HISTORICAL NOTES: Why Are Americans American?

What is there in the U.S. heritage that gives Americans a basic spirit of independence and optimism? In 1893, youthful (31) Historian Frederick Jackson Turner stirred the American Historical Association with a strikingly original theory. Americans were not simply transplanted Europeans. "The existence of an area of free land," said he, "and the advance of American settlement westward explain American development." The distinctive American character was developed in practical everyday life on the free soil of the frontier. By Turner's reckoning, America's character was set in the historical epoch that ended...

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