The Frontier in American History

- By Frederick Jackson Turner
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Frederick Jackson Turner (November 14, 1861 – March 14, 1932) was an American historian during the early 20th century, based at the University of Wisconsin until 1910, and then Harvard University. He was known primarily for his "Frontier Thesis". He trained many PhDs who became well-known historians. He promoted interdisciplinary and quantitative methods, often with an emphasis on the Midwest. His best known publication is his essay "The Significance of the Frontier in American History", the ideas of which formed the Frontier Thesis. He argued that the moving western frontier exerted a strong influence on American democracy and the American character from the colonial era until 1890. He is also known for his theories of geographical sectionalism. During recent years historians and academics have argued frequently over Turner's work; all agree that the Frontier Thesis has had an enormous effect on historical scholarship. Born in Portage, Wisconsin, the son of Andrew Jackson Turner and Mary Olivia Hanford Turner, Turner grew up in a middle-class family. His father was active in Republican politics, an investor in a railroad, and was a newspaper editor and publisher. His mother taught school.[1] Turner was very much influenced by the writing of Ralph Waldo Emerson, a poet known for his emphasis on nature; so too was Turner influenced by scientists such as Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer, and Julian Huxley, and the development of Cartography.[2] He graduated from the University of Wisconsin (now University of Wisconsin–Madison) in 1884, where he was a member of the Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity.
American sectional nomenclature is still confused. Once "the West" described the whole region beyond the Alleghanies; but the term has hopelessly lost its definiteness. The rapidity of the spread of settlement has broken down old usage, and as yet no substitute has been generally accepted. The "Middle West" is a term variously used by the public, but for the purpose of the present paper, it will be applied to that region of the United States included in the census reports under the name of the North Central division, comprising the States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin (the old "Territory Northwest of the River Ohio"), and their trans-Mississippi sisters of the Louisiana Purchase,-Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. It is an imperial domain. If the greater countries of Central Europe,-France, Germany, Italy, and Austro-Hungary,-were laid down upon this area, the Middle West would still show a margin of spare territory. Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Buffalo constitute its gateways to the Eastern States; Kansas City, Omaha, St. Paul-Minneapolis, and Duluth-Superior dominate its western areas; Cincinnati and St. Louis stand on its southern borders; and Chicago reigns at the center. What Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore are to the Atlantic seaboard these cities are to the Middle West. The Great Lakes and the Mississippi, with the Ohio and the Missouri as laterals, constitute the vast water system that binds the Middle West together. It is the economic and political center of the Republic. At one edge is the Populism of the prairies; at the other, the capitalism that is typified in Pittsburgh. Great as are the local differences within the Middle West, it possesses, in its physiography, in the history of its settlement, and in its economic and social life, a unity and interdependence which warrant a study of the area as an entity. Within the limits of this article, treatment of so vast a region, however, can at best afford no more than an outline sketch, in which old and well-known facts must, if possible, be so grouped as to explain the position of the section in American history.
In spite of the difficulties of the task, there is a definite advantage in so large a view. By fixing our attention too exclusively upon the artificial boundary lines of the States, we have failed to perceive much that is significant in the westward development of the United States. For instance, our colonial system did not begin with the Spanish War; the United States has had a colonial history and policy from the beginning of the Republic; but they have been hidden under the phraseology of "interstate migration" and "territorial organization."
The American people have occupied a spacious wilderness; vast physiographic provinces, each with its own peculiarities, have lain across the path of this migration, and each has furnished a special environment for economic and social transformation. It is possible to underestimate the importance of State lines, but if we direct our gaze rather to the physiographic province than to the State area, we shall be able to see some facts in a new light. Then it becomes clear that these physiographic provinces of America are in some respects comparable to the countries of Europe, and that each has its own history of occupation and development. General Francis A. Walker once remarked that "the course of settlement has called upon our people to occupy territory as extensive as Switzerland, as England, as Italy, and latterly, as France or Germany, every ten years." It is this element of vastness in the achievements of American democracy that gives a peculiar interest to the conquest and development of the Middle West. The effects of this conquest and development upon the present United States have been of fundamental importance
Geographically the Middle West is almost conterminous with the Provinces of the Lake and Prairie Plains; but the larger share of Kansas and Nebraska, and the western part of the two Dakotas belong to the Great Plains; the Ozark Mountains occupy a portion of Missouri, and the southern parts of Ohio and Indiana merge into the Alleghany Plateau. The relation of the Provinces of the Lake and Prairie Plains to the rest of the United States is an important element in the significance of the Middle West. On the north lies the similar region of Canada: the Great Lakes are in the center of the whole eastern and more thickly settled half of North America, and they bind the Canadian and Middle Western people together. On the south, the provinces meet the apex of that of the Gulf Plains, and the Mississippi unites them. To the west, they merge gradually into the Great Plains; the Missouri and its tributaries and the Pacific railroads make for them a bond of union; another rather effective bond is the interdependence of the cattle of the plains and the corn of the prairies. To the east, the province meets the Alleghany and New England Plateaus, and is connected with them by the upper Ohio and by the line of the Erie Canal. Here the interaction of industrial life and the historical facts of settlement have produced a close relationship. The intimate connection between the larger part of the North Central and the North Atlantic divisions of the United States will impress any one who examines the industrial and social maps of the census atlas. By reason of these interprovincial relationships, the Middle West is the mediator between Canada and the United States, and between the concentrated wealth and manufactures of the North Atlantic States and the sparsely settled Western mining, cattle-raising, and agricultural States. It has a connection with the South that was once still closer, and is likely before long to reassert itself with new power. Within the limits of the United States, therefore, we have problems of interprovincial trade and commerce similar to those that exist between the nations of the Old World.
Over most of the Province of the Lake and Prairie Plains the Laurentide glacier spread its drift, rich in limestone and other rock powder, which farmers in less favored sections must purchase to replenish the soil. The alluvial deposit from primeval lakes contributed to fatten the soil of other parts of the prairies. Taken as a whole, the Prairie Plains surpass in fertility any other region of America or Europe, unless we except some territory about the Black Sea. It is a land marked out as the granary of the nation; but it is more than a granary. On the rocky shores of Lake Superior were concealed copper mines rivaled only by those of Montana, and iron fields which now furnish the ore for the production of eighty per cent of the pig iron of the United States. The Great Lakes afford a highway between these iron fields and the coal areas of the Ohio Valley. The gas and oil deposits of the Ohio Valley, the coal of Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and eastern Kansas, the lead and zinc of the Ozark region and of the upper Mississippi Valley, and the gold of the black Hills,-all contribute underground wealth to the Middle West.
The primeval American forest once spread its shade over vast portions of the same province. Ohio, Indiana, southern Michigan, and central Wisconsin were almost covered with a growth of noble deciduous trees. In southern Illinois, along the broad bottom lands of the Mississippi and the Illinois, and in southern and southwestern Missouri, similar forests prevailed. To the north, in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, appeared the somber white pine wilderness, interlaced with hard woods, which swept in ample zone along the Great Lakes, till the deciduous forests triumphed again, and, in their turn, faded into the treeless expanse of the prairies. In the remaining portions were openings in the midst of the forested area, and then the grassy ocean of prairie that rolled to west and northwest, until it passed beyond the line of sufficient rainfall for agriculture without irrigation, into the semi-arid stretches of the Great Plains.
In the middle of the eighteenth century, the forested region of this province was occupied by the wigwams of many different tribes of the Algonquin tongue, sparsely scattered in villages along the water courses, warring and trading through the vast wilderness. The western edge of the prairie and the Great Plains were held by the Sioux, chasing herds of bison across these far-stretching expanses. These horsemen of the plains and the canoemen of the Great Lakes and the Ohio were factors with which civilization had to reckon, for they constituted important portions of perhaps the fiercest native race with which the white man has ever battled for new lands.
The Frenchman had done but little fighting for this region. He swore brotherhood with its savages, traded with them, intermarried with them, and explored the Middle West; but he left the wilderness much as he found it. Some six or seven thousand French people in all, about Detroit and Vincennes, and in the Illinois country, and scattered among the Indian villages of the remote lakes and streams, held possession when George Washington reached the site of Pittsburgh, bearing Virginia's summons of eviction to France. In his person fate knocked at the portals of a "rising empire." France hurried her commanders and garrisons, with Indian allies, from the posts about the Great Lakes and the upper Mississippi; but it was in vain. In vain, too, the aftermath of Pontiac's widespread Indian uprising against the English occupation. When she came into possession of the lands between the Ohio, the Mississippi, and the Great Lakes, England organized them as a part of the Province of Quebec. The daring conquest of George Rogers Clark left Virginia in military possession of the Illinois country at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War; but over all the remainder of the Old Northwest, England was in control. Although she ceded the region by the treaty which closed the Revolution, she remained for many years the mistress of the Indians and the fur trade. When Lord Shelburne was upbraided in parliament for yielding the Northwest to the United States, the complaint was that he had clothed the Americans "in the warm covering of our fur trade," and his defense was that the peltry trade of the ceded tract was not sufficiently profitable to warrant further war. But the English government became convinced that the Indian trade demanded the retention of the Northwest, and she did in fact hold her posts there in spite of the treaty of peace. Dundas, the English secretary for the colonies, expressed the policy, when he declared, in 1792, that the object was to interpose an Indian barrier between Canada and the United States; and in pursuance of this policy of preserving the Northwest as an Indian buffer State, the Canadian authorities supported the Indians in their resistance to American settlement beyond the Ohio. The conception of the Northwest as an Indian reserve strikingly exhibits England's inability to foresee the future of the region, and to measure the forces of American expansion.
By the cessions of Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, the Old Congress had come into nominal possession of an extensive public domain, and a field for the exercise of national authority. The significance of this fact in the development of national power is not likely to be overestimated. The first result was the completion of the Ordinance of 1787, which provided a territorial government for the Old Northwest, with provisions for the admission of States into the Union. This federal colonial system guaranteed that the new national possessions should not be governed as dependent provinces, but should enter as a group of sister States into the federation.While the importance of the article excluding slavery has often been pointed out, it is probable that the provisions for a federal colonial organization have been at least equally potential in our actual development. The full significance of this feature of the Ordinance is only appreciated when we consider its continuous influence upon the American territorial and State policy in the westward expansion to the Pacific, and the political preconceptions with which Americans approach the problems of government in the new insular possessions. The Land Ordinance of 1785 is also worthy of attention in this connection, for under its provisions almost all of the Middle West has been divided by the government surveyor into rectangles of sections and townships, by whose lines the settler has been able easily and certainly to locate his farm, and the forester his "forty." In the local organization of the Middle West these lines have played an important part.
It would be impossible within the limits of this paper to detail the history of the occupation of the Middle West; but the larger aspects of the flow of population into the region may be sketched. Massachusetts men had formed the Ohio Company, and had been influential in shaping the liberal provisions of the Ordinance. Their land purchase, paid for in soldiers' certificates, embraced an area larger than the State of Rhode Island. At Marietta in 1788, under the shelter of Fort Harmar, their bullet-proof barge landed the first New England colony. A New Jersey colony was planted soon after at Cincinnati in the Symmes Purchase. Thus American civilization crossed the Ohio. The French settlements at Detroit and in Indiana and Illinois belonged to other times and had their own ideals; but with the entrance of the American pioneer into the forest of the Middle West, a new era began. The Indians, with the moral support of England, resisted the invasion, and an Indian war followed. The conquest of Wayne, in 1795, pushed back the Indians to the Greenville line, extending irregularly across the State of Ohio from the site of Cleveland to Fort Recovery in the middle point of her present western boundary, and secured certain areas in Indiana. In the same period Jay's treaty provided for the withdrawal of the British posts. After this extension of the area open to the pioneer, new settlements were rapidly formed. Connecticut disposed of her reserved land about Lake Erie to companies, and in 1796 General Moses Cleaveland led the way to the site of the city that bears his name. This was the beginning of the occupation of the Western Reserve, a district about as large as the parent State of Connecticut, a New England colony in the Middle West, which has maintained, even to the present time, the impress of New England traits. Virginia and Kentucky settlers sought the Virginia Military Bounty Lands, and the foundation of Chillicothe here, in 1796, afforded a center for Southern settlement. The region is a modified extension of the limestone area of Kentucky, and naturally attracted the emigrants from the Blue Grass State. hio's history is deeply marked by the interaction of the New England, Middle, and Southern colonies within her borders
By the opening of the nineteenth century, when Napoleon's cession brought to the United States the vast spaces of the Louisiana Purchase beyond the Mississippi, the pioneers had hardly more than entered the outskirts of the forest along the Ohio and Lake Erie. But by 1810 the government had extinguished the Indian title to the unsecured portions of the Western Reserve, and to great tracts of Indiana, along the Ohio and up the Wabash Valley; thus protecting the Ohio highway from the Indians, and opening new lands to settlement. The embargo had destroyed the trade of New England, and had weighted down her citizens with debt and taxation; caravans of Yankee emigrant wagons, precursors of the "prairie schooner," had already begun to cross Pennsylvania on their way to Ohio; and they now greatly increased in number. North Carolina back countrymen flocked to the Indiana settlements, giving the peculiar Hoosier flavor to the State, and other Southerners followed, outnumbering the Northern immigrants, who sought the eastern edge of Indiana.
Tecumthe, rendered desperate by the advance into his hunting grounds, took up the hatchet, made wide-reaching alliances among the Indians, and turned to England for protection. The Indian war merged into the War of 1812, and the settlers strove in vain to add Canadian lands to their empire. In the diplomatic negotiations that followed the war, England made another attempt to erect the Old Northwest beyond the Greenville line into a permanent Indian barrier between Canada and the United States; but the demand was refused, and by the treaties of 1818, the Indians were pressed still farther north. In the meantime, Indian treaties had released additional land in southern Illinois, and pioneers were widening the bounds of the old French settlements. Avoiding the rich savannas of the prairie regions, as devoid of wood, remote from transportation facilities, and suited only to grazing, they entered the hard woods-and in the early twenties they were advancing in a wedge-shaped column up the Illinois Valley.
The Southern element constituted the main portion of this phalanx of ax-bearers. Abraham Lincoln's father joined the throng of Kentuckians that entered the Indiana woods in 1816, and the boy, when he had learned to hew out a forest home, betook himself, in 1830, to Sangamon county, Illinois. He represents the pioneer of the period; but his ax sank deeper than other men's, and the plaster cast of his great sinewy hand, at Washington, embodies the training of these frontier railsplitters, in the days when Fort Dearborn, on the site of Chicago, was but a military outpost in a desolate country. While the hard woods of Illinois were being entered, the pioneer movement passed also into the Missouri Valley. The French lead miners had already opened the southeastern section, and Southern mountaineers had pushed up the Missouri; but now the planters from the Ohio Valley and the upper Tennessee followed, seeking the alluvial soils for slave labor. Moving across the southern border of free Illinois, they had awakened regrets in that State at the loss of so large a body of settlers.
Looking at the Middle West, as a whole, in the decade from 1810 to 1820, we perceive that settlement extended from the shores of Lake Erie in an arc, following the banks of the Ohio till it joined the Mississippi, and thence along that river and up the Missouri well into the center of the State. The next decade was marked by the increased use of the steamboat; pioneers pressed farther up the streams, etching out the hard wood forests well up to the prairie lands, and forming additional tracts of settlement in the region tributary to Detroit and in the southeastern part of Michigan. In the area of the Galena lead mines of northwestern Illinois, southwestern Wisconsin, and northeastern Iowa, Southerners had already begun operations; and if we except Ohio and Michigan, the dominant element in all this overflow of settlement into the Middle West was Southern, particularly from Kentucky, Virginia, and North Carolina. The settlements were still dependent on the rivers for transportation, and the areas between the rivers were but lightly occupied. The Mississippi constituted the principal outlet for the products of the Middle West; Pittsburgh furnished most of the supplies for the region, but New Orleans received its crops. The Old National road was built piecemeal, and too late, as a whole, to make a great artery of trade throughout the Middle West, in this early period; but it marked the northern borders of the Southern stream of population, running, as this did, through Columbus, Indianapolis, and Vandalia.
The twenty years from 1830 to 1850 saw great changes in the composition of the population of the Middle West. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 was an epoch-making event. It furnished a new outlet and inlet for northwestern traffic; Buffalo began to grow, and New York City changed from a local market to a great commercial center. But even more important was the place which the canal occupied as the highway for a new migration.
In the march of the New England people from the coast, three movements are of especial importance: the advance from the seaboard up the Connecticut and Housatonic Valleys through Massachusetts and into Vermont; the advance thence to central and western New York; and the advance to the interior of the Old Northwest. The second of these stages occupied the generation from about 1790 to 1820; after that the second generation was ready to seek new lands; and these the Erie Canal and lake navigation opened to them, and to the Vermonters and other adventurous spirits of New England. It was this combined New York-New England stream that in the thirties poured in large volume into the zone north of the settlements which have been described. The newcomers filled in the southern counties of Michigan and Wisconsin, the northern countries of Illinois, and parts of the northern and central areas of Indiana. Pennsylvania and Ohio sent a similar type of people to the area adjacent to those States. In Iowa a stream combined of the Southern element and of these settlers sought the wooded tributaries of the Mississippi in the southeastern part of the State. In default of legal authority, in this early period, they formed squatter governments and land associations, comparable to the action of the Massachusetts men who in the first quarter of the seventeenth century "squatted" in the Connecticut Valley.
A great forward movement had occurred, which took possession of oak openings and prairies, gave birth to the cities of Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Minneapolis, as well as to a multitude of lesser cities, and replaced the dominance of the Southern element by that of a modified Puritan stock. The railroad system of the early fifties bound the Mississippi to the North Atlantic seaboard; New Orleans gave way to New York as the outlet for the Middle West, and the day of river settlement was succeeded by the era of inter-river settlement and railway transportation. The change in the political and social ideals was at least equal to the change in economic connections, and together these forces made an intimate organic union between New England, New York, and the newly settled West. In estimating the New England influence in the Middle West, it must not be forgotten that the New York settlers were mainly New Englanders of a later generation.
Combined with the streams from the East came the German migration into the Middle West. Over half a million, mainly from the Palatinate, Würtemberg, and the adjacent regions, sought America between 1830 and 1850, and nearly a million more Germans came in the next decade. The larger portion of these went into the Middle West; they became pioneers in the newer parts of Ohio, especially along the central ridge, and in Cincinnati; they took up the hardwood lands of the Wisconsin counties along Lake Michigan; and they came in important numbers to Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan, and to the river towns of Iowa. The migration in the thirties and forties contained an exceptionally large proportion of educated and forceful leaders, men who had struggled in vain for the ideal of a liberal German nation, and who contributed important intellectual forces to the communities in which they settled. The Germans, as a whole, furnished a conservative and thrifty agricultural element to the Middle West. In some of their social ideals they came into collision with the Puritan element from New England, and the outcome of the steady contest has been a compromise. Of all the States, Wisconsin has been most deeply influenced by the Germans.
By the later fifties, therefore, the control of the Middle West had passed to its Northern zone of population, and this zone included representatives of the Middle States, New England, and Germany as its principal elements. The Southern people, north of the Ohio, differed in important respects from the Southerners across the river. They had sprung largely from the humbler classes of the South, although there were important exceptions. The early pioneer life, however, was ill-suited to the great plantations, and slavery was excluded under the Ordinance. Thus this Southern zone of the Middle West, particularly in Indiana and Illinois, constituted a mediating section between the South and the North. The Mississippi still acted as a bond of union, and up to the close of the War of 1812 the Valley, north and south, had been fundamentally of the same social organization. In order to understand what follows, we must bear in mind the outlines of the occupation of the Gulf Plains. While settlement had been crossing the Ohio to the Northwest, the spread of cotton culture and negro slavery into the Southwest had been equally significant. What the New England States and New York were in the occupation of the Middle West, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia were in the occupation of the Gulf States. But, as in the case of the Northwest, a modification of the original stock occurred in the new environment. A greater energy and initiative appeared in the new Southern lands; the pioneer's devotion to exploiting the territory in which he was placed transferred slavery from the patriarchal to the commercial basis. The same expansive tendency seen in the Northwest revealed itself, with a belligerent seasoning, in the Gulf States. They had a program of action. Abraham Lincoln migrated from Kentucky to Indiana and to Illinois. Jefferson Davis moved from Kentucky to Louisiana, and thence to Mississippi, in the same period. Starting from the same locality, each represented the divergent flow of streams of settlement into contrasted environments. The result of these antagonistic streams of migration to the West was a struggle between the Lake and Prairie plainsmen, on the one side, and the Gulf plainsmen, on the other, for the possession of the Mississippi Valley. It was the crucial part of the struggle between the Northern and Southern sections of the nation. What gave slavery and State sovereignty their power as issues was the fact that they involved the question of dominance over common territory in an expanding nation. The place of the Middle West in the origin and settlement of the great slavery struggle is of the highest significance.
In the early history of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, a modified form of slavery existed under a system of indenture of the colored servant; and the effort of Southern settlers in Indiana and in Illinois to reintroduce slavery are indicative of the importance of the pro-slavery element in the Northwest. But the most significant early manifestation of the rival currents of migration with respect to slavery is seen in the contest which culminated in the Missouri Compromise. The historical obstacle of the Ordinance, as well as natural conditions, gave an advantage to the anti-slavery settlers northwest of the Ohio; but when the Mississippi was crossed, and the rival streams of settlement mingled in the area of the Louisiana Purchase, the struggle followed. It was an Illinois man, with constituents in both currents of settlement, who introduced the Missouri Compromise, which made a modus vivendi for the Middle West, until the Compromise of 1850 gave to Senator Douglas of Illinois, in 1854, the opportunity to reopen the issue by his Kansas-Nebraska bill. In his doctrine of "squatter-sovereignty," or the right of the territories to determine the question of slavery within their bounds, Douglas utilized a favorite Western political idea, one which Cass of Michigan had promulgated before. Douglas set the love of the Middle West for local self-government against its preponderant antipathy to the spread of slavery. At the same time he brought to the support of the doctrine the Democratic party, which ever since the days of Andrew Jackson had voiced the love of the frontier for individualism and for popular power. In his "Young America" doctrines Douglas had also made himself the spokesman of Western expansive tendencies. He thus found important sources of popular support when he invoked the localism of his section. Western appeals to Congress for aid in internal improvements, protective tariffs, and land grants had been indications of nationalism. The doctrine of squatter-sovereignty itself catered to the love of national union by presenting the appearance of a non-sectional compromise, which should allow the new areas of the Middle West to determine their own institutions. But the Free Soil party, strongest in the regions occupied by the New York-New England colonists, and having for its program national prohibition of the spread of slavery into the territories, had already found in the Middle West an important center of power. The strength of the movement far surpassed the actual voting power of the Free Soil party, for it compelled both Whigs and Democrats to propose fusion on the basis of concession to Free Soil doctrines. The New England settlers and the western New York settlers,-the children of New England,-were keenly alive to the importance of the issue. Indeed, Seward, in an address at Madison, Wisconsin, in 1860, declared that the Northwest, in reality, extended to the base of the Alleghanies, and that the new States had "matured just in the critical moment to rally the free States of the Atlantic coast, to call them back to their ancient principles."
These Free Soil forces and the nationalistic tendencies of the Middle West proved too strong for the opposing doctrines when the real struggle came. Calhoun and Taney shaped the issue so logically that the Middle West saw that the contest was not only a war for the preservation of the Union, but also a war for the possession of the unoccupied West, a struggle between the Middle West and the States of the Gulf Plains. The economic life of the Middle West had been bound by the railroad to the North Atlantic, and its interests, as well as its love of national unity, made it in every way hostile to secession. When Dr. Cutler had urged the desires of the Ohio Company upon Congress, in 1787, he had promised to plant in the Ohio Valley a colony that would stand for the Union. Vinton of Ohio, in arguing for the admission of Iowa, urged the position of the Middle West as the great unifying section of the country: "Disunion," he said, "is ruin to them. They have no alternative but to resist it whenever or wherever attempted. . . . Massachusetts and South Carolina might, for aught I know, find a dividing line that would be mutually satisfactory to them; but, Sir, they can find no such line to which the western country can assent." But it was Abraham Lincoln who stated the issue with the greatest precision, and who voiced most clearly the nationalism of the Middle West, when he declared, "A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free."
So it was that when the civil war in Kansas grew into the Civil War in the Union, after Lincoln's election to the presidency, the Middle West, dominated by its combined Puritan and German population, ceased to compromise, and turned the scale in favor of the North. The Middle West furnished more than one-third of the Union troops. The names of Grant and Sherman are sufficient testimony to her leadership in the field. The names of Lincoln and Chase show that the presidential, the financial, and the war powers were in the hands of the Middle West. If we were to accept Seward's own classification, the conduct of foreign affairs as well belonged to the same section; it was, at least, in the hands of representatives of the dominant forces of the section. The Middle West, led by Grant and Sherman, hewed its way down the Mississippi and across the Gulf States, and Lincoln could exult in 1863, "The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea. Thanks to the great Northwest for it, nor yet wholly to them."
In thus outlining the relations of the Middle West to the slavery struggle, we have passed over important extensions of settlement in the decade before the war. In these years, not only did the density of settlement increase in the older portions of the region, but new waves of colonization passed into the remoter prairies. Iowa's pioneers, after Indian cessions had been secured, spread well toward her western limits. Minnesota, also, was recruited by a column of pioneers. The treaty of Traverse de Sioux, in 1851, opened over twenty million acres of arable land in that State, and Minnesota increased her population 2730.7 per cent in the decade from 1850 to 1860.
Up to this decade the pine belt of the Middle West, in northern Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota had been the field of operations of Indian traders. At first under English companies, and afterward under Astor's American Fur Company, the traders with their French and half-breed boatmen skirted the Great Lakes and followed the rivers into the forests, where they stationed their posts and spread goods and whiskey among the Indians. Their posts were centers of disintegration among the savages. The new wants and the demoralization which resulted from the Indian trade facilitated the purchases of their lands by the federal government. The trader was followed by the seeker for the best pine land "forties"; and by the time of the Civil War the exploitation of the pine belt had fairly begun. The Irish and Canadian choppers, followed by the Scandinavians, joined the forest men, and log drives succeeded the trading canoe. Men from the pine woods of Maine and Vermont directed the industry, and became magnates in the mill towns that grew up in the forests,-millionaires, and afterwards political leaders. In the prairie country of the Middle West, the Indian trade that centered at St. Louis had been important ever since 1820, with an influence upon the Indians of the plains similar to the influence of the northern fur trade upon the Indians of the forest. By 1840 the removal policy had effected the transfer of most of the eastern tribes to lands across the Mississippi. Tribal names that formerly belonged to Ohio and the rest of the Old Northwest were found on the map of the Kansas Valley. The Platte country belonged to the Pawnee and their neighbors, and to the north along the Upper Missouri were the Sioux, or Dakota, Crow, Cheyenne, and other horse Indians, following the vast herds of buffalo that grazed on the Great Plains. The discovery of California gold and the opening of the Oregon country, in the middle of the century, made it necessary to secure a road through the Indian lands for the procession of pioneers that crossed the prairies to the Pacific. The organization of Kansas and Nebraska, in 1854, was the first step in the withdrawal of these territories from the Indians. A period of almost constant Indian hostility followed, for the savage lords of the boundless prairies instinctively felt the significance of the entrance of the farmer into their empire. In Minnesota the Sioux took advantage of the Civil War to rise; but the outcome was the destruction of their reservations in that State, and the opening of great tracts to the pioneers. When the Pacific railways were begun, Red Cloud, the astute Sioux chief, who, in some ways, stands as the successor of Pontiac and of Tecumthe, rallied the principal tribes of the Great Plains to resist the march of civilization. Their hostility resulted in the peace measure of 1867 and 1868, which assigned to the Sioux and their allies reservations embracing the major portion of Dakota territory, west of the Missouri River. The systematic slaughter of millions of buffalo, in the years between 1866 and 1873, for the sake of their hides, put an end to the vast herds of the Great Plains, and destroyed the economic foundation of the Indians. Henceforth they were dependent on the whites for their food supply, and the Great Plains were open to the cattle ranchers.
In a preface written in 1872 for a new edition of "The Oregon Trail," which had appeared in 1847, Francis Parkman said, "The wild cavalcade that defiled with me down the gorges of the Black Hills, with its paint and war plumes, fluttering trophies and savage embroidery, bows, arrows, lances, and shields, will never be seen again." The prairies were ready for the final rush of occupation. The homestead law of 1862, passed in the midst of the war, did not reveal its full importance as an element in the settlement of the Middle West until after peace. It began to operate most actively, contemporaneously with the development of the several railways to the Pacific, in the two decades from 1870 to 1890, and in connection with the marketing of the railroad land grants. The outcome was an epoch-making extension of population.
Before 1870 the vast and fertile valley of the Red River, once the level bed of an ancient lake, occupying the region where North Dakota and Minnesota meet, was almost virgin soil. But in 1875 the great Dalrymple farm showed its advantages for wheat raising, and a tide of farm seekers turned to the region. The "Jim River" Valley of South Dakota attracted still other settlers. The Northern Pacific and the Great Northern Railway thrust out laterals into these Minnesota and Dakota wheat areas from which to draw the nourishment for their daring passage to the Pacific. The Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul, the Chicago and Northwestern Railway, Burlington, and other roads, gridironed the region; and the unoccupied lands of the Middle West were taken up by a migration that in its system and scale is unprecedented. The railroads sent their agents and their literature everywhere, "booming" the "Golden West"; the opportunity for economic and political fortunes in such rapidly growing communities attracted multitudes of Americans whom the cheap land alone would not have tempted. In 1870 the Dakotas had 14,000 settlers; in 1890 they had over 510,000. Nebraska's population was 28,000 in 1860; 123,000 in 1870; 452,000 in 1880; and 1,059,000 in 1890. Kansas had 107,000 in 1860; 364,000 in 1870; 996,000 in 1880; and 1,427,000 in 1890. Wisconsin and New York gave the largest fractions of the native element to Minnesota; Illinois and Ohio together sent perhaps one-third of the native element of Kansas and Nebraska, but the Missouri and Southern settlers were strongly represented in Kansas; Wisconsin, New York, Minnesota, and Iowa gave North Dakota the most of her native settlers; and Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, and New York did the same for South Dakota.
Railroads and steamships organized foreign immigration on scale and system never before equaled; a high-water mark of American immigration came in the early eighties. Germans and Scandinavians were rushed by emigrant trains out to the prairies, to fill the remaining spaces in the older States of the Middle West. The census of 1890 showed in Minnesota 373,000 persons of Scandinavian parentage, and out of the total million and one-half persons of Scandinavian parentage in the United States, the Middle West received all but about three hundred thousand. The persons of German parentage in the Middle West numbered over four millions out of a total of less than seven millions in the whole country. The province had, in 1890, a smaller proportion of persons of foreign parentage than had the North Atlantic division, but the proportions varied greatly in the different States. Indiana had the lowest percentage, 20.38; and, rising in the scale, Missouri had 24.94; Kansas 26.75; Ohio 33.93; Nebraska 42.45; Iowa 43.57; Illinois 49.01; Michigan 54.58; Wisconsin 73.65; Minnesota 75.37; and North Dakota 78.87.
What these statistics of settlement mean when translated into the pioneer life of the prairie, cannot be told here. There were sharp contrasts with the pioneer life of the Old Northwest; for the forest shade, there was substituted the boundless prairie; the sod house for the log hut; the continental railway for the old National Turnpike and the Erie Canal. Life moved faster, in larger masses, and with greater momentum in this pioneer movement. The horizon line was more remote. Things were done in the gross. The transcontinental railroad, the bonanza farm, the steam plow, harvester, and thresher, the "league-long furrow," and the vast cattle ranches, all suggested spacious combination and systematization of industry. The largest hopes were excited by these conquests of the prairie. The occupation of western Kansas may illustrate the movement which went on also in the west of Nebraska and the Dakotas. The pioneer farmer tried to push into the region with the old methods of settlement. Deceived by rainy seasons and the railroad advertisements, and recklessly optimistic, hosts of settlers poured out into the plains beyond the region of sufficient rainfall for successful agriculture without irrigation. Dry seasons starved them back; but a repetition of good rainfalls again aroused the determination to occupy the western plains. Boom towns flourished like prairie weeds; Eastern capital struggled for a chance to share in the venture, and the Kansas farmers eagerly mortgaged their possessions to secure the capital so freely offered for their attack on the arid lands. By 1887 the tide of the pioneer farmers had flowed across the semi-arid plains to the western boundary of the State. But it was a hopeless effort to conquer a new province by the forces that had won the prairies. The wave of settlement dashed itself in vain against the conditions of the Great Plains. The native American farmer had received his first defeat; farm products at the same period had depreciated, and he turned to the national government for reinforcements.
The Populistic movement of the western half of the Middle West is a complex of many forces. In some respects it is the latest manifestation of the same forces that brought on the crisis of 1837 in the earlier region of pioneer exploitation.That era of over-confidence, reckless internal improvements, and land purchases by borrowed capital, brought a reaction when it became apparent that the future had been over-discounted. But, in that time, there were the farther free lands to which the ruined pioneer could turn. The demand for an expansion of the currency has marked each area of Western advance. The greenback movement of Ohio and the eastern part of the Middle West grew into the fiat money, free silver, and land bank propositions of the Populists across the Mississippi. Efforts for cheaper transportation also appear in each stage of Western advance. When the pioneer left the rivers and had to haul his crops by wagon to a market, the transportation factor determined both his profits and the extension of settlement. Demands for national aid to roads and canals had marked the pioneer advance of the first third of the century. The "Granger" attacks upon the railway rates, and in favor of governmental regulation, marked a second advance of Western settlement. The Farmers' Alliance and the Populist demand for government ownership of the railroad is a phase of the same effort of the pioneer farmer, on his latest frontier. The proposals have taken increasing proportions in each region of Western Advance. Taken as a whole, Populism is a manifestation of the old pioneer ideals of the native American, with the added element of increasing readiness to utilize the national government to effect its ends. This is not unnatural in a section whose lands were originally purchased by the government and given away to its settlers by the same authority, whose railroads were built largely by federal land grants, and whose settlements were protected by the United States army and governed by the national authority until they were carved into rectangular States and admitted into the Union. Its native settlers were drawn from many States, many of them former soldiers of the Civil War, who mingled in new lands with foreign immigrants accustomed to the vigorous authority of European national governments.
But these old ideals of the American pioneer, phrased in the new language of national power, did not meet with the assent of the East. Even in the Middle West a change of deepest import had been in progress during these years of prairie settlement. The agricultural preponderance of the country has passed to the prairies, and manufacturing has developed in the areas once devoted to pioneer farming. In the decade prior to the Civil War, the area of greatest wheat production passed from Ohio and the States to the east, into Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin; after 1880, the center of wheat growing moved across the Mississippi; and in 1890 the new settlements produced half the crop of the United States. The corn area shows a similar migration. In 1840 the Southern States produced half the crop, and the Middle West one-fifth; by 1860 the situation was reversed and in 1890 nearly one-half the corn of the Union came from beyond the Mississippi. Thus the settlers of the Old Northwest and their crops have moved together across the Mississippi, and in the regions whence they migrated varied agriculture and manufacture have sprung up.
As these movements in population and products have passed across the Middle West, and as the economic life of the eastern border has been intensified, a huge industrial organism has been created in the province,-an organism of tremendous power, activity, and unity. Fundamentally the Middle West is an agricultural area unequaled for its combination of space, variety, productiveness, and freedom from interruption by deserts or mountains. The huge water system of the Great Lakes has become the highway of a mighty commerce. The Sault Ste. Marie Canal, although open but two-thirds of the year, is the channel of a traffic of greater tonnage than that which passes through the Suez Canal, and nearly all this commerce moves almost the whole length of the Great Lakes system; the chief ports being Duluth, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo. The transportation facilities of the Great Lakes were revolutionized after 1886, to supply the needs of commerce between the East and the newly developed lands of the Middle West; the tonnage doubled; wooden ships gave way to steel; sailing vessels yielded to steam; and huge docks, derricks, and elevators, triumphs of mechanical skill, were constructed. A competent investigator has lately declared that "there is probably in the world to-day no place at tide water where ship plates can be laid down for a less price than they can be manufactured or purchased at the lake ports."
This rapid rise of the merchant marine of our inland seas has led to the demand for deep water canals to connect them with the ocean road to Europe. When the fleets of the Great Lakes plow the Atlantic, and when Duluth and Chicago become seaports, the water transportation of the Middle West will have completed its evolution. The significance of the development of the railway systems is not inferior to that of the great water way. Chicago has become the greatest railroad center of the world, nor is there another area of like size which equals this in its railroad facilities; all the forces of the nation intersect here. Improved terminals, steel rails, better rolling stock, and consolidation of railway systems have accompanied the advance of the people of the Middle West.
It is important that the Middle West should accomplish this; the future of the Republic is with her. Politically she is dominant, as is illustrated by the fact that six out of seven of the Presidents elected since 1860 have come from her borders. Twenty-six million people live in the Middle West as against twenty-one million in New England and the Middle States together, and the Middle West has indefinite capacity for growth. The educational forces are more democratic than in the East, and the Middle West has twice as many students (if we count together the common school, secondary, and collegiate attendance), as have New England and the Middle States combined. Nor is this educational system, as a whole, inferior to that of the Eastern States. State universities crown the public school system in every one of these States of the Middle West, and rank with the universities of the seaboard, while private munificence has furnished others on an unexampled scale. The public and private art collections of Pittsburgh, Chicago, St. Paul, and other cities rival those of the seaboard. "World's fairs," with their important popular educational influences, have been held at Chicago, Omaha, and Buffalo; and the next of these national gatherings is to be at St. Louis. There is throughout the Middle West a vigor and a mental activity among the common people that bode well for its future. If the task of reducing the Province of the Lake and Prairie Plains to the uses of civilization should for a time overweigh art and literature, and even high political and social ideals, it would not be surprising. But if the ideals of the pioneers shall survive the inundation of material success, we may expect to see in the Middle West the rise of a highly intelligent society where culture shall be reconciled with democracy in the large.

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Word Lists:

Pioneer : a person who is among the first to explore or settle a new country or area.

Prairie : a large open area of grassland, especially in the Mississippi River valley.

Interdependence : the dependence of two or more people or things on each other

Settler : a person who moves with a group of others to live in a new country or area

Deciduous : (of a tree or shrub) shedding its leaves annually

Transportation : the action of transporting someone or something or the process of being transported

Preconception : a preconceived idea or prejudice.


Additional Information:

Words: 8148

Unique Words : 1,856

Sentences : 292

Reading Time : 36:12

Noun : 2469

Conjunction : 710

Adverb : 273

Interjection : 2

Adjective : 908

Pronoun : 220

Verb : 932

Preposition : 1257

Letter Count : 39,769

Sentiment : Positive / Positive / Positive

Tone : Formal

Difficult Words : 1380

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