Fredrick Jackson Turner and Reginald Horsman present us with two very different views of American History. Turner views the American period of expansionism across the North American continent as if this were a natural phenomenon. In contrast, Horsman begs us to consider such a perception—very seriously. Where Turner sees something like a sprit of freedom and independence driving the course of American history into the western frontier—and (coincidentally) over the peoples already living there—Horsman reveals how such a view of the American people’s ‘nature’ is constructed, ultimately to justify such expansion.
Where Turner limits their view of American history to simply what the colonists did to take over the continent, viewing their history in isolation, Horsman tries to go beyond this, showing some of the history—and racially-based ideology—which in turn influences Turner’s view of history. Let us consider these differences further, beginning with how Turner presents the expansion of the American peoples across the North American continent.
We should take careful notice of how Turner describes the role of native tribes in American history. The reason for this is that it proves to be very insightful into the kind of historical narrative that Turner presents to describe the ‘real reasons’ for why American’s expanded into the Western frontiers.
In a sense, Turner presents a kind of social-historical blindness, if not white-European- privileging bias in their analysis. One gets the impression from Turner’s analysis that the native tribes (which we refer to today as Native Americans) indeed existed. Indeed, they played an important role in American history. And yet, in reading Turner’s view, one discovers that at the same, the natives are curiously absent. At best, they are treated as subordinate actors in the history of the United States.
In the best light, Turner treats the native tribes as those who, through trade, through teaching the settler how to survive. The natives “pioneered the way for civilization (Turner, 7).” In other words, without their traded goods, without their teaching the colonists the lay of the land, how to farm and hunt upon it, or where to travel, American expansionism over the North American continent might not have been possible.
But in a nutshell, this is really the most positive light in which Turner presents the native tribes. Turner provides a small, simple, brief recognition in the supportive role of native tribes the expansion of America into the western frontiers. Turner recognizes the native tribes as pioneering the way for civilization—which presumes the natives didn’t have such a thing, anyway. But beyond this, everything Turner has to say about the native tribes casts them in a subordinate or adversarial role to the expansion of the United States.
Beyond this, “the Indian was a common danger, demanding united action (Turner, 7),” and the “management of these tribes became an object...