Why Did Frederick Jackson Turner Wrote the Significance of the Frontier in American History?

Frederick Jackson Turner, an American historian, wrote a paper titled The Significance of the Frontier in American History in 1893. This paper revolutionized the way historians viewed American history and the development of the American frontier. The paper argued that the existence of a frontier was essential to shaping American identity, democracy, and individualism.

The Frontier Thesis

Turner’s thesis challenged the traditional view of American history as a European transplant that had little connection with its environment. Instead, he argued that the frontier played a critical role in shaping American society and culture. He claimed that the existence of a frontier had been responsible for America’s exceptionalism, which was evident in its democratic institutions and its emphasis on individual freedom.

The Importance of the Frontier

Turner believed that the frontier had created a unique environment where individuals could reinvent themselves and escape from their past. The abundance of land on the frontier meant that there were fewer social hierarchies and more opportunities for personal advancement. This allowed Americans to develop their own distinct culture and values.

Furthermore, Turner argued that the westward expansion had allowed Americans to develop essential character traits such as self-reliance, resilience, and adaptability. These traits were vital to America’s success as a nation.

Criticism of Turner’s Thesis

Despite its impact on American historiography, Turner’s thesis has been subject to criticism over time. Some scholars have pointed out that his emphasis on individualism overlooks important social structures such as race, class, and gender.

Others have criticized his view of westward expansion as an inexorable force driving America’s growth. They argue that it was not just the existence of a frontier but also political decisions made by policymakers that shaped America’s development.


Despite these criticisms, Turner’s thesis remains a significant part of American historiography. The idea that the frontier played a critical role in shaping American identity and democracy has become ingrained in the way Americans view their history.

Turner’s paper was not just an academic exercise; it was a reflection of the concerns of his time. The frontier was closing, and America was becoming an industrialized nation. Turner’s thesis allowed Americans to look back at their history with pride and provided a sense of continuity between America’s past, present, and future.