Definitions

frontier

frontier

[fruhn-teer, fron-; also, especially Brit., fruhn-teer]
frontier, in U.S. history, the border area of settlement of Europeans and their descendants; it was vital in the conquest of the land between the Atlantic and the Pacific. The importance of the westward movement of the population and the lure of the frontier were clear even to colonial writers and early U.S. historians, but the theory that the frontier was a governing factor (if not the governing factor) in developing a distinctive U.S. civilization was not formulated until 1893, when Frederick Jackson Turner presented his thesis.

Basically, Turner held that American democracy was shaped by the frontier, namely by the contest of the settler with the wilderness of the frontier. There the settler learned self-reliance, judged others by their abilities, strove to improve his or her lot, and grew distrustful of external authority and formal institutions. In short, the frontier molded an American national character that was individualistic and egalitarian. Turner's work stimulated a tremendous amount of research and writing on the history and meaning of the frontier.

There is no question that the process of peopling the West is a central theme in U.S. history, although not, perhaps, for the reasons Turner suggested. The cultivation of frontier lands provided food for the growing number of workers in Eastern cities; its mineral wealth and other natural resources aided industrialization; and the need to keep the East and West united led to a complex and efficient national system of transportation and communication. At the same time, the existence of barely settled lands helped preserve a rural tinge to America well into the 20th cent. Many studies have been devoted to the fur trade frontier, the mining frontier, the grazing frontier, and other types of frontier, but emphasis has been to a large extent on the solid achievements of the farming frontier and on the central United States.

See F. J. Turner, The Frontier in American History (1920); F. L. Paxson, History of the American Frontier (1924); W. P. Webb, The Great Plains (1931) and The Great Frontier (1952); R. A. Billington and J. B. Hedges, Westward Expansion (1949); H. N. Smith, Virgin Land (1950); L. B. Wright, Culture on the Moving Frontier (1955); R. A. Bartlett, Great Surveys of the American West (1980); R. V. Hine, Community on the American Frontier (1985); P. M. Nelson, After the West Was Won (1989).

A frontier is a political and geographical term referring to areas near or beyond a boundary, or of a different nature.

United States

In the United States, the frontier was the term applied by scholars to the impact of the zone of unsettled land outside the region of existing settlements of Europeans. That is, as pioneers moved into the frontier zone they were changed significantly by the encounter. That is what Frederick Jackson Turner called "the significance of the frontier." For example, Turner argued in 1893, one change was that unlimited free land in the zone was available and thus offered the psychological sense of unlimited opportunity, which in turn had many consequences, such as optimism, future orientation, shedding of restraints due to land scarcity, and wastefulness of natural resources.

Throughout American history, the expansion of settlement was largely from the east to the west, and thus the frontier is often identified with "the west". On the Pacific Coast, settlement moved eastward. In New England, it moved north.

'Frontier' was borrowed into English from French in the 15th century with the meaning "borderland," the region of a country that fronts on another country (see also marches). The use of frontier to mean "a region at the edge of a settled area" is a special North American development. (Compare the Australian "outback".) In the Turnerian sense, "frontier" was a technical term that was explicated by hundreds of scholars.

Colonial North America

In the earliest days of European settlement of the Atlantic coast, the frontier was essentially any part of the forested interior of the continent beyond the fringe of existing settlements along the coast and the great rivers, such as the St. Lawrence, Connecticut, Hudson, Delaware, Susquehanna River and James.

English, French, Spanish and Dutch patterns of expansion and settlement were quite different. Only a few thousand French migrated to Canada; these habitants settled in villages along the St. Lawrence river, building communities that remained stable for long stretches; they did not leapfrog west the way the Americans did. Although French fur traders ranged widely through the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watershed, as far as the Rocky Mountains, they did not usually settle down. Actual French settlement in these areas was limited to a few very small villages on the lower Mississippi and in the Illinois Country. Likewise, the Dutch set up fur trading posts in the Hudson river valley, followed by large grants of land to patroons who brought in tenant farmers who created compact, permanent villages. They did not push westward.

In contrast, the English colonies generally pursued a more systematic policy of widespread settlement of the New World for cultivation and exploitation of the land, a practice that required the extension of European property rights to the new continent. The typical English settlements were quite compact and small--under a square mile. Conflict with the Native Americans arose out of political issues, viz. who would rule. Early frontier areas east of the Appalachian Mountains included the Connecticut river valley. The French and Indian Wars of the 1760s resulted in a complete victory for the British, who took over the French colonial territory west of the Appalachians to the Mississippi River. Americans began moving across the Appalachians into areas such the Ohio Country and the New River Valley.

American frontier

Following the victory of the United States in the American Revolutionary War and the signing Treaty of Paris in 1783, the United States gained formal, if not actual, control of the British lands west of the Appalachians. Many thousands of settlers, typified by Daniel Boone, had already reached Kentucky and Tennessee and adjacent areas. Some areas, such as the Virginia Military District and the Connecticut Western Reserve (both in Ohio), were used by the states as rewards to veterans of the war. The issue of how to formally include these new frontier areas into the nation was an important issue in the Continental Congress of the 1780s and was partly resolved by the Northwest Ordinance (1787). The Southwest Territory saw a similar pattern of settlement pressure.

For the next century, the expansion of the nation into these areas, as well as the subsequently acquired Louisiana Purchase, Oregon Country, and Mexican Cession, attracted hundreds of thousands of settlers. The question of whether the Kansas frontier would become "slave" or "free" was a spark of the American Civil War. In general before 1860 Northern Democrats promoted easy land ownership and Whigs and Southern Democrats resisted. The Southerners resisted Homestead Acts because it supported the growth of a free farmer population that might oppose slavery.

When the Republican party came to power in 1860 they promoted a free land policy — notably the Homestead Act of 1862, coupled with railroad land grants that opened cheap (but not free) lands for settlers. In 1890, the frontier line had broken up (Census maps defined the frontier line as a line beyond which the population was under 2 persons per square mile).

The popular culture impact of the frontier was enormous, in dime novels, Wild West shows, and, after 1910, Western movies set on the frontier.

The American frontier was generally the most Western edge of settlement and typically more democratic and free-spirited in nature than the East because of its lack of social and political institutions. The idea that the frontier provided the core defining quality of the United States was elaborated by the great historian Frederick Jackson Turner, who built his Frontier Thesis in 1893 around this notion.

Canadian frontier

A Canadian frontier thesis was developed by Canadian historians Harold Adams Innis and J. M. S. Careless. They emphasized the relationship between the center and periphery. Katerberg argues that "in Canada the imagined West must be understood in relation to the mythic power of the North." [Katerberg 2003] In Innis's 1930 work The Fur Trade in Canada, he expounded on what became known as the Laurentian thesis: that the most creative and major developments in Canadian history occurred in the metropolitan centers of central Canada and that the civilization of North America is the civilization of Europe. Innis considered place as critical in the development of the Canadian West and wrote of the importance of metropolitan areas, settlements, and indigenous people in the creation of markets. Turner and Innis continue to exert influence over the historiography of the American and Canadian Wests. The Quebec frontier showed little of the individualism or democracy that Turner ascribed to the American zone to the south. The Nova Scotia and Ontario frontiers were rather more democratic than the rest of Canada, but whether that was caused by the need to be self-reliant on the frontier itself or the presence of large numbers of American immigrants is debated.

The Canadian political thinker Charles Blattberg has argued that such events ought to be seen as part of a process in which Canadians advanced a "border"-- as distinct from a "frontier"--from east to west. According to Blattberg, a border assumes a significantly sharper contrast between the civilized and the uncivilized since, unlike with a frontier process, the civilizing force is not supposed to be shaped by that which it is civilizing. Blattberg criticizes both the frontier and border "civilizing" processes.

Canadian prairies

The pattern of settlement of the Canadian prairies began in 1896, when the American prairie states had already achieved statehood. Pioneers then headed north to the "Last Best West." Before settlers began to arrive, the North West Mounted Police was dispatched to the region. When settlers began to arrive, a system of law and order was already in place and the Dakota lawlessness for which the American "Wild West" was famed did not occur in Canada. Before settlers arrived, the federal government also sent teams of negotiators to meet with the Native peoples of the region. In a series of treaties, the basis for peaceful relations was established and the long wars with the Natives that occurred in the United States largely did not spread to Canada. Like their American counterparts, the Prairie provinces supported populist and democratic movements in the early 20th century.

European Union

In the European Union, the frontier is a term used to describe the region beyond the expanding borders of the European Union. The European Union has designated the countries surrounding it as part of the European Neighbourhood. This is a region of primarily less-developed countries, many of which aspire to become part of the European Union itself. Current applicants include Turkey and Croatia. Ukraine has also set itself the primary task of eventually joining the Union, as have many small countries in the Balkans and South Caucasus. Romania and Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007. Proposals to admit Turkey have been debated but are now currently stalled, partly on the ground that Turkey is beyond Europe's historic frontier and it is yet to comply with the 35 point policy areas set out by the EU. If all or most East European states become members, the frontier may be the boundaries with Russia and Turkey.

See also

Notes

References

US history

  • The Frontier In American History by Frederick Jackson Turner
  • Billington, Ray Allen. America's Frontier Heritage (1984), an analysis of the frontier experience from perspective of social sciences and historiography
  • Billington, Ray Allen. Westward Expansion: A History of the American Frontier (1952 and later editions), the most detailed textbook, with highly detailed annotated bibliographies
  • Billington, Ray Allen. Land of Savagery / Land of Promise: The European Image of the American Frontier in the Nineteenth Century (1981)
  • Blattberg, Charles Shall We Dance? A Patriotic Politics for Canada (2003), ch. 3, a comparison of the Canadian 'border' with the American 'frontier'
  • Hine, Robert V. and John Mack Faragher. The American West: A New Interpretive History (2000), recent textbook
  • Lamar, Howard R. ed. The New Encyclopedia of the American West (1998), 1000+ pages of articles by scholars
  • Milner, Clyde A., II ed. Major Problems in the History of the American West 2nd ed (1997), primary sources and essays by scholars
  • Nichols, Roger L. ed. American Frontier and Western Issues: An Historiographical Review (1986) essays by 14 scholars
  • Paxson, Frederic, History of the American Frontier, 1763-1893 (1924)
  • Slotkin, Richard, Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860 (2000), University of Oklahoma Press

Canada

  • Blattberg, Charles Shall We Dance? A Patriotic Politics for Canada (2003), ch. 3, a comparison of the Canadian 'border' with the American 'frontier'
  • Cavell, Janice. "The Second Frontier: the North in English-Canadian Historical Writing." Canadian Historical Review 2002 83(3): 364-389. ISSN 0008-3755 Fulltext in Ebsco
  • Clarke, John. Land, Power, and Economics on the Frontier of Upper Canada. McGill-Queen's U. Press, 2001. 747 pp.
  • Colpitts, George. Game in the Garden: A Human History of Wildlife in Western Canada to 1940 U. of British Columbia Press, 2002. 216 pp.
  • Forkey, Neil S. Shaping the Upper Canadian Frontier: Environment, Society and Culture in the Trent Valley. U. of Calgary Press 2003. 164 pp.
  • Katerberg, William H. "A Northern Vision: Frontiers and the West in the Canadian and American Imagination." American Review of Canadian Studies 2003 33(4): 543-563. ISSN 0272-2011 Fulltext online at Ebsco
  • Mulvihill, Peter R.; Baker, Douglas C.; and Morrison, William R. "A Conceptual Framework for Environmental History in Canada's North." Environmental History 2001 6(4): 611-626. ISSN 1084-5453. Proposes a five-part conceptual framework for the study of environmental history in the Canadian North. The first element of the framework analyzes approaches to environmental history that are applicable to the Canadian North. The second element reviews historical forces, myths, and defining characteristics that pertain to the region. A third element of the framework tests the validity of Turner's Frontier Thesis and Creighton's Metropolitan Thesis when applied to northern Canada. The fourth element consists of an overview of major northern environmental trends. The final element consists of four interrelated themes that identify the environmental relationships between northern and southern Canada.

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