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THE NEW COUNTRY: A Social History of the American Frontier, 1776-1890 by Richard A. Bartlett

THE NEW COUNTRY: A Social History of the American Frontier, 1776-1890


Pub Date: Aug. 30th, 1974
ISBN: 0195020219
Publisher: Oxford

A dynamic, sweeping history of the Westward movement -- settlement patterns, ethnic composition of the migrants, economic development of the new lands and something of the quality of life on the ""cutting edge"" of the frontier. The book refutes, or at least substantially modifies, several ""myths"" of expansion. Bartlett argues that not even in 1776 was the land beyond the Appalachians an ""unknown"" or ""trackless"" wilderness. Indian traders, trappers, surveyors and adventurers were familiar with both geography and terrain long before the farmers and homesteaders arrived. Whatever terrors lurked on the frontier -- and Bartlett contends that these, including the Indian menace, were grossly exaggerated -- the enormous potential for profit always outweighed the discomforts and dangers. From America's earliest days the drive to the West was inexorable; tacitly everyone understood that the Indian tribes who stood in the way would be removed or neutralized even as they signed treaties guaranteeing Indian lands in perpetuity. The curious thing about Bartlett's book is that for all its revisions and qualifications of how the West was won he ends up arguing for good old Manifest Destiny -- the federal government tried to stop the worst pillage of Indian lands but squatters and speculators kept coming like locusts so what could they do? Moreover, the virtues and vices of frontiersmen -- open-handedness, pragmatism, the willingness to work hard, a kind of sustaining optimism but also crudeness, sharp dealing, a tendency toward violence -- are those noted by de Tocqueville and other astute observers of American character. In sum, a very traditional view of the West stressing the ""helluva good time,"" the swagger and the material accomplishments of the well-meaning imperialist hordes.