Turner and the Significance of Sections

In any case, Turner's arguments foreshadow those of another historian, J. Franklin Jameson. Both argue a geographical or quasi-geographical determinism. Both argue that the war was a revolution that resulted in greater democracy, though their definitions of democracy are rather broad, to include—--especially—--economic considerations. Before turning to Jameson, however, I would like to mention another work by Turner, entitled The Significance of Sections in American History, which was published in 1932, at the height of the Great Depression.

This book is not exclusively about the American Revolution. Instead, it discusses several important factors in American history from a demographic perspective. Turner echoes his own frontier thesis in this work, citing instances in the West that shaped the character of the Revolution. The behavior of the earliest pioneers was important in understanding the later evolution of the country, he argued, and focused on the North Carolina frontiersmen. He concluded that the Association desired "not to be arded as a ''lawless mob,'' and their petition for annexation to North Carolina" led to a regularization of the political status of the frontier districts (Turner 1932, 97). This pattern would be repeated again and again in the decades after the war, but Turner's point is that the frontier districts were just as important to the political and social nature of the struggle as were the established eastern districts and towns which have received so much more "press" in the literature.

Another factor of consequence in Turner's view was early sectionalism (indeed, that is the focus of this particular book, much more so than the American war for independence). "The West," which in the middle nineteenth century meant such lands as Iowa and Indiana, instead meant in pre-revolutionary years the western regions of the existing colonies. Turner specifically discussed the western regions of Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas. He suggested that the geography of the region—--rocky and mountainous, in distinct contrast to the alluvial plains of the tidewater region—--made for an order much more like New England society than the planter-led society of Virginia and the rest of the South. He contended that the frontier communities were more democratic. An informed reader can today easily infer that Turner was writing not just of the revolution, but of the beginnings of the sectional competition that culminated in the American Civil War (Turner 1932, 293). But it is the geographical determinism that Turner advances that is of the most interest to me; one sees the same sort of argument again and again while reading the works of Turner and his fellows in the progressive school.