What Were the Arguments Presented in the Significance of the Frontier in American History?

The frontier played a significant role in American history, and its impact on the nation has been debated for many years. In this article, we will explore the arguments presented in the significance of the frontier in American history.

The Turner Thesis

One of the most well-known arguments presented in the significance of the frontier in American history is known as the Turner thesis. This thesis was put forth by historian Frederick Jackson Turner in 1893. According to Turner, the frontier was a critical factor that shaped American democracy, individualism, and innovation.

Turner argued that the availability of land on the frontier allowed Americans to move westward and create new communities and institutions. This process helped to break down social hierarchies and promote individualism. Additionally, Turner believed that the challenges of life on the frontier encouraged innovation and creativity.

The Frontier as a Safety Valve

Another argument presented in the significance of the frontier is that it served as a safety valve for American society. This theory suggests that when economic conditions or social unrest became too difficult to bear in urban areas, people could move westward and start anew on the frontier.

This argument was put forth by historian Walter Prescott Webb during the early 20th century. Webb argued that this safety valve helped to prevent social unrest and revolution from taking hold in American cities.

The Frontier as a Myth

Not all historians agree with these arguments about the significance of the frontier. Some have suggested that it was more of a myth than a reality. According to this perspective, Americans have always been drawn towards stories of adventure and exploration, which led them to romanticize life on the frontier.

Historian Richard Slotkin has argued that many stories about life on the frontier were actually fictionalized accounts designed to promote nationalistic ideas about America’s manifest destiny.


While opinions differ on how significant an impact the frontier had on American history, it is clear that it played a major role in shaping the nation’s identity and values. Whether viewed as a source of democracy and innovation or as a myth that helped to promote nationalism, the frontier remains an important part of American history and culture.