Turner Response – Christian Cherau

I found myself quite appreciating the claims made in Frederick Jackson Turner’s “The  significance of the Frontier in American History.” Turner equates the development of the American culture to always being on “the meeting point between savagery and civilization,” insofar as the fact that “American social development has been continually beginning over again on the frontier,” as opposed to developing within its own already civilized spheres as European culture had been doing for many centuries beforehand. Turner essentially defines this new way for a culture to develop, with the American melding of rugged Western individualism and perseverance to Eastern piety and education.

The idea that the development of a truly unique American culture came with and was fortified by the conquering of every frontier was a new way of looking at American culture for me, especially when Turner calls studying the frontier “the really American part of our history.” Turner attributes much of the conquering of the traveling American frontier to the conquering and conversion of Buffalo trails to Indian Trails to turnpikes to, at the time of writing, railroads, along with the conversion of Indian trading outposts to cities. The critical difference in the creation and development of American culture from European culture is that Americans were settling and starting population centers from much more “savage” backgrounds. Unlike European population centers that had been settled for many centuries and been the nexus for many a culture, Americans were working essentially from scratch in fulfilling their manifest destiny.

The interesting contrast Turner brings up is the almost disparaging difference between New England and essentially the rest of the country. Being a native New Englander this section was of additional interest to me, as Turner calls it out for standing for the English Puritanism movement in the nineteenth century. Turner’s interesting claim here is that “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.” Even today, over a century from the writings of this text, New England retains a certain degree of sectionalism from the rest of the country, which, quite simply to a native New Englander, has a different feeling about it when looking outward.

This difference however, along with the formation of a similar American culture across all lands that were once frontier lands, makes sense in the context of how Turner closes his text: “the frontier has gone, and with its going has closed the first period of American history.” This means that the country no longer is looking outwards to develop itself and its culture, but is now looking inwards for development. This development, to me, means that certain vestiges of American culture from this point become more locked into the national schema, and more certain to persist into the future.

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