The Western Frontier
Essay Preview: The Western Frontier
Report this essay
The Western Frontier
As I sat thinking about what to write about the western frontier I started to realize that issues were the things that at least keep me going and I knew I could say a lot on both. I couldnt quite figure out how I was going to put them together until I did some research and other reading and started to remember their life and its purposes. Im not the one to into history but I came across some very interesting information which I felt could bring my points of view out quite effectively. So here it is my feelings and viewpoints on the western.
The West was a form of society rather than an area. It is the term applied to the region whose social conditions result from the application of older institutions and ideas to the transforming influences of free land. By this application, a new environment is suddenly entered, freedom of opportunity is opened, the cake of custom is broken and new activities, new lines of growth, new institutions and new ideals are brought into existence. The wilderness disappears, the West proper passes on to a new frontier and, in the former area, and a new society has emerged from this contact with the backwoods. Gradually this society loses its primitive conditions, and assimilates itself to the type of the older social conditions of the East; but it bears within it enduring and distinguishing survivals of its frontier experience.
Decade after decade, West after West, this rebirth of American society had gone on, and left its traces behind it, which reacted on the East. The history of our political institutions, our democracy, is not a history of imitation, of simple borrowing; it is a history of the evolution and adaptation of organs in response to changed environment, a history of the origin of new political species. In this sense, therefore, the West has been a constructive force of the highest significance in our life.
The West, as a phase of social organization, began with the Atlantic coast, and passed across the continent. But the colonial tidewater area was in close touch with the Old World, and soon lost its Western aspects. In the middle of the eighteenth century, the newer social conditions appeared along the upper waters of the tributaries of the Atlantic. Here it was that the West took on its distinguishing features, and transmitted frontier traits and ideals to this area in later days. They constituted a distinct people, and may be regarded as an expansion of the social and economic life of the middle region into the backcountry of the South. These frontiersmen were the ancestors of Boone, Andrew Jackson, Calhoun, Clay, and Lincoln. Washington and Jefferson were profoundly affected by these frontier conditions.
The forest clearings have been the seed plots of American character. Here then, is the problem of the West, as it looked to New England leaders of thought in the beginning and at the end of this century. From the first, it was recognized that a new type was growing up beyond the mountains, and that the time would come when the destiny of the nation would be in Western hands. The divergence of these societies became clear in the struggle over the ratification of the federal constitution. The interior agricultural region, the communities that were in debt and desired paper money, opposed the instrument; but the areas of intercourse and property carried the day. The most obvious fact regarding the man of the Western waters is that he had placed himself under influences destructive to many of the gains of civilization. Remote from the opportunity for systematic education, substituting a log hut in the forest clearing for the social comforts of the town, he suffered hard-ships and privations, and reverted in many ways to primitive conditions of life. Engaged in a struggle to subdue the forest, working as an individual, and with little specie or capital, his interests were with the debtor class. At each stage of its advance, the West has favored an expansion of the currency.
The pioneer had boundless confidence in the future of his own community, and when seasons of financial contraction and depression occurred, he, who had staked his all on confidence in Western development, and had fought the savage for his home, was inclined to reproach the conservative sections and classes. In some portions of the country there was, and is, an aggregation of property, and vested rights are in the foreground. That in the conflict between these two ideals the government has always held an even hand would be difficult to show. But free lands and the consciousness of working out their social destiny did more than turn the Westerner to material interests and devote him to a restless existence. They promoted equality among the Western settlers, and reacted as a check on the aristocratic influences of the East. Where everybody could have a farm, almost for taking it, economic equality easily resulted, and this involved political equality. Western democracy included individual liberty, as well as equality. The frontiersman was impatient of restraints. He knew how to preserve order, even in the absence of legal authority.
The West was another name for opportunity. Here were mines to be seized, fertile valleys to be preempted; all the natural resources open to the shrewdest and the boldest. The United States is unique in the extent to which the individual has been given an open field, unchecked by restraints of an old social order, or of government. The self-made man was the Western mans ideal, was the kind of man that all men might become. Out of his wilderness experience, out of the freedom of his opportunities,