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Effects of the American Frontier


The North American frontier contributed greatly to today's 
American culture. For nearly 150 years before independence, the
Appalachian mountain range had been the American frontier, separating 
civilization from wilderness. When North America gained independence 
and became the United States, however, people began to move more 
freely across the frontiers, into the unknown. The land belonged to 
them now, and they were free to explore it however deeply they chose 
claiming at will what land they saw. One can explain American 
development as the existence of a large area of free land constantly 
receding, and American settlement advancing westward. The difference 
in American institutions from those of any other nation is that
American institutions have a way of adapting themselves to the 
growing, changing nation for which they were imposed. In addition, 
American development has shown itself to be not only an advance along 
a single frontier, but a cycle of returning to primitive conditions 
along a constantly moving frontier line, then settling and civilizing 
those areas. The American frontier is also unlike that of any other 
country in that most other countries have developed in a limited area 
of which they knew the boundaries, meeting and conquering other 
developing nations around them. But in the case of North America, the 
frontier was where savagery and civilization met, and nobody knew what 
lay beyond it. The settlers of North America had no idea that the
continent they had begun settling was so enormously vast; they simply 
took nature as it came. The pioneers' necessity to cope with natural 
barriers and survive in near anarchy, in essence being 
self-sufficient, has greatly affected the American culture of

 One of the areas affected by the frontier experience was 
politics. People on the frontier had to deal with whatever life 
brought them and make the best of it. They learned how to be very 
individualized, pushing their way through whatever barriers nature
presented. This individuality has led Americans to develop a 
government that facilitates individualism. We, the Americans, are
usually suspicious, untrusting, and paranoid of the government because 
we like to be independent, individually solving whatever problems 
arise in our path to the goal. This mentality is shown in the nation's 
protests to the government's increasing tyranny and intervention in 
our personal lives; however, a changing, growing nation requires 
changes in government. We believe in individualism, and we apply this 
belief to all aspects of our lives. In the so-called "Wild West", 
government does not pay as close attention to people's actions, and 
this was where the vast majority of the nation's reforms we know today 
originated. For example, initiative, the right of the citizens to 
initiate a new law into the legislature; referendum, the citizens' 
right to directly vote a law into action instead of passing it through 
the legislature; recall, the citizens' to vote a corrupt legislator 
out of office by way of petition; and term limits were all reforms 
born in the West. The reason for the government's low involvement in 
Westerners' daily lives is that for centuries, even to this day, many 
parts of the West have still been developing their society, 
civilization, and state governments. In the East, where we have always 
been on the civilized side of the frontier, people tend more to accept 
the government's rules, mentally coming to the conclusion that there 
is nothing they can do about it. But in the West new ideas for reform 
are constantly being born. Of course, there must be a compromise 
between a totalitarian government and complete anarchy; too much 
government restricts freedom while too little government does not 
provide 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 social 
mixing pot. Unlike most other nations, America is a safe haven for
many, many races and religions. People of a particular race or ethnic 
group usually live in clusters, minimally interfering with outsiders; 
taking this into mind, however, many immigrants are still amazed by 
the high level of tolerance America holds. Our tolerance comes from 
the fact that so many ethnic groups arrived here during the 
settlement, and that the black African slaves intermingled with the 
white community enough to earn that tolerance. Furthermore, in the 
West many different types of people can settle without upsetting one 
another because of the vast empty space out west to separate them. In 
addition to our toleration of race and religion, America gives more 
privileges to its women than most other countries. This anomaly 
results from the fact that during settlement the women were required 
to do certain mandatory work. They had nearly the same status as men
in most aspects of their lives. In the fully civilized society of 
modern America, however, women are not required to do the same jobs as 
men, and are thus on a lower status level. To this day, however, 
compared to other nations American women still have many more rights 
such as owning land, voting, and performing men's jobs. Education is 
another aspect of social life affected by the frontier. Public schools 
were necessary to educate children at the time of settlement. No 
sooner than the pioneers arrived here than the first public schools 
were set up. Our society today is still affected by this craze to 
learn. America is constantly encouraging its children to stay in 
school, and American colleges are some of the best in the world.

 The frontier also affected modern American economy. During 
settlement, people did not need or want a government to interfere with 
the country's economy. Thus a laissez-faire economic system was 
established. Laissez-faire is a term to describe an economy in which 
the government interferes very little in day-to-day economic activity, 
and such a system is very closely related to capitalism. Economy in 
America is one of speculation and risk taking; America was settled so 
quickly because of the fact that everything was abundant and extremely 
available or easy get. Speculation was in fact not a great risk at all 
at that time, and even now, so people would take great risks knowing 
that the odds were so greatly in their favor. Still today, Americans
nearly throw their money into whatever new company they think has a 
chance, and, not surpsingly, often come out richer than one could 
dream. Americans also have a strong technological bias, and are a 
people of tools and gadgets, so to speak. We have been such an 
inventive country because of the fact that we always needed to devise 
some way to get around an obstacle we found in nature.

 Another way, perhaps one of the most important, in which the 
frontier has drastically affected modern American life is 
psychologically. Americans in general enjoy solving problems or 
puzzles, and Americans will usually at least make an attempt to solve 
any problems that confront them. This problem-solving personality in 
many Americans goes back to the fact that there were innumerable tasks 
and problems set before the average settler each day: How do I get 
across this stream? through this forest? build something on this 
forest? keep the wild animals away? get food to eat?... It is easy to 
see that the settlers had no choice but to solve these problems one 
way or another, or they would die. One negative aspect about the 
psychology of our society is that we are one of violence-more violent 
than many other nations on Earth. This way of violence with us 
resulted from the fact that out on the frontier when there was no 
government, each man would have to settle his own problems, and if it
involved violence or killing, so be it. No one would even notice. 
Everyone would always be fully armed because they knew what people 
would do to solve a conflict. Although we are a violent people, 
however, we believe in egalitarianism, that everyone is equal in 
status. There were simply so many types of people, rich or poor, that 
worked in the same way, earning money the same way, that a class 
system was not important. American psychology was deeply impacted by 
the frontier experience.

 The frontier experience was very important in shaping modern 
American culture. American development, moving from the known into the 
unknown, has drastically affected the way Americans live and function 



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