| I have come across a historical perspective that is new to me. In 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner presented a thesis on the western frontier. It's called both the Turner Thesis and Frontier Thesis. He claimed that western expansion, or the wild west as we know it, shaped America into what it became. His focus was on equality, democracy, optimism, individualism, and self-reliance.
The folks back east had a more direct connection to Europe, old loyalties, church ties, etc. There was more "establishment" there and traditions. The Founding Fathers sought to break the old ties to the royalty and the old ways. The Revolution severed the ties and set forth new principles, but it was still civilized. They had begun anew, adapting old ways to the wild new environment. But as people began moving westward, it got wilder, and even less traditional.
Western expansion actually began as soon as settlers began to move out of Yorktown and Plymouth to settle elsewhere. So pioneering began long before the revolt against England. As the borderline kept shifting further west, settling had to begin over and over. Lawlessness, no established church, no family or relatives watching from across town, This helped develop that self-made man concept, the self-reliance, and individualism that we know as American spirit. Turner claimed that without the westward expansion and all the wildness of its reputation, we wouldn't have as strong a democracy, where everyone is equal, and not just in theory.
The critics say there was too much mythology (stories of gunmen) involved in it, that Hispanics and slaves weren't included in the Turner Thesis. Teddy Roosevelt didn't buy into it either. Yet a black filmmaker and novelist, named Oscar Micheaux, claimed in his projects that the West was a place where blacks could transcend racial issues through hard work and perseverance and experience success.
Some historians support Turner's ideas in explaining the growth of Mormonism and Cumberland Presbyterians. They claim out of this pioneer spirit came itinerant preaching, revivals, and camp meetings, Others claim that writers and filmmakers, as well as popular history, fell under Turner's influence. These promote individualism, frontier violence, and "rough justice".
FDR and the New Dealers espoused the Frontier Spirit in presenting their programs. The frontier for them was inward, want, need, hunger, jobs, fear. The concept gave them a way to communicate and sell their platform.
Today we find the concept in the areas of science and medicine. JFK actually used the basis of Turner's Thesis for his platform The New Frontier. He pushed the frontier of space and technology.
Others use the concept to support or criticize our involvement in other countries, as in money given in foreign aid or police action to protect democracy in other nations.
No other country going through expansion such as the USA has done it the same way. Studies have been done in Canada, Australia, South Africa, Argentina, and Brazil (all which raise cattle and have cowboys), but none developed like the US or had the same results. Only the US has taken one period from its past and iconized it like the US has done. Yet world over the cowboy is a symbol of America.
According to Turner, it wasn't just a phase the country went through. It was a part of our very fabric. It's a part of who we still are.