December Meeting, 1939
A STATED Meeting of the Society was held, at the invitation of Mr. Augustus P. Loring, Jr., at No. 2 Gloucester Street, Boston, on Thursday, December 21, 1939, at three o’clock in the afternoon, the President, Kenneth Ballard Murdock, in the chair.
The records of the Annual Meeting in November were read and approved.
Mr. Theodore Hornberger of Austin, Texas, was elected a Corresponding Member of the Society.
Dr. Harold Bowditch read a paper entitled “Fireside Chats of a Federalist—Timothy Pickering.”
The Editor communicated by title, on behalf of Mr. Fulmer Mood, the following paper:283
The Development of Frederick Jackson Turner as a Historical Thinker
FREDERICK Jackson Turner was born at Portage, Columbia County, Wisconsin, on November 14, 1861. His parents were Andrew Jackson Turner and Mary Hanford. Turner’s father came from the Lake Champlain country of upper New York state, and his ancestry, through the Aliens of Vermont and various Connecticut families, traced back to seventeenth-century English immigrants.284
Two generations before Turner’s birth Portage had been a stopping place for the Indian traders who traveled by way of the Fox and Wisconsin route between Green Bay and the Mississippi. Marquette and Joliet had passed by the site on their memorable voyage. Not till the close of the eighteenth century did a wandering trader camp there for a winter and thus win for himself the renown of a “first settler.” The portage was a likely spot at which to settle, and as population poured into Wisconsin in later decades, the trader’s camp evolved into a village and then into a small town.
At the time of the Census of 1870 Portage contained almost four thousand people, more than half of them native-born Americans, the rest immigrants drawn from England and Ireland, Germany, the Scandinavian countries, and still other lands. The townspeople represented a variety of religious opinions. Methodists were most numerous; Congregationalists and Presbyterians trailed them by a good distance. Roman Catholics, Baptists, and Lutherans made up the remainder. Since the Atlantic Coast was far off, neither Unitarians nor Episcopalians then had churches in Portage.
In its mixture of North European stocks and American pioneers Portage was a representative community of the upper Middle West. Among its residents were some migrating Vermonters, many New Yorkers, and a smaller increment of Ohioans and Pennsylvanians. They came seeking the farm sites and opportunities for trade and professional activity that a forming society beyond the Alleghanies then offered to the discontented and the ambitious. Portage itself at this time was not squarely on the actual frontier. The Wisconsin counties on the lake surpassed Columbia County in density of population, but beyond it and to the north, stretching east and west, there ran a sparsely settled area fronting on the wilderness that then formed the northernmost third of Wisconsin. Thus Portage was not on the frontier, but near it. It was spiritually close to the fur-trade era, too. In 1867 the town fathers ordered the removal of certain ancient graves of the first French residents. As Turner wrote in 1883, recalling one of the experiences of his childhood in Portage:
Conant street was ordered graded June 3, 1867, and the work commenced that season. It was some time during the summer of that year that the grading brought to light the remains previously interred in that old cemetery. I remember seeing them carried away from the place described as being the grave of Lecuyer, and doubtless among those mouldering relics were those of the pioneer himself.285
Turner was fortunate in the circumstances of his youth and upbringing. His native community was already established. The back-breaking tasks of the pioneer era were done. His father was a newspaper man, his mother a former schoolteacher. Their home was thus one in which some concern was felt for the things of the spirit, a place where limited and cramped views did not prevail. Andrew Jackson Turner showed something of an interest in the history of his adopted state and now and then dug into the roots of its past. He even published an account of old Fort Winnebago of which afterwards his professor son thought well enough to allow students in his classes to read it.286 The Turners took their place in the town’s life with no thought of inferiority, for they naturally “belonged.”
All this was different from the experience that the Norwegian boy, Thorstein Veblen, was having at the same time farther north in the wilds of Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, where “Norske” children had to put up with ridicule for their foreign ways, and where pioneering labors made bone and muscle ache.287 Young Veblen was not adjusted to a hostile environment, while Turner fitted perfectly into a friendly, harmonious one. The future economist was to point out the more corrupt elements in American life; the future historian was to emphasize the more idealistic. Both, however, were realists in their studies, and both, toward the end of their careers, were filled with a brooding pessimism over the future of their country.
After completing his course in the Portage elementary schools, Turner, in the autumn of 1877, entered the Greek Class, a preparatory department of the University of Wisconsin. Andrew Jackson Turner fortunately did not worship at the altar of vocational education and “practical” subjects. He wished his son to enjoy a solid classical foundation for his subsequent studies.
The university catalog, which lists the new student’s name as “Fred Jackson Turner, Portage,” gives much information concerning a course of study that has now become outmoded in all but a few resistant centers of tradition. The school year, which was broken up into fall, winter, and spring terms, saw Turner cover much ground as he fitted himself for entering college. In the first term he had Goodwin’s Greek grammar and Greek composition—an intensive discipline it must have been. During the second term he began reading Xenophon’s Anabasis and wrote more Greek sentences. With the spring came composition, the remainder of Xenophon, and an introduction to the Iliad. Latin, Turner had commenced at Portage, so that now he was reading Cicero’s orations and Virgil’s poetry, although at the same time there were the inevitable Latin sentences to be done.288
This thorough grounding in the classics, the study of which he continued during his first and second years in the university, left an impress on Turner’s scholarly personality. It taught him the value of the just epithet, it habituated him to the niceties of literary expression, and it inculcated a feeling for vigorous, artistically fashioned prose. His readings in the ancients afforded an opportunity to widen his intellectual horizon in other ways, too, for as part of his work he went through Fyffe’s History of Greece and Creighton’s History of Rome.
In September, 1878, Turner entered the University of Wisconsin as a freshman, registering in the Ancient Classical Course. In college halls came more Greek and more Latin, some mathematics (algebra, solid geometry, and trigonometry), and “rhetoricals,” in the last of which he won a first place, prophetic sign of honors yet to come. He also specially distinguished himself in general botany, in which his final grade was 97. In this class he surely heard, if he had not already learned it, that then bright, shining word “evolution.” It was only twenty years since Darwin had convulsed the intellectuals of two continents with his novel doctrine, but the younger men in many departments of thought had made haste to apply his general proposition to their specialities. Soon G. Stanley Hall was talking of evolution of mind, Thomas Chrowder Chamberlin was tracing the evolution of Wisconsin rocks, and the half-fabulous Thorstein Veblen was applying the concept to the growth of the capitalist order of society. The magic potency of the word captured Turner’s young brain, and in good time he was to look on research in American history as a field in which the penetrating student could find “topics for the evolutionist.”289
His freshman year over, Turner went back to Portage and for two years made it his headquarters. The reasons for this withdrawal from college remain obscure. They may have been pecuniary. At Portage he probably busied himself with helping his father on the newspaper while watching the life of the town swirl about him. When the first train steamed through the pineries of the northern part of the state, Turner was on it. When old trappers smoked their pipes and talked musingly of an earlier and simpler day, Turner listened. He made fishing trips to distant lakes with delicious French names, where he could pick his way through forests redolent with the warm, resin-laden air of summer, the palest of blue skies arching overhead. Through these woods and along these streams the French of two centuries ago had threaded their way.
Turner’s father was a man of consequence in Portage. Proprietor of the local newspaper, he kept a finger in the political pie and maintained contacts with party managers at Madison and Milwaukee. He was also chairman of the Board of Supervisors of Columbia County, harmonizing the difficulties of Catholics and Protestants, of rival nationalities, and of the competing towns in the county.290 The Turner household, with its talk of political management, political influence, and the ambitions of political candidacy, powerfully supplemented the student’s knowledge of Greek and Roman politics and gave a practical application to the whole matter. It was good for the future historian of American political parties to know that one’s prestige in the legislature depended upon the importance of this or that committee assignment, and to understand that the observable motions of political combinations were often, if not always, due to the plans and will of party managers hidden well in the background.
The world of Portage, which he had a chance to study thoroughly, taught him things not learned in books. Portage was plain, a homespun community, democratic in spirit, neighborly. Turner was of it, genuine, unassuming. In after years he was to walk in stately academic processions, wearing the cap and gown, singled out for special distinction, for honorary degrees. But he took these honors with the humility of spirit of one who knew that thereby American democracy complimented not the man Turner but Turner the scholar, the servant of a nation’s best ideals.
In the autumn of 1881 the student appeared in Madison once more.291 The university of those days was small. In what was afterward to be a leading center of research and investigation there was at this time but one advanced student, and the undergraduates numbered but little more than four hundred. The college life of the time was of an almost Arcadian simplicity. Tuition was free. The faculty estimated that ten dollars for general expenses would see a student through an entire college year. If you were flush, you boarded at a private home, paying from two to four dollars a week; but if you had to count your pennies, you found some fellows and clubbed together, cutting expenses in half. The laundryman collected seventy-five cents for a dozen pieces of washing.
President Bascom’s institution was but a university in name. He was transforming it from a good high school into a respectable college, but doing it meant a stubborn fight, and before he had quite won his battle he was practically forced out of office. During his incumbency the college grew slowly and gave signs of promise of great things to come. He lived long enough to witness its later prosperity, no doubt happy in seeing that it had not disappointed those who made sacrifices for it in the time of its weakness.
The faculty included some teachers of exceptional ability. No staff which included the names of Edward S. Holden in astronomy, Roland D. Irving in geology, Edward A. Birge in zoölogy, or William F. Allen in history could be counted negligible. The dreary advocates of utilitarian schemes made no headway with Bascom, who shaped the plastic institution in his charge to fit the pattern of a liberal education. He took a hand himself in the teaching, giving instruction in American constitutional law, philosophy, psychology, and aesthetics. On matters of current public interest he was abreast of the enlightened social thinking of the day as is evidenced by his favorable views on federal regulation of interstate commerce. Throughout, his mind favored an evolutionary approach to the study of phenomena, thus working in harmony with the temper of the times. Undoubtedly he exerted a constructive influence on young Turner’s mind, although it is not easy to specify the precise nature of his contribution.
Of all his teachers at the university, Turner was most indebted to William Francis Allen (1830–1889), the professor of Latin and history. Allen was a native of Massachusetts and a graduate of Harvard in the Class of 1851, where he enjoyed friendships with William W. Goodwin, the future Greek scholar, Charles F. Dunbar, the future economist, and Samuel Abbott Green, the future antiquarian. The Harvard of that day was intellectually at a low ebb, but if it was a poor place, it at least inspired its graduates to remedy the deficiencies which of itself it had done nothing to repair. “I want to understand Greece and Rome—their history and incidentally their language—feeling sure that, if I get a good knowledge of these, I can turn it to account in some way. My great fault has always been in being superficial.”292 Thus wrote Allen to one of his friends in 1854. The ambitious young man sailed for Europe where he studied and traveled for two years in Germany, Italy, and Greece. He heard the learned professors at Berlin and at Göttingen in courses on the art, philology, history, and literature of his chosen subject. This dose of German specialization cured American superficiality, and Allen returned home with a solid and disciplined knowledge of the ancient cultures that he enlarged with every passing year. But the America of 1856 was not overmuch in need of scholars trained to the pitch of Allen’s excellence, and it was ten years before he found a permanent and satisfactory post as professor of ancient languages and history at the then struggling college in Madison. By degrees he won a following among the students.
Fortunate indeed were the regents of the university in the coming of this man. He was, at his début, in the prime of life, a man of culture, well-traveled at home and abroad, ripe in scholarship, the possessor of a ready pen. Politically he was allied to the circle which used Godkin’s Nation as their forum, and in the yellowed pages of that weekly one may still read dozens of his contributions—essays on current topics and leading reviews.
Overworked and probably underpaid, Allen still found time to carry on historical research, publishing many papers on Roman history and the institutional aspects of medieval history. His one book was A Short History of the Roman People, completed just before his death and posthumously published. The methods of his scholarship were sound and exacting. He interested himself in tracing the development of society and institutions, on the whole deprecating that stringing together of facts in narrative form which so often passed and still passes muster as history. He too had come under the influence of the fertilizing concept of evolution. But to the genetic approach he added the comparative, and he sought to throw further light on those questions which interested him by contrasting them with similar topics and movements in other times or in other places.
Allen was the true father of higher studies in history at the University of Wisconsin. Through his pupils his influence radiated outward from Madison, and in Turner it reached its finest flowering. For his college students he developed a series of courses which introduced them to the study of history in an effective way. He lectured on ancient institutions, Greek and Roman, on the Roman constitution, on mythology and art. He also taught courses on medieval institutions, the English constitution, and, for seniors, the history of civilization. He considered map work an essential part of historical instruction, a requirement that Turner as teacher adopted from him; and he stressed a sound knowledge of chronology.
Rote learning had long been the bane of history teaching. Allen jettisoned this and substituted something novel, the topical method.
The method of instruction, wherever possible, is by the assignment of special topics, to be looked up by the student in books of reference, and presented orally to the class; in some departments of work, by lectures. In most cases a text book is made the basis of instruction; and sometimes written essays are required of the members of the class; and courses of historical reading are laid out for the several members. Historical charts and maps are constantly used.293
The clearest notion of Allen’s power as an organizer of historical facts for teaching purposes may be derived from a reading of his syllabus, History Topics for the Use of High Schools and Colleges (Boston, 1883).294 It covered European and American history, providing an outline of lectures, a series of topics, and a splendid working bibliography of the best books on the two principal fields. It was a pioneer work and may be taken as the American literary precursor not only of Turner’s productions of the sort but also of the Guide published by Channing and Hart in 1896.
In Turner, Allen was to find a pupil well worthy of his exceptional powers of stimulating and original instruction. It was in September, 1881, that Turner came down to Madison once more after his two-year absence. He now enrolled as a special student, perhaps indicating uncertainty whether he would remain long enough to take a degree. His sophomore year saw him study smatterings of Chaucer and Anglo-Saxon, two courses in rhetoric and declamation, and more Greek and Latin. The program for the third-year course was quite varied: English literature, physics, chemistry, zoölogy, constitutional law, rhetoric, and two courses with Allen in history: ancient institutions and American history. What with work on a college newspaper, victory in a prize contest in oratory, and the writing of an essay on history for Allen—an essay published in the Portage newspaper soon after he returned from college—Turner had a busy year of it.
As a senior he heard Bascom talk on ethics, which that wise and just man treated as the rational conduct of man in society, and on aesthetics, logic, and political economy. He exercised himself again in rhetoricals and allowed the spell of Allen’s personality to play over him in courses dealing with medieval institutions, the English constitution, and the history of civilization.
Fred Jackson Turner—some years were to pass before the catalog gave him the more dignified style of Frederick Jackson Turner—was graduated from the university at Commencement, 1884, with honors of the second class.295 In the eyes of his classmates he was already a marked man, as these verses taken from the class prophecy witness:
Turner, in cloisters immured and to painful study devoting
Day and night, his patient innocent life exhausting—
Turner, than whom no senior with loftier intellect gifted,
Nor with a finer soul, nor in virtue more absolute ever.296
In student eyes Turner was looked up to as a successful orator, the polished and perfected product of David Frankenburger’s instruction in oratorical and declamatory studies. Two of Turner’s orations, probably his principal efforts, were published while he was still in college, and these are worth a glance or two for the light they shed on his general outlook and social attitudes.
“The Poet of the Future” was delivered in May, 1883, at the close of Turner’s junior year and won the Burrows prize.297 In this the orator tells us that a great poet stands as an epitome of his era. It has been so from the Iliad of Homer to the Faust of Goethe. But the present age has no such poet: the Longfellows, the Tennysons, the school of William Morris “all play the lute, and we wait for the master who shall sweep the organ keys.” Our age is magnificent. It is the poets who are lacking. Why do they not see that the epic actions of the century await poetic utterance?
The two great features of the present are science and democracy. . . . Science has given to things a new beauty and a poetry. . . . If the Venus of Milo, chiseled in cold marble, endures as an expression of the genius of the Greek, the locomotive, binding the east and west in bonds of steel, thundering over the prairies and climbing mountains higher than the clouds, an embodiment of power and action—a being whose breath is fire, and whose brain is a man—the locomotive is a type of our grand civilization.
Science has found a poetry, too, and the orator exemplifies it by a reference to that “grand epic written by the finger of God upon the strata of the earth.” Nature waits for her poet!
The partner of science is democracy. Earlier civilizations were narrow, but a new spirit has entered mankind. The American republic arose, and the French Revolution gave a signal to humanity. Hence today
Over all the world we hear mankind proclaiming its existence, demanding its rights. Kings begin to be but names, and the sons of genius, springing from the people, grasp the real scepters. The reign of aristocracy is passing; that of humanity begins. Democracy is waiting forits poet.
Where, the orator asks, is he who shall sing of doers like Darwin, Spencer, Watt, and Lincoln?
The age will demand a mouthpiece, and at its bidding will arise the poet of the future. . . . He will unite the logic of the present and the dream of the past, and his words will ring in the ears of generations yet unborn, telling them the grandeur of today which boils and surges with awakening life. He will reflect all the past and prophesy the future. As surely as our age transcends all others, so surely will his song rise above all the singers of the past.
After the lapse of half a century the rhetoric has faded somewhat, and our own generation does not share, at least in equal degree, the young orator’s touching faith in the idea of progress: “As surely as our age transcends all others, so surely will [the modern poet’s] song rise above all the singers of the past.” On the whole, however, the substance of the oration has suffered little loss. Truly does the speaker recognize the twin forces of his age: scientific investigation of nature’s secrets and popular control of the social order by means of democratic procedures. In unequivocal terms Turner proclaims himself in sympathy with these forces. He avows a faith in the doctrine of progress—the lay religion of his century. He exults in the hopefulness, the vitality, the optimism of the era. Already this promising undergraduate is in sympathetic communication with the deeper movements of his generation.
In the Commencement oration of 1884298 Turner’s adherence to the principle of democracy was given fresh restatement. His theme was “Architecture through Oppression.” The oration begins with a reminder that the civilizations of the Old World have created many temples and cathedrals, works of architectural genius. These were the achievements of the common people’s toils.
Art is a glorious gift to man; these works of architecture are a splendid contribution from those who were actors in life’s romance, but how will they suit with the state of the common men in the times in which they rose! When we think of the countless masses who wore the fetters of oppression how dark a shadow their anguish casts about these miracles of stone and marble that their sorrows helped to build.
And what of the present age? Does it display a more enlightened attitude?
Art is too divine a thing to live by the woes of the people. The civilization of the past, which was the condition of art’s existence, left it sadly marred by the incompleteness, the distortion of that civilization. But now the world begins to see that true progress, true enlightenment, means the progress, the enlightenment of all. In this wave of democratic utilitarianism that is sweeping over the earth, art may seem engulfed, refinement destroyed, and men may shudder as the wave seems about to hide forever all that remains of the ancient idea of the Beautiful. But the fear is groundless! In the very breadth and depth of the inundation lie the possibilities of a grander future. . . . The Nineteenth century is striving to build humanity into a glorious temple to its God,—his only fitting temple. When the greatest happiness of the greatest number shall have become something like a reality, when life’s tragedy shall cease to clash with life’s romance, and the squalor of the hovel shall no longer mar the cathedral’s beauty,—then again may “music freeze into marble,” and forests blossom into stone.
The value of these forgotten undergraduate pieces lies in the circumstance that they demonstrate young Turner’s early adherence to the principles of democracy. The contemporary fame of the man as a professional historian is so great that it is in danger of hiding another of his rôles, possibly a superior rôle: American democracy’s scholar. These student orations display his initial devotion to the idea of progress and to the spirit of democracy. His future scholarly work, critical in the mode of scientific investigation, had as its purpose the deeply ethical and patriotic aim of demonstrating to the citizens of a free state the nature of their past in order that today they might the better chart their course into the future. To be a historian was, therefore, not to be a closet scholar, selfishly intent on the minutiae of research for their own sake or calmly indifferent to the welfare of humanity beyond the university’s walls. To be a historian, as Turner came to understand it, was to take part in a socially useful calling of the highest importance. With other leaders of the community the historian should endeavor to impress on the minds of the pupils “the principles of morality, truth, justice and patriotism . . . to instruct them in the principles of a free government, and to train them up to a true comprehension of the rights, duties, and dignity of American citizenship.”299
The social ideas of this young man, early acquired, never disintegrated. To the last he retained his loyalty to democracy. This devotion continued to fertilize and to enrich his scholarship. This outlook of a convinced democrat colored all his work as teacher. It moved him to participate in schemes of university extension work so that the findings of the study should be made available to the public beyond the gates of the university. It prompted him to accept the burden of making Commencement speeches the length and breadth of the republic. It helped dictate his attitude toward his courses on general American history. In the autumn of 1891, for example, when ideas of Populism and Free Silver were much in the air, Turner inserted this observation into the college catalog: “In view of the needs of those who will take no other work in American history, particular attention will be paid to those political and financial topics best suited to promote intelligent performance of the duties of citizenship.” This remark, pointed at his elementary course on American history, illuminates his approach to the problem of teaching students in a democratic republic.
Diploma in hand, the new graduate faced the world. It was the summer of 1884. What to do? Should he go west, as so many others were doing at the time, and seek his fortune in a newer community? For a time, indeed, he entertained this notion. Turner’s friend, Reuben Gold Thwaites, eight years older than he and restless in his job as managing editor of the Madison Wisconsin State Journal, urged this on him. Thwaites dreamed of moving to Colorado or New Mexico, setting up a newspaper there, and making a great deal of money. He wished Turner to go with him and form a partnership. Twice Thwaites went out to the Rocky Mountain country to look over the ground, and his enthusiasm for the proposed venture was great. Years afterward Turner recalled the invitation: “. . . he painted the life of the cattle region and the profit of advertising cattle brands in such terms as have always left a doubt whether it was not a golden opportunity lost!”300
The plan fell through. Thwaites stayed on as editor in Madison, and Turner found a place on his staff, reporting political news and serving as handy man around the office. The experience was a rich and valuable one. What he wrote afterwards of Thwaites may be taken to apply to himself during his own year of journalism: “He learned how to think quickly and to act, how to condense, to select the essential, to watch with discriminating eye the play of political forces about him, to study human nature intimately, and to report what he saw.”301
But not for long did the State Journal retain the services of the two friends. The attractive personality and energetic habit of Thwaites won the regard of patriarchal Lyman Copeland Draper, the collector of manuscript materials on Western history. That elderly antiquarian looked about him for a successor to his post of Superintendent of the Wisconsin Historical Society, picked on Thwaites, and began training him for the future work of editor. In 1885 Thwaites took up his duties as Assistant Corresponding Secretary of the Society, and when Draper retired the following year, the younger man took over.
Turner, too, ended his journalistic experience. Of a reflective and philosophical cast of mind—Bascom and Bascom’s faculty had done their work well—he doubtless wearied of the concrete, the practical, the repetitious routine. The idealism of his nature must have been tried by the pettiness and blindness of much with which he came into contact. Wisconsin was still ruled by the lumber barons and the stalwarts; La Follette’s cleansing broom had not yet begun to sweep. He returned to the college, where Professor Allen welcomed him. The institution had no fellowships to confer for advanced study, but Turner’s reputation as an undergraduate orator was still green, and the President found him a post as tutor in rhetoric and oratory, where he assisted his former teacher, Professor Frankenburger. The tutorship provided Turner experience in classroom teaching and maintained him while he carried on his own advanced studies. He held the place for three years.
Madison in those days did not have facilities for advanced work in ancient or in medieval history, but it did possess, in the collections of the Wisconsin Historical Society, a good library of material relating to American history, both printed and manuscript. In addition, there were the manuscripts on Western history that Draper had collected, a treasure which it was hoped he would bequeath to the Society. Allen pointed out that American history was a promising field for research, that college teaching held a future, and Turner agreed. He registered as a candidate for the master’s degree in American history and put himself under Allen’s direction.
WHEN in the seventies William F. Allen first began to teach American history in the University of Wisconsin, the subject was inchoate and without organization. Plenty of old-fashioned books on special figures and particular periods existed, but there was no general view of the subject to be had. The first reliable textbook from the pen of an American did not issue till 1879, when Alexander Johnston published his History of American Politics.302 Cultivation of the field by careful and trained scholars had barely begun. Winsor’s Narrative and Critical History was unwritten; Henry Adams did not bring out his first volume till 1889; McMaster produced his first book in 1881, Schouler his first in 1880. Thus nearly everything was still to be done, and in the interest of an enlightened patriotism Allen set out to accomplish what he could by himself. Allen, belonging to the Godkin circle, keenly felt the degradation to which the democratic idea had been brought as a result of the scandals and corruption of the seventies.
He brought order into the mass of American historical materials, divided the subject into periods, picked out leading themes as guides through each of these, compiled lists of useful books of value to readers, and, for the Nation, reviewed the new works of Von Hoist, McMaster, and Schouler as one by one they issued from the press. Finally he published a Syllabus of American History (1883) and in this, the summation of his organization of the subject, supplied his pupil, Turner, with a point of departure for his own studies.303
The first grand division of American history, as Allen conceived of it in his Syllabus, was the period of Discoveries. This era was, for him, characterized by enterprises which were the outgrowth of the social and political life of the nations which entered into them. Leading topics here were the discovery of America, Spanish explorations and colonies within the limits of the United States, and French settlements in North America. The point of view was that of expansion from Europe into America, an interpretation advanced as early as 1809 by the German historian, Arnold H. L. Heeren, in his History of the Political System of Europe and Its Colonies, a work of which Allen was quite fond. Heeren studied the European nations in relation to their American dependencies and took careful note of the countereffects of the colonies on the mother lands. Allen naturally inserted as a topic in his Syllabus “The Relation of American to European History.”
The second of Allen’s major divisions was the Colonial Period, broken up into one subperiod running to 1688 and another terminating in 1763. His third chief division extended from 1763 to 1789, the Revolutionary Period; the fourth was the Period of the Republic or the National Period. Here the first subdivision was the era extending from 1789 to 1820, characterized, Allen thought, by the struggle for American diplomatic independence. The study of American foreign relations thus became the dominant interest. The subperiod from 1825 to 1845 was the time when economic questions were uppermost in politics and formed the leading themes: banks, the tariff, public lands. Of internal improvements, however, later a favorite theme with Turner, nothing was said. The final portion of the National Period, extending to 1876, was the Slavery Controversy. A review of this period, as Allen sketches it in his Syllabus, runs as follows: “the tariff question—the slavery controversy—the public lands—the Indian policy—the civil service—the Pacific railroad—the fisheries.”304
Such was the Syllabus that Turner used as an undergraduate. A reading of its pages shows that Allen found time to discuss historical geography, economic and social subjects, the growth of democracy, the significance of territorial expansion, the rôle of sections, and racial relations with Negroes and with Indians. He well understood the importance of the West and of territorial expansion, for in his Syllabus he listed as subtopics such episodes as Pontiac’s rebellion, the cession of the public lands at the close of the Revolution, the settlement of Kentucky, the formation of Tennessee, the purchase of Louisiana, and the organization of the Northwest Territory.
In a review of McMaster’s second volume Allen took opportunity to characterize the period covered (1790–1803) as one
. . . in many respects unsurpassed in importance by any other portion of American history of similar length. Within these years was settled the question of the future tendencies of the American people; and they hold much the same relation to the history of subsequent years that the aim of a gun holds to the direction of the bullet’s flight. . . . The solid and substantial character which the Federalism of Hamilton, during the years 1789–97, gave to the national edifice secured by the Constitution; the sudden list to individualism, equally unexpected and undesired by the “fathers of the republic,” which was given by the Democracy of Jefferson during the years 1793–1800; the territorial expansion of 1803, with its inevitable and far-reaching consequences—here were three fundamental and discordant forces, whose reduction to harmony would alone make this a period of vital importance in American history. As the ship, sliding from the ways, lurching first to one side then to the other, settles down into her natural position, American history, not only then but thereafter, was made during these fourteen years.305
Elsewhere in the same review Allen criticized McMaster for not allowing more space to a discussion of the Louisiana Purchase, for, to the Wisconsin professor, expansion was one of the three leading themes of our history. In a review of a volume by Von Hoist dealing with American history from the annexation of Texas to the Compromise of 1850, Allen wrote:
From that time , although the fact was not at once clearly apparent and acknowledged, slavery formed the paramount issue in our politics. But it must be noticed that it was the extension of slavery that thus became the leading issue. The existence of slavery in the States was wholly a different question, and one which under our political system could never be more than a moral issue.306
Allen’s emphasis on expansion into the West is suggestive enough to follow it further. The question of slavery in the territories was at bottom, he declared, a question of the power of the national government. What were the doctrines of the Democratic party, of the Whig party, and of the Republican party on this vexed question of the general government’s power? The Democratic party stood, Allen answered, on the doctrine that the national government possessed only those powers that were explicitly granted by the Constitution. The Democracy would therefore oppose the exercise of power over slavery in the territories. The Whig party concerned itself with tariffs and the bank, being the party of the commercial and moneyed interests of the Northern cities. The Whig party was incapable of espousing the Free-Soil cause, for that issue was too far removed from its primary economic interests, and furthermore the party wished to retain its hold on its own Southern wing. Under Calhoun, Allen wrote, the Democrats of the South had a leader and they had a program, but the Whig party had neither. The natural result followed. The Southern Whigs passed over into the Democratic party, which became an essentially Southern affair; the majority of the Northern Whigs gathered about new leaders, with a new party name and a positive policy—Republicanism, a doctrine affirming that extension of slavery in the territories must halt and that the national government did have the power to prohibit such extension. This whole phenomenon, as today can be seen, was an illustration of the dictum later announced by Turner when he wrote in 1893: “Loose construction increased as the nation marched westward.”307 Not from Lucius Q. C. Lamar in 1888, then, but from his own teacher did Turner derive the inspiration which set him on the track of one of his epoch-making generalizations.308
Where and how did Allen derive his views of the importance of western expansion in American history? History exhibits many examples and many varieties of the movement of peoples. The phenomena of expansion are not unknown to the student of Roman history, nor again to the reader of medieval history; with both these fields Allen had close familiarity. It was in 1883 that Sir John R. Seeley published a popular and influential work with the title The Expansion of England.
But one can draw the net tighter and point to a particular book, one known to Allen, and one bearing on American history, in which the theme of expansion is well handled. In 1875 a young Oxford graduate published as one of the volumes in Edward A. Freeman’s “Historical Course for Schools” a little work with the innocent title History of America. The book is now quite forgotten, for if any read John A. Doyle today, they turn to his large-scale work on American colonial history. But Doyle’s youthful publication is far from negligible. From undisturbed shelves lift the small handbook and weigh well the following:
I have already said that the history of the United States is, in great measure, the history of the process by which a small body of colonies on the Adantic seaboard have spread towards the west. When that process is ended, it is possible that many of the peculiar features which distinguish America from the Old World will disappear. Hitherto land has been so abundant that the position of a tenant renting from a landlord has been almost unknown. But when the time comes that the unoccupied districts in the west have all been taken into cultivation, land may perhaps come to have the same value which it has in the Old World. So too men may be driven by want of land into manufactures. Hitherto men in the United States have always had before them the possibility of bettering themselves by a change of abode. Moreover the great demand for labour has given them a free choice of occupation, and thus led to rapid changes. The ease too with which money can be made has led men to concentrate their energies on business, and thus the luxuries and refinements of life have been to a great extent neglected. When the power of extension towards the west is at an end, all this will change, and we may reasonably suppose that the United States will become far more like the great nations of Europe.309
This penetrating observation is not the only one of that character in the book.
The twin themes of westward extension and sectional differences are to be found in Doyle’s pages, and they give unity and form to his book. For those who would understand Allen’s approach to American history, a close reading of it is suggested. But can one be certain that Allen knew of its existence? Proof of this is speedily forthcoming. An American edition of the work was brought out by Henry Holt of New York early in 1876, the text touched up here and there by Francis A. Walker, who enriched it further by four maps of his own construction. Three of these maps show the distribution of the population of the country in 1790, 1830, and 1870, respectively, and the fourth displays the acquisition of territory by the United States from 1776 to 1868. In Allen’s list of books bearing on the history of the United States the Holt edition of Doyle’s book is included with the comment: “An excellent English work.”310 Thwaites published his textbook, The Colonies, 1492–1750, early in 1891. In the short list of good books for readers and teachers with which he prefaced his narrative he cites the Holt edition of Doyle and commends it as “a good brief narrative.”311 Hence it is clear that the reputation of the book persisted in Madison. Turner, indeed, referred his class to it in 1892–1893.312
In so far as historical synthesis was concerned, Allen’s ideas were definite. He urged that the “lost art of historical narration” be recovered, and he praised John Richard Green’s Short History of the English People because Green had effected its recovery.313 When the German historian of ancient Rome, Ihne, published his book in 1878, Allen, reviewing it for the Nation, deprecated Ihne’s purely political explanation of Roman development. Historians are now beginning, Allen wrote, to look more and more to social and economic causes for the explanation of political phenomena.314 This was another of his lessons not lost on his pupil, Turner. In sum, Allen stands out as a creative, fertilizing mind, replete with knowledge, alert in suggestion, and firm in insisting on scholarly discipline. The application of the topical method required in the pupil the exercise of the critical faculties and afforded from the beginning of his course abundant practice in the discovering of texts, the weighing and comparing of them, and their utilization in the form of a finished account.
It early occurred to Allen that the students in his university classes could perhaps be roused to interest in historical study by having their attention directed to local history. Accordingly he included in his reading list of 1883 a fair number of books relating to the West: works like John G. Shea’s Discovery and Exploration of the Mississippi Valley (“indispensable to the student of western history”), R. Blanchard’s Discovery and Conquest of the Northwest, and C. W. Butterfield’s The Washington-Irvine Correspondence (“an important work for the history of the Northwest”). Thus Allen began quietly to exert an influence toward the cultivation of research in the history of the region west of the Alleghany Mountains. Close at hand the Wisconsin Historical Society had brought together a good collection of books relating to that region, and old Dr. Draper had accumulated a rich trove of manuscripts. Allen set to work to see to it that this important material was used, and used according to the most approved methods of critical scholarship. The historical library, according to his way of thinking, was Clio’s laboratory, and he wished to see experimenters at work therein.
He had first set Turner at work in the scholar’s laboratory when, in his junior year, Turner had taken Allen’s course in American history. The results of the undergraduate’s delvings were published in the Portage State Register for June 23, 1883, under the title “History of the ‘Grignon Tract’ on the Portage of the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers.” The Grignon tract lay within the city limits of Portage, and Turner’s paper traced the history of this plat of land from 1793, when an Indian trader wintered at the portage between the rivers, down to the middle of the nineteenth century, when a town had risen on the site of the trader’s camp. For materials Turner used such sources as the Annals of Congress, the American State Papers—Public Lands, the recollections of an old pioneer published in the Wisconsin Historical Society’s volumes, and manuscript deeds and other documents of the clerk of Columbia County, Wisconsin, on file in the courthouse. The work gave Turner no opportunity for polite literary composition, but it showed that he had learned from Allen how a piece of historical investigation is carried on, and it taught him, on the way, the pregnant truth that history is the tracing of social growth. In the brief history of Portage he saw, neatly isolated, an instance of the evolution of a community from a camp site in less than two generations. In turn the Indians, the French, and the Americans had possessed the place. Some of the documents he had used were in French. What were the deepest implications of that fact? And some of the deeds he pored over were to be had, in the original, only in Brown County, Michigan. Why so? The topic Allen had given him was trivial enough, but an honest and inquiring mind could learn much from it, provided that mind possessed the quality of receptivity. Turner read omnivorously: receptive his mind most emphatically was. Five years from the time he published this early effort, he had taken his master’s degree with a well-constructed and well-written thesis on the development of the Indian trade in Wisconsin. The logical connection between the essay of 1883 and that of 1888 is clear.
It was the fur trade which drew the first white men to Wisconsin, men of French stock. The primitive period of Wisconsin history was the period of the French fur trade, and this Turner set himself to study as a part of his advanced work for his degree. In these studies Parkman’s La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West was of help as a point of departure. The copious store of documents in the collections of the Historical Society added much more. Most of all, the critical guidance and counsel of Allen were of avail to him, pointing out the proper divisions of the subject, the connections between the periods, and the significance of the developments recorded. When the study was done, Turner was able to stand on one side and see that he had traced the evolution of a commonwealth from its rude beginnings as a field for barter with savages down to the time when the general government opened land offices to sell farms to the incoming white settlers of American nationality. During this period the fur trade had waxed and waned, and the Indian trader had fulfilled his mission as the pathfinder of civilization.
In the preparation of his thesis Turner spent three years. He began graduate study, as we should now term it, in 1885, and he received his master’s degree at Commencement, 1888. As a graduate student he had the undivided attention of his teacher, and under such fortunate conditions, given the particular pupil, his growth in learning and historical insight was quite what might have been expected.
While carrying on his advanced studies, Turner had also been gaining experience in classroom teaching. During the college session of 1885–1886 he taught rhetoric and oratory. In the year that followed he taught rhetoric for part of the time and for the rest offered a course of his own on American history, a branch of the field which Allen had taught. Informing is the announcement in the catalog for 1886–1887: “American History (Mr. Turner). Allen’s History Topics with any good United States history of the higher grade; Johnston, Leeds and Higginson’s Larger History are especially recommended. Outline maps are used for marking territorial changes.”
Allen offered Turner sufficient opportunity for growth and encouraged him to take part in the life of the department. In the college year of 1887–1888, the last in which Turner was registered as a candidate for the master’s degree, he presented two courses in American history. He gave the elementary course twice a week in the fall and winter terms. And he offered a new, more advanced course in which the subject was treated “more largely from the genetic standpoint than the preceding; developed by topics. Twice a week for one year.” The final offering in the field was a seminar in English and American history, probably controlled by Allen himself.
The first stage of his period of apprenticeship ended for Turner at Commencement, 1888, when he took his degree of master of arts, submitting the thesis already referred to, “The Influence of the Fur Trade in the Development of Wisconsin.”315 The key word in the title is “development.” It was soon printed with the altered title The Character and Influence of the Fur Trade in Wisconsin.316 In this essay Turner centered his effort on making plain the evolutionary stages in the history of the Wisconsin fur trade. Though it was an exercise in local history, he did not conceive of the subject in any cramped way. He saw truly that this vanished form of economic activity in Wisconsin was of continental importance. The final paragraph of the study shows that the young author understood the place of the fur trade in the genetic series of Wisconsin’s economic activities:
The Indian village became the trading post, the trading post became the city. The trails became our early roads. . . . In a word, the fur trade closed its mission by becoming the path finder for agriculture and manufacturing civilization.317
Turner’s first historical publication was his Outline Studies in the History of the Northwest, published by Charles H. Kerr and Company of Chicago in 1888. This syllabus, Turner’s earliest, bears a family resemblance to that of Allen. It is made up of topical outlines and references to pertinent books and materials, and furnishes directions for study by reading-circle groups. The booklet supplied readings not only on the history of the Old Northwest but also on the regions of the Missouri Valley, the basin of the Columbia, and our outpost, Alaska. Thus by indirection there is manifested the theme of expansion; and so, too, that of social development or evolution. The list of topics starts with the following: the land and the aborigines, French exploration, French occupation, French and Indian wars, English and Spanish dominance, the Northwest in the Revolution, the Ordinance of 1787, the Northwest Territory, the Louisiana Purchase, slavery in the Northwest. These topics afford a rapid survey of the region between the Rockies and the Alleghanies and sum up centuries of growth. Then follow such other topics as the exploration and occupation of the Northwest Coast, the struggle for Oregon, the Great American Desert, and the Alaska Purchase. From these aspects of the processes of growth and expansion Turner goes on to the final topic of the series:
- 15. The Northwest of To-day.
- a. A Century of Progress in the Old Northwest.
- b. The New Northwest.
- c. Effect of the Northwest on the United States.318
Clearly the concept of social development is fundamental to the organization of this work, compact though it is.
A more ambitious effort, and one giving greater scope for the display of his ability, was a contribution from Turner in the ninth edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. This is an account of Wisconsin. It falls naturally into two parts. The first and longer section deals topically with such matters as population, cities, agriculture, civil administration, and the system of democratic education. In short, Turner provides the reader with a cross-sectional view of the social, economic, and institutional life of Wisconsin in 1885. In the second section of his essay he provides a historical explanation of how this condition of affairs had come into being.
Notable in this latter part of the essay is the masterly way in which he traces the social evolution of the Wisconsin community from its primitive beginnings in prehistoric times forward to the complex exfoliation of urban and industrial life in the late nineteenth century. So smoothly and so easily do the sentences of this portion of the article move that one reads them all but unaware of the fact that behind the lucid prose there exists a well-integrated, historical philosophy, characterized by strong devotion to the genetic method of investigation. . . .
This piece should be read as the sequel to, and the natural continuation of, Turner’s essay on the fur trade in its earlier form. It must have been written at the latest before he went East to study at the Johns Hopkins university.319
Before Turner completed this piece of writing, he had had to master much of the factual material on Wisconsin contained in the massive and numerous volumes of the Census of 1880. The essay proves that already Turner had embarked on that sociological way of writing history which he never afterward forsook. The pattern and model for that sort of investigation will appear in due course.
It becomes clear beyond question that the several products of young Turner’s historical teaching and publication display coherence in relation to each other because all are outgrowths of a fundamental, unifying concept—that of evolution applied to social phenomena. As has been seen, he taught his advanced course in American history “from the genetic standpoint.” He constructed his syllabus for the study of Northwestern history on developmental lines. He studied the history of the Wisconsin fur trade as an example of a transforming economic force which converted a wilderness into a settled community. In his Britannica article on Wisconsin he followed the same mode of treatment: not narration, but scientific explanation; not jaunty narratives and flowing tales to delight the imagination, but topics for the evolutionist. And it is well to make explicit the conclusion that this adherence to the concept of the genetic and evolutionary approach was unmistakably manifested by Turner before he left Madison to undertake higher studies in history at Johns Hopkins University.
At Baltimore, where he studied for two terms, his familiarity with this evolutionary line of thinking was deepened. Among the several courses he took there with much profit was one on the history of political economy, taught by the vigorous and intellectually attractive Richard T. Ely. He also took Ely’s course, “Special Economic Questions.”320 Ely included the substance of his lectures on the history of political economy in his book, An Introduction to Political Economy, published in February, 1889, and it can be easily shown that in one way or another Turner rapidly became acquainted with its contents.
It will be recalled that in “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” Turner deals with the course of social evolution in the United States.
It begins with the Indian and the hunter; it goes on to tell of the disintegration of savagery by the entrance of the trader, the pathfinder of civilization; we read the annals of the pastoral stage in ranch life; the exploitation of the soil by the raising of unrotated crops of corn and wheat in sparsely settled farming communities; the intensive culture of the denser farm settlement; and finally the manufacturing organization with city and factory system.321
One has only to turn to Ely’s An Introduction to Political Economy and glance at the title to the sixth chapter, which bears the heading “The Stages in the Economic Development of Civilization,” to arrive at one of the proximate sources of the concept of sequence of economic stages already cited in Turner’s essay. This chapter of Ely’s covers much human history in three pages.322 The opening paragraph, dealing with “prehistoric economy,” is based on the sixteenth chapter of Sir John Lubbock’s Prehistoric Times. The succeeding paragraph on “modern man” is founded upon the eleventh chapter of Sir Henry Maine’s Early Law and Custom. Ely fills the gap between primitive and modern times by positing a series of “economic stages” as follows:
We begin in our description of economic stages with the time when men had learned to kindle fires, to eat meat, and to live in some kind of political communities, however imperfect. We then divide economic development from this time up to the present into five stages when viewed from the stand-point of the production of material goods. . . . The following are the stages into which we may roughly divide economic progress when it is viewed from the stand-point of him who inquires how goods are produced:
- 1. The hunting and fishing stage.
- 2. The pastoral stage.
- 3. The agricultural stage.
- 4. The trades and commerce stage.
- 5. The industrial stage.323
In his seventh chapter Ely goes on to take up the characteristics of the different economic stages, defining and explaining them in detail.324 He observes in conclusion that the literature on the subject in English is inadequate; therefore he supplies a bibliography in which he includes material available in the European languages.325
No indication is given here by Ely as to the source of this scheme of economic stages, but by consulting a later work of his, Studies in the Evolution of Industrial Society, the answer to the question is found. A pertinent section from that later work may be quoted:
The idea of the evolution of society in general has been one of slow, general acceptance. . . . Even before . . . [the time of the German Historical School, numbering Hildebrand, Roscher, and Knies,] Friedrich List, a German economist, who had lived for several years in the United States and was deeply impressed with our growth, had advanced the idea of an industrial evolution. In his National System of Political Economy, he says, “In the economical development of nations, it is necessary to distinguish the following principal stages: the savage state, the pastoral state, the agricultural state, the agricultural and manufacturing state, and finally, the agricultural, manufacturing, and commercial state.”326
His footnote reference leads back to the first American edition of List’s work just cited, a translation from the German published at Philadelphia in 1856. List is thus seen as one of the first in the nineteenth century to spread this idea of a sequence of economic stages.
Still another proximate source for the concept may be found in the voluminous writings of Francis Amasa Walker, successively army officer, superintendent of the ninth and tenth censuses, professor of history and political economy at Yale, and, finally, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Walker introduced the idea of stages into the census reports prepared under his direction; with these, of course, Turner was thoroughly familiar. In his extensive treatise, Political Economy, Advanced Course, Walker discourses at some little length on the hunter state, the pastoral state, the agricultural state, and the manufacturing state.327 No doubt he too had derived the idea from List. Since Ely had a high opinion of Walker’s economic thinking, always referred to him with respect, and paid him the compliment of assigning his books for student reading, one can reasonably conclude that Turner had before him at least three opportunities of getting acquainted with the notion of economic stages: directly from Ely in the classroom or from his newly published book; directly from one or another of Walker’s systematic treatises on economic theory; and indirectly from the incidental use of the concept as it is found scattered here and there through the pages of descriptive matter in the Census of 1880 and of works derived from it. Sufficient evidence could be drawn upon to demonstrate that Turner was well acquainted with more than one of Walker’s writings. As between Walker and Ely, however, the probability exists that Turner found the concept of economic stages more simply and schematically outlined in the thought of the latter than in the work of the former.
In conclusion, then, we find that eminent thinkers like Maine and Lubbock and Herbert Spencer and Walker and Ely were employing this or a similar concept to organize the data of their special studies.328 Little wonder, therefore, that a rising and alert young scholar like Turner did not hesitate to follow suit and conduct his own researches in accord with so useful a doctrine.329
FROM an intellectual viewpoint the distinguishing features of Turner’s article on Wisconsin are its certitude and its air of calm maturity. How does it happen that a young man scarcely twenty-eight years old could handle so firmly and so tellingly a difficult historico-sociological synthetic problem like this, a problem which would give even a seasoned researcher pause? The answer lies in the fund of knowledge the young man had already accumulated. In addition to his evolutionary outlook, he had somehow acquired a fondness for the sociological approach which hereafter stood him in good stead. The texture of nearly all of Turner’s historical work, even from the very beginning, has solidity, richness, and body. He derived this special strength from an attentive and prolonged study of a now neglected work of reference, Scribner’s Statistical Atlas.
During the year 1887 the Wisconsin Historical Society acquired by purchase a copy of a folio compilation prepared by Fletcher Hewes and Henry Gannett, Scribner’s Statistical Atlas of the United States Showing by Graphic Methods Their Present Condition and Their Political, Social and Industrial Development (New York, 1885).330 Gannett, the leading coeditor, had lately served as geographer of the Tenth Census and was now chief geographer of the United States Geological Survey. He was a serious student, a prolific writer, and an organizing genius of high powers.331 The influence of this Atlas on young Turner’s historical thinking has never been appreciated: it was a factor in drawing him toward the sociological approach to history. Without the wealth of material of many different kinds contained in this huge folio, and without his careful study of its suggestive pages, one feels confident that Turner would not have evolved into the master we know. It was the thorough assimilation of the lessons implicit in Scribner’s Atlas that made it possible for his genius to take that fruitful trend leading to results which the world has not yet done admiring. The Atlas is often referred to by Turner and by his early students. His footnotes acknowledge his dependence on its data. He frequently recommended it to his pupils. Pondering on the material presented by this extensive survey of a nation’s resources, he silently added stature to his historical thinking and to his scholarly comprehension.
It will be well, therefore, to consider some of the salient points of the book itself, although it is really too massive to yield to effective summarization. One ought to approach it with the understanding that no matter how common such works may be today, they were rare a half century ago; and that this Atlas, viewed from whatever point in time, must be regarded as a brilliant achievement. A particularized description of the purpose of the Atlas is given in the Preface:
It is the aim of this work to bring together and to present by graphic methods, all the leading statistical facts regarding the physical, social, industrial, commercial and political conditions of the United States. It portrays the physical features of the country, which more or less determine its development; the political history of the nation, the succession of parties and the ideas for which they existed; and the progress of settlement, from the eastern seaboard, across the Appalachians, throughout the valley of the Mississippi, and beyond the barriers of the Cordilleras. It treats of the population, its varieties of race and nativity, its educational and religious condition, its occupations, and its mortality. Passing to the industries, it exhibits the great leading branches, agriculture, manufactures, mining, trade and transportation. Under the head of Finance and Commerce, it pictures the wealth of the country, and its public debt and taxation, its foreign commerce and carrying trade, its expenditures and its sources of revenue—thus presenting to the comprehension of all, the balance sheet of the General Government. The work closes fittingly with a series of diagrams which summarize and bring together for comparison, the leading facts previously developed.332
Hewes and Gannett, in other words, aimed at furnishing a many-sided description of American society as it existed in the year 1880. Though the word “sociology” then was but little employed in this country, one can see that the compilers of the Atlas approached their task in the spirit of sociological learning, broadly understood. Their production supplied American readers with the most thorough graphical presentation of the nation’s condition and resources that had ever been available up to that time. Geographers, economists, and numerous other experts, working cooperatively with statistical tools and graphical techniques, prepared a cross section of American society at the given moment.
Where the labor of the sociologists ended, the task of the historian began. His was the function of explaining how that which was had come to be. Turner was to undertake to do his share to complete the work begun by Hewes and Gannett.
Once young Turner had fallen under the fascination of this suggestive and provocative work, he learned to think of the American scene in terms of vast physiographic provinces, each exerting a slow and invisible pressure on the life within its bounds: the Atlantic Slope, the Mississippi Basin, the Pacific Slope. He learned to think of American agriculture in terms of corn belts, wheat belts, sugar bowls, tobacco zones, and cotton belts. In 1880 each of these crops dominated certain areas, and in definite fashion the cartographer and the economist exhibited the facts. It was for the historian to ask himself how that domination had been attained. What factors of soil, climate, racial skill, labor supply, markets for the surplus, and so on had led to the ultimate result? To ask questions like these was to block out the work looking forward to a future history of American agriculture.
From study of the maps showing the distribution, by counties, of manufacturing establishments the historian was led to note that American industry was a sectional rather than a national phenomenon of our life, for it was restricted to two main regions: the North Central states and the North Atlantic states. The composition of the American population and the distribution of the several component elements also came to be a matter that fascinated him. The Atlas showed that different racial elements were spread out over the country in patterns which suggested that deep-lying causes were at work to occasion these arrangements. In the Southern states, for example, occurred a Negro belt: its regions of highest concentration coincided, interestingly enough, with the counties producing the heaviest crops of cotton. In the North Central states was to be found the heaviest concentration of German-born immigrants, and in the North Atlantic states the heaviest concentration of the Irish-born. Why these particular distributions? Was it chance, or the expression of hidden historical forces which could be isolated and explained by historical analysis? Hence the need for a history of American immigration began to appear, one which would comprehend the leading foreign stocks. The student discovered that maps showing the membership of the several religious denominations held their own fascination: what historical conditions would account for the distribution as shown on these maps? Was not a study of American religious history called for?
As for politics, the Atlas contained not only a series of colored maps showing the “predominant vote” in presidential elections from 1824 onward,333 but also a colored map indicating by counties the popular vote for the presidency in 1880,334 and showing “the ratio between the predominant and the total vote.” To consult this map was to stir the historical imagination. How did it happen that some counties were overwhelmingly Republican while others, sometimes adjoining, were heavily Democratic? Why was it that, in general, the Democrats and the Republicans inhabited different territorial regions, each tending to be a continuous zone? And why were enclaves of Democrats, for example, found in central Minnesota, interior Ohio, and Pennsylvania? Or why were there isolated bodies of Republicans in tidewater Virginia, eastern Tennessee, the delta region of Louisiana, and the gulf coast of Texas? Such facts prompted investigation of the history of parties in relation to physiography, crop interests, racial composition, and religious belief. Thus the Atlas began to teach Turner the lesson of multiple correlation of social, economic, political, and geographic factors.
A section of the Atlas that Turner found of surpassing interest was an essay, “Progress of Settlement,” which provided a suggestive outline of the development of the westward movement, showing how pioneers had first occupied the Atlantic Slope, then had crossed the Alleghanies, and had subsequently advanced into the continental interior. Not the least valuable feature of the essay was its accompanying clear and attractive maps illustrating the various points discussed in the text.335 In some cases the maps were arranged in series designed to show the developing situation at ten-year intervals. There was, for instance, one group of maps designed to show the westward advance of population in 1790 and at every subsequent decade down to 1880. Beginning with that for 1830, these maps also showed the evolution, decade by decade, of the railway net.336
Turner studied these maps closely. Minute comparison of particular sentences in “The Significance of the Frontier” with the text, together with the accompanying maps, of this essay, “Progress of Settlement,” and with the pertinent maps of the same sort in the reports of the Census of 1880 establishes the fact that Turner had at his elbow the census maps and the Atlas essay when he was composing his famous essay. In nearly every case, for example, Turner based his description of the location of the frontier line in a given census year upon the account given in the Atlas. In passing, an instance of Turner’s careful workmanship in preparing this essay may be cited. Describing the frontier line of 1850, he wrote: “Minnesota and Wisconsin still exhibited frontier conditions.”337 The Atlas map for the frontier of that year, however, does not credit Minnesota with any inhabitants, and the frontier line does not extend into the area, though eastern Iowa and southern Wisconsin are shown as partly settled. But the map in the report of the Census of 1880 showing the frontier of 1850 gives the explanation of the apparent discrepancy. This map, which is more detailed, shows that in the region of the Twin Cities the beginnings of settlement had been made. Turner must therefore have checked the two sets of maps against each other and then decided to follow the more accurate one at this point of disagreement.
These Atlas maps repeatedly suggested the theme of westward movement. Those, for instance, illustrating the distribution of foreign-born residents in the United States in 1880 made it clear that these people had in many instances gone from the seaboard to the interior. This was true of such nationalities as Germans, English, and Welsh, British-Americans, Scandinavians, and, to a somewhat less extent, the Irish. A study of the maps illustrating the interstate migration of native-born Americans indicated that they too were taking part in this westward movement. For example, New York-born persons moved west to Michigan, Wisconsin, and the farther North Central states. Pennsylvanians settled thickly in the North Central states, the prairies, and the mountain West. Indiana and Ohio folk scattered out all over the Mississippi Valley and even reached the Pacific Northwest. Georgians moved on into the Deep South and Texas. Tennesseeans drifted into Arkansas, Kansas, Colorado, and Texas. It was plain that the American people exhibited an extreme readiness to change their place of residence. More than 9,500,000 people out of roughly 50,000,000 had been born in states other than those in which they resided in 1880. This westward movement of the native-born stocks took place mainly along the parallels of latitude, the North Altantic states sending colonists into the North Central region, and that region providing settlers for the further West while a similar line of movement originated in the South Atlantic states.338
From data contained in other Atlas maps one could see that as the people moved westward, they promoted the development of some of the amenities of civilization. Take, for example, educational institutions.339 Maps of secondary schools, universities and colleges, and specialized schools showed that the frontier of education had moved westward since colonial days. In 1880 there were 364 colleges and universities in the United States. But the day had long since passed when the ancient foundations on the Atlantic Slope monopolized the field. In the older section of the Middle West, for example, were Oberlin and Beloit. Out on the borders of civilization, in states like Nebraska and Kansas, new colleges were springing up. Though the western half of Nebraska was still an unpeopled wilderness, the people of that state had already founded at Lincoln a university which was not yet ten years old when the Atlas was published. Facts like this suggested the need for an historical account of the rise and spread of American educational institutions as one phase of the growth of American civilization.
In still another way the Atlas proved to be suggestive, for it contained an essay by Henry Gannett, “The Natural Grouping of the States,” which offered Turner the theoretical basis for a geographical concept of American sectionalism.340 Gannett divided the United States into three large sections, each corresponding to a primary topographic division of the country: the Atlantic Slope, the Mississippi Basin, and the Cordilleran region reaching from the Rockies to the Pacific Coast. The first was divided into two zones, the North Atlantic and the South Atlantic states. Taken together, these made up the “old” settlements. The states of the second main division were those in the Mississippi Valley and fell “naturally” into two groups, the North Central and the South Central states. They had been settled more recently. The third major division was the West, as yet a region either sparsely peopled or not settled at all.
The merit of this classification was that it brought out clearly certain salient features that neighboring states had in common. Thus, for example, when the North Atlantic and the North Central states were treated as a combined group, it was found that 85.8 per cent of the foreign-born population lived within their bounds; when the South Atlantic and the South Central states were similarly grouped together, it was seen that 90.5 per cent of the Negro population resided inside their limits. In the North Atlantic group were 266 urban units out of a total of 580; in the North Central, 213; in both Southern regions, only 78. If manufacturing were considered, this grouping was once more seen to be of usefulness, for the figures showed that the North Atlantic states had manufactures as their primary interest, the North Central states had important manufactures, and the other groups had either few or no manufactures whatever. If it were a question of agriculture, it was seen, on a sectional grouping, that the North Central states produced 71 per cent of all cereals grown in the nation, and the combined Southern sections produced 99.6 per cent of all cotton, sugar, and rice grown. According to this classification the West was a section of rough topography, arid climate, and sparse population, with unimportant agriculture and manufactures, but with mining and ranching as primary occupations.
Today, to be sure, when this and similar methods of ordering social data are so familiar, it is possible to overlook the novelty and the suggestiveness of Gannett’s arrangement. Half a century ago, however, the scheme marked an advance in sociological analysis. Hitherto men had loosely used such expressions as “the South,” “the West,” or “the North” without giving them a specific content. By working out this useful scheme Gannett, building on Francis A. Walker’s work, gave these “natural groups” a positive content in geography, economics, and politics.
This portion of the Atlas must have helped Turner in the development of his concept of sectionalism, for it made possible the interrelation of the factors of physiography, economic activity, and political views. He did not, however, take over the scheme unchanged, for where the Atlas divided the Atlantic Coast into two sections, Turner required for his work three—New England, the Middle Atlantic region, and the South. By this alteration he showed his critical power as a historian in that he recognized the important difference between Quaker and German Pennsylvania, for instance, and the section east of the Hudson with its English-bred stocks. Further, it may be noted that Turner refused to enslave his mind, where sectionalism was concerned, by blindly accepting the framework of categories the Atlas provided. The scheme had its utility as method, but Turner did not forget that it was no more than an aid to thinking; hence he refused to deal with it as though these instrumental concepts possessed an objective reality of their own. He knew from experience, as also from a study of the maps in the Atlas, that between sections adjoining one another there were no hard and fast boundaries of crops, denominations, or political opinions. In between lay marginal areas which shaded off from centers of predominance into something less.
Excellent though this Gannett classification of natural groupings of the states proved itself when Turner first studied it, he did not adopt it permanently. Here one has an opportunity to point out how Turner would throw overboard a theory once he had learned of a superior one. Gannett’s three-fold classification—the Atlantic Slope, the Mississippi Valley, and the Cordilleran region—was retained by Turner up to 1895. Then a better scheme was published: Physiographic Regions of the United States (New York, 1895), the work of Major John W. Powell of United States Geological Survey fame.341 Powell conceived of the terrain of the United States as being made up of four major physiographic slopes: those of the Atlantic, the Great Lakes, the Gulf, and the Pacific. Progressing from east to west, one observes, according to the Powell classification, the following principal physiographic unities: the Atlantic Plains, the Piedmont Plateaus, the Appalachian Ranges, the Alleghany and New England Plateaus, the Lake Plains, the Prairie Plains, the Great Plains, the series of mountain ranges that form the backbone of the continent, and, finally, the Pacific Mountains. Powell discusses each of these unities in a systematic, detailed way and rounds out his discussion by providing a map in color of the several regions. The study of Powell’s map and accompanying text was long a “must” assignment for those who studied under Turner.
On August 30, 1896, soon after Powell’s publication had appeared, Turner wrote to Walter Hines Page of the Atlantic Monthly staff that he was basing his work in American history on the natural physiographic divisions as outlined by Powell: “I find it revolutionizes the study, and I hope sometime to work out a book along those lines.”342 He went on to give Page an enthusiastic account of his new understanding of the physiographic basis of sectionalism and to trace the relations between the West and the subsections which composed it, and between the West and the Atlantic Coast.
Almost a decade later Turner was still harping strongly on the theme of the importance of studying the basis of sectionalism.
The physiographers have recognized the existence of natural provinces and have mapped them under such names as the New England Plateaus, the Piedmont Plains, the Lake and Prairie Plains, the Gulf Plains, the Great Plains, etc. The Census Bureau has likewise attempted sectional divisions, on the basis of its maps of population, industrial conditions, resources, etc. . . . But as yet the historian has hardly begun the serious study of sectionalism, in the continent as a whole. And yet this is a fundamental fact in American history. We need studies designed to show what have been and are the natural, social, and economic divisions in the United States.343
Still another topic taken up by the Atlas interested Turner. This was Gannett’s essay, “Density of Population.”344 From this essay the following passage of central importance is quoted:
There are to be seen in the United States nearly all conditions of industry attendant upon different degrees of density of population. Generally speaking, the North Atlantic states are too densely populated to support all their inhabitants by agriculture, and, consequently, a large part of the population is engaged in manufactures and commercial and professional occupation. In the South Atlantic states and the eastern part of the South Central states, the population has not yet reached the limit of self-support by means of agriculture. Manufactures are, however, springing up in this section, and, as the population continues to grow, a constantly increasing proportion will be obliged to seek other vocations besides farming. The North Central section, from the Ohio westward to the frontier line of settlements in Nebraska and Kansas, shows all the gradations, from the very densely populated agricultural community to those which, in consequence of the excess of land at their disposal, raise from the soil far more than they themselves require for subsistence. Generally throughout the Western states and territories, agriculture is the prevailing occupation, but in certain parts of this section the profitable interest of mining has changed all the conditions.345
Implicit in this description of American life there is, of course, a theory of the evolution of each natural group of states from lowest into higher stages of social and economic organization. In the North Atlantic states the highest stage, that of manufactures, had already been reached; while in the West, society still lingered on in the ranching or simpler agricultural phase. This account of Gannett’s sounds like a dim anticipation of certain passages in Turner’s “Frontier” essay of 1893. It may be noted in passing that Gannett had subscribed to the concept of stages of economic progress which he derived from his former chief, Francis A. Walker.
Once Turner had acquired a taste for statistical and sociological data such as the Atlas and the preceding census reports contained, he contrived to keep up with the new government publications along those lines. Soon after the Census of 1890 was taken, the Census Bureau commenced publishing preliminary papers on particular aspects of its findings. Late in October there was issued Number 12 of the census bulletins, Population of the United States by States and Territories, 1890. Though signed by the Superintendent of the Census, it was probably wholly written by Gannett. The opening portion of the bulletin deals with the scheme of classifying the states and territories according to natural groups; it is, therefore, a repetition of the discussion already referred to in the Atlas. But from his summary of the West, where “the leading industries are agriculture, mining, and grazing,” the author goes on to generalize:
In the course of settlement and development of a country the industries commonly follow one another in a certain order. After the hunter, trapper, and prospector, who are commonly the pioneers, the herdsman follows, and for a time the raising of cattie is the leading industry. As settlement becomes less sparse, this is followed by agriculture, which in its turn, as the population becomes more dense, is succeeded by manufactures, and, as a consequence, the aggregation of the people in cities. We see in this country all stages of this progress.346
If we glance at Turner’s essay of 1893, we read:
The United States lies like a huge page in the history of society. Line by line as we read from west to east we find the record of social evolution. It begins with the Indian and the hunter; it goes on to tell of the disintegration of savagery by the entrance of the trader, the pathfinder of civilization; we read the annals of the pastoral stage in ranch life; the exploitation of the soil by the raising of unrotated crops of corn and wheat in sparsely settled farming communities; the intensive culture of the denser farm settlement; and finally the manufacturing organization with city and factory system. This page is familiar to the student of census statistics, but how little of it has been used by our historians.347
As one of his authorities to support this paragraph, Turner gives the citation, “Compendium of the Eleventh Census, 1890 (Washington, 1892), i, p. xl.” This publication was doubtless available to him during January or February, 1893, but he could have levied tribute on its content by using it in its earlier form as Bulletin Number 12.
A comparison of the census discussion with Turner’s makes it plain that the historian found utility in the concept of a sequence of pioneers: hunter, trapper, prospector, herdsman, farmer, city-dweller. It provided him with a clue to the organization of American social and historical material. His observation that “we see in this country all stages of this progress” implied a dictum that on the borders American society was continually beginning over again. This “process” had been going on since the first English settlers landed on the Atlantic Coast centuries before. How long would it continue? The answer to this question was soon available. Late in April, 1891, the Census Office published Extra Census Bulletin Number 2. The content of this bulletin put the capstone on Turner’s edifice of sociological-historical thinking and must be considered at least briefly if the special nature of its influence is to be made plain.
This bulletin, whose subject was the density of the rural counties of the nation, consisted of a text, some tables, and a map. The county was taken as the unit for the inquiry, and the average density of each county unit was ascertained. The data were then plotted on a map of the United States according to a scale of six degrees of intensity:
Less than 2 inhabitants to a square mile
Treated as “unsettled”
2 to 6 inhabitants to a square mile
I degree of density
6 to 18 inhabitants to a square mile
II degrees of density
18 to 45 inhabitants to a square mile
III degrees of density
45 to 90 inhabitants to a square mile
IV degrees of density
over 90 inhabitants to a square mile
V degrees of density
By an arrangement of colors of increasing intensity of shade and by a corresponding system of Roman numerals it became possible to give on the map a display of the varying degrees of density of the nation’s rural counties.
The editorial comment on the table and map may be cited:
These limits define in a general way the extent and prevalence of various classes of industries. The first group, 2 to 6 to a square mile, indicates a population mainly occupied with the grazing industry or a widely scattered farming population. [The geographer, Gannett, had his eye on the contemporary ranches of the high plains, but Turner the historian knew that the fur trader had preceded the rancher in those countries at least a half century before.] The second group, 6 to 18, indicates a farming population, with systematic cultivation of the soil, but this either in an early stage of settlement or upon more or less rugged soil. The third group, 18 to 45 to a square mile, almost universally indicates a highly successful agriculture, while in some localities the beginnings of manufactures have raised into this group a difficult farming region. Speaking generally, agriculture in this country is not carried on with such care and refinement as yet to afford employment and support to a population in excess of 45 to a square mile; consequently, the last two groups, 45 to 90 and above to a square mile, appear only as commerce and manufactures arise and personal and professional services are in demand. In reports of former censuses that portion of our domain which contains less than two inhabitants to a square mile has been regarded as unsettled territory, and through this discussion the same distinction will be observed.348
The map, explicitly attributed to Gannett, showed, in six degrees of density, the distribution of the population of the United States in 1890. It was after a study of the data displayed on this map that the Superintendent of the Census—in reality probably Gannett—wrote the now well-known words: “Up to and including 1880 the country had a frontier of settlement, but at present the unsettled area has been so broken into by isolated bodies of settlement that there can hardly be said to be a frontier line. In the discussion of its extent, its westward movement, etc., it can not, therefore, any longer have a place in the census reports.”349
This statement was the official notification that a great historic movement had come to an end, and it was to serve as Turner’s text when, a few years afterward, he marshalled his thoughts to compose his “Frontier” essay of 1893. But Turner’s mind was prepared to profit by the dramatic announcement issuing from the Census Office because he had already familiarized himself with the rich stores of social data heretofore provided by Walker in the census reports of 1880 and by Walker’s colleague, Gannett, compiler of the Statistical Atlas of 1885. Turner enriched and strengthened himself by a study of this material.
PRESIDENT Bascom had resigned in 1887 and was succeeded in the Wisconsin presidential chair by Thomas C. Chamberlin, an eminent geologist and a university leader who strove to transform his small college into a true university. Bascom had made a start, and Chamberlin vigorously pushed on. An investigator of transcendent ability and power in his own specialty, he hoped to raise the standards of instruction by collecting about him a faculty of well-trained men abreast of modern scholarship. The day of the Ph.D. was dawning, and Chamberlin wished some of these new doctors on his staff. When Turner applied for a higher salary—he wished an increase from four hundred to five hundred dollars a year—Chamberlin said, no. The President appears to have promised to keep a place for him if he took a doctorate in reasonable time, but a doctorate he must have if he were to expect promotion at Madison.
Accordingly Turner decided to spend a year at Baltimore. He put in two terms in residence, 1888–1889. More than a few Wisconsin graduates in recent years had gone to Johns Hopkins to pursue advanced studies at that famous graduate school where the picked youth of that day were congregating to their own benefit. Professor Allen had already lectured at the university and was well known to President Daniel Coit Gilman, for the two had met in Germany years before. Turner consequently found no difficulty in being admitted as one of the company of selected research students in history.
His schedule of studies was a heavy one: the history of politics, church history, international law, social science, the history of political economy, elements of political economy, administration, American constitutional history, a course on mathematics (oddly enough), including algebra, analytic geometry, and calculus, and, of course, the noted seminar in history that Herbert Baxter Adams conducted round the famous green table. For a thesis subject he chose to write on the institutional aspects of the fur trade in Wisconsin, a decision which precluded opening up another field of investigation and permitted him to get on with the required work for the degree with celerity.350
His teachers at Baltimore numbered, in addition to Adams, such men as Richard T. Ely, Albion W. Small, and Woodrow Wilson. The future Democratic leader was then a visiting lecturer at Johns Hopkins, coming down from Middletown, Connecticut, for six weeks to give a course on administration, a subject with which he was then deeply engrossed. Young Charles H. Haskins, Turner, and Wilson boarded in the same house and spent pleasant hours conversing in each other’s stimulating company. Turner and Wilson exchanged notes on the problem of the formation of American nationality. Wilson propounded the view that the history of the South had been neglected, and Turner agreed, pointing out that so, too, had been the history of the West.351
The period of study at Baltimore further broadened and deepened Turner’s preparation for the conduct of historical researches of significance. He profited by the alert discussions of his young colleagues and by the thought-provoking dicta uttered by his distinguished teachers. The records of the famous seminar conducted by Adams have lately been opened up, and we can with their aid catch a glimpse of Turner as a member of that select company.352 In January, 1889, Turner presented to the seminar a review of a recently published book by William Barrows, The Indian’s Side of the Indian Question (Boston, 1887). A month later, on February 15, the first report of the afternoon was given by “Mr. F. J. Turner on ‘The Influence of the Fur Trade in the North West from the Particular Standpoint of Wisconsin.’ We can trace the growth of Wisconsin from the growth of the fur trade. It is only within the last fifty years that farming and manufacturing have become important.”353
Following the counsel and advice of Adams, Turner set about reworking the material of his thesis and augmented the study. In its final shape it became a contribution to the history of American institutions. The rewritten thesis was submitted to the Johns Hopkins authorities in time for Turner to be awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at Commencement in 1890.354
The rewriting of the thesis and the preparation of the manuscript for the press were accomplished at Madison, whence Turner wrote Adams in May, 1891, mentioning his wish to add a few maps and make some slight changes in the text.355 Turner sent back his galley proofs in mid-October, and toward the end of the year the book was published in the Johns Hopkins Studies in Historical and Political Science with the title, The Character and Influence of the Indian Trade in Wisconsin: A Study of the Trading Post as an Institution. Turner subsequently wrote to Adams that he was very much dissatisfied, now that he saw his ideas in print, with the way he had put them down, thus giving an early indication of that tendency toward perfectionism which haunted him all his days.356 In due course Turner’s monograph was reviewed by one of the company who gathered round the green table at Baltimore. It was the early winter of 1891, and the book was just out; the reviewer was James Alton James, who had studied formerly at Madison. The minutes of that seminar meeting record the opinion that the monograph showed careful research, was written in a good style, and was an important contribution to the history of the Northwest and especially to that of Wisconsin.357
Where lay the importance of Turner’s year of study at Baltimore? He benefited by conversations with Woodrow Wilson and with Haskins. He learned from his young colleagues. He had the advantage of a new library well stocked with historical materials. He heard something of what was going on in European seminars of history. He brushed elbows with scholars who were no mean competitors.
In one sense, therefore, the answer to the question is many-sided. In another sense the question may be answered by saying that Turner benefited supremely from the discussion of the problem of land and land economics in history. This is something of central importance in his development. From the unpublished minutes of Adams’ seminar at Johns Hopkins it is now known that this topic had been under discussion by Adams and his students for almost a decade before Turner got there. In 1880 Adams himself was examining the question of land as the basis of communities in ancient and modern times.358 In 1884 Charles H. Shinn, a student, read a paper on the land laws of the mining camps of the Far West.359 In 1885 Shosuke Sato, a Japanese, gave a report on the land laws of the United States, the product of his research being published the following year in the Johns Hopkins Studies as History of the Land Question in the United States. A highly suggestive comment by Adams on the Sato paper has been preserved in the seminar minutes for December 4, 1885:
Dr. Adams then called attention to the importance of agrarian studies in this country, suggesting that its entire history turns on its agrarian aspect. To this he attributed the large emigration to the United States of America, showing that colonization was greatly influenced by the desire of the emigrants to obtain large landed estates like those of the gentry in England and France in which countries all the land was in the hands of the wealthy. Dr. Adams then said that studies in this direction had been continued in the Seminary by Messrs. Sato and Bliss.360
In 1886 the seminar was considering land questions in Nebraska, Indiana, Wisconsin, and California. “Dr. Adams showed the connection between the silver question and the land question, the people of the West and South being the debtor classes with many mortgaged farms, the people of the East being the capitalists.”361 The evil of landlordism was much in the students’ minds. It seemed to Adams that Eastern capitalists were getting a hold on Western lands. President Gilman, after making a summer tour in 1887 through Nebraska, Minnesota, and the Dakotas, wrote back a letter of observations which the seminar considered in October. The burden of Gilman’s communication was that the growth of great farms, absorbing the small ones throughout the West, was quite remarkable.362
At Johns Hopkins the study of the land question, in its earlier history as well as in its recent developments, was undertaken against a firm background of the economic theory of land. Here the professor was Richard T. Ely, who used the writings of John Stuart Mill and Francis A. Walker as his mainstays for instruction in economic theory.363 To them he added his own textbook as soon as it was published in 1889. What Turner read and what he heard at Baltimore about matters like the theory of rent and property in land are of moment in view of the famous concluding sentences of the first paragraph in his essay of 1893: “Up to our own day American history has been in a large degree the history of the colonization of the Great West. The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward explain American development.”364
Here we face questions of definition. When Turner used the expression “land,” he meant by it what an economist of that day meant by this term. When Turner wrote of “free land,” he used a term for which a good contemporary warrant can be given. Francis A. Walker, for instance, in his Political Economy, with which Turner was familiar, says (page 34): “The three primary agents in the production of wealth are Land, Labor and Capital.” By “land” Walker understood not only arable land but also pastures, timberlands, water privileges, building lots, mining properties, and wood lots.365 It is worth calling attention here to the broad scope of the meaning of “land” as used by Walker and by Turner, because an alleged obscurity in Turner’s use of the word has been complained of by a recent writer.366
When land is occupied or cultivated, it yields a rent. “Rent is the term applied to the remuneration received by the landowning class for the use of the native and indestructible powers of the soil, or, as it might be expressed, for the use of natural agents. That remuneration may be paid in money or in produce.”367 Walker devotes a long chapter to stating the law of rent with all its terms and qualifications and includes a comparative study of rents in the United States, in England, in Ireland, on the Continent, and elsewhere. He discusses the problems of rents of high yield, no-rents, and land out of cultivation. He has a place in his theory for a new continent and the consequence of this great tract of land for the rise and fall of rents in the Old World.368
The doctrine of economic rent in relation to the lands of a new continent is well brought out in Walker’s Land and Its Rent (Boston, 1883). This work, especially the first chapter, is a book that everyone interested in Turner’s basic economic ideas should read as a whole. This is the statement of the law of economic rent:
Rent arises from the fact of varying degrees of productiveness in the lands actually contributing to the supply of the same market, the least productive land paying no rent, or a rent so small that it may be treated as none. The rent of all the higher grades of land is measured upwards from this line, the rent of each piece absorbing all the excess of produce above that of the no-rent land.369
Walker immediately goes on to point out that the net productiveness of a tract of land may be reduced comparatively by the important factor of distance from market in terms of difficulty of transporting the yield to place of sale.370 Assume that some enterprising cultivators have opened up a large tract of very fertile land situated some distance from the market. If costs of transport are high, these will eat up so large a proportion of the produce of each acre that the economic rent derived from these outlying lands would be no greater than that derived from relatively unprofitable lands situated in the home section. Under such conditions the distant lands would not be cultivated at all or would be farmed without paying rent.371
Assume further that some marked improvement in transportation is made, so that the cost of moving the produce to market from the distant tracts is considerably less than it was.
. . . what will be the effect on the cultivation of the several tracts [i.e., the distant and the home], and on the amounts of rent yielded by them respectively? The net produce of the distant tract (30–9) has now risen to 21 bushels. The 20-bushel [home] tract must be abandoned. No one can cultivate it and get his outlay back, so long as there is a limitless extent of free land on which wheat can be raised with a smaller expenditure of labor and capital. . . . Give the name America to the remote tract in this illustration, and you have a fair explanation of the tremendous effects produced, during the past few years, upon English and Irish rents, by the increasing severity of competition from this side of the Atlantic, following the reduction in the cost of transportation.372
Here we have an appearance of the much-discussed term “free land.” By setting this excerpt side by side with a later one from the same work we can use both to draw clear conclusions.
In the United States the mobility of the population, their quick intelligence, their almost Ishmaelitish proclivity to change of place . . . the cheapness of lands within the area of settlement, and the standing offer, by the Government, of boundless tracts of good land along the frontier, free of charge, upon the sole condition of actual personal occupation and cultivation . . . all these causes have combined in the United States to bring actual and theoretical rent close together.373
It has not been, in this country, the policy of the government to seek the fiscal advantage which might accrue from holding the public lands as a source of revenue.374 It has been a matter of public policy to dispose of the lands cheaply or without price to actual settlers. In Australia public policy was different. “There are instances of rents paid in new countries, as in Australia, while yet all even of the best lands were not taken up. This phenomenon . . . has been due to the fact that all available lands were held by the Government, which was thus able to fix a monopoly price.”375
In a word, Turner did not miss Walker’s doctrine of economic rent and its associated features. Consider from the early essay (1892) on “Problems in American History” the following: “An interesting economic study in connection with the law of rent might here be made, but there are social considerations also to be reckoned with. . . . Space forbids the enumeration of the problems, economic, social, and political—such as the democratization of the country—which have grown out of free land.”376
DURING Turner’s terms of study at Baltimore he kept in close touch with Professor Allen and exchanged letters with him concerning the departmental plans at Wisconsin for the following academic year. The new schedule was made up early in 1889 and printed in the university catalog for 1889–1890. As announced, Turner’s work consisted of four courses. An elementary course on United States history was proposed, as was a course on the history of the nineteenth century, for which the textbooks mentioned were Levermore and Dewey, Political History since 1815 and W. Müller, Political History of Recent Times. Also listed was Turner’s seminar in the history of the Northwest, which he had given before he went east, and a new course, one of the consequences of his study at Baltimore. This was the most ambitious project in teaching which he had as yet undertaken: an advanced lecture course on the constitutional and political history of the United States. The subject was to be studied from the original authorities, and there were to be readings in the standard histories. The announcement stated that particular attention would be devoted to the growth of American nationality and of state and local institutions. It was proposed to devote an entire college year to this important work. The appearance of this course reflects the influence of Herbert Baxter Adams at Madison. And the topic of American nationality recalls Turner’s conversations with Woodrow Wilson on sectionalism, Southern and Western, and American patriotism.
Adams traveled out to Madison in January, 1891, at the invitation of Thwaites and Turner, to deliver the annual address before the Wisconsin Historical Society. The subject of his discourse was “The Higher Education of the People,” a plea for adequate financial support by the legislature for the new university and the university extension schemes which were evolving in Wisconsin. In the course of his talk he took the opportunity to praise Turner:
Professor Turner, after using the fur-trade manuscripts belonging to this society, has made in a report to your society, a brilliant contribution to the economic and social history of Wisconsin. His work was accepted as a doctor’s thesis by the Johns Hopkins university, and it will soon be reprinted in revised form in our “University Studies.” He himself is now a worthy transmitter of that rare spirit of historical research which Professor William F. Allen represented for twenty-two years among the students of this state. . . . How . . . [Allen] would still rejoice in the prospect of a great school of original workers and historical teachers who are likely to extend the combined influence of this society and of this university throughout the length and breadth of the land!377
Thus the Baltimore benediction was bestowed on Turner’s first work. He had made good with Adams and had left a strong impression on young Haskins and on John Franklin Jameson, another young historical scholar with a distinguished future before him. In 1891 Jameson published a slim but valuable volume, The History of Historical Writing in America.378 The author took occasion to point out in one passage that American historians of the rising generation were emancipating themselves from the conventions and traditions of European historiography. All the signs pointed that way.
Never was there a time in America when so great a proportion of the best historical work was devoted to the subject of institutions and economics. One [scholar] writes of the history of finance; another of the fortunes of institutions transplanted westward, and the genesis of governmental ideas among the lawless frontiersmen; another, of movements of migratory population, and the influence of German or other national elements absorbed into our mass.379
For so brief a reference, this was surprisingly good publicity for the author of the monograph on the Wisconsin fur trade and the teacher of a promising candidate for the doctorate at Wisconsin, then investigating German immigration into that state. Baltimore knew that Turner and Turner’s students were to be reckoned with.
Interest in Western history was certainly on the upgrade. The lately published sixth volume of Winsor’s Narrative and Critical History (1887) contained a chapter by William F. Poole on “The West from 1763 to 1783.” A more extended treatment of this and related matters appeared in 1889 when Theodore Roosevelt published the first two volumes of The Winning of the West. Both Thwaites and Turner admired this work. Thwaites invited Roosevelt to accept membership in the Wisconsin Historical Society, and Turner wrote a careful review of the book. A sentence or two from that review, written just after Turner had left Baltimore for Portage and his summer holiday fishing trips, cast some light on Turner’s formulation of his own ideas on American history. After pointing out that Parkman had treated of the French occupation of the Old North-west and that Hubert H. Bancroft had made a beginning in the study of the Spanish Southwest and the Pacific Slope, Turner goes on to say:
But the American occupation of the Mississippi basin has not found its historian. General United States history should be built upon the fact that the centre of gravity of the nation has passed across the mountains into this great region. To give to our history the new proportions which this fact makes necessary, must be the work of the younger generation of students. It is a fertile field. . . . Economic history finds here a rich harvest. . . . To the student of politics, the West is also a fruitful field. Here we have the almost unique spectacle of heterogeneous peoples, in a new land, forming self-governed communities, peacefully as regards each other, drafting constitutions and growing into states of a federal union. . . . But American history needs a connected and unified account of the progress of civilization across the continent.380
These sentences serve to show in what direction Turner’s thought was turning. But he did not have adequate opportunity at this time to pay much attention to the research problems which he had already envisaged. Beginning with the autumn of 1889, he had once more to take up his teaching duties. He now had the rank of assistant professor of history.
In December, 1889, Professor Allen died at Madison, just after he had completed revising the proofs of his book, A Short History of the Roman People, which was published in the spring of 1890. All those who may interest themselves in tracing the effect of Allen on his greatest pupil will find this a suggestive work to read. To it Turner contributed an admiring preface. Allen’s untimely death threw many possibilities into the balance. Who would assume his place? Would Turner remain at Wisconsin or go elsewhere? It was not at the start a foregone conclusion that Turner would inherit Allen’s headship of the history department. Behind the scenes there were negotiations and the writing of letters back and forth, but by the spring of 1890 the situation was clarified. President Chamberlin decided to retain Turner and to make him head of the department. He called Charles H. Haskins from an instructorship at Johns Hopkins to an instructorship at Madison to help Turner carry on the historical work in the university. Turner took the courses in American history, and Haskins, though trained as an American historian, took over the work in European history. From 1890 until 1910, when Turner left Wisconsin for Harvard, he continued to run the department. He therefore exercised a continuous guiding influence on the building up of the department and shaped it according to his own historical philosophy. It was important for Turner that he early became head of the department, because he did not thereafter have to consult any departmental colleague when he decided to alter an old course or add a new one. He had a free hand, he was his own master, a very important consideration for a man like Turner, who always was altering or reworking courses to make them more exactly expressive of his ever-developing historical scholarship.
In his first years after returning from Johns Hopkins, Turner displayed energies in several different fields. He did something for university extension, he trained his first graduate students, he wrote programmatic essays stating his historical outlook, and he ceaselessly revamped his lecture courses.
President Chamberlin was vitally interested in promoting university extension work. He called on Turner to help forward the movement, and first and last the historian did a good deal for that cause. To help Chamberlin he published two articles: “The Significance of History” (1891) and “The Extension Work of the University of Wisconsin” (1892).381 He also drew up a report for the President on the place of history in such a scheme of popular education,382 and compiled four syllabuses, in 1891, 1893, 1894, and 1895.383 To keep engagements of the sort required, he did much traveling the length and breadth of the state. He finally withdrew from extension work when he had satisfied himself that it did not offer him sufficient opportunity to instruct philosophically.
Turner’s vital teaching began, slowly at first and then more rapidly, to attract competent graduate students. The interest in taking note of these early graduate students and the topics on which they worked lies in the fact that what they wrote reveals the interests and methods which governed Turner himself. Through his students one can see somewhat into his own mind.
Emory Richard Johnson was the first of these. An undergraduate at Wisconsin who studied history under Allen and Turner, he enjoyed his work with his professors and at the completion of his junior year in 1887 found that his college record permitted him to try for honors in history at graduation. Turner suggested that he write on the history of internal improvements, and Johnson accepted the suggestion. A future scholar was in the process of being made. First he wrote a senior essay on the history of internal improvements from 1822 to 1840. At Johns Hopkins during 1889–1890 he continued his study of the subject and wrote a paper for Professor Adams on river and harbor legislation. Johnson returned to Madison for the college year 1890–1891 and at Commencement, 1891, took a master’s degree under Turner with a thesis entitled “River and Harbor Bills.”
In April of that year Johnson read his thesis at a meeting of the American Academy of Political and Social Science at Philadelphia.384 Two more years of advanced study followed at the University of Pennsylvania, which awarded him the doctor’s degree in 1893 for a thesis on inland waterways and their relation to transportation. Since 1896 Dr. Johnson has served as professor of transportation and commerce at the University of Pennsylvania.
The subject which Turner gave Johnson to investigate, internal improvements, was full of meaning to the older man. Turner felt a permanent preoccupation with it. If the history of the United States was the history of an expanding people, then the forms of transportation in use at different times would have a deep importance. If expansion had the effect of mingling different stocks in the new lands of the West and brought about the rise of a new American nationality as opposed to old Atlantic Coast sectionalisms, then again the study of internal improvements justified itself.
Albert Hart Sanford explored another aspect of the matter. He took his first degree at the University of Wisconsin in 1891. He had been teaching school for some years before he attended college and was twenty-five when he graduated. He attained honors in history with his essay “Expressions of State Sovereignty Sentiment in the Boundary Disputes of Wisconsin.” Turner wrote Herbert Baxter Adams of his remarkable student, and a place was found for the young man’s paper at the meeting of the American Historical Association in December, 1891. Professor Haskins read the paper for Sanford, and it was soon after published in the Association’s Annual Report for 1891 (pages 177–195).
Sanford’s essay is an interesting fusion of the historical methods of Baltimore and Madison. The topic is seemingly a constitutional one. The Wisconsin legislature in the forties was voicing secessionist doctrines like those of Calhoun. If Congress would not give Wisconsin the northern counties of Illinois, then Wisconsin would consider herself a state “out of the Union.” Sanford skillfully worked his way through this tangled political and constitutional question, proving that this extreme action was in the nature of a political farce. The occasion of its issue was probably the expectation that Congress would fall into a trap and grant the territory federal aid for internal improvement schemes that Wisconsin needed. Sanford’s study is one of the relations between a raw territory in the developing West and the general government. A special constitutional theory is seen emerging from the matrix of a particular definite political situation, and this political situation, in turn, is to be understood in the light of a basic economic advantage sought for. Sanford’s writing has about it a sense of realities; it is no tissue of abstractions hovering in a constitutional void. Sanford subsequently did advanced work in history at Harvard, where he took a master’s degree in 1894. He afterward flourished for many years as professor in the Normal School at La Crosse. In 1909 he collaborated with James Alton James, another early graduate of Wisconsin, to produce the first textbook of American history for high schools written along Turnerian lines.385
Another principal theme of interest to Turner was the study of population movements. It interested him equally whether they were movements of foreign peoples into the United States or interstate migrations of American-born settlers moving from the Atlantic seaboard into unsettled lands. In 1888 Thwaites and the Wisconsin Historical Society, with the cooperation of the history department at the university, began a systematic study of organized immigration into Wisconsin. A fruitful field of investigation was opened up, and a number of research studies by different writers grew out of this undertaking.386 The most notable of them were written by a mature student, Miss Kate Everest, who had taken her first degree from the university in 1882. Returning to Madison for advanced study in history, she began to study aspects of this topic. Her first paper was “Early Lutheran Immigration in Wisconsin,” which demonstrated that a large initial German immigration came into the state during the years 1839–1845 as a direct result of certain religious conditions in Prussia. Her study examined the antecedent causes and traced the initial settlement and later dispersion of these Wisconsin Germans. It was based on printed materials, American and German in origin, and on data derived from the German pastors of local churches.387
Turner thought well of Miss Everest and read her paper before the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters.388 He saw to it that she was given a fellowship in history, and he encouraged her to continue her studies. Her second production, completed in 1892 as a thesis for the master’s degree,389 was entitled “How Wisconsin Came by Its Large German Element.” Here she pointed out that according to the Census of 1880 Wisconsin had a larger proportion of German-born than any other state in the Union and stood fourth in the absolute number of German-born. The purpose of the thesis was to explain historically how this situation came about. She set forth the different causes for the Germans’ abandonment of their homeland and then listed those for their selection of Wisconsin for their home rather than other states. Important in the latter connection were the low price of land, good climate, the opening up of the state at the right time, and advertising in Germany. The study is accompanied by a large map, in color, which shows the distribution of Germans in Wisconsin as recorded by the Census of 1880. The varying degrees of density of this settlement are carefully worked out and appropriate colored shadings used to indicate the differences. The workmanship of this thesis is quite Turner-like. It shows how sociological analysis and historical synthesis were fused to yield a sound study of an important characterizing feature of the Wisconsin community.
Miss Everest was awarded the doctorate in 1893. She rounded out her studies by publishing in 1898 a long paper on “The Geographical Origin of German Immigration into Wisconsin.”390 She made an examination of the different parts of Germany and found the regions from which the immigration flowed into Wisconsin. The study was founded principally upon German printed materials. Her map of German settlement in Wisconsin was brought up to date by the use of the figures of the Census of 1890.
Turner’s leading pupil of this early Wisconsin period was Orin G. Libby, a former schoolteacher and a graduate of a normal school in northern Wisconsin. Libby enrolled as a junior at Madison in the fall of 1890; he was then just twenty-six years old. In two years he earned his bachelor’s degree and at once went on to do graduate study, selecting a topic related to internal improvements for his master’s thesis. He took the degree in 1893, the title of his essay being “The Erie Canal as a State Enterprise.” Turner thought well of Libby, who served as fellow in history from 1893 to 1895 and afterward became a colleague as instructor in history.
In 1895 Libby was awarded the doctorate. His dissertation had already been published in Madison in June, 1894, as The Geographical Distribution of the Vote of the Thirteen States on the Federal Constitution, 1787–8. Libby’s investigation grew out of Turner’s course on the constitutional and political history of the United States. In his lectures on the ratification of the Constitution Turner was accustomed to teach that the commercial and the small states ratified easily. One of J. Franklin Jameson’s pupils had lately gone on record as saying: “In the states whose interests were commercial, ratification was easy, while in those in which agricultural interests were predominant ratification was difficult. A line fifty miles west from the coast would have pretty accurately divided the friends and the foes of the Constitution.”391 This last assertion Turner emphatically queried, for his studies had already taught him the numerous differences between the societies of the backwoods, the Atlantic Slope, and the seaboard.
Libby set out to make a scientific, detailed investigation of the geography of opinion in relation to the movement for ratification. He demonstrated in precise fashion the territorial pattern of the distribution of Federalist and Antifederalist sentiments. Of this dissertation Charles A. Beard said, writing in 1913, that it was “the most important single contribution to the interpretation of the movement for the federal Constitution.”392 In writing his own book on the Constitution, Beard made ample use of Libby’s conclusions and fully acknowledged them. Libby brought the study of American political and constitutional history down from the clouds and set it firmly on the ground. He solved his own problem and pointed out the way for similar solutions in the future by identifying specific geographical areas with particular political sentiments, and by correlating these political sentiments with the economic and social activities of the areas under examination. He completed his study of regional opinions and then carefully mapped their distribution district by district for each state. In the preparation of the material of this map and in its actual construction Libby showed remarkable ingenuity. It was the first work of the kind undertaken by a historian primarily for historical analysis. To study this map is to perceive, even after the lapse of half a century, the abiding originality of the feat. Although Scribner’s Statistical Atlas was well supplied with political maps, only one of them can be thought of as having anything like an intimate relation to Libby’s cartography: Plate II, showing by counties the popular vote of 1880 with the ratio of “predominant” to total vote.
Libby seized firmly on the significant point that in political history the important unit to map is the smallest local political unit represented in the deliberative body which has questions of public business under discussion. He applied this investigative canon to state after state and thus compiled his final map, a summation of thirteen distinct studies in local political geography. Afterward he began extensive studies of Congressional legislation, analyzing votes in Congress by Congressional districts and mapping the results—a natural extension and development from his study of the vote for ratification. Though Turner and Libby together somehow shared in the forging of this mapping technique, it may well be that the professor deserves less credit for this important invention than the pupil. In any case, the technique became a permanent tool in the Turner armory of devices employed to attack historical problems. It passed outward from Madison and won much acceptance in after years.
Turner prefaced Libby’s published monograph with an editorial note.393 Since this is hardly known today, it is desirable to quote some sentences from it for the light they shed on his general ideas of historical interpretation in 1894:
The following paper is one of a series of studies carried on in my seminary in American history, with the design of contributing to an understanding of the relations between the political history of the United States, and the physiographic, social, and economic conditions underlying this history. . . .
It is believed that many phases of our political history have been obscured by the attention paid to state boundaries, and to the sectional lines of North and South. At the same time the economic interpretation of our history has been neglected. In the study of the persistence of the struggle for state particularism in American constitutional history, it was inevitable that writers should make prominent the state as a political factor. But, from the point of view of the rise and growth of sectionalism and of nationalism, it is much more important to note the existence of great social and economic areas, independent of state lines, which have acted as units in political history, and which have changed their political attitude as they changed their economic organization, and divided into new groups.
American growth has exhibited not only the evolution of the Atlantic coast from sparse settlement to concentrated city life, with all the changes in political sentiments involved in these economic and social transformations; it has also exhibited the spread of population steadily westward, with areas of sparse settlement on the borders of this advancing society, contemporaneous with the complex and concentrated settlements of the older regions. Thus the United States has been at once a developed country and a primitive one. The same political questions have been put to a society, advanced in some regions, and undeveloped in others. More than this, each area of settlement has been undergoing continual modifications. Physiographic conditions have facilitated the rapid evolution of some areas and have retarded others, so that the complexity of this grouping has been increased. . . .
Within the United States there have been exhibited contemporaneously all the stages of social progress, from the hunting to the manufacturing stage. Each of these social conditions has been exhibited on a determinable geographical area. Each of these areas has been evolving into a higher stage of social advance; the grain raising region becomes a region with diversified farming; the region with diversified farming becomes the region of manufacture; the hunting or pastoral region of the arid tracts is turned by irrigation into a varied agricultural region, with corresponding social transformations. On specific political questions each economic area has reflected its peculiar interests. At a subsequent period, when the geographical area occupied by this stage of economic developement has evolved into a higher economic stage, the change is made apparent in changed views on similar political questions. Thus Wisconsin, once a “Granger state,” has now little sympathy with the western Populists. . . .
It is believed, therefore, that a series of studies upon natural economic groupings in American history will be of service to the investigator who desires to understand political history in the light of economic and social forces. To such a historical geography of organic social and economic areas, Mr. Libby’s paper is designed to contribute.
This statement of aims and interpretation could hardly be more lucid. It deserves to be better known.
A later pair of studies in Wisconsin history displays another type of historical investigation which Libby undertook following the model supplied by Turner. “The Significance of the Lead and Shot Trade in Early Wisconsin History”394 is instructive, for the writer sees the relation between this local subject and the outer world. The ups and downs of the lead trade react commercially on English exports, on New York industrial enterprises, and on the prosperity of New Orleans; they are also bound up with schemes for internal improvements. We see how transportation methods in the upper Mississippi Valley altered in successive stages, and how routes of trade changed during the pivotal period 1846–1847. Before this time the main stream of commerce followed the Mississippi; afterward it took a course eastward from Wisconsin via the Lakes and the Erie Canal to the Atlantic Coast. When Wisconsin’s lead mining interest combined with her farming interest, an effective basis was found in state politics for legislation which secured improved modes of transportation. The conclusions are supported by a series of three sketch maps depicting county boundaries, rivers, and lakes and the distribution and increasing densities of Wisconsin’s population in 1836, 1840, and 1850.
This essay by Libby is Turnerian in execution and in point of view. It seeks to understand and explain social phenomena rather than to narrate a series of events. In 1836 the population of Wisconsin, sparse and of low density, lay in two separated, inharmonious districts: in the southwest and the southeast. By 1850, however, a continuous belt of settlement extended from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi. The essay explains by what processes and in what successive stages this result had been accomplished. “In general . . . the lead trade and the shot trade together attracted capital to Wisconsin, helped to fill its southern counties with population, and gave an impulse to its industrial life that the State has never lost.”395
A companion piece was “The Chronicle of the Helena Shot Tower.”396 Libby’s incidental comment on this strikes a large note: “The type of life it gave rise to has already disappeared. . . . To study it is to study beginnings, the rudiments of social and economic order in an undeveloped country, and see in their proper perspective the first rough outlines of a new social organization in the Northwest.”397 These two papers, taken together, carry forward the genetic study of Wisconsin history begun by Turner’s fur trade study. Libby showed how lead mining succeeded the fur trade and preceded agriculture.
It is instructive to glance at some of the other essays and theses which were written under Turner’s direction during this first period of his teaching. Miss Florence Baker studied the extension of the elective franchise in the New York constitutional convention of 1821. Miss Florence Robinson investigated the colonial elective system as it developed in Virginia and Massachusetts; Miss Ada Griswold, the territorial development of Georgia; and Miss May Shelton, the English Corn Laws. Paul S. Reinsch explored the land system of New England towns. Joseph Schafer won undergraduate honors with an essay on suffrage and representation in Virginia to 1830. Adam Crull wrote a thesis on arguments concerning internal improvements in Monroe’s administration. The development of the nominating convention in Pennsylvania was treated by Frank Miller, and Miss Winifred Sercombe studied the early history of the spoils system in New York and Pennsylvania. Other early essays written under his direction dealt with such subjects as land companies in Ohio, Georgia’s claims to state sovereignty, railway land grants, Mexican-American relations, the growth of popular forces in colonial Maryland, land grants and education, American colonial charters, Massachusetts Federalism, and Populist legislation in Kansas.
This good grist of work was all ground out before 1896. It is to be noticed that not once does the word “frontier” occur in the titles of these studies. Significant, too, is the breadth of historical interest displayed. The students wrote on topics relating to the Southern, New England, and Middle Atlantic States, as well as to the West. Turner did not exercise a constricting influence on his students, nor did he enforce a narrow concentration on the history of the West.
These students had been set at work by an American historian, and the subject of their researches was one or another aspect of American history. To make clear the opportunities latent in the subject, Turner threw off with the rapidity and the fertility of genius a short program for future work. He published it in the undergraduate newspaper in the fall of 1892. This highly concentrated essay, “Problems in American History,” he doubtless intended as a kind of early manifesto of his position and interests and as an advertisement to the student public of what they might expect to find in his department. Graduate study at Wisconsin was about to boom, and Turner was one of the causes of the boom interest in the social sciences. But he had his ideas formulated before he wrote the essay, and he had students before he published it.
His special view of American history as the history of a community composed of different sections politically united by a federal system and peculiarly distinguished by its expansive tendency he twice tried to state. A brief formulation of it is given in the article “Frontier” in Johnson’s New Universal Cyclopedia (New York, 1894). This short essay, which offers a careful discrimination between the European meaning of the term and common American usage, clears up doubts and questions that scholars lately have been raising, and must be carefully pondered by critics who think that Turner was uncertain in his use of terms.398
“The Significance of the Frontier in American History” supplemented the content of the preceding essay. It is high time for those who sincerely wish to understand Turner to read both these essays, and read them in close connection with each other. The essay of 1893 was intended as a clarion call to the younger generation of American historians, hence its poetic and rhetorical prose. In this respect its contrast with the “Frontier” article of 1894 is quite marked.
What is the essence of the “Frontier” interpretation of 1893? There is a summary of the essay, almost certainly written by Turner himself, in the report of the proceedings of the ninth annual meeting of the American Historical Association. It seems to have been quite forgotten and therefore is quoted here:
Up to our own day . . . American history has been in a large degree the history of the great west. This ever-retreating frontier of unoccupied land is the key to our development. The settlement of the problems that arose at one frontier served as guides for the next frontier—for example, in matters relating to land policy and the Indians. There are various kinds of frontiers which passed westward in successive waves—the Indian’s frontier, the trader’s frontier, the miner’s or rancher’s frontier, and the farmer’s frontier. The methods of advance and the characteristics of each were traced, showing how the Indian was pushed back and how each frontier affected its successor. It was found that the successive frontiers revealed the progress of society. At the same time the United States could show the hunting stage, the pastoral stage, the agricultural stage, and the manufacturing stage, as the traveler crossed the continent from west to east.399
This essay, one may remind students, deals not with the significance of the, frontier but with the significance of the frontier in American history. The Turner interpretation of American history is first an American interpretation and then a Western interpretation. Turner taught American history before he taught Western history, and when eventually he came to teach Western history, he wished to have it taught in close conjunction with Southern history. As soon as possible he made arrangements to have the history of New England, also, taught along with Western and Southern history. What does this mean? It signifies that he conceived of American history as the history of a group of sectionally different communities, each one established in a physiographic area of its own, each one devoted to its peculiar economy and social life, its own culture and politics. In the large view of affairs that he upheld, it was the interplay and interdependence of these sections with one another that formed the stuff of American history. The forward-moving frontier was important because in its westward progress it advanced into unique virgin physiographic areas and thus generated the beginnings of still other sections.
That this view of Turner’s historical ideas is a sound interpretation can be demonstrated by consulting the descriptions of the American history courses formerly given at Madison, and by correlating the courses with the books written by his colleagues, his students, and himself. The evidence fits together in an unmistakably coherent pattern.
One may look first to see how instruction in Western history as such came into existence. In 1891–1892, as a companion to the course on the constitutional and political history of the United States (a course dating back to 1888–1889) Turner offered for the first time a new advanced course: “Course 7. Economic and Social History of the United States.” The subject was studied from the colonial period to the present with special attention to the origin and development of the social and economic characteristics of the country. He took up for consideration, among other points, such topics as the changes in the thought of the nation, the country’s material development, and the process of American settlement across the continent. The rôle of physiography in the country’s history was studied all through the year’s work.400
This course was given again in the academic years 1892–1893, 1893–1894 (this time with special emphasis on the study of the advance of settlement and population and the results, social and economic, of this movement), and 1894–1895. In 1895–1896 the significant mutation appeared. For the first time the catalog listed “Course 7. History of the West. Particular attention is paid to the advance of settlement across the continent, and to the results of this movement.” Thus Western history instruction, as an independent subject, evolved tardily after Turner had been teaching general United States history for almost a decade. But simultaneously with this first appearance of Western history there came to Madison Professor William P. Trent from the University of the South as a visiting lecturer to give special instruction in Course 16: “Southern Statesmen of the Old Régime.”401
Is all this evidence that Turner was becoming provincial? On the contrary, it indicates with emphasis that in attaining to an explicit recognition of the importance of sections he was striving to lay bare the marrow of American nationalism—a composite product resulting from the interplay and interaction of the different sections with each other. In promoting the study of the histories of the several sections Turner sought to learn more precisely the meaning of “Americanism.”
Trent visited Madison on invitation of Ely and Turner. He delivered his lectures in February and March of 1896 and published them early in the following year. In the Preface to his book he was at pains to make clear that he wrote from the point of view of an American who was at the same time a Southerner, proud enough of his section to admit its faults and yet to proclaim its essential greatness. He disdained, he wrote, to pander to provincial sentimentalism that shivered at honest criticism, but, he added, he had not consciously written about the leaders of the South one word that should be construed as a tame acceptance of the adverse judgments passed on some of them by outside, unfriendly critics.402 Turner, one conjectures, would have subscribed readily to the same dictum concerning his own point of view in writing the history of the West.
At this stage in his development—about 1896 and 1897—when he had glimpsed more clearly than ever the significance of sections for general American history, Turner resolved to write a book on that principle. He had been weighing the pros and cons of writing a full-scale account of our history at least as far back as the summer of 1896 when, as has been seen, he was corresponding with Walter Hines Page. The firm of Henry Holt projected their American Historical Series and appointed Charles H. Haskins to the post of editor. Distinguished contributors were selected, and a modern, up-to-date outlook was promised for the finished volumes: “The treatment will be descriptive as well as narrative, and due attention will be given to economic and social conditions and to institutional development.” Turner signed a contract with Holt in 1897, binding himself to write a one-volume history of the United States for college students. He made a beginning but never completed the (for him) far too difficult task.
For inherent in his interpretation of the influence of the frontier was a realization of the important part that the sections have played in the course of American history. His studies, in their sweep, showed him that physical environment and social environment were often determining factors in developing group interests; that these led to group conflicts, and hence affected public policies and political behavior. . . . How was it possible to present even an outline of United States history that would approximate the truth until one could estimate more accurately the weight to be assigned to this factor?403
A richer, more accurate interpretation of American history, therefore, reasoned Turner, was bound to emerge from a careful and prolonged study of the several American sections. Let scholars in each section cultivate the materials that lay close at hand. As for Turner, he and his students were content to exploit the history of the West. Happily for them, a sufficient stock of materials lay at hand ready to use in the libraries of Madison.
In his short paper, “The West as a Field for Historical Study,” written for the American Historical Association’s meeting in December, 1896, he gave the justification of his faith.404 The West, holding a very important position in American political life, needed to be understood, and for two reasons. First for itself, but principally because “the real significance of Western history is that it is national history in one of the most noteworthy aspects of that history, namely, that of expansion from the Atlantic to the Pacific.”405
The topics in Western history that called for scholarly study were many, as Turner listed them: exploration, settlement, Indian fighting, institutional origins, land cessions, agricultural and ranching industries, Western political parties, and social development in the West. He concluded: “Only by such coöperation and systematic pushing forward of the lines of investigation will it be possible to give the correct perspective to American history.”406 He chose as the first of his own special topics in Western history that of early institutions beyond the mountains, and published his findings in 1895 in his article, “Western State-Making in the Revolutionary Era.”407 From this he swung away to long-protracted investigations of the early West (down to 1803) in American diplomatic history, a line of study which he did not complete till 1905. His publications on this subject were numerous, including both original documents which he edited and articles in narrative form.408 Less difficult problems in the internal economic or political history of a portion of the West—often Wisconsin—were taken over by his students. But there is nothing at all to indicate that in 1896 or thereabouts Turner was encouraging anyone to write a comprehensive, well-rounded work on the West alone.
But was Turner, it may be asked, peculiarly and inescapably pledged to devote himself to the history of that section we refer to as the West? The answer is emphatically in the negative. When, for example, in 1895, and again in 1897, he expected to remove as professor of history to Princeton, he projected long-term investigations in the history of the Middle Atlantic section, one then little studied and even less understood. And, once again, when he joined the Harvard faculty in 1910, with equal enthusiasm he spurred on his students to do research in the history of New England. His scholarly interest extended to all sections, not to the West only. The scope of his investigations was as broad as American history, no less.
To underscore the argument, and at the same time to conclude this phase of it, one needs but to call attention to new instruction announced at Wisconsin for the academic year 1897—1898 by Turner’s young colleague, Orin G. Libby. This course was entirely devoted to the fundamental matter of American sectionalism: “A study of the geographical distribution of political parties with especial reference to votes in Congress and in state legislatures.”409 Libby and Turner already clearly saw that Congressional action is one of the focal points in American national life. To study the votes, especially those of the House of Representatives, was “to study a great plexus of forces, partly harmonious and partly antagonistic, whose outcome is national policy and national development.”410 The unit to be taken, Libby proposed, should be the Congressional district. From Congressional votes by districts maps could be constructed showing the sectional geographies of opinion on important questions that have been up for discussion, questions like tariff, internal improvement, and the United States Bank. Series of such maps would reveal facts of the deepest significance in American history, and they would enable one to discover the physiographic areas that become in time economic and political sections.
If the votes of the members of the House of Representatives are a correct expression of the opinions of the constituents of the various districts represented, it is of prime importance to know from what quarter of the country, from what localities, come the strength of the opposition and of the support for the measures that have shaped and still are shaping our history.411
To elucidate the problems of American sectionalism Libby set to work to analyze and then to map Congressional votes on great questions of policy from 1789 onward. His purpose was to secure a firm basis for subsequent political and economic investigations. By 1896 his work had progressed to the year 1841. Altogether, there was ample warrant for Libby’s comprehensive course on sectionalism.412
Rightly to understand American history as a history of interacting sections implied that the department at Madison must supplement its course on the West by a course on the history of another important section, New England. Therefore it was that in 1900 Turner invited a young Rhode Islander, a graduate of Brown University, to join forces with him. Carl Russell Fish was not quite twenty-four years old and was fresh from Harvard where he had prepared for the doctorate under Edward Channing and Albert Bushnell Hart. On first coming to Madison he taught courses on diplomatic history, the Puritan Revolution, and the American colonies. In 1902–1903 he began to offer a course on the history of New England. As time went on, he came more and more to concentrate on the colonial period of this section’s history, stressing the internal forces which promoted the expansion of the New England people into the West.
Simultaneously, therefore, Turner’s department was offering work on the history of general American sectionalism, under Libby; on the history of the West, under Turner himself; and on the history of New England, under Fish. One big gap remained to be filled, and in 1902 Turner filled it by calling Ulrich Bonnell Phillips to teach Southern history at Madison. A native of Georgia, a graduate of its university, and that very year the recipient of a doctorate from Columbia, where he had worked under William A. Dunning and Herbert L. Osgood, Phillips had early fallen under Turner’s spell, as the Preface to his first book plainly declares.413 Phillips was then not quite twenty-five years of age.
Phillips made haste to get ready the projected course on the history of the Old South which he had been invited to Madison to teach. The catalog for 1903–1904 first announced his “History of the South.” The work proposed to cover the economic and social forces involved in the plantation system, in slavery, and in the occupation of the Gulf Plains as a basis for understanding the political history of the South and its place in national history. From this beginning Phillips steadfastly worked on through the field of Southern history. His course did not strongly attract the students at Madison, but he persevered in the study of his field, mastering its materials and consistently treating them in the approved Turner mode. His life work adds up to a solidly constructed and gracefully written history of his native section, and his scholarly output shows how rewarding and productive the Turner point of view can be when applied by as skillful a master craftsman as Phillips certainly was.414 Perhaps Wisconsin undergraduates viewed New England history as something alien to their interests; or perhaps Fish came to have less interest in this course as he grew more absorbed, first in American diplomatic history, in which he taught a course for many years,415 and afterward in the Civil War and Reconstruction periods. One thing stands out in clear relief—Fish never completed that well-rounded history of his native section which Turner looked forward to seeing when he brought him out from Cambridge.
Was not this a remarkable experiment in teaching American history? Simultaneously and in the same department a native Southerner taught the history of Dixie, a native Yankee lectured on New England history, and a son of Wisconsin taught the history of the Great West. By this means full sympathy and a natural understanding were sure to be displayed toward each American section; bias and prejudice were certain to be eliminated; and enlarged, balanced views could be expected to emerge from the crossfire of informed discussion. It was an experiment conceived as a systematic, coöperative attack on general American history from the sectional approach.
The experiment terminated when the team of coöperating historians disintegrated. Phillips left Madison in 1908 for Ann Arbor by way of Tulane, and Turner resigned to join the Harvard staff in 1910. Few American historians today have ever heard of this unique venture in historical instruction. Does it not quite destroy the force of the charge that Turner was a “provincial” historian?
IN the autumn of 1901 Turner reached his fortieth year. Looking back he could have congratulated himself on an abundance of good work well done: he had taught many classes with never-flagging intellectual vitality; he had trained scholars to further the scientific study of American history; and he had produced, continuously since his Johns Hopkins days, a stream of research articles, each one penetrating and novel.
He had, however, written no book. Basically he disliked crystallizing his interpretations, setting his thoughts in a mold. He much preferred continuous research and continuous revision of his conclusions, followed by the occasional publication of a mature paper on a limited aspect of his subject. Thus, while the pupils with success applied the master’s doctrines to the data and in good season brought out their first books, the master himself withheld his pen.
Unexpectedly Albert Bushnell Hart did the impossible thing—he signed up Turner to write a book and then extracted the manuscript from him. This double feat no one else ever rivaled. It came about in this way. Late in 1899 a committee was appointed by the Council of the American Historical Association to consider the preparation of a monographic American history to be written by coöperating scholars. On this committee were William A. Dunning, Herbert B. Adams, Charles Francis Adams, John B. McMaster, Moses C. Tyler, Turner, and as chairman, Hart.416 Woodrow Wilson, then professor at Princeton, but shortly to assume its presidency, was invited to write a volume in the projected American Nation Series, of which Hart now became general editor. On January 21, 1902, Wilson wrote Turner that he had decided, after long and careful consideration, not to take part in Hart’s coöperative history.417 About the same time Turner signed the contract with Harper’s that pledged him to produce The Rise of the New West. In the spring of 1902 Turner began the series of ultimate, intensive studies which were to lead up to his book. He decided at this time that for the coming year (1902–1903) his seminar would make a close study of Monroe’s administration. This announcement in the Wisconsin University catalog is the outward sign that he was prepared to buckle down to work on his book in real earnest.
A period of nervous stress and strain now opened for the great historian. The first semester of 1903–1904 he gave his course on the history of the West, putting particular emphasis on the conditions of the westward migration and on the economic, political, and social aspects of the occupation of the various physiographic provinces of the United States, together with the reactions of these sections on national developments. His seminar took on added importance this semester, for it met weekly in two sections of three hours each to study Monroe’s administration. This was a notably generous provision of time for so short a period in American history. It gives a hint that Turner was working away with savage intensity.
The remainder of the college year he spent in private study and writing. He now found composition a killing labor, not because it was hard for him to write, but because it was hard to stop thinking about his sentences after he had them written. An alert mind continued to receive new insights, to entertain visions of fresh historical truth just around the corner. He would not willingly complete his thinking or write “finis” on any historical topic. Long before he had done with The Rise of the New West he must have regretted signing a contract. Hart never permitted his contributor to forget that there was a deadline to meet.
While Turner worked away at his book, writing, revising, discarding, and rewriting, Hart kept sharp watch on his publication schedule. He meant to live up to this and did not propose to be put off by any author, no matter how eminent. Hart (who had started in western Pennsylvania) had more than a dash of good old western practicality and ability to get things done when promised. If Turner begged for more time, Hart asked for delivery; and when Turner kept silent, Hart bombarded him, first with letters, then with telegrams. By the spring of 1905 Turner was in a state bordering on panic. He, who so hated to make definitive statements, was sternly being driven into the certainty and finality of print. The ever developing scholar who never troubled to write out lectures, who contented himself by talking informally from piles of newspaper clippings and marked copies of “separates” or research monographs, and by commenting with rich suggestiveness upon home-made maps hung from the wall at the front of the classroom, this was the man whom Hart was now forcing to come to final terms with his subject, the history of the decade from 1819 to 1829.
From the distance of Cambridge, Massachusetts, the insistent general editor of the American Nation Series wrought strange effects in the catalog of the University of Wisconsin for the academic year 1904–1905. Turner, desperate and reluctant, adopted an unheard-of expedient. An undergraduate seminar studied the origin and development of Nullification for three hours a week throughout the year, and a graduate seminar duplicated this work. More surprising still, there now appeared an entirely new course planned to occupy a whole year’s time in the study of the relatively brief period from 1816 to 1837. The special character and the economic, social, and political interrelations of the various sections of the United States were to be emphasized, and the constitutional history of the period was to be studied as the outgrowth of the economic and social conditions in the different physiographic provinces that composed the Union. Out of this new course, and in the most direct and precise way, there was at last to emerge the completed manuscript of The Rise of the New West.
Into these courses during 1904–1905 Turner poured his full strength. And he wrote, forever urged on by the adamantine taskmaster in Cambridge. It was deadly labor. Years afterward he told a colleague that he would painfully write a paragraph, then go out doors and walk round the house. Smoking a cigarette, he would balance in his mind some delicate bit of interpretation that was to form part of that next, as yet unwritten, paragraph. And then, tense and determined, he would go back to his study, again to struggle with the writing and rewriting of that paragraph.418
The first volume of the American Nation Series came out in 1904. The day came when Turner’s manuscript lay on Hart’s desk. The persistence of the general editor was rewarded. For many years thereafter he was accustomed to exult: “When I die, let them put on my gravestone just this, ‘He got a book out of Turner.’”
The Rise of the New West was published by Harper’s in the spring of 1906. No book like it had ever before been written by any American historian. He dealt with the varied sections of an expanding and developing federal union and the reactions of these different sections on the stream of national history. His study embraced the decade from 1819 to 1829. This was his subject matter, and he had mastered it after long years of study. He had solved the research problems involved.
The literary problems which presented themselves to Turner were difficult in the extreme. He had at the outset to describe and characterize each of the several sections that composed the Union. In these accounts he had to present a truthful general picture, well-rounded sociologically, and at the same time contrive to give a sense of the development locally, of the movement of history within the particular section itself. He had also to indicate how the section was represented in the national councils and what its spokesmen thought was its true policy. His survey of the several sections is in the main expository and descriptive.
Once he had firmly based the history of the period on a carefully calculated review of the congeries of sections, his task was to demonstrate the course of national history. Here narration was naturally the method followed, and movement was more attended to than analysis. The grand topics of Congressional debate and legislation were considered in the light of sectional influences impinging upon Congress in the persons of the sectional champions, political figures in national life. Federal policy was thus shown to be a resultant of compromise and conciliation which reduced the originally extreme claims of rival sections to a decent moderation. National history, as studied in Congressional action and presidential policy, came thus to have coördinate interest and importance with the internal history of the sections. And underneath all, the strong tide of nascent democracy was shown silently on the upsweep, moving toward the political victory of Andrew Jackson in 1828.
The book sums up and gives permanent expression to Turner’s individual genius for historiography. It is the perfect and perfected flowering of his own special method of historical workmanship, displayed in all its many-sided richness and exacting refinement. As a historical construction it is utterly novel in ordonnance, a supremely difficult feat excellently performed. This book must be read and read again before it will give up all its secrets of craftsmanship.
Once more Turner sought to realize his conclusions according to an almost identical pattern. His object this time was to cover the period in United States history from 1830 to 1850. The Madison seminar served as the proving ground for the projected work. Jackson’s administrations were studied, and that of Van Buren likewise. The times of Harrison and Tyler were investigated. The fifties were explored. Always to the fore in Turner’s mind in these seminars were the nature and the practice of statesmanship on the American model. And with such probing and delving his years at Madison passed one after another. He went on with the study of the sections, and with the light from these peripheral studies he looked the more closely at the history of the general government as expressed in Congressional debate and legal enactments. Continuously he learned and revised and learned anew.
Removing to Harvard in the fall of 1910, Turner went forward in the same path that he had already marked out for himself. In succession his seminars took up the history of Van Buren’s administration, the period 1840–1850, and the decade leading up to the Civil War. Then he journeyed back over the same ground. In 1913–1914 the Harvard seminar studied the period 1830–1845; in 1917–1918, the period 1840–1855; in 1920–1921, the period 1830–1860. His knowledge of sections and of the Union as a whole grew deeper with the years, but his craving for still more knowledge and ever more insight into political and economic realities was seemingly insatiable. The shifting, growing, altering political scene at Washington in the days of Webster, Clay, and Calhoun fascinated him. He wished to be able to reconstruct every stage in its development as a geologist, for example, reconstructs a vanished era of the earth’s history. On one occasion, to give an instance, he felt impelled to probe deeper into some of Calhoun’s political activities. He traveled to the Library of Congress and read the pertinent correspondence of American politicians and statesmen. When he came back to Cambridge, his notes on this reading he had just done filled a small trunk. In this painstaking way his studies progressed until his service at Harvard terminated in 1924 with his retirement.
Three years later Turner became attached to the staff of the Huntington Library as Research Associate. By this date he had been at work investigating the decades 1830–1850 for about twenty years. He had the material under control, but very little of it was reduced to literary statement. As early as 1918, however, he had delivered the Lowell Lectures in Boston, taking as his subject “The United States and Its Sections, 1830–1850.” In 1924, immediately after his retirement from Harvard, he gave the Dowse Lectures, dealing with sectionalism in American history during these same years. By the time he arrived at the Huntington Library in 1927, therefore, he thought he was ready for final composition. But let Max Farrand tell the story:
Turner spoke blithely of finishing his book within a few months, for two or three chapters were already written and sketches of other chapters had been made. In reality, hardly a third of the work could be regarded as completed. For a while it seemed as if his expectations would be realized. He set about the task of composition in so determined a fashion that within a comparatively short time several more chapters were perfected, and one of them was printed in the first number of the Huntington Library Bulletin. It was even necessary to warn him against overdoing. Then he encountered the one great obstacle at the Huntington Library to the accomplishment of his immediate purpose. Perhaps he had written all that was ready to be put in final form. At any rate, he paused and began looking up further data. Scarcely a student in the fields of English or American history and literature has ever come to the Huntington Library who has not found something of importance for his researches. The effect upon Turner may well be imagined. Hardly a day and never a week passed but he would excitedly and delightedly report upon discoveries he had made. A reference was to be added here, a sentence must be changed there. Some new material was important enough to modify a conclusion already reached or to demand consideration in the chapters still unfinished. “The book” had reverted to the pioneer stage.
In the summer of 1927, and again in 1928, the Turners went east to Hancock Point. His health had not improved; in fact, his strength was failing, although he was unwilling to admit it. . . . On returning to Pasadena, he came to the Library every day, but limited his work there largely to the morning hours. He met the situation bravely, but feeling the obligation of what was expected of him he realized that it was a race to get his book finished, and the next two summers were spent in California.
In November, 1931, a phlebitis developed in one leg and confined him to the house for several weeks. This had the advantage, so far as composition and writing were concerned, of keeping him from undertaking any further investigations, and with Mr. Crissey’s help he made steady progress in finishing the last chapters of his book. When the trouble cleared up, Turner was again at the Library every morning. On Monday, March 14, he came as usual, and several persons spoke of his high spirits. He went home at noon, and before evening the end had come—just as we all should like to have it come to us.419
As the master had conceived it, the task had proved too great. Time enough for the execution of the plan he had formed long ago in his Madison days was not granted him. There remained at his death an extensive though unfinished manuscript, in pattern, when compared with his former book, somewhat more complex. Brought into shape for the printer by the skillful work of a disciple, this manuscript was published in the spring of 1935 as The United States, 1830–1850: The Nation and Its Sections.420
It is an open question whether the ordonnance displayed in these two books is not too exacting, too time-consuming for the merely mortal historian to practice. Does it not require, this Turner method of multiple sectional analysis, overmuch of the practitioner? Consider how much knowledge of history must be accumulated, how many arts (including the art of literary composition) must be well learned and cultivated before ever writing can actually begin.
An ill fate overtook both of Turner’s devoted colleagues of his Madison days. Both Carl Russell Fish and Ulrich Bonnell Phillips made plans, quite in the Turner spirit, for extended projects of historical composition, and both died with these plans unrealized.
Finally abandoning an earlier interest in New England’s history, Fish went forward to deep study of the decades 1860 to 1880. For many years he taught courses at Madison on the Civil War and the Reconstruction periods. Under his hand a manuscript slowly grew. It was his intention to put forth his conclusions in two volumes, one to be devoted to the Civil War, and one to the Reconstruction era. Fish died on July 10, 1932. Fourteen draft chapters of his first volume were found. Nothing of the second volume had been written. Again a disciple worked over an unfinished manuscript by a member of the Turner school. It was edited for publication by Professor William Ernest Smith and appeared in 1937 as The American Civil War: An Interpretation. The method of this book is the method of Turner, though to be sure it is applied with variations arising from the different subject matter and from the individuality of the author.421
Phillips experienced a similar literary frustration. After years of study and consequent on the publication of several excellent books on one or another aspect of Southern history he resolved to compose a trilogy on the history of the Old South.422 He projected one volume to deal with the people of the South and their ways of making a living—the economic and social basis of Southern society. There was to be a second volume dealing with antebellum politics and the social and political thought of the section. A final volume was to treat the consolidated political and social themes forward from the year 1861. A noble plan, this, one which would have enriched American historical writing in full measure had Phillips lived to complete it. But he survived long enough to publish only the first volume in the proposed series. Life and Labor in the Old South, a prize-winning study, appeared in 1929. Phillips died in January, 1934, leaving the manuscript of a course of lectures on the political history of the South to be published posthumously in 1939 as The Course of the South to Secession: An Interpretation. From this a good idea of his matured conclusions on the political rôle of the section in the Union can be gauged. Again a Turner colleague, and one who worked in the Turner philosophy, left a fragmentary work behind him. Too ambitious a design, or one too tardily undertaken, or again, too complex a method?
Thus The Rise of the New West stands alone, the unique and completed masterpiece of this particular school of American historical interpretation. It will probably have no rival for a long time to come, for the method it embodies is difficult enough and exacting enough to warn off prospective writers who might think of emulating the accomplishment of the founder of the school.
HOW did Turner contrive to win so thoroughly complete a reception for his interpretation of American history? Did he labor to win converts? Did he scheme and cajole and persuade? Did he consciously publicize his ideas? The central query of this generation is curiosity as to how he put his ideas over.
A simple explanation is at hand. Young students interested in history sat in his lecture room or round his seminar table. The logic of the lecturer and the broad, unifying philosophy of his interpretation won the students’ minds. An effortless indoctrination occurred. The students dispersed here and there to teach in high schools, small colleges, or the state universities of the Middle or Far West. Many of these students became productive scholars in their own right and proceeded on their way of research with the assumption that the Turner interpretation was sound in principle and in detail. Perhaps, however, these students were a trusting lot, perhaps they were uncritical and did not stop to inspect or question fundamental things. Thus it is desirable to glance at some of the more noteworthy of the students who went through Turner’s classes and taught and wrote history afterward.
Among those who worked under the scholar before the last century ended may be named these: James A. James, Albert H. Sanford, Emory R. Johnson, Paul S. Reinsch, Orin G. Libby, Mat B. Hammond, Joseph Schafer, Herbert E. Bolton, Guy Stanton Ford, William A. Schaper, Algie M. Simons, Charles J. Bullock, Carl Lotus Becker, George H. Alden, Louise P. Kellogg, Balthasar H. Meyer, and William Spence Robertson. Collectively this group was responsible for a goodly quantity of publication. Noteworthy is the fact that three of the students in it afterward served as president of the American Historical Association.
Some of those who received Turner’s instruction during the decade before he resigned from the staff at Madison were: Edmond S. Meany, Charles McCarthy, Chester Lloyd-Jones, Benjamin H. Hibbard, Lawrence M. Larson, Allyn A. Young, Homer C. Hockett, Solon J. Buck, Robert C. Clark, William V. Pooley, Clarence E. Carter, Amelia C. Ford, Royal B. Way, Edgar E. Robinson, Leon E. Aylsworth, Charles H. Ambler, William J. Trimble and William A. Robinson—another productive group.
As these students went out from Madison, they took with them the Turner interpretation. Most of them were historians. It would be an interesting exercise in academic geography to trace one by one the careers of these disciples, to see where they went, how soon they contrived to introduce a course on the history of the West into the curriculum of their new academic home, and whether they afterward sent the most promising of their own undergraduates back to Madison for advanced work. Speaking broadly, this is just about what happened. From Madison as a center the Turner interpretation diffused outward, first establishing itself strongly in the Middle West, then in the Southwest and on the Pacific Coast as secondary centers. Fish maintained it loyally at Madison when Turner effected the invasion of Massachusetts in 1910. Phillips made a sortie into the South but returned to plant the banner nearer home at Ann Arbor; later he carried the colors to New Haven. By the time he rose to the presidency of the American Historical Association Turner could survey a wide scene and observe his students at work in every principal section of the country. If his ideas had taken root and had spread, it had not been because he actively promoted them. The enthusiasm of his disciples, the wide range, geographically, of appointments they came to fill, and the utility of the doctrine they applied account for the remarkable hold which this historical interpretation quickly won—and seemingly without a battle. Had there been a rival interpretation in the field, the story might have been otherwise.
Was there never, even in the early days, any criticism of the Turner interpretation? Very little, apparently. Edward Everett Hale and some other correspondents thought the “Frontier” essay a “curious” idea, and Horace E. Scudder of the Atlantic Monthly refused to publish “The Problem of the West” in the form in which it was first written. In 1896, however, when Scudder’s successor, Walter Hines Page, sought an article from Turner, the once rejected article was “adjusted . . . to the Bryan campaign” and accepted.423 The first overt suggestion that every single word of the famous essay of 1893 was not utterly accurate and true came from a historian who had carried on advanced studies at Madison. At the twenty-fifth annual meeting of the American Historical Association, held in New York City at the close of December, 1909, Professor Edmond S. Meany read a paper entitled “The Towns of the Pacific Northwest Were Not Founded on the Fur Trade.”424 Opening his remarks by quoting from two key paragraphs by Turner, Meany stated his challenge in these words:
While conceding the full value and validity of the thesis as applied to that portion of the United States lying east of the Rocky Mountains, it is the purpose of this present paper to demonstrate that west of those mountains, in the Pacific Northwest, or the old Oregon country, the evolution of civilization did not follow the lines so successfully elaborated by Professor Turner.425
Meany was professor of history in the University of Washington. He had studied at Madison, having taken a master’s degree there in 1901. His excellent History of the State of Washington was just out, and in the course of preparing for it he had come to question an element in the Turner interpretation as it related to the social evolution of the special region he knew best. What Turner thought of the validity of Meany’s challenge does not appear. The essay by the Seattle professor seems to have been ignored and then forgotten, but it deserves to be read and pondered today. After almost overwhelming victory the first sound of opposition and questioning had made itself heard. Thus Meany’s forgotten paper is the precursor of the current controversy.