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The frontier thesis and american foreign policy summary

Nikolai von Kreitor Subject: He had first called attention to this impulse in the early chapters of American-Russian Relations, where he located the decline in friendship and the beginnings of animosity between the two societies in their confrontation in northeast Asia during the 1890s, when American economic interests collided with Russian imperial activities.

Williams then set out to explore more fully the causes for U. He examined the ideas of Frederick Jackson Turner and Brooks Adams which provided central insights for his explanations. The influential concepts advanced by Turner and Adams in the 1890s, Williams asserted, "became the world view of subsequent generations of Americans and.

Most historians will admit, if pressed, that the United States once had an empire. They promptly insist that it was given away. But they also speak persistently of America as a World Power. Whatever language is used to describe the situation, the record of American diplomacy is clear in one point. The United States has been a consciously and steadily expanding nation since 1890.

This essay is an initial exploration of one of the dynamic causes behind that extension of varying degrees of American sovereignty throughout the world. Three continuing and interacting processes produce foreign policy.

First, the domestic and overseas activity of the citizenry, and of other countries, which forces a government to take action in the international area. Second, the nature of that official action.

And third, the reactions that such policies provoke among its own people and on the part of the foreigners who are affected. The circle is thus closed and rolls on through time. In studying foreign policy it ultimately becomes necessary to break into this continuity and find out, if possible, what the people in question thought they were doing. One way to do this is to reconstruct the reality with which given men were forced to deal, look at it through their eyes, interpret it with their ideas, and then conclude as to the consequences of such a world view.

The argument here, based on such a methodology, is that a set of ideas, first promulgated in the 1890's, became the world view of subsequent generations of Americans and is an important clue to understanding America's imperial expansion in the twentieth century. One idea is Frederick Jackson Turner's concept that America's unique and true democracy was the product of an expanding frontier.

The other idea is the thesis of Brooks Adams that America's unique and true democracy could be preserved only by a foreign policy of expansion. Turner's idea was designed to explain an experience already ended and to warn of the dangers ahead. Both ideas did much to prevent any understanding of a wholly new reality to which they were applied, and to which they were at best inadequate and at worst irrelevant.

But taken together, the ideas of Turner and The frontier thesis and american foreign policy summary supplied American empire builders with an overview and explanation of the world, and a reasonably specific program of action from 1893 to 1953.

His statement of the idea then became the central, if not the only, thesis of Everyman's History of the United States. His personal influence touched Woodrow Wilson and perhaps Theodore Roosevelt, while his generalization guided subsequent generations of intellectuals and business men who became educational leaders, wielders of corporate power, government bureaucrats, and crusaders for the Free World.

He did not achieve Turner's fame among laymen, but he passed his ideas on to Theodore Roosevelt and others who guided American expansion at the turn of the century.

Fifty years later he was discovered by two groups of intellectual leaders. Scholars awarded him intellectual biographies and estimates of his influence. Those more immediately concerned with public policy, like columnist Marquis Childs and foreign service officer George Frost Kennan, introduced him to the public and applied his ideas to later problems.

Turner and Adams first offered their ideas on the marketplace of opinion and influence between 1893 and 1900, the years of crisis at the end of three decades of rough and rapid progress.

American society had undergone, in the space of a generation, an economic revolution in each of four critical areas: The coincidence and convergence of these upheavals produced a major crisis. Bewildered by its quadruple triumph, the United States momentarily panicked. Then, reassured by illusions of ideological purity and international omnipotence, it embarked upon a second industrial revolution. But in that frightening pause between culmination and renewal Turner and Adams looked out upon a harsh and disturbing reality.

The basic steel industry and transportation system of the country were completed. The rate of national economic growth was falling off. New technological advances had yet to be applied in wholesale fashion.

Instead, it seemed that the giants of the economic community had turned aside from their conquest of nature to despoil their own kind. Trusts, holding companies, and corporations began to wolf down the individual business man in a feast of consolidation and concentration. Farming was ceasing to be a family affair. Development of the public domain was coming more and more to be controlled by large capital. The Census Director emphasized the sense of foreboding when he announced, in April, 1891, that "there can hardly be said to be a frontier.

Both men grew up believing in the traditional conservative philosophy that the key to American democracy was the dynamic competition between men and groups who had a stake in society. They shared the conviction, or more probably the assumption, that this stake had been, for capitalist and farmer alike, the readily available and extensive supply of land. Railroads, steel plants, and wheat production were all similar in being based on control of landed resources and wealth.

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Now the life blood of American democracy was gone. The consequences seemed appalling. Men looked to be making capital out of each other. Real estate speculation rapidly collapsed, even in the South. Wheat prices declined steadily. But the rate of interest seemed immune to the laws of economic gravity.

  1. But at the same time he claimed "complete freedom of action" in the future.
  2. Wilson knew and loved the aristocratic South.
  3. The Russians either declined or were unable to acquiesce in such unilateral reassertion of the frontier thesis.

Men were no longer going west as hired hands and becoming land owners. Tenancy, not ownership, seemed the institution with a future. One hundred eighty thousand people retreated eastward from Kansas. Those who stayed raised more cain than corn. Even the cowboy went on strike in parts of Texas.

Workers were no happier. The relative rate of increase in real wages slacked off, and then, from 1889 to 1898, wages lost ground in an absolute sense. Miners came out of the ground in Idaho, Colorado, and Virginia. Switchmen became pickets in Buffalo.

The Army of the United States countermarched with fixed bayonets against American civilians in Chicago. Debs saw in the polished steel of those bayonets the vision of American socialism.

But other men were too preoccupied with the mirage of a square meal. They roamed the country looking for jobs. Their wives stayed home to scavenge the garbage cans. And in Pennsylvania the heroes of Homestead could not buy shoes for their children.

In the molten flux of this crisis, on July 12, 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner undertook to explain what was happening to America. His interpretation also contained an implicit recommendation for action. His famous paper on "The Significance of the Frontier in American History" was Turner's application of his philosophy of history to American problems.

History, for Turner, was nothing if not utilitarian. He had the answer by 1891. The frontier, he cried, was "a magic fountain of youth in which America continuously bathed and rejuvenated: And to drive home the lesson he quoted Rudyard Kipling, the laureate of British imperialism.

Turner had explained the past and implied a program for the present. Materialistic individualism and democratic idealism could be married and maintained by a foreign policy of expansion. Turner gave Americans a nationalistic world view that eased their doubts, settled their confusions, and justified their aggressiveness.

The frontier thesis was a bicarbonate of soda for emotional and intellectual indigestion. His thesis rolled through the universities and into popular literature as a tidal wave.

Expansion a la Turner was good for business and at the same time extended white Protestant democracy.

  1. Real estate speculation rapidly collapsed, even in the South. Most historians will admit, if pressed, that the United States once had an empire.
  2. He read his paper to a peer, brother Henry Adams. Americans were no longer unique.
  3. His was not, of course, the only influence brought to bear on President Roosevelt, Secretary of State John Hay, and other leaders. For the frontier was now on the rim of hell, and the inferno was radioactive.

R Morgan, and the missionaries on the validity of Turner's explanation of America's greatness. Turner's thesis thus played an important role in the history of American foreign relations.

The frontier thesis and american foreign policy summary

For his interpretation did much, to Americanize and popularize the heretofore alien ideas of economic imperialism and the White Man's Burden. Meanwhile, in that same month of July, 1893, another student of the frontier came to the same conclusion reached by Turner.

Within a month he, too, read a paper which stated the same thesis but in a different manner. The public knew nothing of his work. He read his paper to a peer, brother Henry Adams. Together they shared it with a few of their fellow New England noblemen, like Henry Cabot Lodge, John Hay, and Theodore Roosevelt, who did what they could to translate the implications of its thesis into official American policy.

It was a frontier thesis for the world. Adams, like Turner, sought meaning and significance for the present from his study of history. The route was unmistakable: And to him the crisis of the 18go's was the turmoil incident to its further movement across the Atlantic to New York. Brooks Adams was confronted with the same gloomy report of the Census Director that had so disturbed Turner. The continental West was filled up. America no longer had a frontier.

As with Turner, this was a body blow to his early and easy assumption of steady evolutionary progress. He did not duck the truth. The thesis, he wrote brother Henry, worked out "in such a ghastly way that it knocks the stuffing out of me: