Maurice G. (Maurice Garland) Fulton.

National ideals and problems; essays for college English online

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represented typical Englishmen, modified by a warm climate and
servile labor, and living in baronial fashion on great plantations;
New England stood for a special English movement Puritanism.
The middle region was less English than the other sections.
It had a wide mixture of nationalities, a varied society, the mixed
town and county system of local government, a varied economic
life, many religious sects. In short, it was a region mediating
between New England and the South, and the East and the
West. It represented the composite nationality which the con-
temporary United States exhibits, that juxtaposition of non-
English groups, occupying a valley or a little settlement, and
presenting reflections of the map of Europe in their variety. It
was democratic and non-sectional, if not national; "easy, toler-
ant, and contented;" rooted strongly in material prosperity.
It was typical of the modern United States. It was least sec-
tional, not only because it lay between North and South, but
also because with no barriers to shut out its frontiers from its
settled region, and with a system of connecting waterways, the
middle region mediated between East and West as well as be-
tween North and South. Thus it became the typically Ameri-
can region. Even the New Englander, who was shut out from
the frontier by the middle region, tarrying in New York or
Pennsylvania on his westward march, lost the acuteness of his
sectionalism on the way.

Moreover, it must be recalled that the western and central
New England settler who furnished the western movement was
not the typical tidewater New Englander: he was less conserva-
tive and contented, more democratic and restless.

The spread of cotton culture into the interior of the South
finally broke down the contrast between the tidewater region
and the rest of the South, and based southern interests on slavery.
Before this process revealed its results, the western portion of


the South, which was akin to Pennsylvania in stock, society,
and industry, showed tendencies to fall away from the faith of
the fathers into internal improvement legislation and national-
ism. In the Virginia convention of 182930, called to revise the
constitution, Mr. Leigh, of Chesterfield, one of the tidewater
counties, declared:

"One of the main causes of discontent which led to this convention, that
which had the strongest influence in overcoming our veneration for the work
of our fathers, which taught us to contemn the sentiments of Henry and
Mason and Pendleton, which weaned us from our reverence for the consti-
tuted authorities of the state, was an overweening passion for internal im-
provement. I say this with perfect knowledge, for it has been avowed to
me by gentlemen from the West over and over again. And let me tell the
gentleman from Albemarle (Mr. Gordon) that it has been another principal
object of those who set this ball of revolution in motion, to overturn the
doctrine of state rights, of which Virginia has been the very pillar, and to
remove the barrier she has interposed to the interference of the federal gov-
ernment in that same work of internal improvement, by so reorganizing the
legislature that Virginia, too, may be hitched to the federal car."

It was this nationalizing tendency of the West that trans-
formed the democracy of Jefferson into the national republican-
ism of Monroe and the democracy of Andrew Jackson. The
West of the War of 1812, the West of Clay and Benton and Har-
rison and Andrew Jackson, shut off by the Middle States and
the mountains from the coast sections, had a solidarity of its
own with national tendencies. On the tide of the Father of
Waters, North and South met and mingled into a nation.
Interstate migration went steadily on a process of cross-ferti-
lization of ideas and institutions. The fierce struggle of the sec-
tions over slavery on the western frontier does not diminish the
truth of this statement; it proves the truth of it. Slavery was
a sectional trait that would not down, but in the West it could
not remain sectional. It was the greatest of frontiersmen who
declared: "I believe this government cannot endure perma-
nently half slave and half free. It will become all of one thing or
all of the other." Nothing works for nationalism like intercourse
within the nation. Mobility of population is death to localism,
and the western frontier worked irresistibly in unsettling popu-


lation. The effects reached back from the frontier, and affected
profoundly the Atlantic coast and even the Old World.

Growth of Democracy

But 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 primi-
tive organization based on the family. The tendency is anti-
social. It produces antipathy to control, and particularly to any
direct control. The taxgatherer is viewed as a representative of
oppression. Professor Osgood, in an able article, 1 has pointed
out that the frontier conditions prevalent in the colonies are
important factors in the explanation of the American Revolution,
where individual liberty was sometimes confused with absence
of all effective government. The same conditions aid in ex-
plaining the difficulty of instituting a strong government in
the period of the Confederacy. The frontier individualism has
from the beginning promoted democracy.

The frontier states that came into the Union in the first
quarter of a century of its existence came in with democratic
suffrage provisions, and had reactive effects of the highest im-
portance upon the older states whose peoples were being attracted
there. An extension of the franchise became essential. It was
western New York that forced an extension of suffrage in the
constitutional convention of that state in 1821 ; and it was western
Virginia that compelled the tidewater region to put a more
liberal suffrage provision in the constitution framed in 1830,
and to give to the frontier region a more nearly proportionate
representation with the tidewater aristocracy. The rise of
democracy as an effective force in the nation came in with west-
ern preponderance under Jackson and William Henry Harrison,
and it meant the triumph of the frontier with all of its good
and with all of its evil element. An interesting illustration of

^Political Science Quarterly, vol. ii, p. 437; Sumner, Alexander Hamilton, chaps,
ii-vii; Turner, in Atlantic Monthly, January, 1903. [Turner's note.]


the tone of frontier democracy in 1830 comes from the same
debates in the Virginia convention already referred to. A repre-
sentative from western Virginia declared:

"But, sir, it is not the increase of population in the West which this
gentleman ought to fear. It is the energy which the mountain breeze and
western habits impart to those emigrants. They are regenerated, politically
I mean, sir. They soon become working politicians; and the difference, sir,
between a talking and a working politician is immense. The Old Dominion
has long been celebrated for producing great orators; the ablest metaphysi-
cians in policy; men that can split hairs in all abstruse questions of political
economy. But at home, or when they return from Congress, they have
negroes to fan them asleep. But a Pennsylvania, a New York, an Ohio, or
a western Virginia statesman, though far inferior in logic, metaphysics, and
rhetoric to an old Virginia statesman, has this advantage, that when he
returns home he takes off his coat and takes hold of the plow. This gives
him bone and muscle, sir, and preserves his republican principles pure and

So long as free land exists, the opportunity for a competency
exists, and economic power secures political power. But the
democracy born of free land, strong in selfishness and individual-
ism, intolerant of administrative experience and education, and
pressing individual liberty beyond its proper bounds, has its
dangers as well as its benefits. Individualism in America has
allowed a laxity in regard to governmental affairs which has
rendered possible the spoils system and all the manifest evils
that follow from the lack of a highly developed civic spirit. In
this connection may be noted also the influence of frontier con-
ditions in permitting inflated paper currency and wild-cat bank-
ing. The colonial and revolutionary frontier was the region
whence emanated many of the worst forms of paper currency. 1
The West in the War of 1812 repeated the phenomenon on the
frontier of that day, while the speculation and wild-cat banking
of the period of the crisis of 1837 occurred on the new frontier
belt of the next tier of states. Thus each one of the periods of
paper-money projects coincides with periods when a new set of
frontier communities had arisen, and coincides in area with

'On the relation of frontier conditions to Revolutionary taxation, see Sumner,
Alexander Hamilton, chap. iii. [Turner's note.]


these successive frontiers, for the most part. The recent radical
Populist agitation is a case in point. Many a state that now
declines any connection with the tenets of the Populists itself
adhered to such ideas in an earlier stage of the development of
the state. A primitive society can hardly be expected to show
the appreciation of the complexity of business interests in a
developed society. The continual recurrence of these areas of
paper-money agitation is another evidence that the frontier can
be isolated and studied as a factor in American history of the
highest importance. . . .

Intellectual Traits

From the conditions of frontier life came intellectual traits
of profound importance. The works of travelers along each
frontier from colonial days onward describe certain common
traits, and these traits have, while softening down, still per-
sisted as survivals in the place of their origin, even when a
higher social organization succeeded. The result is that to the
frontier the American intellect owes its striking characteristics.
That coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and
inquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of mind, quick
to find expedients; that masterful grasp of material things, lack-
ing in the artistic, but powerful to effect great ends; that rest-
less, nervous energy; 1 that dominant individualism, working
for goo'd and for evil, and, withal, that buoyancy and exuber-
ance which come with freedom these are traits of the frontier,
or traits called out elsewhere because of the existence of the
frontier. We are not easily aware of the deep influence of this
individualistic way of thinking upon our present conditions.
It persists in the midst of a society that has passed away from
the conditions that occasioned it. It makes it difficult to secure
social regulation of business enterprises that are essentially

iColonial travelers agree in remarking on the phlegmatic characteristics of the
colonists. It has frequently been asked how such a people could have developed that
strained nervous energy now characteristic of them. Cf. Sumner, Alexander Hamilton,
p. 98, and Adams, History of the United Stales, vol. i, p. 60; vol. ix, pp. 240, 241. Ths
transition appears to become marked at the close of the War of 1812, a period when
interest centered upon the development of the West, and the West was noted for rest-
less energy. Grund, Americans, vol. ii, p. i. [Turner's note.]


public; it is a stumbling-block in the way of civil-service reform;
it permeates our doctrines of education; 1 but with the passing
of the free lands a vast extension of the social tendency may be
expected in America.

Ratzel, the well-known geographer, has pointed out the fact
that for centuries the great unoccupied area of America fur-
nished to the American spirit something of its own largeness. It
has given a largeness of design and an optimism to American
thought. 2 Since the days when the fleet of Columbus sailed into
the waters of the New World, America has been another name
for opportunity, and the people of the United States have taken
their tone from the incessant expansion which has not only been
open, but has even been forced upon them. He would be a rash
prophet who should assert that the expansive character of Ameri-
can life has now entirely ceased. Movement has been its domi-
nant fact, and, unless this training has no effect upon a people,
the American energy will continually demand a wider field for its
exercise. 3 But never again will such gifts of free land offer them-
selves. For a moment, at the frontier, the bonds of custom are
broken and unrestraint is triumphant. There is not tabula rasa.
The stubborn American environment is there with its imperious
summons to accept its conditions; the inherited ways of doing
things are also there; and yet, in spite of environment, and in
spite of custom, each frontier did indeed furnish a new field of
opportunity, a gate of escape from the bondage of the past; and
freshness, and confidence, and scorn of older society, impatience
of its restraints and its ideas, and indifference to its lessons have
accompanied the frontier. What the Mediterranean Sea was to
the Greeks, breaking the bond of custom, offering new experi-
ences, calling out new institutions and activities, that, and
more, the ever-retreating frontier has been to the United States
directly, and to the nations of Europe more remotely. And
now, four centuries from the discovery of America, at the end

x See the able paper by Professor de Garno on "Social Aspects of Moral Education,"
in the Third Yearbook of the National Herbart Society, 1897, p. 37. [Turner's note.]

_ 2 See paper on "The West as a Field for Historical Study," in Report of American
Historical Association for i8g6, pp. 270-319. [Turner's note.]

'The commentary upon this sentence written in 1803 lies in the recent history
of Hawaii, Cuba, Porto Rico, the Philippines, and the Isthmian Canal. [Turner's note.]


of a hundred years of life under the Constitution, the frontier
has gone, and with its going has closed the first period of Ameri-
can history.



[Walter Edward Weyl (1873 ) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsyl-
vania. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1892, he
made a special study of political economy at Halle, Berlin, and Paris. He
has written much on economic subjects and is a statistical expert on com-
merce and labor.]

We must not forget that these men and women who file
through the narrow gates at Ellis Island, hopeful, confused,
with bundles of misconceptions as heavy as the great sacks upon
their backs we must not forget that these simple, rough-
handed people are the ancestors of our descendants, the fathers
and mothers of our children.

So it has been from the beginning. For a century a swelling
human stream has poured across the ocean, fleeing from poverty
in Europe to a chance in America. Englishman, Welshman,
Scotchman, Irishman; German, Swede, Norwegian, Dane;
Jew, Italian, Bohemian, Serb; Syrian, Hungarian, Pole, Greek
one race after another has knocked at our doors, been given
admittance, has married us and begot our children. We could
not have told by looking at them whether they were to be good
or bad progenitors, for racially the cabin is not above the steer-
age, and dirt, like poverty and ignorance, is but skin-deep.
A few hours, and the stain of travel has left the immigrant's
cheek; a few years, and he loses the odor of alien soils; a genera-
tion or two, and these outlanders are irrevocably our race, our
nation, our stock.

That stock, a little over a century ago, was almost pure
British. True, Albany was Dutch, and many of the signs in the
Philadelphia streets were in the German language. Neverthe-

iFrom "New Americans," Harper's Monthly Magazine, vol. cxxix, p. 615 (1914).


less, five-sixths of all the family names collected in 1790 by the
census authorities were pure English, and over nine-tenths
(90.2 per cent.) were British. Despite the presence of Germans,
Dutch, French, and Negroes, the American was essentially an
Englishman once removed, an Englishman stuffed with English
traditions, prejudices, and stubbornnesses, reading English
books, speaking English dialects, practising English law and
English evasions of the law, and hating England with a truly
English hatred. In all but a political sense America was still
one of "His Majesty's dominions beyond the sea." Even after
immigration poured in upon us, the English stock was strong
enough to impress upon the immigrating races its language,
laws, and customs. Nevertheless, the incoming millions pro-
foundly altered our racial structure. Today over thirty-two
million Americans are either foreign-born or of foreign parentage.
No longer an Anglo-Saxon cousin, America has become the
most composite of nations.

We cannot help seeing that such a vast transfusion of blood
must powerfully affect the character of the American. What that
influence is to be, however, whether for better or for worse, is a
question more baffling. Our optimists conceive the future Ameri-
can, the child of this infinite intermarrying, as a glorified, syn-
thetical person, replete with the best qualities of all component
races. He is to combine the sturdiness of the Bulgarian peasant,
the poetry of the Pole, the vivid artistic perceptions of the Ital-
ian, the Jew's intensity, the German's thoroughness, the Irish-
man's verve, the tenacity of the Englishman, with the initiative
and versatility of the American. The pessimist, on the other hand,
fears the worst. America, he believes, is committing the un-
pardonable sin, is contracting a mesalliance, grotesque and
gigantic. We are diluting our blood with the blood of lesser
breeds. We are suffering adulteration. The stamp upon the
coin the flag, the language, the national sense remains, but
the silver is replaced by lead.

All of which is singularly unconvincing. In our own families,
the children do not always inherit the best qualities of father
and mother, and we have no assurance that the children of


mixed races have this selective gift and rise superior to their
parent stocks. Nor do we know that they fall below. We hear
much concerning "pure" races and "mongrel" races. But is
there in all the world a pure race? The Jew, once supposed to
be of Levitical pureness, is now known to be racially unorthodox.
The Englishman is not pure Anglo-Saxon; the German is not
Teutonic; the Russian is not Slav. To be mongrel may be a
virtue or a vice we do not know. The problem is too subtle,
too elusive, and we have no approved receipts in this vast
eugenic kitchen. Intermarrying will go on, whether we like it
or loathe it, for love laughs at racial barriers, and the maidens
of one nation look fair to the youth of another. Let the kettle
boil and let us hope for the best.

But the newcomer brings with him more than his potential
parenthood, and he influences America and the American in
other ways than by marriage and procreation. He creates new
problems of adjustment. He enters into a new environment.
He creates a new environment for us. Unconsciously but irre-
sistibly he transforms an America which he does not know. He
forces the native American to change, to change that he may
feel at home in his own home.

When we seek to discover what is the exact influence of the
immigrant upon his new environment, we are met with difficul-
ties almost as insurmountable as those which enter into the
problem of the immigrant's influence upon our common heredity.
Social phenomena are difficult to isolate. The immigrant is not
merely an immigrant; he is also a wage-earner, a city-dweller,
perhaps an illiterate. Wage-earning, city-dwelling, and illiter-
acy are all contributing influences. Your immigrant is a citizen
of the new factory, of the great industrial state, within, yet almost
overshadowing, the political state. Into each of our problems
wages and labor, illiteracy, crime, vice, insanity, pauperism,
democracy the immigrant enters.

There is in all the world no more difficult, no more utterly
bewildering problem than this of the intermingling of races.
Already thirty million immigrants have arrived, of whom con-
siderably over twenty millions have remained. To interpret



this pouring of new, strange millions into the old, to trace its
result upon the manners, the morals, the emotional and intel-
lectual reactions of the Americans, is like searching out the yel-
low waters of the Missouri in the vast flood of the lower Missis-
sippi. Our immigrating races are many, and they meet diverse
kinds of native Americans on varying planes and at innumerable
contact points. So complex is the resulting pattern, so multitu-
dinous are the threads interwoven into so many perplexing com-
binations, that we struggle in vain to unweave this weaving.
At best we can merely follow a single color, noting its appear-
ance here and its reappearance there, in this vast and many-
hued tapestry which we call American life.

Fortunately we are not compelled to embark upon so ambi-
tious a study. We are here concerned, not with the all-inclusive
question, "Is immigration good or bad?" but with the problem
of how immigration has contributed to certain broad develop-
ments in the character and habits of the American, and even
to this question we must be content with a half-answer.

When we compare the America of today with the America
of half a century ago, certain differences stand out sharply.
America today is far richer. It is also more stratified. Our
social gamut has been widened. There are more vivid contrasts,
more startling differences, in education and in the general chances
of life. We are less rural and more urban, losing the virtues and
the vices, the excellences and the stupidities, of country life
and gaining those of the city. We are massing in our cities armies
of the poor to take the place of country ne'er-do-wells and village
hangers-on. We are more sophisticated. We are more lax and
less narrow. We have lost our earlier frugal simplicity, and have
become extravagant and competitively lavish. We have, in
short, created a new type of American, who lives in the city,
reads newspapers and even books, bathes frequently, travels
occasionally; a man, fluent intellectually and physically restless,
ready but not profound, intent upon success, not without ideal-
ism, but somewhat disillusioned, pleasure-loving, hard-working,
humorous. At the same time there grows a sense of a social
mal-adjustment, a sense of a failure of America to live up to


expectations, and an intensifying desire to right a not clearly
perceived wrong. There develops a vigorous, if somewhat vague
and untrained, moral impulse, an impulse based on social rather
than individual ethics, unesthetic, democratic, headlong.

Although this development might have come about, in part
at least, without immigration, the process has been enormously
accelerated by the arrival on our shores of millions of Europeans.
These men came to make a living, and they made not only their
own but other men's fortunes. They hastened the dissolution
of old conditions; they undermined old standards by introducing
new; their very traditions facilitated the growth of that tra-
ditionless quality of the American mind which hastened our
material transformation. . . .

The attraction of America penetrates ever deeper into
Europe, from the maritime peoples living on the fringe of the
ocean, to the inland plains, and then into somnolent, winter-
locked mountain villages. Simultaneously Europe changes
America. You can alter any country if you pour in enough
millions. These immigrants, moreover, are of a character to
effect changes. America's attraction is not to the good or to the
bad, to the saint or to the sinner, but to the young, the aggres-
sive, the restless, the ambitious. The Europeans in America are
chosen men, for there is a rigorous selection at home and a
rigorous selection here, the discouraged and defeated returning
by the shipload. These immigrating races are virile, tenacious,
prolific. Each shipload of newcomers carries to American life an
impulse like the rapidly succeeding explosions of a gasolene

Online LibraryMaurice G. (Maurice Garland) FultonNational ideals and problems; essays for college English → online text (page 5 of 39)