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American National Identity in the Late Nineteenth Century – Anglophilia, Russophobia, and the Frontier Thesis


 During the second half of the nineteenth century, the United States experienced a political transformation. Identity politics played a key role in this shift, meaning that as the United States grew in political and economic strength and global significance, the ways in which the United States identified itself as a nation also transformed. American national identity has been as complex and varied as the people who comprise the nation. In the late nineteenth century, three main ideas became significant features of American national identity – the importance of a frontier to American hearts and minds (an argument referred to as The Frontier Thesis), Anglophilia, and Russophobia. These ideas were significant because of how they influenced American national identity which in turn influenced U.S. foreign and domestic policies and shaped its relationship with the rest of the world. American national identity in the nineteenth century could not be explained without mentioning the importance of the frontier. The Frontier Thesis is a book written by Frederick Jackson Turner in 1893. In this book he stressed the importance of the frontier in shaping America and how the quest to conquer a frontier would be a driving force behind American ambition and U.S. government policy. The first settlers in America arrived on the east coast of the continent via the Atlantic Ocean. Up until the midnineteenth century, settlers considered anything west of the Appalachian Mountains to be the frontier, and the frontier became synonymous with “the west”. The boundary of what was considered the frontier shifted further and further west throughout the 1800s until 1890 when the U.S. Census Bureau declared the frontier closed. This meant that all the Native Americans were accounted for and no longer had any of their own lands (they were resettled onto reservations or eliminated) and most of the land was settled or in the process of being settled by farmers, railroad companies, and other businesses. The Frontier Thesis is related to the idea of Manifest Destiny. Manifest Destiny, a phrase coined in 1845, roughly 50 years before the Turner wrote The Frontier Thesis, was the belief that that it was the fate and destiny of the United States to push its border westwards all the way to the Pacific Ocean. This justified the removal and displacement of American Indians and acted as a motivational tool for the government to acquire and incorporate into the United States of America all the land between the original thirteen colonies and the Pacific Ocean, and subsequently for pioneers and businesses to settle these lands. The concept of Manifest Destiny combined with The Frontier Thesis later impacted foreign relations after the American frontier closed in 1890. The idea that Americans had the right to push to the Pacific Ocean after the American frontier closed came to mean that Americans had the right and obligation to push past the Pacific Ocean. The emphasis was still placed on the Pacific Ocean, which Americans saw as a symbol of a New World order. The “Old World”, meaning the empires of Europe, centered around the Atlantic Ocean so Americans believed that a world centered around the Pacific Ocean showcased the future. This came to mean that Americans would need to find a connection to the Far East and so they could hopefully gain access to these new markets and further leave the “Old World” behind.

 Haylee Behrends

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