Last Updated 03 Jan 2023

National Identity In The Frontier Thesis By Historian Frederick Jackson Turner

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The question of “what piece of American historical writing has been most influential in American life” is one of the most significant aspects that have garnered a lot of attention from the Americans. Of all the works that have been done on this topic, Turner’s essay is considered as a masterpiece. As conveyed by the text, a masterpiece should not only be an outstanding work, but rather, it should be able to change the general public’s thoughts, ideas, and even beliefs among other aspects. Furthermore, Turner’s essay is considered important since it has been able to impact the way individuals at that particular time, and after, think and perceive their world. Turner’s piece of work, which was published in 1890s, has been argued about, praised and has received several different reactions from historians. It is considered to be of great significance in defining American history, both in the past, and still useful to date.

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Question 1

Turner’s thesis has been referred to by most historians as a North Star, as well as an albatross in American history (Ridge 4). This indicates that its publication led to several reactions from the historians, although most of the aspects published in the thesis were reality and depicted what took place in an American society. A century from now, the thesis’ themes are still captured in arts, and are still considered applicable to the American society. For instance, different media houses have had articles that tend to go against Turner’s publications, but still, in the American history, no historical interpretation has left such a legacy. Turner’s thesis, also referred to as the Frontier thesis was titled “the significance of the frontier in American history” (Page 3). Most significantly, the thesis gave an emphasis on the significance of frontier, which could be used to shape American society at large, including characters as well as behavior. The thesis also presented some questions of how building a new political and economical American community would help in redefining America’s cultural and national identity.

Question 2

According to Ridge, the principal function of the frontier, from Turner’s perspective, was to promote democracy, both in America and in Europe. Turner expounded that there was ni way one would separate land ownership from political democracy. He considered these two to be inseparable and as a result, he considered his frontier democracy to be “born of free land” (Page 8). As a result of this “free land,” there was distribution of political and economic power both in America, as well as in western world. As conveyed by Ridge (8), the frontier also helped in transforming Jeffersonian concept of republicanism James Monroe’s concept, which was further transformed into Andrew Jackson’s democracy. Turner also views America’s political democracy to be associated with its frontier origins.

The frontier also displayed some national identity traits that could be used to distinguish between Americans and Europeans. Moreover, the frontier was of great significance since it ensured that the American people had a composite nationality (Turner 1). For instance, the coast mainly consisted of “preponderantly English” (Turner 1). Turner also viewed the frontier as a combination of coarseness and strength, and additionally, it was a turn of mind, which was considered to come with both place, as well as freedom of choice. Turner also concluded that within three years of frontier experience and understanding, American people were able to acquire these traits, which were mainly significant in promoting democracy in the states.

Question 3

Since Turner’s thesis is considered as one of the most influential in American history, it received a lot of criticisms and reactions from different historians. After publication of the thesis, historians went silent, after which there was an academic yawn. The silence was attributed to the fact that in Turner’s essay, there were no voices of race, gender and class. During his first presentation of the paper, there were no discussions and even after publishing the work in an Annual Report in 1893, still, the historians were silent about Turner’s efforts. However, Turner started receiving praises and criticisms after emailing copies of his works to professors, historians, magazine and newspaper editors among others, the responses he received were almost predictable.

For instance, Roosevelt praised Turner by bringing out clearly the 'thought that has been floating around rather loosely' (Ridge 10). Furthermore, the president of MIT also praised the title of Turner’s thesis, mentioning that he did not need to read any further. Achille also applauded Turner for having substantiated his views. Other historians were also able to comment but silently, with regard to the fact that Turner was more of a provincial historian as mentioned by one of the most prominent historians at that time.


Conclusively, Turner did a great job in his thesis, especially by bringing out some of the challenges that Americans face, and taking into consideration some of the most significant aspects of the American society. In America today, Turner’s masterpiece has a special place, especially in defining political democracy, as well as cultural and national identity. The work also changed the scholarly community and some of its aspects have been applied into everyday historic language. Furthermore, Turner’s historic contributions changed the manner in which Americans view themselves as well as how they are being viewed by the world. “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” signifies what happens in reality, and additionally, it has legitimated the American historic imaginations, and has brought a lot of changes in American people’s lifestyles, characters and behaviors. 

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