Billington's "The Frontier and the American Character"

Historical interpretations are constantly being created, modified and refuted. One of the more controversial hypotheses in American history was put forth by Frederick Jackson Turner in what is known as "The Frontier Thesis". In the Frontier Thesis, Turner states that the American character was shaped by the constant availability of new land. This interpretation has been vigorously questioned and defended in the past several decades. Historian Ray Allen Billington discusses Turner's thesis in "The Frontier and the American Character." Billington admits that while the Turner thesis has some significant shortcomings, as a whole the thinking behind the document was correct.
The Frontier Thesis contains three significant flaws. Turner contends that the westward expansion was an "orderly procession of civilization, marching single file." Billington notes that this comment was an oversimplification of what actually occurred. The westward expansion was far more complex. A second miscalculation by Turner was calling the land "free." Billington explains that "for every newcomer who obtained a homestead from the government, six or seven purchased farms from speculators." A final defect in Turner's thinking is his contention that the frontier served as a "safety valve" for eastern workers fleeing industrial depressions. The factory laborers did not have enough capital to start a farm as they were making a mere dollar a day and they needed approximately $1,000 to create a farm. However, Billington notes that the Turner rationale is not without merit.
The Frontier Thesis, while clearly not correct that the environment alone shaped the American immigrant into the "New Man", does make several compelling points. Billington compared America to Australia to point out the validity of the "safety valve" contention. In Australia, the land beyond the costal plains …


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