The North American frontier contributed greatly to today’sAmerican culture. For nearly 150 years before independence, theAppalachian mountain range had been the American frontier, separatingcivilization from wilderness.
When North America gained independenceand became the United States, however, people began to move morefreely across the frontiers, into the unknown. The land belonged tothem now, and they were free to explore it however deeply they choseclaiming at will what land they saw. One can explain Americandevelopment as the existence of a large area of free land constantlyreceding, and American settlement advancing westward. The differencein American institutions from those of any other nation is thatAmerican institutions have a way of adapting themselves to thegrowing, changing nation for which they were imposed. In addition,American development has shown itself to be not only an advance alonga single frontier, but a cycle of returning to primitive conditionsalong a constantly moving frontier line, then settling and civilizingthose areas.Order now
The American frontier is also unlike that of any othercountry in that most other countries have developed in a limited areaof which they knew the boundaries, meeting and conquering otherdeveloping nations around them. But in the case of North America, thefrontier was where savagery and civilization met, and nobody knew whatlay beyond it. The settlers of North America had no idea that thecontinent they had begun settling was so enormously vast; they simplytook nature as it came. The pioneers’ necessity to cope with naturalbarriers and survive in near anarchy, in essence beingself-sufficient, has greatly affected the American culture oftoday. One of the areas affected by the frontier experience waspolitics.
People on the frontier had to deal with whatever lifebrought them and make the best of it. They learned how to be veryindividualized, pushing their way through whatever barriers naturepresented. This individuality has led Americans to develop agovernment that facilitates individualism. We, the Americans, areusually suspicious, untrusting, and paranoid of the government becausewe like to be independent, individually solving whatever problemsarise in our path to the goal. This mentality is shown in the nation’sprotests to the government’s increasing tyranny and intervention inour personal lives; however, a changing, growing nation requireschanges in government.
We believe in individualism, and we apply thisbelief to all aspects of our lives. In the so-called “Wild West”,government does not pay as close attention to people’s actions, andthis was where the vast majority of the nation’s reforms we know todayoriginated. For example, initiative, the right of the citizens toinitiate a new law into the legislature; referendum, the citizens’right to directly vote a law into action instead of passing it throughthe legislature; recall, the citizens’ to vote a corrupt legislatorout of office by way of petition; and term limits were all reformsborn in the West. The reason for the government’s low involvement inWesterners’ daily lives is that for centuries, even to this day, manyparts of the West have still been developing their society,civilization, and state governments. In the East, where we have alwaysbeen on the civilized side of the frontier, people tend more to acceptthe government’s rules, mentally coming to the conclusion that thereis nothing they can do about it. But in the West new ideas for reformare constantly being born.
Of course, there must be a compromisebetween a totalitarian government and complete anarchy; too muchgovernment restricts freedom while too little government does notprovide the convenient government services we may take for granted,and allows society to get far too out of hand. The United States of America is a diverse but tolerant socialmixing pot. Unlike most other nations, America is a safe haven formany, many races and religions. People of a particular race or ethnicgroup usually live in clusters, minimally interfering with outsiders;taking this into mind, however, many immigrants are still amazed bythe high level of tolerance America holds. Our tolerance comes fromthe fact that so many ethnic groups arrived here during thesettlement, and that the black African slaves intermingled with thewhite community enough to earn that tolerance.
Furthermore, in theWest many different types of people can settle without upsetting oneanother because of the vast empty space out west to separate them. Inaddition to our toleration of race and religion, America gives moreprivileges to its women than most other countries. This anomalyresults from the fact that during settlement the women were requiredto do certain mandatory work. They had nearly the same status as menin most aspects of their lives.
In the fully civilized society ofmodern America, however, women are not required to do the same jobs asmen, and are thus on a lower status level. To this day, however,compared to other nations American women still have many more rightssuch as owning land, voting, and performing men’s jobs. Education isanother aspect of social life affected by the frontier. Public schoolswere necessary to educate children at the time of settlement. Nosooner than the pioneers arrived here than the first public schoolswere set up.
Our society today is still affected by this craze tolearn. America is constantly encouraging its children to stay inschool, and American colleges are some of the best in the world. The frontier also affected modern American economy. Duringsettlement, people did not need or want a government to interfere withthe country’s economy. Thus a laissez-faire economic system wasestablished.
Laissez-faire is a term to describe an economy in whichthe government interferes very little in day-to-day economic activity,and such a system is very closely related to capitalism. Economy inAmerica is one of speculation and risk taking; America was settled soquickly because of the fact that everything was abundant and extremelyavailable or easy get. Speculation was in fact not a great risk at allat that time, and even now, so people would take great risks knowingthat the odds were so greatly in their favor. Still today, Americansnearly throw their money into whatever new company they think has achance, and, not surpsingly, often come out richer than one coulddream. Americans also have a strong technological bias, and are apeople of tools and gadgets, so to speak.
We have been such aninventive country because of the fact that we always needed to devisesome way to get around an obstacle we found in nature. Another way, perhaps one of the most important, in which thefrontier has drastically affected modern American life ispsychologically. Americans in general enjoy solving problems orpuzzles, and Americans will usually at least make an attempt to solveany problems that confront them. This problem-solving personality inmany Americans goes back to the fact that there were innumerable tasksand problems set before the average settler each day: How do I getacross this stream? through this forest? build something on thisforest? keep the wild animals away? get food to eat?. . .
It is easy tosee that the settlers had no choice but to solve these problems oneway or another, or they would die. One negative aspect about thepsychology of our society is that we are one of violence-more violentthan many other nations on Earth. This way of violence with usresulted from the fact that out on the frontier when there was nogovernment, each man would have to settle his own problems, and if itinvolved violence or killing, so be it. No one would even notice. Everyone would always be fully armed because they knew what peoplewould do to solve a conflict. Although we are a violent people,however, we believe in egalitarianism, that everyone is equal instatus.
There were simply so many types of people, rich or poor, thatworked in the same way, earning money the same way, that a classsystem was not important. American psychology was deeply impacted bythe frontier experience. The frontier experience was very important in shaping modernAmerican culture. American development, moving from the known into theunknown, has drastically affected the way Americans live and functiontoday.