American History and American Historians: A Review of Recent Contributions to the Interpretation of the History of the United States

By Hugh H. L. Bellot | Go to book overview
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IV
The Settlement of the Mississippi Valley

WHEN in 1894 F. J. Turner sent to some of the older scholars off-prints of his paper on 'The significance of the Frontier in American history', one of them replied thanking him for his 'curious and interesting contribution' and another observed that he must be a 'very provincial man'.1 What they had had put before them, but had failed to appreciate, was the first demonstration that the cardinal factor in the transformation of the United States of 1787 into the United States of 1861 was the settlement of the Mississippi valley. That thesis is now so generally accepted as to make it difficult to recover the older point of view. But it is only the work of the Middle Western school, beginning with Turner's paper, that has brought this about.

The Mississippi valley fills an area of over a million and a quarter square miles, and is twice the size of the Denmark, Holland, Belgium, France, Germany, Czechoslovakia and Italy of 1939. It contained in 1790 about 130,046 white persons2, a number substantially less than that of the population of the city of Coventry in 1938 (167,083). By 1940 there had been erected within it twenty states of the Union containing a population of just on sixty-four million. In 1860 its population had already grown to over fourteen and a half million.

By 1783, the obstacles that had embarrassed the exploitation

____________________
1
J. Schafer, 'The author of the "frontier hypothesis"', Wisconsin Mag. of Hist., xv ( 1931), pp. 96-7.
2
Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1931, vol. i ( Washington, D.C., 1932), pp. 397, 398-408.

-108-

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