we were in the midst of a presi-
dential election, one of those prolonged national debates, creat-
ing incessant commotion, but invaluable agents of our political
education, in so far as they force us all to take thought about the
underlying principles of policy by which we wish to see the
government guided. It was while this political campaign was at
its height that the French visitor to the Russian novelist was
setting his notes in order and copying out his assertion that we
Americans were mere money-grubbers, "systematically hostile



AMERICAN TRAITS 31

to all idealism." If this unthinking Parisian journalist had only
taken the trouble to consider the addresses which the chief
speakers of the two parties here in the United States were then
making to their fellow-citizens in the hope of winning votes, he
would have discovered that these practical politicians, trained to
perceive the subtler shades of popular feeling, were founding all
their arguments on the assumption that the American people as
a whole wanted to do right. He would have seen that the appeal
of these stalwart partisans was rarely to prejudice or to race-
hatred evil spirits that various orators have sought to arouse
and to intensify in the more recent political discussions of the
French themselves.

An examination of the platforms, of the letters of the candi-
dates, and of the speeches of the more important leaders on both
sides revealed to an American observer the significant fact that
"each party tried to demonstrate that it was more peaceable,
more equitable, more sincerely devoted to lawful and righteous
behavior than the other;" and "the voter was instinctively
credited with loving peace and righteousness, and with being
stirred by sentiments of good-will toward men." This seems to
show that the heart of the people is sound, and that it does not
throb in response to ignoble appeals. It seems to show that there
is here the desire ever to do right and to see right done, even if
the will is weakened a little by easy-going good-nature, and even
if the will fails at times to stiffen itself resolutely to make sure
that the right shall prevail.

"Liberty hath a sharp and double edge fit only to be handled
by just and virtuous men," so Milton asserted long ago, adding
that "to the bad and dissolute, it becomes a mischief unwieldy
in their own hands." Even if we Americans can clear ourselves
of being "bad and dissolute," we have much to do before we
may claim to be "just and virtuous," Justice and virtue are not
to be had for the asking; they are the rewards of a manful contest
with selfishness and with sloth. They are the results of an honest
effort to think straight, and to apply eternal principles to pres-
ent needs. Merely to feel is only the beginning; what remains
is to think and to act.



32 NATIONAL IDEALS AND PROBLEMS

A British historian, Mr. Frederic Harrison, who came here to
spy out the land three or four years before Mr. Morley and Mr.
Bryce last visited us, was struck by the fact and by the many
consequences of the fact that "America is the only land on earth
where caste has never had a footing, nor has left a trace." It
seemed to him that "vast numbers and the passion of equality
tend to low averages in thought, in manners, and in public
opinion, which the zeal of the devoted minority tends gradually
to raise to higher planes of thought and conduct." He believed
that we should solve our problems one by one because "the zeal
for learning, justice and humanity" lies deep in the American
heart. Mr. Harrison did not say it in so many words, but it is
implied in what he did say, that the absence of caste and the
presence of low averages in thought, in manners, and in public
opinion, impose a heavier task on the devoted minority, whose
duty it is to keep alive the zeal for learning, justice and humanity.

Which of us, if haply the spirit moves him, may not elect
himself to this devoted minority? Why should not we also, each
in our own way, without pretence, without boastfulness, without
bullying, do whatsoever in us lies for the attainment of justice
and of virtue? It is well to be a gentleman and a scholar; but
after all it is best to be a man, ready to do a man's work in the
world. And indeed there is no reason why a gentleman and a
scholar should not also be a man. He will need to cherish what
Huxley called "that enthusiasm for truth, that fanaticism for
veracity, which is a greater possession than much learning, a
nobler gift than the power of increasing knowledge." He will
need also to remember that

"Kings have their dynasties but not the mind;
Caesar leaves other Caesars to succeed,
But Wisdom, dying, leaves no heir behind."



AMERICAN TRAITS 33



EFFECTS OF THE FRONTIER UPON
AMERICAN CHARACTER 1

FREDERICK JACKSON TURNER

[Frederick Jackson Turner (1861 ) was born at Portage, Wisconsin.

After his graduation from the University of Wisconsin in 1884, he pursued
historical studies at Johns Hopkins University. Afterward he was appointed
professor of American history in the University of Wisconsin, and since 1910
he has held a professorship of history at Harvard. He is regarded as one of
the foremost authorities on phases of western history. This article on the
effects of the habits of pioneer days on American life and character is an
excellent example of the interesting and thorough way in which the writer
discusses matters connected with western America.]

Behind institutions, behind constitutional forms and modi-
fications, lie the vital forces that call these organs into life and
shape them to meet changing conditions. The peculiarity of
American institutions is the fact that they have been compelled
to adapt themselves to the changes of an expanding people
to the changes involved in crossing a continent, in winning a
wilderness, and in developing at each area of this progress out
of the primitive economic and political conditions of the fron-
tier into the complexity of city life. Said Calhoun in 1817, "We
are great, and rapidly I was about to say fearfully growing!"
So saying, he touched the distinguishing feature of American life.
All people show development; the germ theory of politics has
been sufficiently emphasized. In the case of most nations, how-
ever, the development has occurred in a limited area; and if the
nation has expanded, it has met other growing peoples whom it
has conquered. But in the case of the United States we have a
different phenomenon. Limiting our attention to the Atlantic
coast, we have the familiar phenomenon of the evolution of
institutions in a limited area, such as the rise of representative
government; the differentiation of simple colonial governments
into complex organs; the progress from primitive industrial
society, without division of labor, up to manufacturing civili-

JFrom "The Significance of the Frontier in American History" in the Fiftk Year-
book of the National Herbart Society. Reprinted by permission.



34 NATIONAL IDEALS AND PROBLEMS

zation. But we have in addition to this a recurrence of the pro-
cess of evolution in each western area reached in the process of
expansion. Thus, American development has exhibited not
merely advance along a single line, but a return to primitive
conditions on a continually advancing frontier line, and a new
development for that area. American social development has
been continually beginning over again on the frontier. 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. The true point of view in the history of
this nation is not the Atlantic coast: it is the great West. Even
the slavery struggle, which is made so exclusive an object
of attention by some historians, occupies its important place
in American history because of its relation to westward
expansion.

In this advance, the frontier is the outer edge of the wave
the meeting-point between savagery and civilization. Much has
been written about the frontier from the point of view of border
warfare and the chase, but as a field for the serious study of the
economist and the historian it has been neglected.

The American frontier is sharply distinguished from the
European frontier a fortified boundary-line running through
dense populations. The most significant thing about the Ameri-
can frontier is that it lies at the hither edge of free land. In the
census reports it is treated as the margin of that settlement
which has a density of two or more to the square mile. The term
is an elastic one, and for our purposes does not need sharp defini-
tion. We shall consider the whole frontier belt, including the
Indian country and the outer margin of the "settled area" of
the census reports. This paper will make no attempt to treat
the subject exhaustively; its aim is simply to call attention to
the frontier as a fertile field for investigation, and to suggest
some of the problems which arise in connection with it.

In the settlement of America we have to observe how Euro-
pean life entered the continent, and how America modified and
developed that life and reacted on Europe. Our early history is



AMERICAN TRAITS 35

the history of European germs developing in an American en-
vironment. Too exclusive attention has been paid by institu-
tional students to the Germanic origins, too little to the American
factors. The frontier is the line of most rapid and effective
Americanization. The wilderness masters the colonist. It finds
him a European in dress, industries, tools, modes of travel, and
thought. It takes him from the railroad car and puts him in the
birch canoe. It strips off the garments of civilization and arrays
him in the hunting-shirt and moccasin. It puts him in the log-
cabin of the Cherokee and Iroquois and runs an Indian palisade
around him. Before long he has gone to planting Indian corn
and plowing with a sharp stick; he shouts the war-cry and takes
the scalp in orthodox Indian fashion. In short, at the frontier
the environment is at first too strong for the man. He must
accept the conditions which it furnishes, or perish, and so he
fits himself into the Indian clearings and follows the Indian
trails. Little by little he transforms the wilderness, but the out-
come is not the old Europe, not simply the development of
Germanic germs, any more than the first phenomenon was a
case of reversion to the Germanic mark. The fact is, that here
is a new product that is American. At first, the frontier was the
Atlantic coast. It was the frontier of Europe in a very real sense.
Moving westward, the frontier became more and more American.
As successive terminal moraines result from successive glacia-
tions, so each frontier leaves its traces behind it, and when it
becomes a settled area the region still partakes of the frontier
characteristics. Thus the advance of the frontier has meant a
steady movement away from the influence of Europe, a steady
growth of independence on American lines. And to study this
advance, the men who grew up under these conditions, and the
political, economic, and social results of it, is to study the pecu-
liarly American part of our history.

Let us then grasp the conception of American society steadily
expanding into new areas. How important it becomes to watch
the stages, the processes, and the results of this advance ! The
conception will be found to revolutionize our study of American
history. . . .



36 NATIONAL IDEALS AND PROBLEMS

We next inquire what were the influences on the East and
on the Old World. A rapid enumeration of some of the more
noteworthy effects is all that I have space for.

Composite Nationality

First, we note that the frontier promoted the formation of a
composite nationality for the American people. The coast was
preponderantly English, but the later tides of continental im-
migration flowed across to the free lands. This was the case
from the early colonial days. The Scotch-Irish and the Pala-
tine-Germans, or "Pennsylvania Dutch," furnished the dom-
inant element in the stock of the colonial frontier. With these
peoples were also the freed indented servants, or redemptioners,
who, at the expiration of their time of service, passed to the
frontier. Governor Spotswood, of Virginia, writes, in 1717,
"The inhabitants of our frontiers are composed generally of
such as have been transported hither as servants, and, being out
of their time, settle themselves where land is to be taken up and
that will produce the necessarys of life with little labour." Very
generally these redemptioners were of non-English stock. In
the crucible of the frontier the immigrants were Americanized,
liberated, and fused into a mixed race, English in neither nation-
ality nor characteristics. The process has gone on from the early
days to our own. Burke and other writers in the middle of the
eighteenth century believed that Pennsylvania was "threatened
with the danger of being wholly foreign in language, manners,
and perhaps even inclinations." The German and Scotch-Irish
elements in the frontier of the South were only less great. In
the middle of the present century the German element in Wis-
consin was already so considerable that leading publicists looked
to the creation of a German state out of the commonwealth by
concentrating their colonization. By the census of 1890 South
Dakota had a percentage of persons of foreign parentage to total
population of sixty; Wisconsin, seventy- three; Minnesota,
seventy-five; and North Dakota, seventy-nine. Such examples
teach us to beware of misinterpreting the fact that there is a



AMERICAN TRAITS 37

common English speech in America into a belief that the stock
is also English.

Industrial Independence

In another way the advance of the frontier decreased our
dependence on England. The coast, particularly of the South,
lacked diversified industries, and was dependent on England for
the bulk of its supplies. In the South there was even a depend-
ence on the northern colonies for articles of food. Governor
Glenn, of South Carolina, writes in the middle of the eighteenth
century: "Our trade with New York and Philadelphia was of
this sort, draining us of all the little money and bills we could
gather from other places for their bread, flour, beer, hams,
bacon, and other things of their produce, all which, except beer,
our new townships began to supply us with, which are settled
with very industrious and thriving Germans. This no doubt
diminishes the number of shipping and the appearance of our
trade, but it is far from being a detriment to us." Before long
the frontier created a demand for merchants. As it retreated
from the coast it became less and less possible for England to
bring her supplies directly to the consumers' wharves and carry
away staple crops, and staple crops began to give way to diver-
sified agriculture for a time. The effect of this phase of the fron-
tier action upon the northern section is perceived when we realize
how the advance of the frontier aroused seaboard cities like
Boston, New York, and Baltimore to engage in rivalry for
what Washington called "the extensive and valuable trade of a
rising empire."

Effects on National Legislation

The legislation which most developed the powers of the
national government, and played the largest part in its activity,
was conditioned on the frontier. Writers have discussed the
subjects of tariff, land, and internal improvement as subsidiary
to the slavery question. But when American history comes to
be rightly viewed it will be seen that the slavery question is an
incident. In the period from the end of the first half of the pres-



38 NATIONAL IDEALS AND PROBLEMS

ent century to the close of the Civil War slavery rose to primary,
but far from exclusive, importance. But this does not justify
Dr. von Hoist (to take an example) in treating our constitutional
history in its formative period down to 1828 in a single volume,
giving six volumes chiefly to the history of slavery from 1828 to
1861, under the title Constitutional History of the United States.
The growth of nationalism and the evolution of American political
institutions were dependent on the advance of the frontier.
Even so recent a writer as Rhodes, in his history of the United
States since the Compromise of 1850, has treated the legislation
called out by the western advance as incidental to the slavery
struggle.

This is a wrong perspective. The pioneer needed the goods
of the coast, and so the grand series of internal improvement
and railroad legislation began, with potent nationalizing effects.
Over internal improvements occurred great debates, in which
grave constitutional questions were discussed. Sectional group-
ings appear in the votes, profoundly significant for the historian.
Loose construction increased as the nation marched westward.
But the West was not content with bringing the farm to the
factory. Under the lead of Clay "Harry of the West" pro-
tective tariffs were passed,, with the cry of bringing the factory
to the farm. The disposition of the public lands was a third
important subject of national legislation influenced by the
frontier.

Effects on Institutions

It is hardly necessary to do more than mention the fact that
the West was a field in which new political institutions were to
be created. It offered a wide opportunity for speculative crea-
tion and for adjustment of old institutions to new conditions.
The study of the evolution of western institutions shows how
slight was the proportion of actual theoretic invention of insti-
tutions; but there is abundance of opportunity for study of the
sources of the institutions actually chosen, the causes of the
selection, the degree of transformation by the new conditions, and
the new institutions actually produced by the new environment.



AMERICAN TRAITS 39

The Public Domain

The public domain has been a force of profound importance
in the nationalization and development of the government.
The effects of the struggle of the landed and the landless states,
and of the ordinance of 1787, need no discussion. Administra-
tively the frontier called out some of the highest and most vital-
izing activities of the general government. The purchase of
Louisiana was perhaps the constitutional turning point in the
history of the republic, inasmuch as it afforded both a new area
for national legislation and the occasion of the downfall of the
policy of strict construction. But the purchase of Louisiana was
called out by frontier needs and demands. As frontier states
accrued to the Union the national power grew. In a speech on
the dedication of the Calhoun monument, Mr. Lamar explained,
"In 1789 the states were the creators of the federal government;
in 1 86 1 the federal government was the creator of a large major-
ity of the states."

When we consider the public domain from the point of view
of the sale and disposal of the public lands, we are again brought
face to face with the frontier. The policy of the United States in
dealing with its lands is in sharp contrast with the European
system of scientific administration. Efforts to make this domain
a source of revenue, and to withhold it from emigrants in order
that settlement might be compact, were in vain. The jealousy
and the fears of the East were powerless in the face of the de-
mands of the frontiersmen. John Quincy Adams was obliged to
confess: "My own system of administration, which was to
make the national domain the inexhaustible fund for progressive
and unceasing internal improvement, has failed." The reason
is obvious: a system of administration was not what the West
demanded; it wanted land. Adams states the situation as fol-
lows: "The slave-holders of the South have bought the co-
operation of the western country by the bribe of the western
lands, abandoning to the new western states their own propor-
tion of the public property and aiding them in the design of
grasping all the lands into their own hands. Thomas H. Benton



40 NATIONAL IDEALS AND PROBLEMS

was the author of this system, which he brought forward as a
substitute for the American system of Mr. Clay, and to supplant
him as the leading statesman of the West. Mr. Clay, by his
tariff compromise with Mr. Calhoun, abandoned his own Ameri-
can system. At the same tune he brought forward a plan for
distributing among all the states of the Union the proceeds of the
sales of the public lands. His bill for that purpose passed both
houses of Congress, but was vetoed by President Jackson, who,
in his annual message of December, 1832, formally recommended
that all public lands should be gratuitously given away to indi-
vidual adventurers and to the states in which the lands are
situated.

"No subject," said Henry Clay, "which has presented itself
to the present, or perhaps any preceding, Congress, is of greater
magnitude than that of the public lands." When we consider
the far-reaching effects of the government's land policy upon
political, economic, and social aspects of American life, we are
disposed to agree with him. But this legislation was framed
under frontier influences, and under the lead of western states-
men like Benton and Jackson. Said Senator Scott, of Indiana,
in 1841: "I consider the preemption law merely declaratory of
the custom or common law of the settlers."

National Tendencies of the Frontier

It is safe to say that the legislation with regard to land, tariff,
and internal improvements the American system of the nation-
alizing Whig party was conditioned on frontier ideas and needs.
But it was not merely in legislative action that the frontier
worked against the sectionalism of the coast. The economic and
social characteristics of the frontier worked against sectionalism.
The men of the frontier had closer resemblances to the middle
region than to either of the other sections. Pennsylvania had
been the seed plot of southern frontier emigration, and although
she passed on her settlers along the Great Valley into the west
of Virginia and the Carolinas, yet the industrial society of these
southern frontiersmen was always more like that of the middle



AMERICAN TRAITS 41

region than like that of the tidewater portion of the South,
which later came to spread its industrial type throughout the
South.

The middle region, entered by New York harbor, was an
open door to all Europe. The tidewater part of the South



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