TO: Governor Bevin
FROM: Morgan Cornell
DATE: October 2nd, 2018
SUBJECT: Proposed changes to Westward Expansion
Westward expansion is an important topic to teach students as it is the time in history where the United States formed into the shape and large land mass that we associate it as being today. Westward expansion also created new challenges and new definitions on who is considered a citizen. With this being said, it is vital that the text covering this monumental time in history is as accurate as possible and inclusive in its discussion. The text for westward expansion should include the motivating factors for pioneers conquering the west, arguments against Turner’s thesis, and the differing perceptions of westward expansion.
The first people who migrated to the west after the Civil War shaped the politics, religion, and societies of the regions they inhabited. It is important to examine the motivating factors for these first pioneers and how that affected their experience in the west. The frontier was a safety valve for many groups of people including Mormons and freedmen (American Yawp, Ch. 17, III). Mormons were escaping religious prosecution in the east and freedmen were looking for better opportunities for economic success and independency. In his thesis, Turner redefined what it means to be an American. Americans were daring, brave, and independent and by fulfilling the American Dream and conquering the new land in the west, immigrants became Americans. This ideology of American identity is still prevalent today and needs to stay in the text as it explains the origins of current ideas of American citizenship and what it means to be American. In addition, it is important to include the descriptions and motivations for the groups that “conquered the west,” so to speak, as it ties in to Turner’s idea of the “new Americans” and what those new Americans and their communities looked like in the west.
While Turner’s thesis for westward expansion is widely accepted, it is still beneficial for reader’s to understand the arguments against Turner’s thesis. Turner’s thesis focusses on the individuality of Americans, but fails to acknowledge the government’s vital role in settling the west with the Homestead Act (Lecture, September 6th, 2018). The current text describes US westward expansion as something unique and exceptional that makes the US superior to other nations, but this is simply not the case. Other countries such as Australia were also going through an era of expansion and increased migration further inland (Lecture, September 6th, 2018). The idea of the rugged, white frontiersman conquering new lands is not an idea unique to the United States and should be included in the text in order to give readers a better understanding of expansion on a global level.
Westward Expansion had different connotations to different people and their experiences were not always the positive ones the US currently accept as the majority opinion. When discussing a topic as important and pivotal as westward expansion, it is important to analyze the negative as well as positive. For example, in the Chief Joseph document, the chief describes the disparity of the Native people in the regions where pioneers were settling. In order to get an accurate picture of expansion, all perspectives must be included.
Keeley, Theresa. “The Frontier & Westward Expansion: How did the frontier and ideas of thefrontier shape notions of what being an American means?.”Lecture, American History,University of Louisville, September 6th, 2018.
Locke, Joseph L., and Ben Wright. The American Yawp: A Massively Collaborative Open U.S.History Textbook. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2018.