The American was a new man, he held, who owed his distinctive characteristics and institutions to the unusual New World environment—characterized by the availability of free land and an ever-receding frontier —in which his civilization had grown to maturity.
This environmental theory, accepted for a generation after its enunciation, has been vigorously attacked and vehemently defended during the past two decades. Is it still a valid key to the meaning of American history?
The allure of so-called "virgin soil," which acted as a spur for a diverse collection of eccentrics, religious fundamentalists, speculators and aristocratic chancers in the 17th and 18th centuries, was the necessary precursor to manifest destiny.
The 19th century historian Frederick Jackson Turner established the Frontier Thesis in The Significance of the Frontier in American History, which essentially argued that the experience of the frontier created a American mythology - thus in turn creating the conception of American nationhood, which had been closely tied to continental models during its War of Independence.
The first, “The Significance of History,” reiterated his belief in what historians call “multiple causation"; to understand man’s complex nature, he insisted, one needed not only a knowledge of past politics, but a familiarity with social, economic, and cultural forces as well.
The second, “Problems in American History,” attempted to isolate those forces most influential in explaining the unique features of American development.
However, it is likely that this misinterpreted (to put it nicely) German geographer Friedrich Ratzel, who studied the effect of people of Germanic origin on the development of the US in the 19th Century.
Since the dawn days of historical writing in the United States, historians have labored mightily, and usually in vain, to answer the famous question posed by Hector St.
France did the same thing, although most of its vast territories were far less densely populated.
The eternal, absolute, God-given right to private property dates back to...