During the 19th century, there was a wide spread belief that the American settlers were destined to continue expansion amongst the land. This land to be discovered was known as the Frontier. The term “Frontier” is better understood as the front dividing the colonies from a seemingly endless expanse of land, prime for civilization and cultivation. Its vast uncertainties essentially led toa new beginning and the potential to attain the American dream. The early settlers had this ideal image of what the west was going to be like.
It was a perfect vision ofa wild, open, and free estern territory really characterizing traditional American principles. From this expected idea, frontier myths were constructed in hopes of the freedom of western civilization. It was quickly observed that establishing in the west was not as free and open as once imagined, thus resulting in the “myth of the frontier. ” Throughout this migration period, early white men believed in the notion of Manifest Destiny. This idea was literally perceived as God’s predetermined Judgment to develop a new, innovative nation, whose boundaries extended from coast to coast.
When settlers recognized the open western territory, they felt they must expand westward in order to follow this destiny. Through Manifest Destiny, settlers sought expansion as a way to generate economic growth. With the possibility of new territory come more resources. Although the concept of Manifest Destiny is not clearly outlined by a set of principles, it can be easily understood as this pre- conceived notion to establish a more civilized America. Historian, Frederick Jackson Turner, defined this western territory of the Frontier in his own way. He described the land as a safety valve.
In other words, it was a land of safe opportunity. There is opportunity to establish more economic power, which at the time meant greater political power. From this, he developed a “Frontier Thesis. ” Tuner theorized the American character to be derived from the lived experiences and process of change to establishing “America” in the west. He theorized these Americans were successful as a result of adapted values such as individual freedom, democracy, and economic mobility. In the early phases of expansion, white settlers from the east were the first to attempt establishing civilization in the west.
It began with efforts to control land ownership. During this time, more land typically meant more political power and more opportunity to become civilized. The United States Congress established a set of requirements that individuals had to meet in order to purchase land. The Transcript of Homestead Act of 1862 outlines these qualifications and reads; in order to purchase western land, a person must be a US citizen (or having intentions to apply for citizenship), twenty-one years of age or the head of a household, and must not have borne arms against the United States Government. This act favored the hite men and demonstrated their adverse attitudes towards foreign settlers. In these efforts to control land, white settlers constructed barriers making expansion challenging for foreigners such as the Natives, African Americans, and Chinese unless they accepted adaptation to “American values. ” The democracy, individual freedom, and economic mobility established by the being said, as these settlers expanded west, they encountered the Natives and put forth efforts to drive them away from their homelands.
The western natives were faced with many hardships created by the Americans. There were a number of wars between the Native Indians and the United States, in which the Americans would raid Indian camps. An American’s mere presence generated an aura of distrust and violence. A specific battle, described by a Cheyenne native, was known as the Battle of Little Big Horn. Katie Bighead portrayed a vivid, first hand image of these battles. She illustrated memories of being barefoot while forced out of her tepee, leaving behind any property, all to be “burned by the white men. 2 Eventually after the fighting ended, peace was sustained despite some hostility. Tension amongst the Natives and the United States still existed, and years later many Natives were following the rules of the white men. In comparison to the experiences of the Natives, African American settlers also fell under the rule of the white government. Many African Americans faced a similar lifestyle of little power, little land, and little freedom to expand. However, for some this was not always the case.
Benjamin Singleton, an American activist, helped establish African American civilization. Singleton was a former slave of Tennessee who migrated west [Kansas] to establish his own colony. Throughout this testimony, e shares his experiences of being an African American during this era. Singleton took it upon himself to provide a community for around 7,432 Exodusters [African Americans] with some type of “means. “3 His definition of having means meant the individuals had some sort of money, a purpose, or desire to work.
American activists like Benjamin Singleton made it possible for colonization for African Americans possible. Through his responses, Singleton quotes the comment of a white man who told him “if these negroes would take the same idea that you have in your head, you will be a people. “4 This statement supports the idea of an emerging modern American” culture in which civil liberties exist and worth defines success. If African Americans follow the rule of the government, they are more likely to be successful in the western territory under the white man’s power.
As all of this western land was being settled and civilized, opportunities continued to grow for the American government. Work opportunities quickly emerged attracting settlers to the west. This means that the white settlers had essentially gained power of most of the land and now ruling civilization amongst the west. Coalmines for example, offered labor opportunities requiring little experience while roducing raw economic materials. Mine workers were typically in this field of labor as a means to survive in the newfound “Frontier,” rather the fulfilling their once desired open west.
Early Chinese settlers occupied much of this mining labor for cheap pay, helping American’s achieve economic growth. In the late 19th century, the Chinese immigrants headed towards the west faced adversities Just as the Natives and the African Americans did. Early discrimination against the Chinese was very prevalent in their experiences of the west. An illustration titled The Chinese Question, by Thomas Nast, depicted this concept ompletely. In the picture, words such as “coolie,” “slave,” “pauper,” “rat-eater,” and “barbarian,” are shown on the wall behind the diminished Chinese man. Each of Chinese settlers were disliked and practically forced into mining, where they were, in theory, “enslaved” to the white men. The Chinese were not actually slaves, however there were no better options for Chinese to make an earning in the west. Still, as more Chinese settlers were driven into mining, the American government felt as if economically they were becoming more stable resulting in further discrimination against the Chinese. As a result, in 1882, the American government approved the Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting the immigration of Chinese laborers.
According to Ng Poon Chew, the government “framed [the act] to permit those who are not laborers to come and go at will,” yet the Chinese settlers were still faced with troubles when migrating to the west. 6 These non-laborers were known as the exempt class of the Chinese. Ng Poon Chew goes on to discuss how the exempt class became limited due to the expanding definition of laborers making it rather difficult for any Chinese individual to enter the United States. Americans did anything they could to stay in control of the land and keep Chinese immigrants from becoming United States citizens.
The Americans really displayed their animosity towards the Chinese laborers during the Rock Springs Massacre in 1885. Similar to the Natives, Chinese miners were ambushed. They lost their money, were forced to leave their homes, and any goods, clothing, or other property was left to the white men to be burned. 8 Several Chinese fled this massacre, and once they returned there was not much desire to return to work in the mines, but had to anyway. As a result of this labor isturbance, the government had to intervene.
The mining companies drew up an agreement known as the Yellow Dog Contract, that “prospective mining employees were required to sign. “9 The purpose of this contract was to prevent mining employees from forming unions in the work force. This “yellow dog” or anti-union contract kept the Chinese from taking legal action against their employers, thus demonstrating the control of the Americans. To summarize, the western Frontier was not as wild, open, and free as many settlers imagined it to be, consequently developing the “Myth of the Frontier.
The hopes of achieving economic mobility, individual freedom, and democracy by the diverse groups of settlers was not as easy as they imagined. The Natives, African Americans, and Chinese had very little success in the expansion of these ideas. Rather, the white settlers triumphed in establishment of the west. From this, the Americans attained the most land, power, and control leaving others settlers no other choice but to adapt to their ideas. Through rapid advancement, the Frontier came to embody classic American history, cultures, and values in its continuing quest for innovation and exceptionalism.