What Is the Frontier and Why Is It Important to American History?

The American Frontier was a significant period in United States history that started in the 17th century and lasted until the late 19th century. It refers to the unexplored and unsettled territory beyond the Mississippi River, which was gradually colonized by European settlers.

What is the Frontier?

The Frontier was a vast expanse of land that stretched from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific Coast, covering over 1.5 million square miles of North America. It was an area that was largely uninhabited by European settlers and had a diverse population of Native Americans, Mexicans, French, Spanish, and other ethnic groups.

Why is it important to American History?

The Frontier played a crucial role in shaping American history. It provided opportunities for economic growth, territorial expansion, and political power. The colonization of the Frontier helped establish the United States as a dominant world power.

The Economic Importance of the Frontier

The Westward Expansion created new markets for goods and services. The availability of land attracted farmers who could grow crops on fertile soil.

The development of transportation systems such as railroads facilitated trade between different regions. This led to an increase in commerce and stimulated economic growth.

The Role of Mining

Mining also played a significant role in developing the West. The discovery of gold in California in 1848 sparked a gold rush which attracted people from all over America and Europe seeking wealth and opportunities.

Territorial Expansion

The expansionist policies of President Thomas Jefferson led to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, which doubled the size of America’s territory. Later on, Texas became part of America after being annexed by President James K. Polk in 1845.

The Oregon Trail

The opening up of new territories in Oregon through the Oregon Trail led to a further increase in American territorial expansion. The Oregon Trail was a 2,000-mile-long route that connected the Missouri River to Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

Political Power

The Frontier played a critical role in American politics. It allowed politicians to gain political power by promising land and other resources to settlers. This enabled them to win elections and shape the policies of the nation.

The Homestead Act

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act, which provided 160 acres of land to any head of household who would settle on it for five years. This act led to an influx of settlers into the West, which further solidified America’s hold on its territories.


In conclusion, the American Frontier was a period of significant historical importance that shaped America into the nation it is today. It played a critical role in economic growth, territorial expansion, and political power. The story of the Frontier is one that should be remembered as it highlights America’s resilience and determination to achieve greatness through hard work and perseverance.