By Ray Allen Billington
The speculation complex in Frederick Jackson Turner's recognized 1893 essay, the importance of the Frontier in American heritage, has been debated by way of 3 generations of students. The pioneering adventure, Turner instructed, accounted for the various unique features of the yankee humans: in the course of 3 centuries of enlargement their attitudes towards democracy, nationalism and individualism have been altered, and so they built distinctively American features, akin to wastefulness, inventiveness, mobility, and a dozen extra. After starting with a precis of the looks, popularity, and next dismissal of the speculation, the writer rigorously defines the "frontier" and stories contemporary facts on its political, social, and fiscal characterstics. He discusses the compulsion emigrate and examines different behavioral styles and features in his clarification of ways and why pioneers moved west. His broad bibliographic notes represent a striking advisor to the literature of many disciplines facing the frontier idea.
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For an opportunity to be permanently associated with that academic Valhalla, as well as for generous help and wise counsel, I am indebted to John E. Pomfret the director and his staff. Page viii Pleasant periods of research at these institutions were made possible by a Faculty Research Grant from the Social Science Research Council during the academic year 1959-1960, and by a grant-in-aid from the Huntington Library during the summer of 1961. For both I am grateful, for without them I could not have broadened my knowledge of frontier theory by the study of the Frederick Jackson Turner papers at the latter institution.
The question remained: How could the frontiering experience alter the behavior not only of frontiersmen, but of their descendents? In seeking an answer, I found the studies of sociologists, anthropologists, social psychologists, and demographers extremely valuable. The results of this investigation will be found on the pages that follow, for they are too extensive even to be summarized here. Sufficient to say that the findings of social scientists, particularly in the fields of motivation, personality, culture, and spatial mobility, do suggest logical means whereby three centuries of expansion did alter the behavioral patterns of the frontiersmen, and to a lessening degree of their descendents of the twentieth century.
The results were both good and bad. Turner had not decreed an infallible new formula for the interpretation of the nation's past; he had merely advanced an untested hypothesis for the consideration of his brethren. Unfortunately neither the general public nor his scholarly disciples shared his modesty or respect for the truth. To most of them the frontier theory was Holy Writ, descended from on high. The hypothesis was no hypothesis at all but the unassailable key to America's past, capable of unlocking every door and essential to the interpretation of every form of human behavior.