Closing the American Frontier

In 1890 the superintendent of the U.S. Census announced that the far western frontier had been settled. Three million families had started farms on the Great Plains during these years. Most of the West's population lived in cities, making it the country's most urbanized and culturally diverse region.

The Turner Thesis

In 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner, a historian from the University of Wisconsin, advanced a thesis that the conquest of the western frontier had given American society its special character. He argued that the conquest of the western frontier had shaped the nation's character and values. Western expansion shaped Americans' optimism, rugged independence, and stress on adaptability, ingenuity, and self-reliance.

The settlement of the West had depended, to a surprising degree, on intervention by the federal government. The U.S. government surveyed the region and sent cavalry units to confine Native Americans on reservations. It had provided land grants to fund construction of the railroads. In the 20th century, the government paid for development of dams and other waterworks.

Turner referred to the Census Bureau's announcement that the frontier was now closed. He claimed that a turning point in U.S. history had occurred.

Americans have searched for new frontiers—in outer space, in cyberspace, and even below the ocean's surface. The frontier remains a national symbol.

Source: Closing the American Frontier
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