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Groupe de nature-et-conscience

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First, we note that the frontier promoted the formation of a compositenationality for the American people. The coast was preponderantlyEnglish, but the later tides of continental immigration flowed across tothe free lands. This was the case from the early colonial days. TheScotch-Irish and the Palatine Germans, or "Pennsylvania Dutch,"furnished the dominant element in the stock of the colonial frontier.With these peoples were also the freed indented servants, orredemptioners, who at the expiration of their time of service passed tothe frontier. Governor Spotswood of Virginia writes in 1717, "Theinhabitants of our frontiers are composed generally of such as have beentransported hither as servants, and, being out of their time, settlethemselves where land is to be taken up and that will produce thenecessarys of life with little labour."[22:1] Very generally theseredemptioners were of [23]non-English stock. In the crucible of thefrontier the immigrants were Americanized, liberated, and fused into amixed race, English in neither nationality nor characteristics. Theprocess has gone on from the early days to our own. Burke and otherwriters in the middle of the eighteenth century believed thatPennsylvania[23:1] was "threatened with the danger of being whollyforeign in language, manners, and perhaps even inclinations." The Germanand Scotch-Irish elements in the frontier of the South were only lessgreat. In the middle of the present century the German element inWisconsin was already so considerable that leading publicists looked tothe creation of a German state out of the commonwealth by concentratingtheir colonization.[23:2] Such examples teach us to beware ofmisinterpreting the fact that there is a common English speech inAmerica into a belief that the stock is also English.




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So long as free land exists, the opportunity for a competency exists,and economic power secures political power. But the democracy born offree land, strong in selfishness and individualism, intolerant ofadministrative experience and education, and pressing individual libertybeyond its proper bounds, has its dangers as well as its benefits.Individualism in America has allowed a laxity in regard to governmentalaffairs which has rendered possible the spoils system and all themanifest evils that follow from the lack of a highly developed civicspirit. In this connection may be noted also the influence of frontierconditions in permitting lax business honor, inflated paper currency andwild-cat banking. The colonial and revolutionary frontier was the regionwhence emanated many of the worst forms of an evil currency.[32:1] TheWest in the War of 1812 repeated the phenomenon on the frontier of thatday, while the speculation and wild-cat banking of the period of thecrisis of 1837 occurred on the new frontier belt of the next tier ofStates. Thus each one of the periods of lax financial integritycoincides with periods when a new set of frontier communities hadarisen, and coincides in area with these successive frontiers, for themost part. The recent Populist agitation is a case in point. Many aState that now declines any connection with the tenets of the Populists,itself adhered to such ideas in an earlier stage of the development ofthe State. A primitive society can hardly be expected to show theintelligent appreciation of the complexity of business interests in adeveloped society. The continual recurrence of these areas ofpaper-money agitation is another evidence that the frontier can beisolated and studied as a factor in American history of the highestimportance.[32:2]


Like the Germans, the Scotch-Irish passed into the ShenandoahValley,[105:2] and on to the uplands of the South. In 1738 a delegationof the Philadelphia Presbyterian synod was sent to the Virginia governorand received assurances of security of religious freedom; the samepolicy was followed by the Carolinas. By 1760 a zone of Scotch-IrishPresbyterian churches extended from the frontiers of New England to thefrontiers of South Carolina. This zone combined in part with the Germanzone, but in general Scotch-Irishmen tended to follow the valleysfarther toward the mountains, to be the outer edge of this frontier.Along with this combined frontier stream were English, Welsh and IrishQuakers, and French Huguenots.[105:3]


The Mississippi Valley had been the despair of France in the matter ofgovernmental control. The coureurs de bois escaping from restraints oflaw and order took their way through its extensive wilderness, exploringand trading as they listed. Similarly, when the English colonistscrossed the Alleghanies they escaped from the control of mother coloniesas well as of the mother country. If the Mississippi Valley revealed tothe statesmen of the East, in the exultation of the war with France, anopportunity for new empire building, it revealed to the frontiersmen,who penetrated the passes of the Alleghanies, and entered into their newinheritance, the sharp distinctions between them and the Eastern landswhich they [183]left behind. From the beginning it was clear that the landsbeyond the Alleghanies furnished an opportunity and an incentive todevelop American society on independent and unconventional lines. The"men of the Western Waters" broke with the old order of things,subordinated social restraint to the freedom of the individual, wontheir title to the rich lands which they entered by hard fightingagainst the Indians, hotly challenged the right of the East to rulethem, demanded their own States, and would not be refused, spoke withcontempt of the old social order of ranks and classes in the landsbetween the Alleghanies and the Atlantic, and proclaimed the ideal ofdemocracy for the vast country which they had entered. Not with themercurial facility of the French did they follow the river systems ofthe Great Valley. Like the advance of the glacier they changed the faceof the country in their steady and inevitable progress, and they soughtthe sea. It was not long before the Spaniards at the mouth of the riverrealized the meaning of the new forces that had entered the Valley.


The Western man believed in the manifest destiny of his country. On hisborder, and checking his advance, were the Indian, the Spaniard, and theEnglishman. He was indignant at Eastern indifference and lack ofsympathy with his view of his relations to these peoples; at theshort-sightedness of Eastern policy. The closure of the Mississippi bySpain, and the proposal to exchange our claim of freedom of navigatingthe river, in return for commercial advantages to New England, nearlyled to the withdrawal of the West from the Union. It was the Westerndemands that brought about the purchase of Louisiana, and turned thescale in favor of declaring the War of 1812. Militant qualities werefavored by the annual expansion of the settled area in the face ofhostile Indians and the stubborn wilderness. The West caught the visionof the nation's continental destiny. Henry Adams, in his History of theUnited States, makes the American of 1800 exclaim to the foreignvisitor, "Look at my wealth! See these solid [214]mountains of salt andiron, of lead, copper, silver, and gold. See these magnificent citiesscattered broadcast to the Pacific! See my cornfields rustling andwaving in the summer breeze from ocean to ocean, so far that the sunitself is not high enough to mark where the distant mountains bound mygolden seas. Look at this continent of mine, fairest of created worlds,as she lies turning up to the sun's never failing caress her broad andexuberant breasts, overflowing with milk for her hundred millionchildren." And the foreigner saw only dreary deserts, tenanted bysparse, ague-stricken pioneers and savages. The cities were log huts andgambling dens. But the frontiersman's dream was prophetic. In spite ofhis rude, gross nature, this early Western man was an idealist withal.He dreamed dreams and beheld visions. He had faith in man, hope fordemocracy, belief in America's destiny, unbounded confidence in hisability to make his dreams come true. Said Harriet Martineau in 1834, "Iregard the American people as a great embryo poet, now moody, now wild,but bringing out results of absolute good sense: restless and wayward inaction, but with deep peace at his heart; exulting that he has caughtthe true aspect of things past, and the depth of futurity which liesbefore him, wherein to create something so magnificent as the world hasscarcely begun to dream of. There is the strongest hope of a nation thatis capable of being possessed with an idea."


The story of the political leaders who remained in the place of theirbirth and shared its economic changes differs from the story of thosewho by moving to the West continued on a new area the old social type.In the throng of Scotch-Irish pioneers that entered the uplands of theCarolinas in the second quarter of the eighteenth century were theancestors of Calhoun and of Andrew Jackson. Remaining in this region,[241]Calhoun shared the transformations of the South Carolina interior. Hesaw it change from the area of the pioneer farmers to an area of greatplanters raising cotton by slave labor. This explains the transformationof the nationalist and protectionist Calhoun of 1816 into thestate-sovereignty and free-trade Calhoun. Jackson, on the other hand,left the region while it was still a frontier, shared the frontier lifeof Tennessee, and reflected the democracy and nationalism of his people.Henry Clay lived long enough in the kindred State of Kentucky to see itpass from a frontier to a settled community, and his views on slaveryreflected the transitional history of that State. Lincoln, on the otherhand, born in Kentucky in 1809, while the State was still under frontierconditions, migrated in 1816 to Indiana, and in 1830 to Illinois. Thepioneer influences of his community did much to shape his life, and thedevelopment of the raw frontiersman into the statesman was not unlikethe development of his own State. Political leaders who experienced thelater growth of the Northwest, like Garfield, Hayes, Harrison, andMcKinley, show clearly the continued transformations of the section. Butin the days when the Northwest was still in the gristle, she sent hersons into the newer West to continue the views of life and the policiesof the half-frontier region they had left.


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