Frederick Jackson Turner got a BA at the University of Wisconsin and a PhD from Johns Hopkins University, and went on to teach at Harvard. In 1893 he lectured to the American Historical Association on “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.” What became known as “the Turner Thesis” declared that the nation had acquired its personality through successive migrations across the country. The people had become “American” as they moved west, and the heritage from Europe decreased. A democratic character resulted. It prized self-reliance, achievement, and the ability to build community; and not wealth and family, traits that birth determined and that defined Europe. The heartland and not the Atlantic seaboard characterized the United States. Turner dismissed scholars who fixated on the thirteen colonies, and especially New England, as the source of what made America. In emphasizing settlement that was always moving west, Turner’s theory emphasized geography and population transfer, not ideas, religion, or economics.
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