Such social reforms brought many women to a realization of their own unequal position in society . From colonial times, unmarried women had enjoyed many of the same legal rights as men, although custom re- quired that they marry early . With matrimony, women virtually lost their separate identities in the eyes of the law . Women were not permit- ted to vote . Their education in the 17th and 18th centuries was limited largely to reading, writing, music, dancing, and needlework .

The awakening of women began with the visit to America of Fran- ces Wright, a Scottish lecturer and journalist, who publicly promoted women’s rights throughout the Unit- ed States during the 1820s . At a time when women were often forbidden to speak in public places, Wright not only spoke out, but shocked audi- ences by her views advocating the rights of women to seek information on birth control and divorce . By the 1840s an American women’s rights movement emerged . Its foremost leader was Elizabeth Cady Stanton .

In 1848 Cady Stanton and her colleague Lucretia Mott organized a women’s rights convention — the first in the history of the world —

at Seneca Falls, New York . Delegates drew up a “Declaration of Senti- ments,” demanding equality with men before the law, the right to vote, and equal opportunities in educa- tion and employment . The resolu- tions passed unanimously with the exception of the one for women’s suffrage, which won a majority only after an impassioned speech in fa- vor by Frederick Douglass, the black abolitionist .

At Seneca Falls, Cady Stan- ton gained national prominence as an eloquent writer and speaker for women’s rights . She had realized ear- ly on that without the right to vote, women would never be equal with men . Taking the abolitionist Wil- liam Lloyd Garrison as her model, she saw that the key to success lay in changing public opinion, and not in party action . Seneca Falls became the catalyst for future change . Soon other women’s rights conventions were held, and other women would come to the forefront of the move- ment for their political and social equality .

In 1848 also, Ernestine Rose, a Polish immigrant, was instrumental in getting a law passed in the state of New York that allowed married women to keep their property in their own name . Among the first laws in the nation of this kind, the Married Women’s Property Act en- couraged other state legislatures to enact similar laws .

In 1869 Elizabeth Cady Stanton and another leading women’s rights activist, Susan B . Anthony, founded




the National Woman Suffrage Asso- ciation (NWSA) to promote a con- stitutional amendment for women’s right to the vote . These two would become the women’s movement’s most outspoken advocates . Describ- ing their partnership, Cady Stanton would say, “I forged the thunderbolts and she fired them .”


The frontier did much to shape American life . Conditions along the entire Atlantic seaboard stimulat- ed migration to the newer regions . From New England, where the soil was incapable of producing high yields of grain, came a steady stream of men and women who left their coastal farms and villages to take advantage of the rich interior land of the continent . In the backcoun- try settlements of the Carolinas and Virginia, people handicapped by the lack of roads and canals giving ac- cess to coastal markets and resent- ful of the political dominance of the Tidewater planters also moved west- ward . By 1800 the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys were becoming a great frontier region . “Hi-o, away we go, floating down the river on the O- hi-o,” became the song of thousands of migrants .

The westward flow of population in the early 19th century led to the division of old territories and the drawing of new boundaries . As new states were admitted, the political map stabilized east of the Mississippi River . From 1816 to 1821, six states

were created — Indiana, Illinois, and Maine (which were free states), and Mississippi, Alabama, and Missouri (slave states) . The first frontier had been tied closely to Europe, the sec- ond to the coastal settlements, but the Mississippi Valley was indepen- dent and its people looked west rath- er than east .

Frontier settlers were a varied group . One English traveler de- scribed them as “a daring, hardy race of men, who live in miserable cabins . . . . They are unpolished but hospitable, kind to strangers, hon- est, and trustworthy . They raise a little Indian corn, pumpkins, hogs, and sometimes have a cow or two . . . . But the rifle is their principal means of support .” Dexterous with the ax, snare, and fishing line, these men blazed the trails, built the first log cabins, and confronted Native American tribes, whose land they occupied .

As more and more settlers pene- trated the wilderness, many became farmers as well as hunters . A com- fortable log house with glass win- dows, a chimney, and partitioned rooms replaced the cabin; the well replaced the spring . Industrious set- tlers would rapidly clear their land of timber, burning the wood for potash and letting the stumps de- cay . They grew their own grain, veg- etables, and fruit; ranged the woods for deer, wild turkeys, and honey; fished the nearby streams; looked after cattle and hogs . Land specu- lators bought large tracts of the cheap land and, if land values rose,


sold their holdings and moved still farther west, making way for others .

Doctors, lawyers, storekeepers, editors, preachers, mechanics, and politicians soon followed the farm- ers . The farmers were the sturdy base, however . Where they settled, they intended to stay and hoped their children would remain after them . They built large barns and brick or frame houses . They brought improved livestock, plowed the land skillfully, and sowed productive seed . Some erected flour mills, saw- mills, and distilleries . They laid out good highways, and built churches and schools . Incredible transforma- tions were accomplished in a few years . In 1830, for example, Chicago, Illinois, was merely an unpromis- ing trading village with a fort; but long before some of its original set- tlers had died, it had become one of the largest and richest cities in the nation .

Farms were easy to acquire . Gov- ernment land after 1820 could be bought for $1 .25 for about half a hectare, and after the 1862 Home- stead Act, could be claimed by merely occupying and improving it . In addition, tools for working the land were easily available . It was a time when, in a phrase coined by Indiana newspaperman John Soule and popularized by New York Tri- bune editor Horace Greeley, young men could “go west and grow with the country .”

Except for a migration into Mex- ican-owned Texas, the westward march of the agricultural frontier

did not pass Missouri into the vast Western territory acquired in the Louisiana Purchase until after 1840 . In 1819, in return for assuming the claims of American citizens to the amount of $5 million, the United States obtained from Spain both Florida and Spain’s rights to the Oregon country in the Far West . In the meantime, the Far West had become a field of great activity in the fur trade, which was to have significance far beyond the value of the skins . As in the first days of French exploration in the Mississippi Valley, the trader was a pathfinder for the settlers beyond the Missis- sippi . The French and Scots-Irish trappers, exploring the great rivers and their tributaries and discover- ing the passes through the Rocky and Sierra Mountains, made pos- sible the overland migration of the 1840s and the later occupation of the interior of the nation .

Overall, the growth of the na- tion was enormous: Population grew from 7 .25 million to more than 23 million from 1812 to 1852, and the land available for settlement in- creased by almost the size of West- ern Europe — from 4 .4 million to 7 .8 million square kilometers . Still unresolved, however, were the ba- sic conflicts rooted in sectional dif- ferences that, by the decade of the 1860s, would explode into civil war . Inevitably, too, this westward expan- sion brought settlers into conflict with the original inhabitants of the land: the Native Americans .

In the first part of the 19th centu-




ry, the most prominent figure asso- ciated with these conflicts was An- drew Jackson, the first “Westerner” to occupy the White House . In the midst of the War of 1812, Jackson, then in charge of the Tennessee mili- tia, was sent into southern Alabama, where he ruthlessly put down an up- rising of Creek Indians . The Creeks soon ceded two-thirds of their land to the United States . Jackson later routed bands of Seminoles from their sanctuaries in Spanish-owned Florida .

In the 1820s, President Monroe’s secretary of war, John C . Calhoun, pursued a policy of removing the re- maining tribes from the old South- west and resettling them beyond the Mississippi . Jackson continued this policy as president . In 1830 Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, pro- viding funds to transport the east- ern tribes beyond the Mississippi .

In 1834 a special Native American territory was set up in what is now Oklahoma . In all, the tribes signed 94 treaties during Jackson’s two terms, ceding millions of hectares to the federal government and remov- ing dozens of tribes from their an- cestral homelands .

The most terrible chapter in this unhappy history concerned the Cherokees, whose lands in western North Carolina and Georgia had been guaranteed by treaty since 1791 . Among the most progressive of the eastern tribes, the Cherokees nevertheless were sure to be dis- placed when gold was discovered on their land in 1829 . Forced to make a long and cruel trek to Oklahoma in 1838, the tribe lost many of its numbers from disease and priva- tion on what became known as the “Trail of Tears .” 9


The frontier — the point at which settled territory met unoccupied land — began at Jamestown and Plymouth Rock. It moved in a westward direction for nearly 300 years through densely forested wilderness and barren plains until the decennial census of 1890 revealed that at last the United States no longer possessed a discernible line of settlement.

At the time it seemed to many that a long period had come to an end — one in which the country had grown from a few struggling outposts of English civilization to a huge independent nation with an identity of its own. It was easy to believe that the experience of settlement and post-settlement development, constantly repeated as a people conquered a continent, had been the defining factor in the nation’s development.

In 1893, the historian Frederick Jackson Turner, expressing a widely held sentiment, declared that the frontier had made the United States more than an extension of Europe. It had created a nation with a culture that was perhaps coarser than Europe’s, but also more pragmatic, energetic, individualistic, and democratic. The existence of large areas of “free land” had created a nation of property holders and had provided a “safety valve” for discontent in cities and more settled areas. His analysis implied that an America without a frontier would trend ominously toward what were seen as the European ills of strati- fied social systems, class conflict, and diminished opportunity.

After more than a hundred years scholars still debate the significance of the frontier in American history. Few believe it was quite as all-important as Turner suggested; its absence does not appear to have led to dire consequenc- es. Some have gone farther, rejecting the Turner argument as a romantic glo- rification of a bloody, brutal process — marked by a war of conquest against Mexico, near-genocidal treatment of Native American tribes, and environmen- tal despoliation. The common experience of the frontier, they argue, was one of hardship and failure.

Yet it remains hard to believe that three centuries of westward movement had no impact on the national character and suggestive that intelligent foreign observers, such as the French intellectual Alexis de Tocqueville, were fasci- nated by the American West. Indeed, the last area of frontier settlement, the vast area stretching north from Texas to the Canadian border, which Ameri- cans today commonly call “the West,” still seems characterized by ideals of individualism, democracy, and opportunity that are more palpable than in the rest of the nation. It is perhaps also revealing that many people in other lands, when hearing the word “American,” so often identify it with a symbol of that final frontier — the “cowboy.” 

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