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1 The Collision Of Cultures
2 Britain And Its Colonies
3 Colonial Ways Of Life
4 The Imperial Perspective
5 From Empire To Independence
6 The American Revolution
7 Shaping A Federal Union
8 The Federalist Era
9 The Early Republic
10 Nationalism And Sectionalism
11 The Jacksonian Impulse
12 The Dynamics Of Growth
13 An American Renaissance: Religion, Romanticism, And Reform
14 Manifest Destiny
15 The Old South
16 The Crisis Of Union
17 The War Of The Union
18 Reconstruction: North And South
19 New Frontiers: South And West
20 Big Business And Organized Labor
21 The Emergence Of Urban America
22 Gilded-age Politics And Agrarian Revolt
23 An American Empire
24 The Progressive Era
25 America And The Great War
26 The Modern Temper
27 Republican Resurgence And Decline
28 New Deal America
29 From Isolation To Global War
30 The Second World War
31 The Fair Deal And Containment
32 Through The Picture Window: Society And Culture, 19451960
33 Conflict And Deadlock: The Eisenhower Years
34 New Frontiers: Politics And Social Change In The 1960s
35 Rebellion And Reaction In The 1960s And 1970s
36 A Conservative Insurgency
37 Triumph And Tragedy: America At The Turn Of The Century

New Frontiers: South and West - Document Overview

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The end of the Civil War found Americans confronting two frontiers of opportunity: the devastated South and the untamed West. They were—and are—the most distinctive sections of the country, and both regions exerted a magnetic attraction for adventurers and entrepreneurs. In the postwar South, people set about rebuilding railroads, mills, stores, barns, and homes. In the process of such renewal, a strenuous debate arose over the nature of the "New South." Should it try to recreate the agrarian culture of the antebellum period? Or should it adopt the northern model of a more diversified economy and urban-industrial society? The debate was never settled completely, and as a result both viewpoints competed for attention throughout the last quarter of the nineteenth century. By 1900, the South remained primarily an agricultural region, but it also had developed a far-flung network of textile mills, railroad lines, and manufacturing plants.

African Americans in the former Confederacy often found themselves at the center of the economic and political debate in the "New South." By the end of the century, black leaders themselves were divided over the best course to follow. For his part, Booker T. Washington counseled southern blacks to focus on economic and educational opportunities at the expense of asserting their political and legal rights. Not so, declared W. E. B. Du Bois. He attacked Washington's "accommodationist" strategy and urged blacks to undertake a program of "ceaseless agitation" for political and social equality.

Controversy also swirled around the frenzied renewal of western settlement after the Civil War. During the century after 1865, fourteen new states were carved out of the western territories. To encourage new settlers, the federal government helped finance the construction of four transcontinental railroads, conquered and displaced the Indians, and sold public land at low prices. Propelled by a lust for land and profits, millions of Americans headed west across the Mississippi River to establish homesteads, stake out mining claims, and set up shop in the many "boom towns" cropping up across the Great Plains and in the Far West.

This postwar surge of western migration had many of the romantic qualities so often depicted in novels, films, and television. The varied landscape of prairies, rivers, deserts, and mountains was stunning. And the people who braved incredibly harsh conditions to begin new lives in the West were indeed courageous and tenacious. Cowboys and Indians, outlaws and vigilantes, farmers and herders populated the plains, while miners and trappers led nomadic lives in hills and backwoods.

But these familiar images of western life tell only part of the story. Drudgery and tragedy were as commonplace as adventure and success. Droughts, locusts, disease, tornadoes, and the erratic fluctuations of commody markets made life relentlessly precarious. The people who settled the trans-Mississippi frontier were in fact a diverse lot: they included women as well as men, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and European immigrants.

Many of the settlers were also blinded by short-sighted greed and prone to irresponsible behavior. In the process of "removing" the Indians, military forces sometimes exterminated them. By the 1890s there were only 250,000 Native Americans left in the United States. The feverish quest for quick profits also helped fuel a boom/bust economic cycle that injected a chronic instability into the society and politics of the region.

The history of the Old West is thus a much more complicated story than that conveyed through popular culture—or through the accounts of some historians. In 1893 the historian Frederick Jackson Turner announced his so-called frontier thesis. The process of taming and settling an ever-receding frontier, Turner declared, gave American culture its distinctive institutions, values, and energy. The rigors and demands of westward settlement, for example, helped implant in Americans their rugged individualism and hardihood, and such qualities helped reinforce the democratic spirit that set them apart from other peoples. "Up to our day," Turner said, "American history has been in large degree the history of the colonization of the Great West. The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development." He was both right and wrong. The frontier experience explains much about the development of American society, but not all.


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