The Closing of the Frontier

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The Closing of the Frontier

Frederick Jackson Turner ...239

The conquest of the American frontier is one of the most exciting and dramatic stories in American history. Settling western lands required nearly a century of warfare and hardship as Americans fought the British and many Indian groups to lay claim to the West. The United States was born out of the Revolutionary War, which was fought in part to guarantee the rights of colonists to settle west of the Appalachian Mountains. Yet winning the war and declaring independence from England didn't automatically open the West to the Americans. For four decades after they declared their independence in 1776, Americans battled the British and a variety of Native American groups to take possession of the lands stretching west to the Mississippi River.

The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and the American victory in the War of 1812 opened the continent to western expansion. The Louisiana Purchase nearly doubled the size of the United States, adding a vast expanse of territory that reached from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains and from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border. TheWar of 1812 was fought between the United States and Britain over shipping rights to France, but also over control of the western regions of the United States. Although the United States had won its independence from Britain in 1783, the British continued keeping forces in the northwest regions of the United States. The British also encouraged and assisted Native Americans in attacking American settlers. When the Americans defeated the British in the War of 1812, the United States firmly established its intent to claim and control all of the territory up to the Mississippi River.

After the War of 1812, thousands of Americans migrated to the middle section of the country. Mass emigration to the farther west began in the 1830s, increased in the 1840s, and became a flood after the California gold rush, which began in 1848 and reached its peak between 1849 and 1850. Still, Americans faced many hardships as they attempted to claim western lands. The Mexican-American War (1846–1848) resolved American claims to the Southwest, but Americans fought with various Indian groups in the area well into the 1870s. It wasn't until the final defeat of Indian forces at Wounded Knee in 1890 that America could truly claim to have conquered the frontier.

As more than a century of struggle and conquest came to an end, America was settled from sea to shining sea; in fact, there were few areas left unexplored or unsettled. This westward expansion was the work of an entire nation: For every charismatic leader like Andrew Jackson or Daniel Boone, there were hundreds of unnamed settlers who were equally brave and determined to claim their place in a new land. Many of the most dramatic westward movements were not started as part of an overall vision or plan; instead, they were the result of independent pioneers striking out and pulling civilization along behind them. Yet how had this expansion affected the people who accomplished it and the nation itself? This was the question that Frederick Jackson Turner attempted to answer in his important essay, "The Significance of the Frontier in American History."

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The Closing of the Frontier

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