TURNER THESIS Frederick Jackson Turner 1890 marked the closing of the frontier. The United States Census Bureau announced that the 1890 census had shown that the frontier land, the point beyond which the population density was less than two persons per square mile, no longer existed. The announcement impressed Frederick Jackson Turner, a young historian at the University of Wisconsin. In 1893, he presented a paper to the American Historical Association entitled “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.” In it he argued that the experience of the frontier was what distinguished the United States from Europe; the frontier had shaped American history as well as produced the practicality, energy, and individualism of the American character. Turner's claims about the effects of the frontier on American life influenced generations of historians, particularly in their appreciation of the role of geography and the environment in helping to shape national development. It also led to a great deal of questions about how the United States would remain “exceptional” after the closing of the frontier. 28
POLITICS, PROTEST, AND THE POPULIST MOVEMENT Now, we’re going to turn to the question of what was going on politically in the country during this “Gilded Age” period 29
Do you recognize any of these guys? Normally, when we talk politics in this country, the first thing we mention is who was president at the time because, normally, political leadership comes from the presidency. Well, here you have the presidents who held office during the Gilded Age. So, Gilded Age Presidents are among the most anonymous group of people in history. It started with Rutherford B. Hayes. The most significant thing about him was the deal that made him president in the first place. He didn’t win re-election…he didn’t even win his party’s nomination for re-election. Instead, James A. Garfield was next. He served only 200 days. And let’s be honest. He died in September, which is when his term is said to be finished, but he was shot in July. He wasn’t doing much “president-ing” in the two months between. He was succeeded by Chester A. Arthur. Then, they tried a Democrat, Grover Cleveland. Next, they went back Republican with Benjamin Harrison who was the grandson of William Henry Harrison…the president who served just one month before dying from pneumonia. Then, the country tried a Democrat again…in fact, the same one, Grover Cleveland. Then, William McKinley, who also was shot. Very violent times. But if the presidents weren’t the real power in politics at the time, who was? Well, Congress was still in charge, nationally, as it had been since they snatched power from Andrew Johnson during Reconstruction. But there was a great deal of power bandied around at the state and local levels by political machines which were headed by political bosses.
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- Kevin Seldon
- The Significance of the Frontier in American History, Native Americans in the United States, Populist Party, William Jennings Bryan