Frederick Jackson Turner was a modest professor of History whose superbly written essays change the way Americans perceive the development of the United States and its democracy. Turner was born in Portage, Wisconsin, and taught at the University of Wisconsin from 1889 to 1910 and then joined the faculty of Harvard (1910 – 1924). In 1893, Turner delivered, to the American historical Association, the essay for which he is best known. “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” showed his colleagues new ways to look at the nation’s past. Turner saw the frontier as a continual challenge and lure that allowed people to leave behind the conditions they found stifling – that is, the human search and longing for liberty could be taken farther and farther west. Whether born in the United States or newly arrived, people responded to this ability to move on, thereby shaping the national character.
Turner states that “The United States is unique in the extent to which the individual has been given an open field…The self-made man was the Western man’s ideal, was the kind of man all men might become.”
Not until long after 1893 he was persuaded to issue the Chicago address in book form, along with a dozen essays that had subsequently appeared in various journals. With the title “The Frontier in American History”, the collection was published in 1920 and was soon acknowledged as a classic of American literature. The Nation wrote of its “high significance” and the Springfield Republican hailed it as “so fascinating that any reader would be thankful to have it brought to his attention.”
After his death, Turner received the Pulitzer Prize for The Significance of Sections in American History, which is also well worth reading. But his name will always be most closely linked with “The Frontier in American History.”
This quarter leather edition has been photographically reproduced from the first edition of 1920 and this preserves the historical authenticity of the original including typographical errors and printing irregularities.