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Question for Discussion: According to Limerick,
how has the "legacy of conquest" shaped the
American West?

Reading: Jefferson, "Notes on the State of Virginia"; Jenkinson, "The West from Monticello" ; Limerick, Legacy of Conquest , pp. 17-32; Limerick, "Adventures
in the Frontier in the 20th Century"

Video: How the West was Lost ;
How the West was Won (1962)

Response Paper: Do you agree with Limerick that studying the American West as a place undergoing conquest is a much stronger approach than studying
the West as a frontier that was settled? (See the
class outline on this debate
(1-2 page paper due on Monday, February 9th.)

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Daily Class Web Links

Daily Class Outline

How Should we See the American West?

  1. Milner, "America, Only More So" (in-class)

  2. The West as Myth and Dream (in-class)

  3. American Progress by John Gast (1872)

  4. Topographic Map of the American East (in-class)

  5. Topographic Map of the American West today

  6. Annual Rainfall in the West (in-class)

  7. Map of the 20th Century American West

  8. Thomas Jefferson's Vision of the West (in-class)

  9. Clay Jenkinson's Jefferson (in-class)

  10. Frederick Jackson Turner's Vision of the
    West as Frontier

  11. The Myth of the Garden and Turner's
    Frontier Myth

  12. The American Indian Vision of the West (in-class)

  13. Paticia Limerick's Vision of the West as
    a Place undergoing Conquest.

  14. Limerick, The Adventure of the Frontier (in-class)

  15. Turner vs. Limerick debate on the West as
    Frontier vs. the West as place undergoing

  16. For Limerick, Four Words Explain the West (in-class)

  17. Limerick's List of Characteristics of the West

  18. The New West versus the Old West

Daily Class Questions


Daily Class Notes

Thomas Jefferson's Vision of the West

"Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue. It is the focus in which he keeps alive that sacred fire, which otherwise might escape from the face of the earth. Corruption of morals in the mass of cultivators is a phenomenon of which no age nor nation has furnished an example. It is the mark set on those, who not looking up to heaven, to their own soil and industry, as does the husbandman, for their subsistence, depend for it on casualties and caprice of customers. Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition. This, the natural progress and consequence of the arts, has sometimes perhaps been retarded by accidental circumstances: but, generally speaking, the proportion which the aggregate of the other classes of citizens bears in any state to that of its husbandmen, is the proportion of its unsound to its healthy parts, and is a good enough barometer whereby to measure its degree of corruption."

"The mobs of great cities add just so much to the support of pure government, as sores do to the strength of the human body. It is the manners and spirit of a people which preserve a republic in vigour. A degeneracy in these is a canker which soon eats to the heart of its laws and constitution"

President Thomas Jefferson

Clay Jenkinson' s Jefferson

"I saw the West as the guarantor of American liberties, a buffer of security for a fledgling republic, a growing space for our national expansion to the thousandth generation, and a zone for the maintenance of a healthy political economy in the United States."

"When I purchased Louisiana somewhat reluctantly in 1803, I saw it as a means of keeping at arm's length all potential enemies - the Spanish, the British, and the French. The West would be a buffer for this frail little experiment in self-government. I also saw it as a
virtually infinite land into which we could expand in simple agriculture.
I said to Mr. Madison in a letter from Paris that as long as there was free land in the West, this experiment in approximate democracy would prevail, for then every man who wished land on which to subsist could have it. But once we filled the West - I thought it would take many hundreds of years - then we would need to begin reluctantly to redistribute the wealth of the country from time to time. As long as there was free land in the West, I said, we would not crowd into cities, which are so many open sores on the face of the landscape."

"Farmers are the chosen people of God because they are closer to nature than the rest of us. They have their hands in the soil, they cooperate with creation. They look up to the sky, to the realm of meteorology, with deep respect, they nurture frail animals and frail plants, their hands are dirty from the humility of agriculture. The class of farmers generally, I said to Mr. Madison, have never been corrupt in any society whatsoever. A farmer is more free, more independent, and more truly happy than any other citizen. And every step you take away from your garden or your farm into abstraction or professionalism is a step away from good sense into dependency, loss of virtue, and certainly a loss of happiness. "

Frederick Jackson Turner's Vision
of the West as Frontier

The Myth of the Garden and Turner's
Frontier Myth

American Progress by John Gast (1872) (in-class)

ory Text for Gast's American Progress

Manifest Destiny Exhibit

"Up to our own day American history has been in a 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......

The peculiarity of American institutions is, the fact, that they have been compelled to adapt themselves to the changes of an expanding people--to the changes involved in crossing a continent, in winning a wilderness, and in developing at each area of this progress out of the primitive economic and political conditions of the frontier into the complexity of city life.

The frontier is the line of most rapid and effective Americanization. But the most important effect of the frontier has been in the promotion of democracy here and in Europe. As has been indicated, the frontier is productive of individualism. "

Frederick Jackson Turner (1893)

The American Indian's Vision of the West

Limerick, Adventures of the Frontier

"Frontier," the historian David Wrobel writes, "has become a metaphor for promise, progress, and ingenuity."3 And yet, despite the accuracy of this summation, the relationship between the frontier and
the American mind is not a simple one.
Clear and predictable on most occasions, the idea of the frontier
is still capable of sudden twists and shifts of meaning, meanings considerably more interesting than the more conventional and familiar definition of the frontier as a zone of open opportunity."

"On July 15, 1960, in Los Angeles , California , John F. Kennedy faced "west on what was once the last frontier" and accepted the Democratic presidential nomination. In midspeech, he retold the familiar, Turnerian story of westward expansion:

'From the lands that stretch three thousand miles behind me, the pioneers of old gave up their safety, their comfort, and sometimes their lives to build a new world here in the West. . . . They were determined to make that new world strong and free, to overcome its hazards and its hardships, to conquer the enemies that threatened from within and without.' "

"However this frontier experience plays out for alien life forms, the equating of the frontier of westward expansion with the development of space proved to be an enterprise that ran itself. In the selling of space as "the final frontier," the aerospace industry, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, presidents, the news media, and the entertainment business collaborated with perfect harmony, with no need for centralized direction or planning, with a seamless match in their methods and goals. The split infinitive was regrettable, but the writers of Star Trek came up with the phrase to capture the essential idea brought to mind at the mention of the words "frontier" or "pioneer": "to boldly go where no man has gone before."

"On the fourth of July, 1982, greeting the return of the space shut­tle to Edwards Air Force Base, Reagan gave his fullest tribute to Turnerian frontier history. "The conquest of new frontiers for the betterment of our homes and families," he said, "is a crucial part of our national character." Like Kennedy, Reagan parted from Turner to affirm the openness of America 's frontiers: "There are those who thought the closing of the Western frontier marked an end to America 's greatest period of vitality. Yet we're crossing new frontiers every day." With the specter of a closed frontier disposed of, Reagan returned to the Turnerian terms of basic American character; the space shuttle's astronauts "reaffirm to all of us that as long as there are frontiers to be explored and conquered, Americans will lead the way. "

"The frontier of an expanding and confident nation; the frontier of cultural interpenetration; the frontier of contracting rural settlement; the frontier of science, technology, and space; the frontier of civil rights where black pioneers ventured and persevered; the frontiers between nations in Europe, Asia, and Africa; la frontera of the Rio Grande and the deserts of the Southwestern United States and northern Mexico--somewhere in the midst of this weird hodgepodge of frontier and pioneer imagery lie important lessons about the American identity, sense of history, and direction for the future."

Limerick, Introduction to Legacy of Conquest

"Like slavery, conquest tested the ideals of the United States. Conquest deeply affected both the conqueror and the conquered, just as slavery shaped slaveholder and slave. Both historical experiences left deep imprints on particular regions and on the nation at large. The legacy of slavery and the legacy of conquest endure, shaping events in our own time."

"Conquest took another route into national memory. In the popular imagination, the reality of conquest dissolved into stereotypes of noble savages and noble pioneers struggling quaintly in the wilderness.... The subject of slavery was the domain of serious scholars and the occasion for sober national reflection; the subject of conquest was the domain of mass entertainment and the occasion for lighthearted national escapism. An element of regret for "what we did to the Indians" had entered the picture, but the dominant feature of conquest remained "adventure." Children happily played "cowboys and Indians" but stopped
short of "masters and slaves."

The center of American history, Turner had argued, was actually to be found at its edges. As the American people proceeded westward, "the frontier [was] the outer edge of the wave­-the meeting point between savagery and civilization " and "the line of most effective and rapid Americanization." The struggle with the wilderness turned Europeans into Americans, a process Turner made the central story of American history: "The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development." But American development came to an unsettling close when the 1890 census revealed that no vast tracts of land remained for American conquest. "And now," Turner noted at the conclusion of his essay, "four centuries from the discovery of America, at the end of a hundred years of life under the Constitution, the frontier has gone, and with its going has closed the first period
of American history."'

"A de-emphasis of the frontier opens the door to a different kind of intellectual stability. Turner's frontier was a process, not a place. When "civilization" had conquered "savagery" at any one location, the process--and the historian's attention moved on. In rethinking Western history, we gain the freedom to think of the West as a place--as many complicated environments occupied by natives who considered their homelands to be the center, not the edge."

"Reorganized, the history of the West is a study of a place undergoing conquest and never fully escaping its consequences. In these terms, it has distinctive features as well as features it shares with the histories of other parts of the nation and the planet. Under the Turner thesis, Western history stood alone."

"The contest for property and profit has been accompanied by a contest for cultural dominance. Conquest also involved a struggle over languages, cultures, and religions; the pursuit of legitimacy in property overlapped with the pursuit of legitimacy in
way of life and point of view.
In a variety of matters, but especially in the unsettled questions of Indian assimilation and in the disputes over bilingualism and immigration in the still semi-Hispanic Southwest, this contest for cultural dominance remains a primary unresolved issue of conquest. Reconceived as a
running story, a fragmented and discontinuous past becomes whole again."

"A century ago," L'Amour wrote in a commentary in 1984, "the Western plains were overrun by buffalo, and many a tear has been shed over their passing, but where they grazed we now raise grain to feed a large part of the world...." This process of progress through conquest reached no terminus: "We are a people born to the frontier, and it has not passed away. Our move into space has opened the greatest frontier of all, the frontier that has no end."'

"In rethinking Western history, we gain the freedom to think of the West as a place--as many complicated environments occupied by natives who considered their homelands to be the center, not the edge....The history of the West is a study of a place undergoing conquest and never fully escaping its consequences."

Patricia Limerick, Legacy of Conquest (p. 26)

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                  by Chris H. Lewis, Ph.D.

© 2000 by Chris H.  Lewis, Ph.D.
Sewall Academic Program; University of Colorado at Boulder

E-mail: cclewis@spot.colorado.edu
URL:    http://www.colorado.edu/AmStudies/lewis/west/legacy.htm