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Frontier Thesis

But he also held the frontier responsible for a number of negative traits and, thus, in failing to include these in their summary of the thesis, Davidson and Lytle distort it-and create problems for themselves later in their discussion of Turner's perceptions of Jackson. For example, earlier in this same essay, Turner had described the "evil'' he had in mind in the passage quoted by Davidson and Lytle:.

But the democracy born of free land, strong in selfishness and individualism, intolerant of administrative experience and education, and pressing individual liberty beyond its proper bounds, has its dangers as well as its benefits. In this connection may be noted also the influence of frontier conditions in permitting lax business honor, inflated paper currency and wild-cat banking At the end of this rather long discussion of the lax governmental and financial integrity on the frontier, of which, incidentally, he suggested the "recent PopuIist agitation is a case in point," he reported in a footnote that he had refrained from dwelling on the lawless characteristics of the frontier, because they are sufficiently well known.

The gambler and desperado, the regulators of the Carolinas and the vigilantes of California, are types of that line of scum that the waves of advancing civilization bore before them Furthermore, in later essays Turner not only mentioned many of these same negative frontier traits but also added new ones to the list. For example, in an essay written in , he suggested that. The frontiersman was impatient of restraints Society became atomic He had little patience with finely drawn distinctions or scruples of method.

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If the thing was one proper to be done, then the most immediate, rough and ready, effective way was the best way. It followed from the lack of organized political life.

The West was another name for opportunity. Here were mines to be seized, fertile valleys to be preempted, all the natural resources open to the shrewdest and the boldest The squatter enforced his claim to lands even against the government's title by the use of extralegal combinations and force. He appealed to Iynch law with little hesitation. He was impatient of any governmental restrictions upon his individual right to deal with the wilderness. Thus many of the pioneers, following the ideal of the right of the individual to rise, subordinated the rights of the nation and posterity to the desire that the country should be "developed" and that the individual should advance with as little interference as possible.

Squatter doctrines and individualism have left deep traces upon American conceptions. Obviously, then, the failure of Davidson and Lytle to include the dangers that Turner attributed to frontier democracy and individualism in their summary of his thesis is a very serious omission. As has been mentioned, Davidson and Lytle, in the second part of this essay, describe Turner's perceptions of Andrew Jackson as contrasted to those of Thomas Abernethy and two other historians.

A more serious weakness is the fact that it is based on two paragraphs in his Rise of the West rather than on a number of longer and more detailed paragraphs on Jackson in his frontier essays.

They begin their summary by reporting that ''For Frederick Turner, Andrew Jackson was not merely 'one of the favorites of the west,' he was 'the west itself. At length the frontier, in the person of its leader, had found a place in the government. This six-foot backwoodsman, angular, lanternjawed, and thin, with blue eyes that blazed on occasion this choleric, impetuous, Scotch-Irish leader of men; this expert duelist and ready fighter; this embodiment of the contentious, vehement, personal west, was in politics to stay. Again Davidson's and Lytle's use of quotations is unsatisfactory.

This relatively brief passage on Jackson not only is the only one they quote but also is seriously deficient as a summary of Turner's perceptions.

If they had consulted his frontier essays as well as Rise of the West, they would have discovered, n an essay published in , a discussion of Jackson hat began with wording that was virtually identical to he two paragraphs they had relied on from the book. Turner, in the essay, continued in part as follows:. The frontier democracy of that time had the instincts of the clansmen in the days of Scotch border warfare. Vehement and tenacious as the democracy was, strenuously as each man contended with his neighbor for the spoils of the new country that opened before them' they all had respect for the man who best expressed their aspirations and their ideas He [Jackson] had the essential traits of the Kentucky and Tennessee frontier The Westerner defended himself and resented governmental restrictions.

The duel and the blood-fueled found congenial soil in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Frontier Thesis

The idea of the personality of law was often dominant over the organized machinery of justice The backwoodsman was intolerant of men who split hairs, or scrupled over the method reaching the right. In a word, the unchecked development of the individual was the significant product of this frontier democracy. It was because Andrew Jackson personified these essential Western traits that in his presidency he became the idol and the mouthpiece of the popular will. In his assault upon the Bank as an engine of aristocracy.

For formal law and subtleties of State sovereignty he had the contempt of a backwoodsman. Nor is it without significance that this typical man of the new democracy will always be associated with the triumph of the spoils system in national politics The triumph of Andrew Jackson marked the end of the old era of trained statesmen for the Presidency. With him began the era of the popular hero During the period that followed Jackson, power passed from the region of Kentucky and Tennessee to the border of the Mississippi As Andrew Jackson is the typical democrat of the former region, so Abraham Lincoln is the very embodiment of the pioneer period of the Old Northwest.

Indeed, he is the embodiment of the democracy of the West The pioneer life from which Lincoln came differed in important respects from the frontier democracy typified by Andrew Jackson. Jackson's democracy was contentious. Certainly Turner's perceptions of Jackson presented in this long passage are quite different than those described by Davidson and Lytle in their very brief summary. Probably the most obvious difference is that to Turner, Jackson was not really ''the west itself' but rather was 'the typical democrat ' and ''had the essential traits" of one frontier only, the Kentucky Tennessee frontier.

If any frontiersman was the embodiment of the West in general, according to Turner. That this was an important distinction to Turner is evident by the number of times he made it elsewhere in his frontier essays. This contrast in Turner's perceptions of Jackson and Lincoln underlines another crucial fact about the place of Jackson in his thesis that Davidson and Lytle also apparently have failed to recognize and that is that the frontier traits he attributed to Jackson were almost exclusively negative ones. Note, for example. It also should be noted that the traits of Jackson that Turner emphasized were mainly those associated with his presidency and Jacksonian Democracy rather than with his rise to wealth and political influence in Tennessee.

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This fact is particularly important because Davidson and Lytle, after their brief summary of Turner's views of the frontier and Jackson, compare them with those of Thomas Abernethy, who had been one of Turner's graduate students. As a result, ''Instead of confirming Turner's version of a hardy democracy. Abernethy painted a picture of 'free' Tennessee lands providing fortunes for already powerful men.

According to Davidson and Lytle, Abernethy also presented a very different perception of Jackson. Concentrating exclusively on his early career in Tennessee, Abernethy described his involvement in land speculation and close alliance with Blount and other men of power and wealth. He was, according to Abernethy, ''ever an aristocrat at heart.

Unfortunately, here again Davidson and Lytle tend to misrepresent or distort Turner's thesis and perceptions of Jackson. However, in this instance Abernethy is partly responsible. Professor Frederick Turner, to whom I dedicated the book. Professor Turner believed that American "democracy" originated on the western frontier and that this environmental influence was entirely beneficial to the nation It is certainly true that living conditions on the frontier were primitive and that one could not carry his pedigree into the wilderness.

Consequently, social life was much more informal than in the older, more settled communities. However, the rampant land speculation that prevailed on the frontier constitutes highly persuasive evidence that there were serpents in Professor Turner's egalitarian Eden-evidence that economic and political "privilege" was not wholly absent from the Sylvan scene These statements by Abernethy, as well as those of Davidson and Lytle, as to the implications of his study of the Tennessee frontier for the Turner thesis are, to say the least, most puzzling.

Certainly Turner's description of frontier society and its impact on American institutions and character was much less romantic and idealistic than they suggest. As we have seen, time and again in his frontier essays he acknowledged that there were, indeed, "serpents" and "scum" in his frontier society, that "economic and political 'privilege'" was very much in evidence in his "Sylvan scene. Allen, for example, has pointed out, that the role of land speculators on the frontier received too little attention in Turner's frontier essays, 47 surely they were among the evils of frontier individualism that he had in mind in his references to the "strenuous competition for the spoils of the new country," the "laxity in government affairs" and in "financial integrity," and "the natural resources open to the shrewdest and the boldest," and in his observation that.

Besides the ideals of conquest and of discovery, the pioneer had the ideal of personal development, free from social and governmental constraint. He came from a civilization based on individual competition, and he brought the conception with him to the wilderness where a wealth of resources, and innumerable opportunities gave it a new scope. Remember me. I forgot my password. Why sign up? Create Account. Accessed 18 October In The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada. Article published February 07, ; Last Edited December 16, The Canadian Encyclopedia , s.

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