White supremacists make a basic mistake about history. They imagine we live in the same world our ancestors did. They’re just wrong.
Our ancestors in America had to learn how to live on the Frontier. The Indians knew how to live here, but the settlers didn’t. In the process of adapting the settlers created a new culture. They stopped being Europeans and became a different people with a different culture.
This idea is the “Frontier Thesis”, an idea popularized by Frederick Jackson Turner (1861-1932) in his book The Frontier in American History (1920). The basic idea is the frontier gave Americans a unique character and culture.
The Frontier Thesis is part of a larger narrative framework that America is different (“American exceptionalism”).
Modern historians generally don’t like these meta-narratives that supposedly explain the forces behind historical events. And, it’s clear just on the face the Frontier Thesis is essentially and almost completely a White Anglo narrative. Americans Indians wouldn’t see it that way. The Spanish in California and the Southwest wouldn’t see it that way. And the immigrant populations in the cities wouldn’t see it that way.
Yet, the idea of an America formed by the frontier lingers in the popular imagination. The rise of the Frontier Thesis is the main reason we had so many Westerns on television in the early 1960s, and its decline is the main reason those shows disappeared in the 70s.
- The Cynical Historian. “The Frontier Thesis – Frederick Jackson Turner and American exceptionalism.” YouTube <youtube.com>, May 5, 2016. Retrieved Apr. 3, 2020.
- Michael Ramey. “Turner’s Thesis.” YouTube <youtube.com>, Jan. 24, 2017. Retrieved Apr. 3, 2020.